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North Stifford Village

Stifford Lodge - A Brief History

Like most old country houses, Stifford Lodge (the most recent name of the property before it became a hotel) has undergone many alterations over the years.

There was a house on the site as early as 1327 when it was owned by Henry de Shirewell; it was probably of timber-frame construction. This medieval house seems to have been substantially rebuilt in brick, probably by the Kingsman family in the mid - 18th century.

When the trustees of Jasper and Ann Kingsman sold it to John Button in 1789, it was described as 'a capital mansion house with all requisite offices, gardens and meadow land'.

The Kingsmans were major local landowners with property in several parishes which would have produced a substantial income in rents. The Buttons were another notable landowning family.

After John Button's death in 1806, Stifford Lodge was occupied by his son who was also called John and was presumably responsible for the early 19th century additions to the house. When this second John's wife died in 1830 he assumed her surname of Freeman. He lived at the lodge until his death in 1853 at the age 82.

John Freeman's daughter Elizabeth Frances inherited and retained the property until her death in 1868. The house then passed to her daughters who sold it to Mr Edmund W. Brooks in 1901.

Between 1860 and 1901 the owners were not resident and the house had been let to a series of tenants, these were: Arthur Wild, William Philip Beech, George H. Frank, William Fitzgerald Scott and Herbert Edmund Brooks. The last mentioned, Herbert Brooks, was prominent in local politics and was chairman of Essex County Council. The library fittings at the lodge are from his time.

In about 1926, the Brooks family moved out of Stifford Lodge for a short time and the house was let to some people who were quite a curiosity to the locals in those days. The new residents in the village were three Indian princes, who had been sent to England to be educated, and they were accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Putani. The Princes were Motabhai, who was educated at Harrow, and Nunabhai and Bapa, who went to Stanmore Park Preparatory School.

During their stay, they were allowed to play with certain village children who were thought to be 'suitable.' The boys only stayed in North Stifford for a few months and then moved on to another country house nearer to Harrow. Eventually, Motabhai became Govenor of Bombay and Bapa became Prime Minister of Bhavnagar, but unfortunately it seems that Nunabhai must have 'gone off the rails' somewhat, as he was reported in the Times to have been arrested for banditry.

Herbert Brooks returned to the house but died in 1931 and his widow remained in residence until 1933. The house was then occupied by the Crossley family until 1939 when it was taken over by the War Department and became a Canadian military hospital. Temporary huts were erected for use as wards and these were dismantled at the end of the war by German prisoners.

Colonel J.D. Sherwood of Stifford Lodge

After its wartime use the house was purchased by Colonel Sherwood.

Following the Second World War, the military authorities, who had used it as a Canadian military hospital, vacated Stifford Lodge. Colonel Sherwood, head of Sherwood Paints - the first such company to incorporate Silicone as a water repellent into its paints - bought it.

The Colonel lived there with his friend, companion and secretary Mr Walmsley, a former draper from Lancashire who would inherit most of the Colonel's estate upon his death in 1966.

While in residence at the Lodge, Sherwood adopted the role of village Squire, acting generously towards the villagers both individually and as a larger community. The grounds of the Lodge (known locally as the White House) were frequently used for garden parties, and the people of Stifford played tennis on the Lodge courts. The Lodge gardens were used in part for growing fruit and vegetables, which were then distributed around the village and sold. Colonel Sherwood was responsible for paying for a new village hall when fund-raising attempts proved unsuccessful. He opened it in 1959, together with Sir Francis Whitmore, a local landowner who donated the land.

He was a churchwarden at St. Mary's Church, and often read the lesson. He also gave willingly to a variety of charitable organisations, without publicity.

The Colonel's tastes regarding his furnishings and style of living were those of around fifty years before, and there are stories of how he refused to have the heating turned on until a particular date (probably a habit picked up from his Army days). Summer and winter started on specific dates and the heating had to comply, irrespective of the weather. It is said that the Colonel and his companions at the Lodge would go around the house swathed in coats and dressing gowns because of the cold, but the heating was still off because winter had not officially started.

During the period of Sherwood's ownership of Stifford Lodge, he also spent some time in Barbados, but kept in touch with England on a weekly basis by having all his mail sent to him. He died in Barbados in 1966, and was buried at the Surrey home of his parents; Brookwood. St Mary's Church, Stifford, held a memorial service and he is remembered by an annual gift sent to the parish by the Sherwood Trust, which had been established in 1950.

Colonel Sherwood is accurately described in the book 'Stifford Saga'as 'Stifford's Last Squire', due to his traditional views and general benevolence towards the villagers. After his death, most of Stifford's larger houses subsequently passed out of individual private ownership.