Jo Roche - Abberley Hall

The Guest Speaker for the May meeting was Jo Roche, who talked about the history of Abberley Hall. Despite the PowerPoint presentation failing, Jo spoke with an enthusiasm and detail that kept the History Group enthralled.

She began with the very early history of the Hall, when it was a Royal Hunting Lodge and eventually a Manor. It became the property of Walter Walsh, as a thank-you gift from Henry VIII for political cooperation, and later passed into the ownership of the Bromley family of Holt Castle, Holt Heath. It remained in the possession of the Bromley family until the late 1830s, when due to financial embarrassment, a certain Colonel Bromley was forced to sell it.

The new owner was a John Lewis Moilliet of Geneva, who had been captivated by the views from Abberley. A new house was designed for him by Samuel Whitfield Daukes, an architect responsible for several buildings in Cheltenham, the remodelling of nearby Witley Court, and the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. 

He gave the Lodge an Italianate makeover, building a Belvedere tower to appreciate the views and changed the name to Abberley Hall. In 1845 the building work was completed, but then a great fire gutted the house. The interior was fully restored between 1846 and 1848. His son, however, who owned ‘The Elms’ nearby, had no need of this grand house and it was sold in 1867 to a Joseph Jones of Severn Stoke, Worcestershire, a rich entrepreneur whose fortune derived from coal, cotton and banking in Oldham, Lancashire..

Mr Jones embellished the Hall with a theatre, a conservatory and a fernery among other things. When his son died prematurely, Jones left the Hall to a cousin, John Joseph Jones of Cheshire. John Joseph Jones expected excellence at every level and added a billiard wing to the Hall. Abberley Hall is a fine example of high Victoriana of that time and is now a conserved building. Another three years of building work added a cascade and grottos. The grottos were made of Pulhamite by a Mr Pulham, a famous grotto builder of that time. On Abberley Hill two water tanks were installed, each holding 75,000 gallons and the estate houses were piped with running water, a radically generous gesture to the estate workers at that time.

The clock tower was built by John Joseph Jones to commemorate his cousin and is officially ‘The Joseph Jones Memorial’ on Merrets Hill. It is similar to the clock tower at Eaton Hall, Cheshire (owned by the Duke of Westminster). Six English counties can be seen from the top of the clock tower. The work started in June 1883 and was topped off on the first of October 1884 with no incidents. A falling weights system for the clock was installed and all the bells are named for the family. The carillon machine is similar to the carillon machine in Worcester Cathedral.

Generously, John Joseph Jones gave three parties to celebrate the completion of the clock tower – one for ‘the good and the great’; one for the estate workers and tenants and the third for friends and family. Fireworks were set off by a Mr Brock (Brock’s Fireworks) who also did the fireworks at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.

In 1888 John Joseph Jones went on a European Tour, but died suddenly in Karlsbad, Germany, in the July. The house was left to his brother William, and passed through several generations of the family until 1916 when it was sold to a Blackheath, London, school, for £10,000 in September 1916. The school, vulnerable to enemy attack during the First World War, evacuated to the safety of the Worcestershire countryside and a school has been on the site ever since. The Centenary of the School will be celebrated in 2016. 

Jo was warmly thanked for a very interesting talk, given with humour and great detail and the audience were thoroughly engaged in the fascinating history of a local and prominent landmark.

More Information:

Heidy Hague