Bishopswood stands on land which at the taking of the great Domesday survey in 1086 formed part of a great Norman demesne used for hunting and long associated with Ruardean. It derives its name from its subsequent incorporation into the Chase of the Bishops of Hereford – ‘a wild wooded district lying between the Forest of Dean and the River Wye, rich in scenes of exquisite beauty'. That the area has been inhabited almost time out of mind is evidenced by the fact that in 1896 a large cache of gold coin, dating from the Roman era, was found on the estate.
Successive Bishops of Hereford used the estate for hunting and - as its granting was in their gift - as a form of reward and occasional bribery. Records show that in 1441, the nineteenth year of the troubled reign of Henry VI, and the year the Duchess of Gloucester was sentenced to life imprisonment for dealing with sorcerers, the estate of Bishop's Wood was held by Alexander Jordan, the Bishop of Hereford's body servant and valet. In 1614 a degree in the Court of Chancery was made regarding the estate, then of about two thousand acres, by which the Lords of the Manor, the Earls of Clanricarde and Essex, took one half of ‘the Bishop's Wood' free from manorial rights while the manorial copyholders took the other half as their own property, free from the lords' rights. As a consequence this section of the estate has been independent of the manor since that date. Henry V is rumoured to have hunted here and the great Duke of Wellington certainly did.
The house you see today was built in 1844 the seventh year of the reign of Queen Victoria, the year Charles Dickens published Martin Chuzzlewit, and the year the Rochdale Pioneers opened the first co-operative shop at Toad Lane. It incorporates a staircase either original to or copied from one designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1670 for Wandsworth Manor House. It was constructed by and for John Partridge, who had served as High Sheriff for Monmouthshire in 1824. Partridge was the son of a wealthy ironmaster named William Partridge. This was a time of great change. A year later, in 1845, the ecclesiastical parish of Bishopswood was formed out of the parishes of Walford in Herefordshire and Ruardean in Gloucestershire. The new parish had no church and John Partridge it was who came up with the money to build and endow the present one.
At the taking on the 1851 census, Bishopswood House was in use as the vicarage for All Saints, the incumbent being William Wait 40, a native of Bristol. In the spring of 1851, Wait was sharing the house with his wife, Lucy 32, and with their children: William 5, John 4, Robert 3 and little Lewis who on census night, in the April of the year, was aged three months. The staff of resident domestics numbered four: a groom, William Williams 22, who probably lived above the stables, a housemaid, Mary Miller 22, a nursemaid for the children, Emma Jaynes 25, and a housekeeper, the widowed Rebecca Gardner 50, to whom all the other female domestics would have been answerable. Mrs. Gardner would have done no menial work. Her badge of authority would have been the large bunch of keys which hung always from her waist. Usually, a housekeeper was appointed only in families of substantial income. She would have been expected to be grave, solid and serious - ‘to regard everything around her with the keenness and interest of a principal rather than with the indifference of a servant'. If the maids were impertinent it was her duty to correct them; if they were shy or frightened it was her duty to mother them; if they brushed the dirt under the carpet, it was her duty to detect them. She would have had her own well-furnished room, traditionally known to servants as the ‘Pug's Parlour'. A really resourceful housekeeper brewed her own imitation wines, distilled healing waters and made items such as liquorice lozenges. Housekeepers in large properties such as this could ‘prosper exceedingly' by giving guided tours of the house when her employers were away from home. This was then an accepted practice. A dishonest housekeeper had ample scope for cheating; a greedy one had ample scope for guzzling; a tyrannous one, in league with a tyrannous butler, could make life intolerable for the lower servants; an easy-going one would let all discipline dissolve. But a good housekeeper was worth very much more than her wages of half-a-guinea a week.
In the REv. Watt's day this house would have possessed a large chest containing a great many aids used to soften the personal hardships and infirmities of his parishioners. This war chest was commonly labeled ‘for Parish Use and Lending'. The Dorcas Society would have supplied a pack of confinement requirements – bed-linen, night-gowns and baby linen – for ‘the relief of poor respectable women'. [There is a reference to these child-birth packs in Flora Thompson'sLarkrise to Candleford.] Other items stored here would have included bronchitis kettles, bed-rests, salve for bed-sores, castor oil [which was ‘in constant request'] and drinking cups. The Rev. Watt would also have needed to store paraphernalia for decorating the church throughout the seasons and festivals of the year, flags, banners, white calico [for the covering of tables] as well as an endless amount of crockery for use at the ‘School Feasts'. The role of Lucy Watt should not be forgotten in this story. Philanthropy was the one public arena open to women. It was seen as ‘the proper activity of a lady'. Mrs. Watt was ‘the angel in the house' – the unpaid curate, acting as intermediary between middle-class philanthropy and working-class self-help, as befitted the dominant culture. She would have visited and assisted the sick and the destitute. She would also have visited retired servants. [By cultivating particular families she ensured a reservoir of respectable domestic staff for herself.] She would have held scripture readings in her parishioners' houses, persuaded their children to come to Sunday School, organised mothers' meetings and regulated sewing and thrift clubs. However, there would have been no suggestion of familiarity or any attempt to lower the barriers of class. The disinterested concern of middle-class women such as Lucy Watt was a very one-sided affair and one which, by modern standards, left the poor with very little dignity.
By 1861 the new incumbent, Arthur Monkhouse had moved to another property in the parish and what is now Bishopswood House had been renamed ‘The Coppice Vicarage' and was housing the family of the parish curate, who remained here until about 1870. It was then let to a succession of widow-ladies and spinsters, none of whom features in any of the standard works of biographical reference. They may have been friends or dependants of Colonel Harry Leslie Blundell McCalmont, the absentee owner.
Between about 1889 and 1905, the house, still known as ‘The Coppice', was rented from Colonel McCalmont [and after his death in 1902 from his executors], by William Otho Nicholson Shaw. At the taking of the 1901 census, Shaw gave his age as fifty-four, his place of birth as his family's country-seat, ‘Arrows Hall, near Birkenhead Cheshire', and his status as ‘Justice of the Peace for Cheshire, living on own means'. He shared the house with his wife, Marie 39, ‘born near Tours, France , British Subject', and with their three children: Henry 11, Corrine 9 and John 7. The resident domestic staff consisted of a footman - only the grandest and most formal country houses employed footmen - a cook, a nursemaid, an under nursemaid, a lady's-maid, a housemaid, an under-housemaid and a kitchen-maid. The butler, Alfred Long 49, lived in premises adjacent, while the family's two coachmen, three grooms, a stable-lad, two gardeners and a junior footman lived above the no doubt pungent stable complex.
Shaw's landlord, Harry McCalmont [1851-1902] was a prominent figure on the Turf and in the world of yachting, both of which were interests he shared with Edward VII, who was a close friend. For the last seven years of his life, McCalmont sat in parliament in the Conservative interest for Newmarket, the centre of the Edwardian horse-racing world. He was a popular M.P. and managed to retain the seat in 1900 although he was then fighting with his regiment in South Africa, in the Boer War, and was unable to campaign in person. The son of Hugh Barklie Blundell McCalmont, he was educated at Eton and in 1881 entered the 6 th Regiment of Foot. According to his obituary in The Times : ‘the fortune to which he became entitled on the seventh anniversary of the death of his great uncle, Mr. Hugh McCalmont, was probably about four millions', a sum equivalent in millennium money to perhaps £300m. On coming into this staggering amount of money, McCalmont began to acquire racehorses, ‘with Captain Machell to manage them for him'. His horse, Isinglass, which ‘never met with defeat', won the Two Thousand Guineas, the Newmarket Stakes, the Derby and the St. Leger as a two-year-old in 1901; and ‘wound up his remarkable career by taking the Ascot [Gold] Cup. Colonel McCalmont had many tempting offers for the horse but would never let him leave the box built for him at Cheveley-park, the estate which he bought from the Duke of Rutland.' Colonel McCalmont was rich enough to be able to build yachts almost without number. One of these, the Giralda, was so large that it was sold to the Spanish government and fitted out as a cruiser. It afterwards became the Spanish royal family's personal yacht. McCalmont's passing was recorded on page nineteen of The Times, Tuesday 9 December 1902:
The death occurred suddenly yesterday morning, at his residence, 11 St. James's Square, of Colonel Harry Leslie Blundell McCalmont C.B. M.P. Although it is stated that he had been under medical attendance, his death, which was due to heart failure, was wholly unexpected. He was on the point of leaving the house to take his usual morning drive, and was descending the steps to his private cab, which was awaiting him, when, apparently feeling unwell, he returned to the house. Sinking into a chair, he died almost immediately, without regaining consciousness, and before the servant who was present could summon assistance. The King was among the first to hear of the occurrence. On his arrival at St. Pancras on his way to Islington, he was told the news by the Crown Equerry and sent to St. James's Square a message conveying his sympathy with Mrs. McCalmont.
Winifred McCalmont [1863-1943],the second daughter of Sir Henry de Batho 4 th bt., travelled round the world five times, which as an extremely rich woman she could well afford to do, and was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, an honour then afforded to almost no other woman.
In the summer of 1898, about three years before his death, Colonel McCalmont offered the Bishopswood Estate for sale by auction. An advertisement which appeared in The Times on Tuesday 7 June 1898 described it as ‘a residential and sporting estate of some 2,000 acres picturesquely situated on the river Wye and yielding a rental of over £3,000 per annum', then an enormous sum of money. The Coppice was described as ‘the agent's house'. The estate was withdrawn from the sale at £69,500, the highest bid received. It was subsequently sold privately to Sir George Bullough [1870-1939] another owner and breeder of racehorses who was also destined to die suddenly of heart failure. In 1917 Sir George won a war-time Grand National held, of all places, at Gatwick, with his ten-year-old, Ballymacad, ‘who won from Chang and Ally Sloper'. Later ‘he gave up owning jumpers and transferred his interest to the flat'. Although in later years he was to win the One Thousand Guineas with Campanula, his best horse was Golden Myth, which won over fifteen thousand pounds in stake oney including the Ascot Gold Cup, making Sir George the second owner of this house to achieve that distinction. Like Harry McCalmont, he was also an owner of yachts and during the Boer War fitted out one of these as a hospital ship and loaned it to the British government, ‘for which service he was created a knight in 1901'. In 1916 he was created a baronet. In Sir George's time it was recorded that ‘there are some fine stables behind the house. The estate is renowned for the large quantity of game which is reared and shot, and has some large ponds for rearing wild duck.'
About 1915 the Bishopswood Estate was acquired through a private sale by Robert Holme Storey [b.1872] the fifth son of Sir Thomas Storey of Westfield, Lancaster, who continued to use what is now Bishopswood House as a residence for his stewards and bailiffs until the onset of the Second World War in 1939, the last year for which it has been possible to search records. The most durable of these bailiffs was William Gregson, who lived here for many years between the wars.
It would have fallen to William Gregson's lot to take control of the agricultural side of life on the Bishopswood Estate. He would almost certainly have carried with him a written testimonial from Robert Holme Storey emphasizing the need to obey his orders. He would have needed to ensure that the land was cultivated by orthodox, yet the most up-to-date, methods. He had also to be something of an accountant, keeping a tally of the oxen, cows and horses in the stalls, the sheep in the meadows, the poultry in the yards, the swans on the lakes and the bees in the skeps. He had to see that all the animals were in sound condition and that they were well treated by those whose job it was to tend them. He also had the task of deploying the labour available to him in the most cost-effective manner, calculating how much of the farming programme could be completed with the aid of his own men, and how many extra labourers would need to be brought in to supplement the permanent labour force. This was no easy matter to decide upon because he had always to remember those auditors who would be round when the season was over. If more money had been spent than was strictly necessary, Mr Storey would have had some harsh words to impart.
From end to end of the village, William Gregson's responsibilities went with him. He it was who supervised the crops and saw to the ploughing, marling, carting and seeding. He it was who issued the foodstuffs - doling them out by tally - for baking and brewing. He also superintended the allocation of the fodder for the livestock. The trimness of the hedges and the cleanliness of the ditches both came under his charge, as did the condition of the craftsmen's tools, the many implements of husbandry, and the looms and spinning-wheels of the women. We should spare a thought down the tunnel of the years for poor, harassed William Gregson. One suspects he could hardly move a yard without being accosted with some new question or problem. On the credit side, he enjoyed a rent-free house of considerable standing and a parcel of land for his own cultivation.
Local knowledge attests that the estate was sold about 1950, perhaps then to Mr. K.T. McHugh, who in turn sold the sporting portions of it in the summer of 1962, when it was described by an advertisement in The Times as ‘a sportsman's paradise'. The house was purchased at this time or perhaps later in the decade by a gentleman named Chambers, a major in the army.