The History of Melton Wellness House
The Manor House which stands on the corner of Burton Street and Mill Street, now known as Melton Wellness House, has a history and importance in the town of Melton Mowbray that few would know from looking at it now.
Formerly the site of the ancient home of the Lords of the Manor of Melton which was demolished in the 1770s, the site was brought up by the 1st Lord Melbourne (father of Queen Victoria's Prime Minister - Lord Melbourne) who built a new house upon the site.
The house was later demolished again when the Melbourne's sold the property for £900 to Mr. Charles Hay Frewen of Cold Overton Hall, one of England's biggest landowners of the time, and a later Member of Parliament, who also bought Mill Close for stabling, and 5 acres behind the property (now the site of Pet Foods). He immediately pulled down the house and built the Manor House property which currently stands on the site, plus extensive stabling behind (only parts of which still stand on Mill Street and within Beeby's Yard) for a price of £2,245, stipulating to his architect that it must be built in its entirety within 3 months.
Upon completion of the project, Frewen actually only lived in the property itself for a short period of time, preferring to spend his time in lodgings at the Harboro Hotel just down the street, then known as 'Burton End' where he famously harangued electors from its windows threatening to "kill all foxes". His outspoken speech aroused strong feelings in the community and, "throw Frewen into the river," became a popular cry amongst the townspeople.
In 1873, the Manor House was leased out to Lord Carrington, Charles Wynn-Carrington, another MP and another frequent roomer at the Harboro. Another outspoken character, with his speeches, often being described as "racy", he was a close friend of Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, (later King Edward VII) and one of the notorious 'Marlborough House set', an amusing, sporting, wealthy group of aristocrats known for their raucous house parties, dinners, balls and social gatherings of which many were held at the Manor House.
It was on April 1st, 1873 that Lord Carrington welcomed Edward, the Prince of Wales to stay at the Manor House in Melton Mowbray for a week of hunting, partying, and entertainment, something that the town had got a worldwide reputation for during the months of December to March - the hunt season -when the rich and reckless descended on the town. Burton Street had become a particular hub for this hunt and party lifestyle during this part of the year, with apartments and lodgings lining the street, some of the major hunting lodges, the Old Club, many hostelries, hotels and most importantly stabling facilities.
One particular scandal that rocked the 'Marlborough House set' involves yet another of The Manor House's later tenants, the Earl of Aylesford - known as 'Sporting Jo' ("wearer of the glossiest hat" and whose duty it was to organise "polo, pig-sticking and other sporting events" as part of the set) whose wife Edith, the Prince had been known to have had a dalliance or two with. Affairs with women within the Marlborough House Set were commonplace, but all of this wife and husband swapping had firm, but necessary, rules: unmarried and newlywed women were out, married women were advised to fill the nursery with legitimate children before the offspring of their liaisons entered the wing (and one must never comment upon a likeness), and the Cardinal Rule was “Thou Shall Not Be Found Out.”
However, it was during a trip to India by the Prince, Lord Carrington, Sporting Jo, and a few others of the set that they became entangled in a divorce case when Lord Randolph Churchill’s brother, the Marquess of Blandford, eloped with Edith, Lady Aylesford whilst her husband was in India. Letters reached Lord Aylesford about his wife’s affair, and he returned home in haste; however, his early departure infuriated the Prince of Wales. Springing to his brother’s defense, Lord Randolph Churchill threatened to reveal HRH’s own indiscretions with Lady Edith. This was tantamount to blackmail, and the Prince was so angry that he challenged Lord Randolph to a duel. Matters reached the stage of declaring seconds, though Lord Randolph dispatched his to the Prince’s with the message that he would duel anyone but his future Sovereign, whereupon the Prince said he would appear in no place where Lord Randolph was present - effectively ostracizing Winston Churchill’s parents from London Society.
Upon an agreed formal separation between the Earl (Sporting Jo) and Lady Aylesford in 1877, he took up residence at The Manor House in Melton Mowbray for a year but did not stop long before emigrating to Texas, whereupon he died of alcoholism soon afterward.
Over the following years, the House was occupied only during the hunt season by those rich enough to lodge there, but in 1880, the Manor House became the residence of yet another pair of infamous brothers, Christopher and Frank Murietta, two very wealthy Spanish financiers, and descendants of the Marques de Murietta, the first producer of Rioja wine. The brothers were involved in the very famous Baring Crisis of 1890 which resulted in the near insolvency of Barings Bank which triggered an acute recession, and which may have collapsed the entire private banking system of London had it not been for a bailout by Nathan Rothschild and his consortium.
Just before the house of Murietta became insolvent in 1890, Barings Bank sold large quantities of Argentinian railway stock, in which they had an interest, to the gullible public, including the South American and Mexican Investment Company which was incorporated just as the bubble was about to burst. The Baring crisis plunged the Muriettas into an immediate liquidity crisis. To plug this, it was negotiated with the Governor of the Bank of England to extend the Bank of England’s loan of half a million pounds to the Muriettas on the condition they could amalgamate with the South American and Mexican Investment Company. This plan collapsed when that company’s debenture holders rebelled against their Directors. The brothers, it is said, may have escaped great financial loss, but they chose familial honour and morals over riches.
By 1891, the Manor House had become home to another pair of brothers with a wine background, William and George Bishop, distillers from London; it is also likely they too were tenanted at The Manor House for the hunt season, as especially notable is the guest and friend residing with them during this time, one notable Crawshay Bailey, or rather Crawshay Wellington Puleston, grandson of 1st Baronet Joseph Bailey on his father's side and 2nd Baronet Sir Richard Puleston on his mother's.
Later in the 1890's, the Manor House became the residence of Colonel William Lawson, 3rd Baron of Burnham, whose name is more usually associated with Staveley Lodge, a hunting lodge sited where the Pera building now stands. Another very wealthy landowning family, the Lawson's were regulars at the Old Club on Burton Street. However, during 1895 when the Old Club was undergoing alterations, the Manor House became the entertainment zone once again, and the setting for a variety of jolly events, breakfast parties, dinners and musical diversions. Notable guests included Daisy, Princess of Pless, and her brother George Cornwallis-West, who later married Jennie Churchill (mother of later Prime Minister Winston, and former wife of previously exiled Lord Randolph Churchill) who had been accepted back into the fold of Prince Edward and his set following her husband's death.
The Manor House continued to be used as a hub for the aristocracy to tenant during the hunting season until 1899, when the premises were bought by Joseph Wakerley, local architect and brother of more famous Arthur. Joseph drew up plans to renovate the property and convert it into the town's General Post Office; however; just before the contract was signed, Burton Street suffered one of the worst floods in it's history, with water a metre over the lower windows and a river gushing through it. The deal was called off. For the following two years, the Manor House was then used alternatively as architect's offices for the Wakerley family business, until it was sold on again in 1901.
In 1901, the Manor House was then bought by the Franciscans, with plans drawn up to convert the house to a convent school, after Mother Francis was approached by Bishop Bagshawe of Nottingham to accept ministry in Melton Mowbray. Initially, the sisters moved to a small convent on Sherrard Street, but it soon became clear that the house was too small, so they moved to 9 Thorpe End while the purchase and renovations of the Manor House were undertaken. Four Catholic children enrolled, but Sunday school instruction sparked active interest and the sisters required more space. The back premises on Mill Street was converted into a laundry for the convent school, Manor Lodge, and the laundrette stands there on the same site still. However, the school soon relocated to Tower House on Dalby Road where the sisters remain to this day. Tower House is the Mother House of the congregation and there is also a thriving primary school dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi on the site.
In 1911 the house was sold on again, this time to Albert Bonham, a local butcher, and Elizabeth Bonham - a Sunday school teacher. It was then lived in as a family house for the first time in its history for a period of 12 years. Most interestingly about the family is that son Frank Bonham and his sister, Joan, who had lived in the Manor House as children, later purchased the side of the building (now known as Sorsky's hairdressers at 1 Mill Street), after it was split into three commercial units in the 1950s, and opened a bottled 'fizzy pop' shop called Melton Mineral Water Company.
It was during the period of the Bonham's residence that the most well-known tenant of the Manor House resided - internationally renowned conductor and composer, Sir Malcolm Sargent, who boarded with the Bonham family at the Manor House property between 1914 and 1924. At the time he worked as 'Organist and Choirmaster' at St Mary's Church just across the street, except for eight months in 1918 when he served as a private in the Durham Light Infantry during the First World War. He was actually chosen for the organist post over more than 150 other applicants.
At the same time as he lived at the Manor House, he worked on many musical projects in Leicester, Melton Mowbray, and Stamford, where he not only conducted but also produced the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan and others for amateur societies. The new Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, and his entourage often hunted in Leicestershire as their ancestors had before them, and watched the annual Gilbert and Sullivan productions there, together with the Duke of York and other members of the Royal Family. At the age of 24, Malcolm Sargent became England's youngest 'Doctor of Music', with a degree from Durham.
A stained glass window in St Mary's Church, Melton Mowbray, is dedicated to Sir Malcolm Sargent, and a commemorative blue plaque is sited on the Manor House building.
In 1922, Burton Street flooded severely again, and the Bonham family moved out when the property became accommodation for the hunt season once again.
In 1924 it became the seasonal home of one Lady Augusta Fane, another frequent visitor to Melton Mowbray since the 1880s and the era of the 'Marlborough Set'. Her name is synonymous with yet another great Melton Mowbray story - that of the midnight steeplechase of March 10th, 1890.
"Lady Augusta Fane looked around the room at the 25 people dining with her at The Old Club, Burton Street, the men in red dining coats and white breeches. The hunting set. Latecomers stood around the walls, chatting quietly. It was her birthday and she was now 33 and attractive. Everyone there was drawn by the thought of an exciting and different evening ahead.
Last Friday the conversation had drifted around to the fact of her coming birthday. Augusta was pressed to choose a way of their celebrating this event with something novel – and fun. It was to be a full moon that Monday, so she suggested a Moonlight Steeplechase. The idea was immediately seized upon and an outline of what was needed was decided.
At about 9.30 pm a message was sent into the room that the sky had become overcast and clouds obscured the moon. This was a setback, but there was no thought of cancelling the event. Colonel Baldock slipped down to the Midland Railway’s station at the bottom of the street, having called for the stationmaster, Mr. Beddington, on the way. Here they borrowed a horse-drawn van, and with the help of a porter, a number of the station’s lamps were loaded inside. Off they all went to the proposed course and hung a lamp at each end of every fence. A further lamp was hung high in the tree at the homeward turn.
Eleven riders prepared for the coming race, and it was perhaps again concerns for visibility that caused them to decide to ride wearing nightshirts. For those who were wintering at the Bell Hotel, Colonel Wilson, Algy Burnaby of Baggrave, Colonel Hill Trevor, and those who lived locally, this was simply resolved, but for those who lived further out, they had to borrow something. One rider struggled into a pink gossamer item donated by Lady Augusta herself.
It had been resolved that the event would be carried out in secret, but it was a vain hope. As the time approached the lanes all around were alive with people, carts, and carriages. A hum of excited chatter got stronger as the time approached. When 11.30 pm came, a horn was blown and the riders gathered at the start, and away they went, the riders’ nightshirts helping the spectators pick out where they were. After the turn, the riders rode hard for the finish. One, Count Eliot Zborowski, a famous American racing car driver, was neck and neck with Algy Burnaby. A stumble by the other horse let Burnaby through and the Count had to settle for second place.
After the excitement, all the riders, and their friends, joined Augusta at Coventry House, just down Burton Street from the Manor House - the newly acquired Zborowski home in Melton Mowbray - for a ‘splendid supper party’. Algy Burnaby was presented with a silver-mounted ivory cup donated by the Count, and although Zborowski must have half hoped he would win it himself, there were no hard feelings – it had been an exceptional night that would be remembered for decades - the night of the Midnight Steeplechase."
Following Lady Augusta's residency, the property was resided in on a seasonal basis throughout the 1920s and 1930s, with only domestic servants and grooms showing as resident on historical documentation. Who stayed at the Manor House during these years during the hunt seasons is anyone's guess? But due to its history and prior status, it is somewhat likely that it was yet again the abode of the wealthy during the months of December to March.
By 1951, the Manor House had been broken up into commercial units, with the stabling and land having been long sold off, and Petfoods being built. The property became the well remembered Electricity Company Showroom for many years, before being separated into two commercial units in more recent years.
By 2018 the Grade II Listed property was in quite a state, but as part of the extensive restoration and redevelopment of Melton Wellness House it has finally been restored to showcase some of its prior glory.
The rest, as they say... is history.