Sunday, 25 August 2013

Ta Ta to Brunner Mond

This  post is for Jane and Dick through whom I was able to view Wotton House

 What links these three buildings?

Buckingham House (top) was built in 1705 for the Duke of Buckingham and only became a palace when it was acquired by King George III. When it was constructed it looked more like Wotton House (above, right) which was also built around the same time for the Duke of Buckingham, in his home county.
This can be appreciated better from this contemporary drawing of Bcukingham House.

Wotton House today still retains this perspective although the house has undergone some remodelling.

In 1820 a fire gutted Wotton House and the then Duke retained John Soane immediately to restore it. Soane was given a free hand in this work and decided to reduce the height  of the house producing proportions more Georgian in style.
Originally the lower two  storeys were the same height but by reducing the height of the first floor, Soane achieved the desired change in proportions.

My photograph (left) shows the effect on the height of the first floor windows and the new brickwork is clearly visible.

Soane also created a three-storey entrance hall with a dome.

The gardens were replanned, possibly by Capability Brown who was working at Stowe around that time.
In 1889 the last of the Grenville line - the Dukes of Buckingham - died following which the house had a series of owners culminating in being used as  a school. In 1953 the school suddenly closed and the house fell rapidly into disrepair.  
Following WWII, building materials were in short supply and many stately homes were demolished to feed the programme of house rebuilding. Bucks County Council who owned Wotton House by 1957 decided that it was unsaleable and it was to be demolished.

The old stables which were to the south of the house had been sold along with the walled garden and this had some illustrous owners including Sir John Gielgud and, currently, Tony Blair.

Two weeks before its demolition, Elaine Brunner, a widow, bought Wotton House for £6000 payable in six annual installments and devoted the rest of her life to its restoration.  The Grenville's other great house - Stowe - was acquired by The National Trust and Elaine Brunner was determined not to be restrained by such an arrangement at Wotton.  To improve  her finances, she created several apartments within the house which she let. In 1998 Elaine died and the house passed into the hands of her daughter, April, and her husband, David Gladstone.
The restoration is continueing in their hands.
3 cherubs waiting patiently for their elevation
The one remaining major work is the restoration of John Soane's dome which I  hope one day to see fully finished.

Elaine's husband was Patrick, the grandson of John Brunner who, in 1873, set up a factory in Winnington, near Northwich to produce soda ash.  With his partner, Ludwig Mond they built a successful chemical company based on  the River Weaver close to the Anderton Boatlift which gave them access to the Trent & Mersey Canal. The company expanded into many other fields and also other parts of the UK.
In  1912 the Brunner-Mond caustic soda plant in Silvertown, London was moth-balled but was requitioned by the War Dept for purification of TNT.  this is more hazardous than production of the explosive and the plant was not suited to the activity.  In January 1917 30 tons of TNT exploded in rail trucks used for storage killing 73 people including fireman who were attending a small fire which
preceded the explosion.  Ironically Silvertown fire station was destroyed along with 900 other properties.  A further 70,000 were damaged including, alledgedly, the windows of the Savoy Hotel in The Strand.  On the Greenwich Penninsula, where the Millenium - sorry, O2 - dome stands today burning debris from the explosion landed on  a gasometer causing a fireball as 7.1 million cu ft of gas ignited.
On 7 december 1926 Sir Alfred Mond and Sir Henry McGowan the chief executive of Nobel Industries formulated a deal which created ICI .  The other companies involved were British Dyestuffs and United Alkali Co.
Brunner Mond Winnington Plant now part of Tata

Eighty years later, and after spinning off the pharmaceutical business into what is now Astra Zeneca, ICI was no more - gobbled up by the Indian conglomerate  Tata.
Brunner Mond



now nameless

Little evidence of the Brunner Mond name exists.

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