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A Brief History of Dagnam Park

The 1919 auction map shows how the Neave estate was broken up and sold as separate lots. Go to the map and click on the lots to see the details of each lot. Thanks go to E. Herbert for providing a copy of the auction catalogue.

Dagnam Park has a long recorded history that stretches back centuries - long before Harold Hill was built. The following brief articles give some insight into this rich history.
The first article is by local historian Don Tait and librarian Simon Donoghue - contact either of these two individuals via the Friends of Dagnam Park.
The second is from a memoir published by the last aristocratic owner, Lady Dorina Neave.
For further information please also go to the Romford Then & Now web site for a description from White's Directory of Essex, 1848.
On the natural history side, please see Dave Sampson's informative guide to the flora and fauna of the park.

For a much lengthier account of the area's history go to Brian Lingham's History of Harold Hill and Noak Hill which is reproduced in full.

As of 24 Dec 2006. Ernie Herbert's three new booklets are also available for download as Winzip files. These are major local history works and well worth downloading

Go to Download page

THE NEAVES, DAGNAMS AND NOAK HILL

Born in 1731, Richard Neave, the eldest son of James Neave of Walthamstow and London, had made his fortune trading in the West Indies and America. At various times he was chairman of the Ramsgate Harbour Trust, the West Indian Merchants and of the London Dock Company, as well as a director of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1783 he was appointed Governor of the Bank of England, (a position also held by his grandson Sheffield Neave in 1851).
The purchase of Dagnams in 1772 marked the beginning of Richard Neave’s transition from merchant to country gentleman. At this time he was the tenant of the Bower House at Havering-atte-Bower where he remained until 1776. The intervening four years saw the house that was once visited by (read Pepys diary entries for the Dagnams visit) pulled down and the Georgian mansion, which stood until 1950, erected in its place. Neave further established his position among the local gentry with a land purchase policy, begun in 1785 and continued by his successors throughout the next century, which saw the Dagnam Park estate swell to 1,600 acres.
Richard Neave's social ambitions were realised with his appointment as High Sheriff of Essex in 1794 and more importantly in 1795 when he was created a baronet. He died in 1814 and was succeeded by his son Sir Thomas.
Sir Thomas’s additions to the Neave estate included the Bear bought in 1820 and the Manor of Gooshays in 1829. He was Steward of the Liberty of Havering-atte-Bower in 1806 and 1809 and a magistrate under the charter of the Liberty in 1826 and 1828. Neave was appointed sheriff of Essex in 1828. The Church of St. Thomas and the Priory were both built for Sir Thomas in the 1840’s. The school at Noak Hill, built by subscription and government grant opened in 1848 - the year Sir Thomas died.
Dagnams was then inherited by Sir Richard Digby Neave, grandson of Sir Thomas, who was a close friend of John Constable, the great landscape artist, and who purchased Brick Kiln Farm and Spice Pitts Farm before his death in 1863. The fourth baronet, Sir Arundell Neave lived until 1877 when he was succeeded by his son Sir Thomas, then only 3 years old

 

Land Holdings of , Sir Thomas Lewis Hughes Neave, Bart., of Dagnam, Romford, &c. in 1883. The first column is the acreages the second is the annual rental value.

Taken from The Great Landowners of Britain and Ireland

by John Bateman F.R.G.S

 

THE NEAVE'S MANOR HOUSE BUILT BETWEEN 1772 AND 1776.
The park and gardens had been laid out in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, however, in 1812 the famous landscape gardener Humphrey Repton, who lived at Hare Street, redesigned the layout of the gardens. It has been written that this house was built on a different site to the two earlier brick buildings and on Ordnance Survey maps of the early 20th century REMAINS OF DAGENHAMS appears a little to the north west of the house. A comparison of the estate maps of 1633 and 1748 with a map of the area from 1920 even allowing for inaccuracies in the surveying, would suggest that the same site was probably used for all three houses. Brian Lingham in his book THE HISTORY OF HAROLD HILL AND NOAK HILL, suggested that it would be logical to use the foundations of the old house and refers to a Charles II walled garden, mentioned by Lady Dorina Neave in her book ROMANCE OF THE BOSPHOROUS, which was retained as part of the grounds attached to the new house. If Dagnams ever was on a different site to the Neave house it would seem likely that it would have been the moated house which appears on the 1633 Dagnams Estate map.
Lingham gives the following description of Dagnams.
“The house had three stories with six rooms to each floor. On the ground floor, to the right, were the drawing and dining rooms, with an ante-room, and to the left, were billiard and smoking (study) rooms with another ante-room. The rooms were entered from a large main hall, from which staircases ascended on both sides to a landing on the first floor. The first floor landing continued as a central corridor on both sides of the house from which the main bedrooms of the Neaves and their guests were entered. On the top room were bedrooms for the governess and senior servants; also the nursery and schoolroom.....The majority of the servants lived in an annexe built onto the east side of the house, where the kitchen and other domestic rooms were located. The butler had a waiting room and bedroom in the main house at the back of the stairs on the ground floor”.
Sir Thomas Neave 5th Bt. married Dorina Lockhart in 1908. Though the title was passed on to their eldest son Arundell on the death of Sir Thomas in 1940, they were the last to truly live as Lord and Lady of the Manor of Dagnams. Before the First World War they employed over 40 servants and the only other work in the locality was on the estate farms. Even when the farms were sold in 1919 the Neaves remained important figures in village life and are well thought of by those villagers who remember them. 1919 SALE OF FARMS BY SIR THOMAS NEAVE 5th Bt.

Following the First World War, Sir Thomas Neave 5th Bt., like many of his fellow landowners, sold a large portion of his estates. Alfred Savill and Sons arranged an auction for 2.30 pm on Monday, 26th May 1919, at Winchester House, Old Broad Street, London, which saw Sir Thomas dispose of his entire Essex holdings at Burstead, Rayleigh, Canvey Island and Eastwood.
Included in the sale were 1,506 acres of the Dagnam Park Estate, only leaving Dagnams, the park and Dagnam Park Farm, which amounted to 550 acres, in the hands of the Neaves. The sitting tenants of the farms on the estate were given the option to buy their land before the sale and most did so.
The farms sold in 1919 were Maylands, Gooshays, New Hall, Harold Wood, Brick Kiln, Harold Hill, Spice Pits and Hill Farm. Also included in the sale were The Bear public house, the Keeper’s House, Angel Cottages (which had once been a public house) and other cottages on the estate as well as a factory site near Gidea Park Station.


THE END OF DAGNAMS. The end of Dagnams really begins with the start of World War II and the death in 1940 of Sir Thomas Neave, 5th Bt. The story of the decline was recounted in a letter printed in The Essex Countryside in 1981 It was sent by Dorina Eileen Parsons ne Neave, the daughter of Sir Thomas and Dorina Lady Neave to Mr A.F. Kilby and was response to a letter printed in the magazine from Mr Kilby.

"In 1940 my father, Sir Thomas Neave, 5th Baronet, died and the house and grounds were requisitioned and soldiers billeted in it, and all their transport was parked under the trees in the park. The house was damaged by a V2 right at the end of the war which cracked the wall of the front of the house. When emergency repairs were done they found the walls were two and a half bricks thick, which was why it hadn't collapsed. The house had cellars and a barrelled shaped damp course, you could easily crawl along the whole way round the house....After the war the LCC bought the property for £60,000 under a Compulsory Purchase Order - I have never and will never return. When the LCC bought the house they said they were going to repair the house and use it as a club centre, so they put in a caretaker. He diligently stripped the lead off the roof - an easy task - you got up through a trap door and could walk all round inside the parapet and scramble into a sort of well in the centre about 20 ft. X 15 ft; all lead covered, where we as children could hide, or later on sunbathe.Once the lead was stripped off, the rain got into the bomb cracks and eventually the house was demolished. I’ve often wondered if the stables and garden walls still stand. On the south side was a large lake and on the west side, the largest cork Ilex tree in England, heavily propped. There was a drive leading from Noak Hill which passed between the house and stables and garden and continued in a straight line to the main Romford to Brentwood Road.” (Read the letters in full)


The story about the caretaker is true. The LCC appointed him on 26th May 1947 at a wage of 30s. and accommodation of 5 rooms. His dishonesty lead to an 18 month jail term. Sir Arundell Neave, 6th Bt. had however, agreed to the sale of Dagnams before the compulsory purchase order was obtained though there is no doubt that there was no option but to sell. The Neaves had moved to their home in Anglesey at Llys Dulas for the duration of the war, clearly the damage suffered by the building very visible in the photographs taken prior to demolition, would have cost an awful lot of money to repair. The LCC had planned to save the house and indeed were legally bound by a Ministry of Planning Order which also specified that the Barn at New Hall Farm, New Hall Farm, the Priory and Cockerell’s Moat, were not to be removed. Essex County Council, Romford Borough Council and the LCC all stated that they could find no use for the building. By January 1950, the Ministry had released the LCC from its undertaking to preserve Dagnams and the house was demolished later that year with the demolition team removing the spoils as payment. Much of the bric-a-brac had been distributed among the villagers at Noak Hill by Lady Dorina Neave. Returning to Noak Hill in 1950 to open the new Victory Hall ( Women at sale walk out on LCC critic. Romford Times, May 28, 1952.) and donating the valuable Guido Reni painting, FORTUNE FLYING OVER THE WORLD which had once graced the mansion, to the villagers and the hall, Lady Neave commented bitterly on the ‘vandalism of the LCC’. (2003 despite the Neaves having a prestigious art collection I think this could only have been a copy as it doesn't seem to be something people involved with the Victory Hall are aware of) Little remains to give a clue to the whereabouts of the manor. Fence posts, some foundations, the cobblestones of the stables and the cement pond which appears in the map of 1748 being the only real signs of a glorious past. The park though remains and the family and house are remembered in some of the street names of Harold Hill. The 7th Baronet of Dagnam Park, Sir Paul Neave was born three weeks after the first house on the Harold Hilll estate was handed over.


LADY DORINA NEAVE, nee CLIFTON (1880-1955)
Dorina Neave spent much of her early life in Turkey where her father George H. Clifton was employed at the Supreme Consular Court in Turkey. She wrote three books linked to her time in Turkey Twenty Six Years on the Bosphorus, Romance of the Bosphorus and Remembering Kut an account of a devastating siege during the First World War on the Turkish Front. The summer of 1907 was the last that I was to spend on the Bosphorus, on August 26th of that year my birthday. I left Turkey, in the 26th year of my stay there, to meet not long afterwards my future husband, Sir Thomas Neave, whose birthday was also on the 26th of the month (July)………………..My husband and I settled down in England, with a second beautiful home in Anglesey. Much as we have desired to visit Constantinople together, we have never found an opportunity of doing so…….”Whilst in Noak Hill Lady Neave played a full role in Noak Hill's village life and is remembered in Romford by the foundation stone of an extension to the Victoria Cottage Hospital in Pettits Lane Romford, which she lay in the 1930s. Though Lady Neave moved to Llys Dulas in Anglesey during the war and Dagnams was demolished in 1950 I believe the Neaves sold their Welsh property in the early 1950s. She also had an address in London – Kensington I think. She is buried in the cemetery at St Thomas's Church, Noak Hill.

Dorina Lady Neave: Romance of the Bosphorus (Hutchinson & Co, London)

Read excerps from the book