Old Cromwell House stood on a site presently occupied by the Stag brewery and facing onto what is now Williams Lane. The stone and ironwork gates still exist in Williams Lane although they have been moved from their original site some 40 meters to the west. Old Cromwell House was a two-winged, brick-built mansion with high surrounding walls whose land stretched north from the Lower Richmond Road to the tow path on what is now Thames Bank.
There is much evidence that Thomas Cromwell sometime resided in Cromwell House from whom it gained its name. Raymond Gill, in his archives, states that in “1493 John King gave the brewer John Williams half an acre of land in Mortlake on the north side of the wide part of a thoroughfare east of Williams Lane and north to the Thames, nearly opposite the end of the boat race today. On this piece of land, John Williams built a large house.”
Cromwell’s sister Katherine lived in Mortlake in the early 16th century with her brewer husband Morgan Williams, nephew and heir of John, and there is evidence that the couple lived in old Cromwell House in their later years at least. Thomas, who had been born in Putney, also had another local connection in that he was given the manor of Mortlake by Henry VIII in 1536, the manor house of which stood by the river on the eastern side of Ship Lane.
The old house also had connections with Oliver Cromwell although there is no evidence that he owned it. Many of his supporters lived in Mortlake and the two John Blackwells (father and son) who became captains in Cromwell’s army, lived in Cromwell House for many years. There is a reference to “a dark hole in one of the gable ends of Cromwell House, known as ‘Old Noll’s Hole’ which is said to have afforded Oliver Cromwell temporary accommodation when his life was in danger.” Old Noll was a nickname for Oliver Cromwell. There was a large wood-panelled room referred to as the Council Chamber on the first floor of Cromwell House and another room was called the blue drawing room. According to Anderson, he saw “on the staircase a secret hiding place for a man, the panel moving by a spring” when he visited the house in the mid-nineteenth century.
Edward Colston, an early slave trader, lived in the house from 1695 until his death in 1721. He was an enthusiastic gardener and the grounds of Cromwell House were reported to be most impressive. A gazebo was built into the north wall which gave good views onto the river. The Aynscombe family then lived in the house for almost 60 years, the last surviving member, Valentina dying there in 1841.
Old Cromwell House then fell into disrepair. James Wigan, a partner in the Phillips and Wigan brewery, which was then situated the old Mortlake manor house site, acquired the lease of the old Cromwell House, had it demolished in 1857 and built a new Cromwell House. Robert Philip Pope was the architect and the house stood at the river end of the estate with its large gardens facing onto Williams Lane. Wigan’s Cromwell House was an impressive red brick Victorian villa with fine Tudor style chimneys. It had 14 bedrooms, a nursery and school-room, servants’ quarters, vast cellars, a billiard room and several offices and other minor rooms. The estate consisted of five acres of land, the house, barns, stables, yards, a landscaped garden, orchard, outhouses and edifices, and it was enclosed by brick walls.
James Wigan and his young wife Maria moved into their new house in June 1858. Maria went on to have 13 children, all of whom were born in the house. James became a wealthy man and active in both local political and church matters. He died in 1902. Maria died in 1918, having lived in the house for 60 years.
Cromwell House gradually became derelict but a caretaker lived in part of the property for some 20 years. In 1940 the Local Defence Volunteers built a hut in Cromwell House gardens. The house survived the war but only to be demolished in 1947 when the land was bought by Watneys. The brewery developed most of the original land with the exception of about two acres on which Wigan’s Cromwell House had stood and which faced the river. The brewery eventually built a third Cromwell House on this site. Employees of the brewery lived in the modern terrace of houses until that too was demolished in 1990. This final piece of land near to the river was sold and the present Parliament Mews was built in 1992. The original high boundary walls of Cromwell House still exist today as the boundary wall of Parliament Mews.