Clare Lawn

Clare Lawn

Clare Lawn was built by Frederick Wigan. He was a hop merchant in Southwark and he married the daughter of Joseph Blunt of West Park, Mortlake. He purchased 11 acres of land adjoining Richmond Park and erected a large house. The weathervane on the tower over the main entrance bore the date 1862. When the house was demolished a bottle was found in a cavity in a block of stone. It contained contemporary coins and the statement: This stone was laid on 4th January 1866 by Mary Harriet wife of Frederick Wigan Esq. in commemoration of the erection of this building as their residence. This was signed by Mr and Mrs Wigan, other members of the family and the architect, Robert Philip Pope, who practised in London from 1834 onwards. In 1854 he designed the church at Larkfield near the Wigan home at Clare House. His work was ignored by the orthodox of the day and his death about 1881 went unrecorded in the architectural press. Some idea of the size of the house can be gained from later sale particulars, which listed fourteen bedrooms and seven bathrooms, and downstairs outer hall, grand reception hall, ballroom, winter garden, drawing room, dining room, library, morning room and billiard room, in addition to extensive domestic offices and basement. There were incidentally ten children in the Wigan family. The house stood well back from Sheen Lane and was approached by a carriage drive from two lodges at Stonehill Road and the Sheen Gate of Richmond Park.

In 1893 Frederick Wigan decided to improve and extend Clare Lawn, and this time, instead of a minor architect, he looked to the top of the profession and engaged Sir Aston Webb and Ingress Bell as his architects.

A picture gallery and conservatory were built as an extension at the southern end of the house and a contemporary report in the British Architect contrasted the new work favourably with the original architect, "The design of the new picture room and conservatory adjoining, both entered from the earlier-built drawing room (which has itself been completely transformed), says much for the ability of the architects to combine a picturesque exterior with the arrangements of exceptionally comfortable and well proportioned apartments within. The library at the other end of the building is a model room.

The article goes on to speak of: "Mr Walter Crane's refined low relief plaster friezes in the drawing room and the picture room, Mr W. S. Frith's charming plaster panels of the frieze in the library and his gracefully clever figure sculpture in the conservatory and fountain, and Mr Stephen Webb's charming marqueterie panels in the library." Crane is best known today for his book illustrations, but he was a fine decorative artist in a variety of media. As an example of his work in plaster, his friezes at Clare Lawn were particularly mentioned in the obituary notice which appeared in the Builder. Some of his working drawings for them have survived. The appearance of the picture room and conservatory also evoked the writer's admiration: "Mr Wigan's choice collection of pictures and his delicious flowers go far to make any picture room or conservatory acceptable, but it is a pleasure to the architectural mind to see them housed as they are." Our records of Clare Lawn are sparse. But fortunately the sale of the contents of the picture gallery at Christie's in 1915 show that Wigan was a considerable patron of the artists of his day and probably bought most of the pictures direct. The two days' sale realised 6,589 for 252 lots. A Millais fetched 1,000 guineas and two Alma-Tademas fetched about the same.

In 1894 Wigan was High Sheriff of Surrey and was knighted on the occasion of the birth of the Duke of Windsor at nearby White Lodge. He was advanced to a baronetcy of East Sheen three years later in the Diamond Jubilee honours.

Clare Lawn was demolished between 1924 and 1926.