Sopwell House - from Tudor Shed to Luxury Hotel

The house formerly known as New Barnes

By Anne Wares

Sopwell House Hotel today is imposing and luxurious, a popular place for premier league footballers and a venue for grand weddings. But deep within it are the remains of a one-storey Tudor structure.

Then, as now, it occupied a pleasant location, outside the city, but within view of St Albans Cathedral. Until the beginning of the 20th century the property was known as New Barnes. In Tudor times the estate formed part of the Manor of Sopwell, owned by St Albans Abbey and sold or given to Sir Richard Lee by Henry VIII in about 1540, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when the king disbanded monasteries and convents and appropriated their assets. 

Photo:Fig.1 New Barnes c.1625-75

Fig.1 New Barnes c.1625-75

Reproduced courtesy of Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS) (ref. XIII/30)

It is not known when that wooden Tudor building was erected, but an earlier small building was probably enlarged and improved in the second half of the 16th century. When Sir Richard Lee died the Manor of Sopwell passed to his daughter Maud Pemberton, who gave it to her nephew Richard Sadleir in 1603. An estate map of 1666 (see Fig.1) shows a pleasant two-storey house with two chimneys and some outbuildings, which the Sadleirs probably let to tenants.         

Sir Harbottle Grimston, whose family became the Earls of Verulam, owned the Gorhambury Estate at that time and bought the Manor of Sopwell in 1669. He sold the New Barnes Estate part of it to Robert New, the wealthiest of a wealthy and powerful family in 17th century St Albans. They owned many properties in the city and provided several mayors and aldermen.

With a slight hiatus they owned New Barnes for the next century. The hiatus occurred after the estate was inherited in 1702 by a second Robert New, a lawyer at Gray's Inn. His health was poor and he died quite young in 1708, leaving the estate to his wife and after her to his eldest son, Robert (III). His wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Edward Strong, Master Mason of St Paul's Cathedral, and, perhaps in some financial difficulty, she sold the estate to her father, probably with the condition that he leave it to her son Robert III, which he did.

Photo:Fig.2 New Barnes House (Oldfield c.1800)

Fig.2 New Barnes House (Oldfield c.1800)

Reproduced courtesy of HALS (ref. D/EOf/8/546)

A close friend of Christopher Wren, Edward Strong had an enormous business. He was a very astute businessman and bought many properties in and around St Albans. His Will shows great affection for all his extended family. The Strongs lived at New Barnes until his death in 1723, and he probably made the alterations to the house which appear in the Oldfield drawing (See Fig.2).

Robert New III, a solicitor at Middle Temple, left the house to his nieces, Elizabeth Hallifax and Margaret New. Elizabeth's share was controlled, as was usual, by her husband Thomas and at some time between 1772 and 1799, he traded it to the Earl of Verulam for another property.

After letting it for several years, in 1799 the Earl sold it to Matthew Towgood, member of a notable banking family, and the first of its owners to recognise the benefits of its location and "move to the suburbs" with his growing family. Matthew's big contribution to the estate was in having the gardens redesigned by Humphrey Repton in 1802. In 1810 he moved north and sold the estate to Joseph Timperon, a very wealthy sugar merchant.

Timperon extended the house greatly, as can be seen in many nineteenth century photographs. (See Fig.3) He and his wife had seven children, the youngest of whom, Isabella Worley, a childless widow, eventually inherited the estate and her father's immense wealth. A very reserved woman and a devout Christian, she lived quietly at New Barnes using her wealth to benefit the poor and unfortunate.

Photo:Fig.3 Rear of New Barnes House, mid-1800s

Fig.3 Rear of New Barnes House, mid-1800s

John Cox (Sales Particulars, 1886)

When she died in 1883 the estate was sold. One part became the estate of PrioryPark and the rest was bought by the Earl of Verulam. The Grimstons lived at New Barnes from 1886 until spring 1901. In the summer of 1901 the estate was leased to Prince Louis of Battenburg, grandfather of Prince Philip. Much of the grounds were sold to the Verulam Golf Club. The house was let or occupied by various members of the Grimston family until the end of Second World War when it became a home for the elderly. In 1969 it was sold to the Newling-Wards who converted and further enlarged it to become Sopwell House Hotel (bought by Abraham Bejerano in 1986).

It was during this conversion that the Architectural Group of this Society identified the beams of a small Tudor building.

This article was originally published in August 2013 in the Herts Advertiser newspaper in a series of articles contributed by SAHAAS members. We are grateful to the newspaper's editor for his permission to republish the article here

This page was added by Jonathan Mein on 13/02/2014.

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