Maze Hill House
Maze Hill House for sale…Perfect for all requirements and adapted to the comfort of a numerous family and built in the best possible manner. Approached by a lofty Doric portico. Thirteen principle bedrooms; three dressing rooms; billiard rooms. Reception rooms open onto a terraced walk screened by and avenue of trees (elms). Brewhouse. Large walled kitchen garden and fruit trees. Four stall stable, coachman’s apartments, etc.
Blimey. Where do I sign?
Sadly, this advert was from 1854, and the house is long-demolished. But I’m already ahead of myself.
“Occasionally I have heard mention of ‘Maze Hill House’ , and one of the park gates is Maze Hill House Gate. Please, please, please write about it, when it existed and its history and where it was on Maze Hill . I live next to the park and I am really curious.”
Maze Hill House was, according to the shamefully-out-of-print Felix Barker in Greenwich and Blackheath Past, ‘probably Maze Hill’s greatest architectural loss,’ which is saying something, since there were five very grand Greenwich Houses willfully demolished in the 20th Century. Barker mentions each of them briefly, and it’s a very sorry chapter, but to get the full gen, you really need to turn to the incomparable Neil Rhind. If it’s shameful that Felix Barker’s book is out of print then the fact that Neil Rhind’s seminal Blackheath Village and Environs II has never been republished is a disgrace.
You can still find it, from time to time, on Amazon marketplace or at Abebooks, at varying rates and if you’re a Westcombe Park resident interested in history you need to track it down – it covers the area in minute detail – it’s possible he even mentions your gaff. If all else fails, it should be in your local library (be quick before they close it…) or Greenwich Heritage Centre.
Rhind devotes nearly five pages to the history and people of Maze Hill House, and I can only skim the surface – I urge you to find his complete description and badger Bookshop Blackheath to republish it – they managed Volume One; its sister needs the same treatment.
But back to Maze Hill House. As you can see, it was a neo-classical mansion, elegant if a teeny bit boxy.
The first house was built in 1714,by the Admiral of the Fleet, Sir John Leake, on grounds that he’d leased, but he died without a natural heir. The 22 year-old young Earl of March leased it, and as he was halfway through decorating it his father died, leaving him Second Duke of Richmond. He was careful to procreate, and since he had no fewer than eleven children in a very short time, he had to upgrade to Vanbrugh Castle to accommodate them all.
Meanwhile, the Admiral had named his wife’s young nephew Stephen Martin as his heir, and he became rather interested in his uncle’s old house in Greenwich. He procured a new 99-year lease for the house and some extra land. Interestingly, for all you Undeground Greenwich fans, he was also granted “use of the common conduit on Mayes Hill.” No one really knows where it was, though it was, apparently, near the sign of the Duke of Ormond’s head. Neil Rhind wonders whether this might have been a pub built on the also-now-lost George inn, along the footpath under Vanbrugh Castle.
From this point, familiar Greenwich names flit in and out of the house’s history. Page, Brand, Morden, not to mention others I’m sure I should know – Neil Rhind describes them all better than I can in a couple of hundred words. The guy most likely to have been responsible for the Georgian house of the photo is a William Collins and it stayed in the family until 1854. I don’t know if the family has anything to do with Collins Cottages in Blackheath.
After the last of the Collins died, that tempting advertisement at the top of this post was answered by a soap magnate, James Soames, whose Thames Steam Soap Mills were in East Greenwich. I am sure Mary Mills will tell me exactly where. Apparently it ponged to high heaven, but the Soameses were charitable folk, so Greenwich’s great and good just pegged their noses and accepted the cash. The largest amount of lathery lolly went to building St George’s Church, for which I am sure the folks in Glenluce Road are still grateful.
Neil Rhind has a much longer account of all the Soapy Soames, who gradually lost interest – first in the soap – it was sold to Lever Bros in 1920 – and then in poor old Maze Hill House. In 1931 no one wanted thirteen-bedroom mansions with grooms’ quarters and Doric columns. House and grounds finally went at auction for just two grand – a pittance even in those days – and, as is traditional, to an evil developer, who wasted little time in razing it all to the ground and building 27 new houses. If you live in numbers 57-71, 81, or 85-109 Maze Hill, you are on the site of the old Maze Hill House. If you live in numbers 73 – 77 or number 83, you are delusional. They don’t exist.
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