Saturday, 21 June 2014

Willesden Paddocks, a famous stud farm

This was a famous stud farm run by the Tattersall family who today are still one of the leading sellers of thoroughbred race horses. It was part of Upper Oxgate which was off the Edgware Road beyond Cricklewood at the corner of today’s Oxgate Lane. In 1838 the Duke of Buckingham sold 96 acres of the Roberts estate to Edmund Tattersall. He carried out an extensive building conversion of the old houses on the property, some dating back as far as 1670, to create his stud farm. 

The illustration of the property is by George Tattersall, a talented artist member of the family, from his book on ‘Sporting Architecture’ (1841). Wealthy race horse owners could send their mares to Willesden Paddocks for 12 shillings a week to be ‘covered’ by resident stallions at the stud: the fee in 1853 was 15 guineas. This area on the outskirts of London was popular for horse breeding and there was another stud farm at Neasden.

‘Voltigeur’ and Sir Edwin Landseer
Thomas Dundas, the 2nd Earl of Zetland lived at Aske Hall near Richmond, Yorkshire. He was a passionate race horse owner and his horse ‘Voltigeur’ won the Derby and the St Ledger in 1850. He asked the famous artist Sir Edwin Landseer to paint a portrait of ‘Volti.’ Landseer, who is well known for his painting of a stag called the ‘Monarch of the Glen’ and for creating the lions in Trafalgar Square, simply did not do race horse paintings. But he was intrigued when he heard that Volti had two tortoiseshell cats that slept in his stable and were his constant companions. After a lot of persuasion and presumably a sizeable fee, in 1861 he agreed to the commission, but refused to travel to Yorkshire. This meant Volti and his two companions had to be walked the 250 miles to Willesden Paddocks. Each day they were taken to Landseer’s home in St John’s Wood where he painted the portrait. The huge life size painting was Landseer’s one and only portrait of a race horse and he took years to finish it. Finally it was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1870. Unfortunately, Voligeur broke a leg when he was kicked by a mare and had to be shot in 1874. The portrait is still on display at Aske Hall. 

Henry Richard Phillips
When Edmund Tattersall died in 1851 the stud farm was sold the following year for £10,450 to Henry Richard Phillips, a major horse dealer living at 9 Albert Gate Knightsbridge. He had the contract to supply the Calvary of the British Army with horses. Napoleon III was one of his rich customers and called a favourite horse ‘Phillips’ in honour of the dealer.

In 1862 Phillips prosecuted Andrew Gray a reporter for the ‘Weekly Times’. The paper had implied that Phillips had murdered his wife Frances after she gave birth to their first child. Her mother Mrs Diana Little had travelled from York to be with her daughter in Knightsbridge. About ten past six on 12 February Frances’s bell rang violently and her mother, sister, the cook and a maidservant rushed into the room. When they got there Frances said, ‘Oh mother, he (pointing at Phillips), has poisoned me! You wilful murderer’. She said that while she was lying in bed, he had leaned over her to see if she was asleep, and then thrust a bottle into her mouth which took her breath away, so she could not cry out until blood poured from her nose. Then she asked for some ice which was given to her by the maid. She asked for a doctor and also a magistrate to take her statement, as she felt she would die from the poison Phillips had given her. When her mother rushed into the room Frances’s mouth was black and blood was running out of her mouth from her nose. Frances said to her husband, ‘You have Palmerised me at last’ (this was a reference to William Palmer of Rugeley, who had poisoned his wife in 1854). Frances said she was sure that he had twice before given her poison, but the last dose was the strongest.

She died three days later and was buried in Kensal Green. Mrs Little asked magistrates and the police to investigate, but they found nothing suspicious. The coroner also carried out a thorough investigation for the inquest and Frances’s body was exhumed. He concluded that death was due to natural causes. But Mrs Little was still not satisfied and told her story to Andrew Gray. His article entitled, ‘Alleged Murder by a Gentleman’ was published on 9 June 1862.  Phillips was shocked to read it and horrified when crowds gathered outside his home, calling him a murderer. He prosecuted Gray and the trial for libel was held at the Old Bailey on 22 September 1862. Phillips was called ‘an exceedingly wealthy horse dealer to the nobility of Europe’. The newspaper article also said that Phillips had had an affair with Mrs Jemima Phillips, the wife of Edward Thomas Phillips (no relation). But this was not discussed in any depth and Mr and Mrs Phillips were present during the trial. After hearing the evidence the jury found Gray guilty of libel, and he was fined £50. He remained in prison until the fine was paid.

On 10 September 1886 Phillips died and there was some talk he may have committed suicide. He left his daughter Frances Anne, £279,197 (worth an astonishing £25 million today).

Fires at Willesden Paddocks
There was a fire at the stud farm in May 1844 when a boy heated some pitch which set fire to a large hay stack. Fire engines from Willesden and London were called and with the help of about 200 local men the fires were put out after several hours. No people or horses were injured.

In January 1906 there was a terrible fire in the stables, then being used as an Army depot for training horses. About 50 of the 200 horses stampeded and 22 year old Solomon Plant, a meat carrier who was unloading his van, was trampled to death near the Welsh Harp. The 100 people who worked at the depot, despite the danger of burning tar falling from the roof, cut the horses free and no one else was injured.

Colonel Sir Alfred Rawlinson, CMG, CBE, and DSO
In 1922 Colonel ‘Toby’ Rawlinson was living in the large house at Willesden Paddocks. He was a soldier, an intelligence officer, a pioneer motorist, racing driver and aviator. He was one of the earliest people to have a pilot’s licence with membership number three of the Royal Aero Club.

Rawlinson was also a member of the polo team which won a gold medal at the 1900 Olympics. He served on the Western Front but was injured by a German heavy artillery shell in May 1915. He returned to England where he continued his War service by working on the air defence of London

The photo below shows him with the Grand Duke Michael of Russia who was living at Kenwood House and allowed a mobile anti-aircraft unit to be based there.

In 1918 Rawlinson was transferred to the Intelligence Corps and he worked on assignments in Turkey and the Caucasus. Rawlinson wrote about his experiences in ‘Adventures in The Near East’ (1923). Toby had four children with his first wife, Margarette, but she died in 1907.

In 1913 he married his second wife, Jean Isabella Griffin Aitkin, an actress and singer with the stage name Jean Aylwin. She had become famous after starring in the long running musical ‘The Spring Chicken’ in 1906. The marriage went well until 1923 when she was acting in ‘Polly’ at the Chelsea Theatre, and she asked Toby to rent her a flat opposite the theatre in the Kings Road. One day when he called to take her out to lunch he found her with Herbert Bath, a song composer. Although she denied an affair, in 1924, Toby cited Bath as co-respondent in their divorce.

In January 1931 Toby had a lucky escape when his car burst into flames near Cricklewood. In June 1934 Rawlinson was found dead from natural causes in a small flat in Edgeley Road, Clapham. He left only £115 to his son.

Pathe News has a short silent film of Rawlinson presenting medals to members of the Coldstream Guards in 1920.

Eventually, Willesden Paddocks was built over by today’s streets and the businesses around Staples Corner now cover the stud farm.