Number 31, St Helen’s Cottage

St_Helens_Cottage

Introduction

This very attractive house is an eighteenth century brick rebuild of a seventeenth century timber framed building. Evidence of the earlier timber frame can be seen in its north end wall. The chequered brick pattern was very fashionable (see Mrs Partington’s house opposite), using bricks which were dark due to over-firing but here they have more recently been picked out in black paint. The house’s ownership history can be followed back directly to 1695 through the privately owned deeds but its previous existence was as part of the estate of Christopher and Robert Barker which was based around Southlea on the southern edge of Datchet. Its present name is not found in any documents before 1880 but there may be good historical reasons for its use. During the ownership of Donald Pleasance from about 1960 the house was re-named Holiman’s Plat but the older name has recently been reinstated. (Curiously, there was a Holiman family in Datchet in the 17th century but no evidence they ever lived here, while ‘plat’ can mean ground, land, or place.)

Owners & Occupants 19th & early 20th century

Edward Newman & family, Undertaker and Estate Agent

The Newman family lived in Datchet for five generations (all using the same first names) since the early 1700 and may have been descendants of a Newman family who owned the Old Bridge House in the High Street in about 1600. Two main branches of the family are known as occupying houses that still exist, the Willows on the riverside corner of Queens Road and St Helen’s Cottage. By 1780 the Willows family were fishermen and osier-bed farmers, but it was John Newman the fisherman who also leased St Helen’s Cottage from its owner in 1822. It seems that his brother Edward Newman (the elder) moved into St Helen’s Cottage after John’s death in 1826. Edward was recorded as a joiner in 1798, as a carpenter providing wooden water pipes for the village in 1803 and as making coffins for the parish’s paupers in 1819.

At the first census in 1841 Edward’s widow Mary was living in St Helen’s Cottage with her son Edward who followed in his father’s trade as a joiner. By 1861 Edward the younger was both an undertaker and an estate agent, and the house itself was described as an Estate Agency and Fire Insurance Office of the Royal Exchange Company, with a shop and workshop as part of the house. He was also one of the two census enumerators for the village in that year, a position assuming responsibility and the respect of the community.

In 1850 this Edward (the younger) and his wife Jane bought the house for themselves. They had three daughters (Jane, Fanny Elizabeth and Adeline Mary), none of whom ever married and who inherited the house in turn. Adeline Mary was the last to die in 1917 and by her will St Helen’s Cottage was directed to be sold and the proceeds donated to the new King Edward VII Hospital in Windsor. (Curiously, there were three spinster sisters living next door at Clifton House during the same period, the daughters of Napoleon Gibbs)

census year address given family
1841 High Street Mary Newman age 55, Edward cabinet maker, Jane wife, daughters Jane (7) & Fanny (5)
1861 Agency & Office Edward age 50, estate agent & undertaker, wife Jane, dau Jane (26) governess, Fanny (24) Adeline (14) at school
1871 Datchet village Jane widow, life interest in house property, Jane, Fanny & Adeline daughters all having income from house & dividends
1881 St Helen’s Cottage Jane widow, Jane, Fanny & Adeline, all income from houses, lands, consols
1891 High Street Jane, daughter age 52, Fanny age 48, Adeline 38, all own means, one servant living in

From 1904 the three Newman sisters leased out the house to Henry Way of Riverview (now Old Bridge House) in Datchet, with the requirement that he should install electric lighting and a bathroom, and in 1918 it was he who bought the house from Adeline’s executors. Way leased it in 1948 to Lt Col Patrick White of Country Life House in the village and it was bought by Donald Pleasance in around 1960, who after a few years bought the other Newman house, the Willows at the foot of Queens Road.

House Deeds back to 1695

This freehold house has a full set of deeds, although the earlier ones are simply cited in an abstract of title rather than existing in the original form. (The most recent ones are not cited here.) Although the house was frequently sold or inherited it seems to have been leased to rent-paying occupants for much of this period, as was typical of the time, though in some cases the tenant took the opportunity to buy when it became possible.

year document outline of content
1948 lease lease to Patrick G White, owner Henry John Way of Windsor
1918 sale by trustees of Adeline Newman, sale at auction to Henry Way for £600, Henry Way already tenant since 1904
1850 sale Col Godby to Edward Newman for £191
1842 will Margaret D’Atournon to Col Christopher Godby of 36th Reg. Bengal
1833 will Benjamin Jutsham to wife Arabella nee D’Atournon, estate to her sister Margaret D’Atournon
1822 lease Jutsham to John Newman, fisherman, house until then in the tenancy of Mr Price
1811 sale Sarah Hooper of London, heir of John Nuthall, to Benjamin Jutsham of Brompton for £100
1770 sale Mary Durant widow of Joseph to John Nuthall of St George’s Hanover Sq., cook, for £120
1753 sale Benjamin Durant to Joseph Durant of Eton, cook, for £100
1730 sale John Buckland, farmer of Langley to Benjamin Durant of Datchet for £100
1704 sale John Nipping to John Buckland (this deed only cited in later ones, no details)
1695 sale Sir John Newton to Humphrey Nipping (ditto)

Two of the 18th century owners, Humphrey Nipping and Benjamin Durant, also owned or tenanted other houses nearby, which makes for much confusion in the documents. Humphrey Nipping owned the site of the three early Victorian houses on the south of St Helen’s Cottage (where there was a cottage and a very old house divided into tenements) and Benjamin Durant was a tenant there in the 1740s, though probably letting to poorer under-tenants. This site was a ramshackle collection of cottages and tenements around a small square and very close to St Helen’s Cottage, so that the whole may have formed a tight little community before about 1820.

The Building and its Name

There is no date for the Georgian rebuilding of this house, but the evidence that an older one did exist is in the south end wall, where fragments of timber framing can be seen. The whole timber frame is probably still embedded in the structure of walls and roof although disguised by brickwork casing outside and plastering inside. The date bracket for this re-modelling  is probably from the ownership of Humphrey Nipping (1690s) to that of John Nuthall (1770s), though there has been much modernisation since then.

To understand the origins of its name it is necessary to look at the early history of the manors of Datchet. Briefly, from medieval times there was a Manor of Datchet St Helen’s as well as a Manor of Datchet and this house was (or was believed to be) originally under the jurisdiction of the manor of Datchet St Helen’s.

The Manor of St Helen’s arose from a large endowment of Datchet property given to St Helen’s nunnery in Bishopsgate, London, by Sir Richard Mandeville in 1263. These houses and lands were scattered throughout the village & fields, owned and managed by the nunnery as the Manor of Datchet St Helens, alongside & intermixed with property of the original Manor of Datchet.

At Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries (1540) these endowments were sold off for profit, so St Helen’s property ceased to have anything to do with the nunnery in London. St Helens & Datchet Manor were then treated as one, though the separate name was very persistent. Many of the St Helen’s lands and houses were bought by Christopher Barker who was building up his huge country estate here in the1590s, mainly centred on Southlea.

The earliest deed associated with this house is the 1695 purchase from Sir John Newton, who by then owned the Barker estates. Successive owners of this estate sold off most of the smaller dwellings because the real profit was in land, and houses were expensive to keep in repair. The house is not identifiable before 1695 but may well have been held from the Manor of Datchet St Helen’s and was certainly associated with the estate of Southlea, much of which was under St Helen’s. So the assumption is that the house originally was, or was reputed to be, attached to the Manor of Datchet St Helen’s. Several other houses along the east side of the High Street were also: Old Bridge House, the site of the Victorian houses adjacent to it and an old farmstead further north which was destroyed by the railway, so the assumption is plausible.

However, there is no specific or direct reason why this house should be called St Helen’s Cottage when many others with a similar history are not. The name is not recorded before 1880 and it is likely that the Misses Newman were responsible, perhaps inspired by house deeds which no longer exist or by local memory.