The Grove

A mansion was built here by the first Robert Barwell in about 1690. He had apparently profited in the cloth industry. Like the earlier clothier, John Freeborne, he was a Quaker. When he died he left his property to his grandson, another Robert Barwell. He and his relatives added considerably to the land and buildings so the estate came to include a number of separate pieces of land.

For several decades in the 1700s, the Earls of Abercorn lived here (some of them titled Paisley or Hamilton). In 1761 the future Queen Charlotte stayed overnight at the Grove with the Abercorns. Local people were allowed to gather to watch her. She was on her way to London to marry King George III (whom she had never met).

In due course an avenue of trees was planted on the other side of the road, the origin of our road called The Avenue. Philip Morant wrote about the Grove in his history of Essex, saying that it was “a good house” and that “the noble owners of it have improved the estate, with plantations of trees, and other decorations”.

The next resident was Thomas Kynaston from London, who was also Lord of the Manors of Chipping and Witham. It was he who had a bath house on the River Brain (see )

In 1805, Roger Kynaston, Thomas’s son, sold the estate to the Du Canes of Great Braxted. The main Du Cane resident in Witham was the Reverend Henry Du Cane, a magistrate. Although he does not seem to have been attached to a parish, he was firmly attached to the Church of England, was extremely annoyed when a new Cathilic church was built opposite him.

In 1841 his household consisted of nine servants and seven Du Canes, the youngest of the family being Percy aged six months. In 1839 the usually non-committal Tithe Award described the estate as “a Mansion House, Garden and Pleasure Grounds”. In 1848 White’s history described it as a “fine old mansion of red and black brick … with pleasant grounds”, and across the road “a beautiful avenue of trees, about a quarter of a mile long, and open to the public”. Many observers had noted how the Grove stood at the entrance to the town, and enhanced the view of Witham as seen by travellers from Colchester. This might have been affected when that road was taken up over the new railway to Maldon in 1848. But we can see that the Grove had become one of the grandest places in Witham. And by this time a possible rival, Witham Place, was in decline.

The next surprising thing to happen was the sale of the Grove’s entire contents. This was in 1883, after the deaths of both Henry Du Cane and his widow. It’s quite impossible to do justice to the Sale catalogue but if you are in the Essex Record Office, read it (ERO Sale Catalogue B5183). There were 1460 lots, in 18 bed and dressing rooms and four reception rooms. The first summary page included 3,000 volumes of books, two haystacks, wine, greenhouse plants. But as I say I can’t possibly describe it all. Quite a large field at the back, the Grove field, would account for the farming equipment. After it was no longer cultivated, it was often put to use for pageants, cricket matches etc.

Part of the grounds are occupied by the old police station, and some by offices. The Grove field is now the Grove housing estate.

Some arrangement must have made the house liveable in. Because in 1896 Percy Laurence bought it. He was very active in the community and gave land to good causes such as the Constitutional Club and the War Memorial, and a new town clock when the old one burnt down in 1910. He was also president of a large number of Witham organisations. Laurence Avenue is named after him.

When he died in 1921, the Grove estate was divided into lots and put up for sale. Then another sale in 1932 disposed of the fixtures and fittings, and in the following year the house was demolished. Some sizeable “outhouses” were retained, and provided very acceptable family houses until they too were pulled down in 1967.

There is a  more detailed account of the history of the Grove in the Essex Record Office, reference ERO T/P 198/10, “Survey of the Grove”. It was prepared by the Witham Archaeological Research Group in 1967.

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