Fowey Hall has a long and fascinating history, which began with Charles Augustin Hanson, who built the hall with newfound wealth in the Victorian era.
This information has been compiled from documents inherited with the Hall, also research in the Fowey library and information supplied by the corporation of London and from ‘Who Was Who’. Particular thanks are also due to local residents who have been endlessly patient and helpful with our painstaking enquiries! If anybody can help us with further information, we should be delighted to hear from you.
THE HANSON FAMILY
Integral to the history of Fowey Hall is the equally fascinating story of its creator, a local lad who made his way in the world and returned to Fowey to dazzle his contemporaries.
Charles Augustin Hanson was born across the estuary from Fowey in Polruan in 1846, the eldest of five children of Mary Ann Hicks and Joseph Hanson. The Hicks family were well know in the area, and the name Hanson, although a smaller group than the Hicks, was also a familiar name. The 1851 census records that the family lived in St. Catherine’s Street in Polruan and that Joseph Hanson was a master mariner. Mary Ann’s sister, bonnet maker Louisa Hicks, lived with them until 1861, by which time the expanding family had moved to Fore Street in Fowey. By 1871, Mary Ann was a widow living in Lostwithiel Street with only eldest and youngest daughters, Kate, 22 and Mary Anne, 16.
After completing his education at Fowey School, in 1862, Charles Hanson immigrated to Canada where he was to make his fortune in the lumber trade. On returning to Cornwall, probably around 1889, Charles, by now in his forties decided to build a mansion home in keeping with his new found wealth. He acquired a large tract of land from the Rashleigh family (of Menabilly, later Daphne du Maurier’s home). Deeds show that the land acquired was more extensive than the grounds that now surround the Hall, some of which were sold off after the Hanson family left in the late 1950s. Fowey Hall was completed in 1899. (We can be sure of this date from the drain pipe headings which are stamped accordingly).
Charles Hanson brought more than money back with him from Canada. In 1868, he had married Martha Sabine Applebe, a wealthy Canadian heiress who produced two children. Their son, Charles Edward Bourne Hanson, born in 1874, joined the west riding regiment, serving in the South African war from 1899-1902. His sister, Alice Maude Applebe, later married Major General Sir Frederick Poole. We also know that Hanson was appointed guardian to his cousin’s three young children. Arthur Herbert lacked Charles Hanson’s commercial ability and upon declaring himself bankrupt, fled the country, leaving his children to suffer considerable poverty after the death of their mother in 1900. Letters from that time record that Hanson showed little interest in any of his children, dedicating himself to the political career upon which he now embarked.
From the early 1900s he spent much of his time at his London home, 9 Wilton Crescent in Belgrave Square. He held a position at the stockbrokers Coates, Sons & Co of Gm Street, but it is clear by his rapid rise through local government that he devoted most of his time to his political ambitions. He became Lord High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1907, and after being elected an Alderman of the City of London in 1909, in 1911 he became Sheriff of London.
He entered the House of Commons as MP for Bodmin in 1916, and reached the pinnacle of his career when he was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1917. A baronetcy followed in that same year, the mayorship also bringing with other honors, including Knight of the Order of Francis Joseph, Knight Commander of the Order of the Saviour (Greece), Commander Legion of Honour (France), Grand Officer of the Crown (Italy) and Order of the Rising Sun, 3rd Class (Japan).
In April 1921, he presented the chain and badge that he had worn as sheriff to the Town to be worn by future Mayor’s of Fowey. The Mayor’s chain is unusual in that inset in the gold and enamel badge is a valuable which had originally been presented to Lady Hanson by the Court of Alderman of London, and which she, in turn, presented to the Corporation of Fowey.
He remained in parliament until his death in 1922, when he was succeeded by his son, Charles Edwin, who by this time had married Violet Sybill Johnstone. This new generation of Hansons continued to live at the hall and the two guest rooms on the first floor of the hotel are named after their daughters, Violet Alice Roselind who was born in 1909 and Edwina Marjorie Claire, born in 1912.
Charles Edwin was succeeded by his son Charles John, born in 1919. He married twice but did not live at the Hall beyond his childhood, spending much of his time in Suffolk where he ran a book shop. However, he did return to Fowey to dedicate a memorial to his grandfather which can be found at the end of St. Catherine’s Parade. The inscription dedicates the lane to the Borough of Fowey in memory of Charles Augustin Hanson, for the use in perpetuity of the people of Fowey as a footpath. At his request, Charles John Hanson’s ashes were scattered in Fowey cemetery. Upon his death in 1996, the title passed to his son, Charles Rupert Patrick who lives in Brighton.
FOWEY HALL – The indulgence of a very wealthy man
This beautiful mansion, now a listed building, was almost certainly created as an indulgence of the by now very wealthy Charles Hanson in celebration of his triumphant return to his home town. Built of the very finest materials and utilizing the skills of master craftsmen, Fowey Hall was without doubt one of the fashionable houses of its day. The Hall boasted electric lights and Baroque plasterwork, a vaulted kitchen, elaborate marble fireplaces and warm air central heating. We know that the principal painting in the dining room was a Canaletto, now on show in the Walpole Gallery in London. Early photographs illustrate the unashamed luxury that prevailed. The Hall included much fine woodwork and paneling as you would expect from a man whose wealth was derived from timber.
The grounds were extensive, including the old kitchen garden which lies to the right of the Hall looking towards the estuary, the wall of which can still be seen, along with the original glass house. We are told that the Hall’s original pumping station, built to ensure plentiful water in a town that frequently suffered difficulties with its supply, is still intact, but we have yet to pinpoint its exact location.
At the time the Hall was built, what is now Hanson Drive was known as the Ropewalk. This road was constructed because of doubts that the lower road would fail under the weight of increasing amounts of traffic as the town developed and expanded.
As a suitable backdrop from which to promote his political career, by the time it was completed, Fowey Hall was truly a place in which to welcome royalty who visited during the early part of the century – although perhaps not as regularly as Charles Hanson would have liked! We have inherited correspondence which includes a wealth of telegrams from Sir Charles to members of the Royal Family at Sandringham, Buckingham Palace and Marlborough House – all of them extravagantly worded invitations which place Fowey Hall at the disposal of King Edward and Queen Alexandra and latterly, the Princess Victoria. Members of the Royal household may have wished that Sir Charles had been rather less assiduous in his attentions as each invitation necessitated an elegantly worded refusal. Throughout the early part of the century, Sir Charles kept the post office busy with a constant stream of telegrams to the Royal Family, needing only the slightest rumor of a Royal indisposition or news of an anniversary to renew his attentions.
Although Royal visits were infrequent, Fowey Hall welcomed guests from all over the world as Sir Charles cultivated leaders in society and commerce. Pages from the visitors’ book survive and we can see that the household staff must have had their work cut out, looking after a constant stream of visitors. It is sad to record that their labours were not well rewarded. A codicil added to Sir Charles’ will the year before his death, states
‘Although it had long been my cherished hope to bequeath legacies to the members of my household staff at Fowey Hall, the exaction’s of the war upon my resources have been so severe that I am not in a position to do what I had planned.’
We can only hope that our dedication of the bedrooms on the second floor in their memory may be of some belated consolation!
Another anecdote, which survives, tells us that his servants were not the only people whom Sir Charles upset. Cuttings from the newspapers of the time, now in Fowey library, record that even sleepy Fowey was not remote from the suffragette movement which swept across the country in the early 1900s. We must assume that Sir Charles was not in favour of women’s emancipation as his Rolls Royce was attacked and set on fire whilst it was, or so he thought, safely in the coach house at Fowey Hall, by supporters of women’s suffrage.
The War Years
In 1916, the year before Charles Hanson became Lord Mayor, a mammoth fundraising event in aid of the war effort was held at Fowey Hall. It must have been a memorable day as postcards commemorating the event were produced and sold in the town for months afterwards. The ladies of Fowey used to meet regularly in the dining room at the Hall which became a sewing room for the duration of the war.
A year after the Second World War began, the government requisitioned the Hall, and in 1943, it became a base for American officers. A whole colony of accommodation huts were built in the grounds and not removed until the end of 1946. In April 1944, Rear Admiral Alan Kirk, Commander of the task force and Rear Admiral John Wilkes, Commander of the landing craft stayed at the Hall and conducted a series of briefings. One month later, forty war correspondents were billeted at the Hall for two days in order that they could be briefed on the forthcoming invasion.
We can only wonder what the family, most of whom remained in residence during the American occupation, thought of the officer’s parties which were held at the Hall every Saturday evening after D-Day!
Fowey Hall becomes a Hotel
The family continued to live at Fowey Hall until the late 1950s when we believe that the mansion was sold to a property developer. Much of the land was sold off at this time. In 1968, the Hall was bought by the Manchester-based Countrywide Holiday Association, a company specialising in holidays for walkers, bird lovers and devotees of the countryside. For the next thirty years, visitors to the Hall were treated to a brand of hospitality far different to that which Charles Hanson distinguished guests had enjoyed. There were no en-suite rooms, dinner was served promptly at 7:00 p.m. and the corridors rang with the sounds of sturdy people in sensible boots on their way to collect packed lunches before a day’s hiking.
Luxury Family Hotels took over Fowey Hall at the beginning of 1998. The first eight months of the year was spent on refurbishing the Hall from top to bottom. Restoration work was fascinating, not least because we inherited some interesting configurations on the bedroom floors which has shower blocks at the end of each corridor! However, the ground floor remains much as it was when it was originally built, with the Library, Morning, Drawing and Billiard Rooms and the Dining area returned to their original uses.
The Wind in the Willows Connection
There are many who believe that Fowey Hall was the model for ‘Toad Hall’ in Kenneth Grahame’s. ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Certainly we know that Grahame was a frequent visitor to the Hall. At the time he was writing letters to his son, which were to be immortalised in his enduring classic, in which the town of Fowey is depicted as ‘The Little Grey Seaport’.
It is likely that he visited Fowey Hall as a guest of his great friend, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, later famous for his interpretation of The Oxford Book of Verse. Quiller Couch married Charles Hanson’s cousin, Louise Amelia Hicks. The Hicks side of the family was a close-knit group and we can be sure that they were frequently entertained at the Hall.
The eight bedrooms in the Courtyard are named in memory of the animals in the ‘Wind in the Willows’, beloved by so many children.