With the grant of Heritage Lottery funding (a process driven by the Friends of Eastcote Gardens with support from the London Borough of Hillingdon) a programme of archaeological investigations, led by AOC Archaeology, commenced at Eastcote House Gardens in 2012. As a result we now have new and more detailed information, thus a much clearer understanding of the site of the former Eastcote House and the immediate area. Rather than beginning at the beginning it is perhaps best to go back in time from when Eastcote House was demolished. A new Community Archive publication Eastcote House Uncovered: Including Long Meadow is to be issued in 2020 and goes into far more detail than is possible here. Suffice to say that finds from the archaeological investigations provide evidence of permanent and settled habitation on the site around 200 years before the first documentary evidence.
The demolition of Eastcote House
A footprint of the old Eastcote House is shown in the grassed area not far from the former stables building which is all that remains of the extensive array of buildings once attached to the old house. The aforesaid were demolished in 1964 as with the main house in particular was deemed to have fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was not economically and possibly structurally feasible to undertake renovation works. Since 1937 Eastcote House and the gardens were under local authority ownership. First with Middlesex County Council as the freeholder and Ruislip-Northwood Urban District Council as the leaseholder and then with the reorganization of local government in the 1960s the London Borough of Hillingdon. Up until the beginning of the 60s the Council had installed a caretaker and he and his family lived in one of the now demolished outbuildings called ‘the Cottage’. Within the old house some of the accommodation had been subdivided into flats let to tenants and various function rooms hired out to various community, social and youth groups as well as being hired out for private events. The entire site was acquired by the local authorities, as in 1930, the owner Ralph Hawtrey Deane had sold the estate to a building consortium Wembley Estates (Comben & Wakelin) Limited. Recently passed to the FEHG Community Archive are plans from that time, which show that the developers would have demolished everything, including the surviving Dovecote and the Walled Garden, to be replaced by an extensive housing development. In fact the course of the River Pinn was diverted in anticipation of this proposed extensive development. Local activism and local authority action extended the life of the old house for a further 30 years and during that period the main house served a number of functions including that of a children’s health clinic and during WWII a Food Office in charge of local food rationing. The old house and most of the outbuildings are lost but the space that we now have, enhanced by the multi-award winning gardens and the area over the bridge known as Long Meadow, bring pleasure and enjoyment to many from near and far.
Some history about the old house
Mentioned above is Ralph Hawtrey Deane. It is down to the predecessors in this family line that what was to become Eastcote House evolved through the ages and was considerably enhanced. The house was once set in extensive parkland and farm land and a few of the oak trees planted by the Hawtrey family still stand within what is now Eastcote House Gardens and on the housing development that is now known as Eastcote Park Estate. A few of the yew trees planted as a screen to offer a degree of privacy to the family as they walked through the grounds also remain.
No doubt because of their long association with Eastcote the family was seen as one of the leaders of the local community. Successive members served as magistrates, which enabled them to influence law and order in the area, oversee the election of parish officers and view parish accounts. They locally acquired the status of ‘Lords of the Manor’ when in fact the absentee landlord King’s College Cambridge held that position. It is through default and as the family often acted as stewards or bailiffs for the Kings College that during the 19th century that Ralph Deane and his son Francis were known as Squire Deane.
In 1878 the family moved out of Eastcote House to live near to Uxbridge Common. This ended a timeline of around 350 years when members of the Deane or Hawtrey family lived on the site. Following the period after the Hawtrey Deanes moved out until they sold out in 1930 the property was let to mainly substantial persons. The most famous being Sir Samuel Morton Peto who was very much involved in the building of the Houses of Parliament (for a time he was an MP), the construction of the Lyceum Theatre, Nelsons column and other building works. He was also much involved in the construction of railways both at home and abroad.
We cannot put an exact date as to when the old house adopted the name Eastcote House but the name is used here for convenience. Eastcote House underwent a number of transformations during the late 16th/ early 17th century, during the 18th century and finally in the 19th century. Much of the extensive remodelling and modernisation work was undertaken during Georgian times when the plain plaster facade, or stucco, was applied to the exterior brickwork. A covered porch way and its attendant pillars is also consistent with the Georgian style of architecture. A parapet surrounding the top of the first floor and under the eaves may also have been part of these Georgian alterations. Our earlier publication Eastcote House and Gardens: The People and the Place issued in 2015 and reprinted in 2017 complements our publication Eastcote House Uncovered: Including Long Meadow due out in 2020.
Before Eastcote House
Through surviving documentary records in the form of local Manorial Court Rolls we were aware of a property known as ‘Hopkyttes’ being located on the site of what was to become Eastcote House from at least 1494. In 1507, during the reign of King Henry VII, the property of Hopkyttes came into possession of the Waleston or Walleston family in the guise of John Waleston. A 1507 record describes Hopkyttes as being a cottage in three fields.
In or around 1525, by which time King Henry VIII had come to the throne, Winifred Waleston the daughter of John Waleston married Ralph Hawtrey. Ralph Hawtrey came from a family of note. He was a younger brother to the heir of Chequers that is now a residence available to serving Prime Ministers. In 1903 Florence Molesworth Hawtrey published ‘The History of the Hawtrey Family’. The Hawtrey’s held Chequers for ten generations from about 1250 to 1600. It was under the stewardship of the Ralph Hawtrey family that the cottage of Hopkyttes was demolished and the first phase of building, of what was later to be called Eastcote House was undertaken. Ralph and Winifred both enjoyed a long life and lived at Hopkyttes and its replacement building for 66 or 67 years.
We used to think that part of the earlier Hopkyttes flint-walled farmhouse had been preserved as part of the core of the first stage in the development of what was to become Eastcote House. We now know that Hopkyttes was in fact demolished with part of its foundations then built over.
As to when Hopkyttes was first built, we cannot tie down an exact date. However, as a result of expert assessment of pottery remains or sherds found during the archaeological investigations, it leads to the conclusion that Hopkyttes was occupied from at least the 13th century.
Away from where first Hopkyttes and then Eastcote House were situated, and close to where the prairie bed and the old fashioned plough are now located, during the final season’s investigation in 2017 the foundations of a further flint walled building were uncovered. This building would have been contemporary with Hopkyttes. This would have been another farm building and given that traces of slag from iron working were found the building may have been used both as a workshop and a small smithy.
Prior to the demolition of Eastcote House in 1964 an expert in dating carpentry was called in to evaluate the age and origins of roof timbers. One of the substantial timbers was dated from around 1510. This so-called “tie-beam” was saved and incorporated into the refurbishment of The Great Barn in Ruislip.
This roof beam predates the coming of Ralph Hawtrey to Eastcote and thus the demolition of Hopkyttes. Is it therefore the case that Hawtrey had the tie beam reclaimed when Hopkyttes was demolished? Was the Hopkyttes cottage re-roofed at sometime, as the tie beam is not as old as the Hopkyttes building itself that AOC believe to have been built in the 1200s given the pottery remains uncovered? It was common practice during this age to reuse building materials, this would account for the discrepancy in the age of the beam and the time that Hopkyttes was demolished. Or it could be that the timber dating was incorrect.
Found in a garden in Dean Croft Road was a Bronze Age axe head known as a ‘palstave’. Found at EHG during the archaeological investigations were remnants (knaps) from flint tool workings. AOC Archaeology is of the view that from time to time Neolithic (New) Stone Age groups would have passed along the Pinn Valley and the knaps are their traces.
Andy P Weller
Researcher and Archivist, Friends of Eastcote House Gardens