The Temple Bar Gatehouse from a 1909 postcard
The House from an early 19th century engraving
Built / Designed For: George Prescott
House & Family History: Theobalds Park is a red brick and Portland stone house of five bays by two-and-a-half stories with small outer wings and forward-curving one-story colonnades. The Theobalds Estate (site of the former Theobalds Palace) was purchased from the 3rd Duke of Portland by George Prescott in 1763. It was Prescott who built the current 18th century house, later enlarged by the Meux family in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Theobalds Park is noted for its very fine Entrance Hall in the Etruscan style. In the late 19th century Theobalds Park was the home of the infamous Lady Meux. Born in America as Valerie Susan Langdon, Lady Meux claimed to be an actress, but was actually a banjo-playing barmaid and prostitute in London when she met Sir Henry Bruce Meux, 3rd Bt. (1856–1900), scion of one of England’s wealthiest brewing families. In 1878 Sir Henry married Valerie and encouraged and supported her flamboyant lifestyle (e.g., she drove herself around London in a phaeton drawn by a pair of zebras). In 1881 Sir Henry commissioned Whistler to paint three portraits of his wife: “Harmony in Pink and Grey (Portrait of Lady Meux)," today in The Frick Collection (see “Images” section); “Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux” is owned by The Honolulu Museum of Art; the third portrait, “Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs,” is believed to have been destroyed by Whistler after he became upset over a comment made to him by Lady Meux during a sitting. During the Second Boer War (1899-1902) the Battle of Ladysmith made a particular impression on Lady Meux, who personally paid for six 12-pounder naval guns to assist the war effort. When Admiral Hedworth Lambton, commander of the naval brigade at Ladysmith, returned to England, he visited Lady Meux at Theobalds to thank her for her gift. She was so impressed with the admiral that she made him the beneficiary of her will, on condition that he change his name to Meux. Accordingly, at her death in 1910, he legally changed his surname and inherited Theobalds and a large part of Meux's Brewery Company, all of which he owned until his death in 1929. Between 1929 and 1937 Theobalds was a hotel. In 1938 Middlesex County Council purchased the house for use as a general hospital; however, before the conversion to a hospital could take place, World War II erupted. During the war Theobalds was used by the Royal Artillery and the Metropolitan Police Riding School. After the war the county council used the house as a school, a purpose it served from 1951 until 1969, when the school closed. In the 1970s and 1980s Theobalds was an adult education center. In 1995 Theobalds Park was restored as a conference center and hotel, a purpose it continues to serve today.
Collections: Lady Meux was an important collector of ancient Egyptian artifacts, which were documented by the noted Egyptologist Wallis Budge in “The Book of Paradise,” which cataloged more than 1,700 pieces in her collection, including 800 amulets and scarabs. Her planned bequest of the collection to the British Museum was turned down by the museum’s trustees, very likely because of Lady Meux’s background. She also acquired five illustrated, ancient Ethiopian manuscripts that were purchased after her death by William Randolph Hearst. In 1911 Admiral Lambton sold the contents of Theobalds Park at auction.
Garden & Outbuildings: Temple Bar, the only surviving gateway to London (it was the entrance to the City of London at the boundary with the City of Westminster), was probably designed in 1672 by Christopher Wren. This famous gateway was removed from Fleet Street in 1878 (to allow for the widening of the road), disassembled, and put into storage. In 1887, at Lady Meux's request, the Temple Bar, still in pieces, was purchased from the City of London Corporation and transported to Theobalds, where, in 1889, it was re-erected as a new gateway to the estate. Here Lady Meux entertained the great and good of the day, including the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and the young Winston Churchill, in the Temple Bar's upper room. In 1984 the Temple Bar Trust purchased the gateway from the Meux Trust for £1 and proposed its re-erection beside St. Paul's Cathedral as part of the Paternoster Square redevelopment. The Temple Bar was carefully dismantled and sent on 500 pallets to the City of London, where it was re-erected as an entrance to Paternoster Square and opened to the public on November 10, 2004. The legal term "the bar" derives from the fact that Temple Bar stood where the Law Courts stand today.
Title: SPAB News
Year Published: NA
Reference: Vol 23, No. 4, pg. 12
Publisher: London: The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
Book Type: Magazine
Title: Buildings of England: Hertfordshire, The
Author: Pevsner, Nikolaus; Cherry, Bridget
Year Published: 2000
Publisher: London: Penguin Books
Book Type: Hardback
House Listed: Grade II*
Park Listed: Not Listed
Past Seat / Home of: George Prescott, 18th century. Sir Henry Meux, 2nd Bt., until 1883; Sir Henry Bruce Meux, 3rd Bt., 1883-1900; Meux family here 1820-1910. Admiral of the Fleet Sir Hedworth Lambton, 1910-29.
Current Ownership Type: Corporation
Primary Current Ownership Use: Hotel