Monthly Archives: June 2011

Eldon House’s final 50th anniversary lecture – Marriage and drama thanks to the Harris daughters

June 5th marked the end of the Eldon House 50th anniversary speaker series.

The final presentation, made by historical interpreter Cathy Luke, provided a glimpse into the lives of the Harris daughters and how their lives changed after the British garrison was established in London in the late 1830s.

And, she also explained what happened to the Harris girls after they married.

 

The Harris daughters were seven in all, four of whom married officers from the British garrison and eventually emigrated to England. The other three married “fairly well”. John and Amelia Harris must have been relieved to have all their daughters married off in succession, including those whose looks were considered to be less than spectacular. But not all the marriages translated into matrimonial bliss. Some suffered miscarriages, illness, serious money troubles and even death: one daughter was widowed early in her marriage and another died in a tragic shipwreck.

 

You can read more about each of the daughters here.

 

Of interest to our research was Sarah’s marriage to Robert Dalzell. Despite his disdain for all things Canadian, he took a shining to Sarah and married her in 1846, removing her to England where they lived in Torquay for many years. Unfortunately, they suffered the consequences of a suspended title (the earldom of Carnwath) and a lacklustre career with the military. To worsen matters, their finances suffered at the hands of Sarah’s Canadian brothers who seem to have mismanaged funds and who were slow to provide the investment dividends the Dalzell’s needed to live. Sarah was often very unhappy and sometimes sick, although the Harris letters and diaries aren’t clear as to what ailed her. Perhaps she was just ‘sick’ of it all.

It’s no surprise that after Robert’s death in 1878, Sarah focused on more pleasant thoughts such as her long lost love, Wenman Wynniatt, who died 40 years earlier in London, Canada. She also benefitted from the extended visit of her niece Milly Harris and two of John Labatt’s daughters who stayed with Sarah while they attended school in England, paying her for room and board.

In fairness to the Dalzell line, she was not left completely destitute: she enjoyed the company of her children, including two of her sons who had excellent military careers and who managed to reclaim the Dalzell title of 11th and 12th Earls of Carnwath. This made Sarah Harris twice the mother of British Lords. Not bad.

 

Hear what Cathy had to say after her presentation:

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My visit to Wonderland

It was in the basement of the Metropolitan Church where I received my invitation to the Mad Hatter’s tea and garden party. The instructions read, 

Woodholme Manor, dress – top hats, fun hats or no hats at all.

 I thought to myself, “I have a top-hat, and I love a tea party.”

 

I sent my RSVP off to this would-be Wonderland, and instantly began planning how I would decorate my little top-hat and what I would wear.

But as the party approached I realized there was another reason the invite called my name. For years, Woodholme Manor, or the Lawson Estate as it was also known, lay hidden amongst a large cluster of trees off Wonderland. Whenever I passed by, I would stare down the long private drive, trying to catch a glimpse of its grey castle-like form. I wondered who lived there and imagined wood-paneled walls and fireplaces taller than I.

Woodholme Manor was built in 1893 by Richard Shaw-Wood, constructed in late Victorian Gothic Revival style. At the time it was built, the house was one of the few concrete-poured homes in North America. In earlier years, outbuildings and stables dotted the landscape of what was then a working farm, and an imposing iron gate maintained the family’s privacy. In 1920, Ray Lawson, a prominent London businessman, purchased the Manor, making this magnificent castle home to one of the most influential families in the city for many years. In 1950, Colonel Tom Lawson and his wife Miggsie took possession of the Manor, from which they continued the family tradition of philanthropy and community service for more than fifty years.

A few years ago rumours surfaced that the Sifton development around the property raised the specter that the Manor might itself become a thing of historical record by disappearing. I fretted and wished I could buy it and fix it up myself. Pictures of the home showing boarded up windows made me fear that the rumors were true. But, luckily, the house was saved when a former resident of London decided to take on the challenge of fixing it up and calling it home.

So, this past Saturday, as the clock struck four, I perched my little top-hat onto my head, fastened a cameo around my neck and left for Wonderland (aka Woodholme Manor). When I arrived at the gates, the red double-decker bus had just dropped off a group of visitors also donning their fancy hats. The house loomed over me as I walked up the drive. Its grey imposing walls stretched skyward with many jutting levels and nooks. A tower appeared to have a tiny porch or stoop at the bottom where one could enter from the lawn and sit hidden away from prying eyes. Large white framed windows dotted the grey edifice, a place to look down from the second and third stories.The balcony directly over the front door was prominently placed looking down onto the drive.

 

 

 

At the entrance, two little hostesses took my Unticket and gave me a program along with permission to enter the Manor. One of the hostesses appeared to be turning into a cat, but I shook my head and carried on…how curious! Can’t let that Cheshire cat play tricks on me! The first thing I saw upon entering was a long corridor, paneled in the dark wood that I had imagined would be there. It stretched down a long hallway that ended in a staircase that disappeared into the floor above. As I turned from the main hall into what appeared to be a brick archway, I met a man who seemed to have misplaced his wife. I told him that perhaps she’s disappeared down the rabbit hole, but luckily she was only in the WC hidden in the wall. Further down the hall was a big, iron sliding door that guarded a large supply of firewood, how strange, but then how appropriate for a castle that must have many fireplaces.

In the next room many people milled about at silent auction tables, bidding on wonderful things and trips to wonder-filled places organized by a very thoughtful Doormouse. But the room was anything but silent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many people were chatting excitedly, enjoying their tour of the Manor. As I marveled at the wood moldings on the ceiling, I met Paul Hubert from Pathways Skill Development. He was involved in the Red Antiquities Shoppe restoration project since it started and spoke of the great community support and generous donations making the plans for the building a reality. In true Wonderland form he wore a tidy black top hat, but after speaking for several minutes I concluded he was far from mad as a hatter. In the corner of the room the hostess at the Flamingo bar offered tall glasses of sparkling wine and other liquids marked “Drink Me”, but I passed this by in search of something sweeter. Across from the bar was the large fireplace that was, as I had predicted, taller than I. Sitting nearly inside the fireplace was Victoria Gydov, a soprano wearing a lovely, wide-brimmed Victorian hat who later sang operatic songs on the back lawn.

Many stood in awe as her amazing voice bounced off the back of the Manor, creating a wonderful acoustic effect. Young musicians Sarah Peters and Emily Miles-Rossoux also stood by to provide entertainment throughout the event.

Representatives from the Heritage London Foundation spoke about the restoration project for which this event was to raise funding. The Red Antiquities building on Wellington Street was built in 1873 by the Winder Family. It remained in the Winder Family until June 2010 when it was purchased by Pathways Skill Development in partnership with London Heritage Foundation. It is of architectural significance because it is one of the only wide-board wooden constructions still standing in London today.

The gracious hostess and new owner of Woodholme Manor, Sue-Anne Richardson-Siarto, was  introduced, as was her mother Carol Richardson, partner-in-party-planning-crime. Once restored, the Red Antiquities building will be used in a way to give back to the community. It will be a prime example of the endless possibilities present in the restoration of historical buildings.

 

After these speeches, I strolled to the back of the property where a big white tent was erected. Here, the Duchess was hosting tea every hour at 4:15, 5:15 and 6:15. Apparently the White Rabbit was quite insistent on this precise timing. What a delight it was to sit in the cool shade under the tent at one of the round tables and be served teas and incredible edibles. I met some lovely ladies there, wearing beautiful hats, some hats big, some small, some feathered and some with no hat at all!

After my tea I wandered back into the Manor to the room next to the ballroom. It was adorned with a large fireplace who’s mantle was inscribed with the Latin phrase ‘Friends are the ornaments that decorate your home’.

Set up in this room were several tables, not serving tea, but instead displaying teapots, creamers, sugar dishes, cake tiers, tea cups and other tea-things for sale to raise funds for the Antiquities building. All “stolen” by the Mad Hatter in an attempt to raise more money. Apparently the Duchess didn’t mind her things being sold at ridiculously low prices.

A white and green set with green roses whispered my name. I tried to ignore it but it kept on until I opened my purse and paid the nice gentleman and his wife who told me the Bavarian teapot set came all the way from Florida. It will make a lovely addition to my collection of rose teacups.

Besides, it is in fact my Unbirthday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on this project:

http://www.redantiquitiesbuilding.com/the-project

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Back-from-the-Brink/127049884001475

 

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