The Maisonette & Old Leigh Court, 23 & 25 The Avenue

 newton house osborn - Copy cropped

Introduction

The Maisonette was built for Dr Samuel Osborn in 1882 by the  architect Ernest Newton (drawing from journal, The American Builder). Osborn lived here until his death in 1936 and by about 1950 the house had been divided into two dwellings. Number 25, which faces onto Southlea Road, was at some time re-named Old Leigh Court and the original name of The Maisonette seems to have been dropped. That name does seem odd for such an large house, but either it was always a joke or the meaning of ‘maisonette’ has changed considerably over time.

Ernest Newton, Architect (1856-1922)

Newton was a minor Arts and Crafts architect who specialised in designing and re-modelling country houses (particularly in Kent), the Maisonette being one of his earlier and smaller commissions. He had trained under Richard Norman Shaw, from whom he learnt to use features of Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture, such as decorative timber, red brick, projecting gables and massive tall chimneys, in a very attractive domestic revival style. later, Newton’s designs for houses became more elaborately detailed and picturesque than this early one.

Newton became president of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1914 and from then he dealt with the wartime control of Government constructional work, including railways and electrical schemes. He became a Royal Academician in 1919 and was awarded a C.B.E. in 1920.

Dr Samuel Osborn, Surgeon and Historian

Many years ago Dr Osborn was described by someone who remembered him as being ‘of generous proportions, as was his dog Spot, though it was only Spot who constantly strayed and had to be brought home from all over the village’. Samuel was born in Brixton in 1848 and was trained at St Thomas’s Hospital, becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1876. He married Elizabeth, (the daughter of a Doctor of Medicine), in 1884 and they had two children in the next few years.

During the 1880s Osborn became involved with voluntary first aid and nursing services, assisting in the formation of the British Red Cross, the Army Nursing Reserve and St John’s Ambulance Brigade. In 1885 he published a manual of the lectures he had given to St John’s Ambulance Brigade’s first-aiders, suggesting makeshift operations that that could be carried out before a doctor arrived on the scene, such as: using human hair to stitch together a wounded lip, cauterizing bleeding wounds using a white-hot piece of twisted telegraph wire, and plugging the bleeding gap left by a missing tooth with a screw wrapped in a linen rag. This little book was translated into eight foreign languages, including Hindustani and Chinese.

His work as a surgeon with ambulance brigades took him abroad in the 1890s, to the Greco-Turkish and South African wars where he was mentioned in dispatches and received medals. Back in England he was a made a Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and permanent secretary of the International Red Cross Society. On the outbreak of WWI he went to Belgium with six nurses, one of them his own daughter, and took over the running of a Belgian hospital where they treated both German and British wounded.  On a visit back to England, Osborn wrote about the conditions of the soldiers in France:

November 1914, the Times: ‘Dr Samuel Osborn of Datchet, near Windsor, who has just returned from France, says in a letter to the Lord Mayor that frostbite to a serious degree has begun to attack the soldiers. Snow-shoes (large size), knitted helmets and warm woollen gloves or mittens are wanted immediately. Oil, especially cod liver oil, is a splendid application for rubbing into the extremities to keep out cold. Dr Osborn will be pleased to convey any such gifts to the troops when he goes back to France in a few days.’

Although he was involved in so many medical and voluntary organisations, Samuel Osborn’s interests also extended to the history of the village where he had chosen to settle. In 1888, only a few years after arriving in Datchet he published his History of Datchet,  followed by a second edition in 1896. Much of his information came from published histories of Windsor, Bucks and Berks, but more significantly he seems to have listened to anybody who could tell stories about life in the village and recall past events here. Osborn’s work is important for having preserved collective local memory, which in the 1880s could have stretched way back into the previous century.

His obituary in the Lancet concludes: Osborn died on 16th April 1936 at Datchet, where he had long lived in retirement, taking an active part in connection with the Church Lads Brigade and the Boy Scouts.