In 1855, although without a village, the hamlet encompassed the substantial Luton Hoo estate along with 5 farms - Ashwell Bridge, The Brache, New Inn, Thrails End and Park also called Pursley’s, all owned by John G Leigh. In the area to the north of Luton Hoo "a considerable suburb joining the Township of Luton has sprung up at Brown Brick".
Today the "suburb" is incorporated into Luton as the Park Town area.
West Hyde is dominated today, as it has been for centuries by the grand house and park of Luton Hoo.
Occupation of the property in Roman times has been confirmed by the discovery of a sarcophagus in 1843, which was transferred to the British Museum and also coins of the time of Caracella AD211 to Claudius Gothicus AD270, which were found in 1862.
Reportedly the Estate of the de Hoo family from the time of King Canute (Reigned AD1016-35), there is documentary evidence in the deeds of Luton Hoo of occupation by Robert de Hoo in 1245. With a lack of clarity as to the specific land concerned a further deed of 1258 covers land in Luton, Kadingdon and Flammstede.
[The family of Hoo also held Knebworth and Walden Hoo, Kippton Hoo or Hoobury which Eustace de Hoo (1190) claimed against Baldwin de "Bolon" (Boulogne).]
The Manor passed in 1292 to (son?) Sir Robert de Hoo (married to Beatrice, daughter to Earl of Andival) who died on 9th May 1310. It passed then to Thomas de Hoo until 1337, William de Hoo until 1415 and Thomas de Hoo until 1455.
For services in France and Normandy this last Sir Thomas de Hoo was created baron, Lord Hoo and Hastings in 1447.
His son, Thomas, by his first wife, Elizabeth, died within his lifetime, but he did have a daughter, Anne, by his second wife, Elizabeth and three daughters, Eleanor, Elizabeth and Jane by his third wife, Eleanor.
Anne married Sir Geoffrey Bullen ( Boleine or Boleyn) who was Master of the Mercers’ Company (1454) and Lord Mayor of London (1457). Their son, Thomas, married Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, to whom was born Anne Boleyn who famously married Henry VIII and was mother to Elizabeth I.
From 1601 it was to remain in the hands of one family for nearly 150 years. In 1530, Alexander Napier [1500-1588], younger son of Sir Alexander Napier of Merchiston in Scotland [killed at Flodden 1513], family of the Earls of Lennox, moved to Exeter and later to London. His son Robert [1560-1637] apparently matched his father’s entrepreneurial skill gaining significant wealth, in his case, as a turkey merchant.
Napier Clan Badge
A contemporary account, quoted in the authoritative 1928 work of W. Austin [See – More to Read] records that Luton Hoo was acquired in 1601 by Robert Sandy, who later took the name Napier. This misunderstands the identification of this line of the large family by virtue of the dominance of Alexanders as the "Sandy" Napiers.
Robert was present when King James I [VI of Scotland] visited Sir John Rotherham in 1605 and was recognised as a man of substance who might support court finances.
Following or possibly during a Royal Progress in 1611 during which the King stayed at Luton Hoo, Robert was made Baronet, for which favour he contributed £1,200 towards plantations in Ulster, plus the funding of 30 soldiers for 3 years at 3d per man per day.
The Manor of Luton, which had been in the Rotherham family from 1477 was purchased by Sir Robert Napier in 1614. Records indicate that he increased the Luton Hoo Estate with the purchase of local property in West Hyde, Newmill End and Rinsford, Hill, Stapleford, Brache and Limbury Farms along with Lawleys Church house, Harts Horn and 4 tenements on Tower Hill in Luton.
Sir Robert and his son undertook substantial alteration to the house, including the building of a Chapel that was completed in 1650.
Sir Robert Napier, 2nd Bt. succeeded his father in 1637. He represented Peterborough in the long Parliament. An ardent royalist, his estate was sequestered in 1644. He offered to compound and was discharged in 1647. It is recorded that his disapproval of changes to St Mary’s Church prompted his improvement of the Luton Hoo Chapel.
Sir John Napier inherited the estate in 1675, but it took a Private Act of Parliament to settle his title on Sir Theophilus Napier when he died “a lunatic” in 1711.
In turn, in the absence of surviving heir, the estate passed to Sir Theophilus’ grandson, John in 1719.
As the last male heir, Sir John Napier bequeathed the substantial estate to his aunt, Mrs Francis Napier, which she inherited in 1747 and in turn bequeathed it to Mr Francis Herne.
[There are accounts that Mary, Queen of Scots had been impressed by the straw plaiters of Lorraine and had encouraged the introduction of this craft in her homeland. When later King James sought to improve the lot of some impoverished Scots by encouraging their move to England, he supposedly looked to the support of Napier whose family were Scots. Thus, it is said, the straw hat industry of Luton was born].
It was sold by Mr Herne to John, Earl of Bute in 1763.
The Earl commenced a programme of restoration and enhancement of the house under the direction of Robert Adam, but this was set back by a fire, which destroyed a section of the building and parts of the remaining interior in 1771. Further substantial fire damage occurred in 1843, when most of the interior, with the exception of the library, was destroyed together with the whole chapel. Fortunately most of the fine collection of paintings was preserved.
The Adam created library was 146 feet long, with a ceiling painted by Cipriani and contained 30,000 books. H. Shaw’s "The history and antiquities of the Chapel at Luton Park", 1830, described the ornately carved oak screen and black and white marble floor.
Obviously unaffected by the fires were the extensive grounds laid out by "Capability Brown" including the five acre octagonal Walled Garden [see later].
It may therefore be appreciated why Dr Johnson was prompted to say in 1781, that "This is one of the places I do not regret having come to see. It is a very stately place indeed".
In purchasing the mansion in 1848, John Shaw Leigh took over the responsibility for major restoration and the half of the north wing, which had remained a shell since constructed in 1816, was converted into a private chapel.
He died in 1871 and his son John Gerard Leigh then inherited the estate. He married in 1872 and died in 1875. After his death, his wife remained in occupation even after her remarriage to Christian de Falbe (her 3rd husband) and retained the estate until her death in 1899. In due course, the trustees sold Luton Hoo to Sir Julius Carl Wernher.
Sir Julius founded the business, which is now De Beers and with his wife, "Birdie", the former Alice Sedgwick Mankiewicz, was happy to spend sizeable amounts of the fortune he accumulated. A major programme of renovation, lavish decoration and extension (an added floor of 30 rooms) was undertaken.
(Around 1920 one of the Estate’s self-sufficiencies ceased with the closure of the Gas Works near New Mill End. No more than the end of an earthenware pipe marks the spot today.)
In part, the added space was a practical issue relating to the creation of space within the house for appropriately fine display of the many art treasures (jewellery, paintings and porcelain) he purchased and came to be known as the Wernher Collection.
The Wernher Mausoleum in the Churchyard of Holy Trinity, East Hyde
Russian and royal connections came to the family with the marriages of their sons, Derrick Julius to Theodora Anna Romanov and Harold Augustus to Countess Anastasia (Zia) Mikhailovna de Torby.
These family links were to lead to many visits made by members of the British Royal Family, later including Queen Elizabeth II.
The Estate passed by inheritance to Harold and on his death, Zia was granted the rights to Luton Hoo for her lifetime. From her death in 1977, Nicholas (Nicky) Harold Phillips, son of Zia’s daughter, Georgina Wernher from her marriage with Lt Col Harold Pedro Joseph Phillips, inherited the Estate together with joint ownership of the Wernher Collection with the grandchildren of his Aunt, Myra Alice and Major Sir David Henry Butter.
Nicky embarked on an ambitious Business Park development, Capability Green and considerable debt was charged against the Estate. On his death in 1991 a struggle commenced to preserve the Estate and the Collection. After the sale of some items, the bulk of the Wernher Collection has been kept together and is now displayed at The Ranger’s House, Chesterfield Walk, Blackheath.
Luton Hoo has now entered a whole new phase of its existence. Following extensive refurbishment, the house has now opened as a prestige Hotel, owned by Elite Hotels.
Luton Hoo – photograph courtesy of Clague (www.clague.co.uk )
Before this transformation, it was involved in the entertainment industry. Luton Hoo hosted the major pop/rock event – Tribal Gathering in 1997, and has been regularly visible through television as a location for programmes such as Randall and Hopkirk and more internationally in films for cinema. Its credits are numerous, not just the commonly quoted Four Weddings and a Funeral. Notably, Luton Hoo has been chosen by two Bond producers for Never Say Never Again and The World Is Not Enough and by Stanley Kubrick for his last film, Eyes Wide Shut.
The Luton Hoo Estate continues as a separate entity and within it a project supported by English Heritage, The Civic trust and Luton Borough Council is under way to restore The Walled Garden.
First stages of cultivation since decline in the 1980s.
A reminder of earlier importance, the Head Gardener's House.
Evidence of its existence in the 18th Century comes from the name of The Harrow appearing on a 1762 map. The Luton Hoo Estate purchased The Harrow in 1872.
More recently, under the same name, it was part of the Whitbread "Beefeater" restaurant chain until 2002.
It then continued under the name of The Peppercorn. Purely by coincidence there was a farmer by the name of William Peppercorn who took on the tenancy at Thrales End in 1829.
Then came a new identity as a unit of three restaurants was introduced. This was followed by an asian fusion restaurant under the name of Zsara until replaced by Charlie's serving chinese cuisine.