One of the most crass and insensitive planning decisions made in 2012 was the demolition of Dollis Hill House in NW London. The fact that this semi-ruinous building, which began as a farmhouse in 1825, was once the country retreat of four-times Prime Minister William Gladstone and the home for a while of American novelist Mark Twain, couldn’t save it from the philistines on Brent Council or, for that matter English Heritage. It has been argued that too much money was required for its restoration and back in the middle of the post 2009 recession, no entrepreneur was willing to come forward with a viable plan. A museum with a café or restaurant attached would have been a perfect use for this building. As it is, Dollis Hill Park now has a razed platform where the historic house once stood, and although there are plans for some sort of reproduction of Gladstone’s bolt hole, it is not, dare I say, quite the same…
On the evening of 3 May 1892 the G.O.M of Victorian politics once more left his home at Carlton Gardens, in the heart of Westminster, for Dollis Hill House. Just before his departure he wrote the following letter (discovered in a collection of autographs) to a friend, possibly Lord Rendel, an old Liberal comrade.
I send herewith the Life of Manning. He was Roman, and he was ultra Roman : no man more so. But he was a great Christian, in respect of detachment from the world, self subjugation, penitence: in all which God knows how much need I have or taken him for a pattern and a help. I think you will be interested in it.
We go back to Dollis tonight.
We should like much to have a further improved account of your health. I suppose it would be impertinent if I were to suggest your having a report from one of the top physicians of London, to whom their very large experience gives great advantages in diagnosis.
All blessings attend you in future. Ever yours
1, Carlton Gardens
May 3 92.
A little over three months later Gladstone was Prime Minister for the fourth and last time. He continued to use his country retreat until his death in 1898, at his estate in Flintshire. Much later, as a tribute to his association with Dollis Hill, the local park was named after him. [RMH]