A Tudor/ Jacobean revival-style country house built in 1866-7 for Thomas Hoade Woods, a partner in the auctioneering firm Christie, Manson and Woods.
Reason for Listing
Durrants House, a small Tudor/ Jacobean revival-style country house built in 1866-7 for Thomas Hoade Woods, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: for the high quality of design and considered use of the Tudor/ Jacobean revival style to create varied elevational interest
* Interiors: for the variety of historical styles adopted in the decorative detailing, especially the prevailing Tudor/ Jacobean style which is used to particular effect in the entrance/ staircase hall and ballroom
* Survival: for the survival of the principal reception rooms and the high proportion of the original interior fittings, joinery and ironmongery throughout the house
* Historical interest: for the association with Thomas Hoade Woods, a partner in the firm Christie, Manson and Woods, and his probable involvement in the design of the house.
Durrants was formerly farmland, and formed part of the Manor of Croxley which Offa, King of Mercia, gave to St Alban's Abbey around AD790. The name Durrants derives from Simon Duraunt who was a tenant of the farmland in the C13. The Manor became Crown property in 1539 when the Abbey was dissolved and leased to William Baldwin. Elizabeth I sold the Manor to Dr John Caius, Physician of the Royal Household, who re-founded Gonville Hall Cambridge as Gonville and Caius College in 1557 and endowed the Manor to the College. Then in the 1860s Durrants farmland became tenanted by Thomas Hoade Woods, partner in the auctioneering firm Christie, Manson and Woods (known as Christie's) from 1859 to 1903. Woods was the son of the gatekeeper at the Duke of Buckingham's Stowe House where he impressed Christie's with his knowledge of the house's paintings during the sale they conducted there in 1848. Woods purchased part of the land owned by Gonville and Caius College since 1557, and in 1866-67 built what was described in The Times as 'a red brick, stone and tiled moderate sized mansion in the Tudor style'. The architect is unknown but it is likely that Woods himself was heavily involved in the design. In an article in the 'Watford Observer' (1986), the archivist of the Old Merchant Taylors' Society explains that the house is very much the creation of the owner, who built it 'to his own specification'. The house was set in a landscaped garden with terrace and ha-ha, and fields south of the house were incorporated into the grounds, their boundaries marked by lines of trees. The Ordnance Survey (OS) map of 1873 shows the circular garden feature to the south of the house, the pleasure gardens laid out to the south and east, and a large, walled kitchen garden in the north-east corner. The 1898 OS map shows that two lodges had been built on Baldwins Lane which served the two south carriage drives (only one lodge now survives). Over the years Woods purchased piecemeal the freehold of the estate from the College so that by the time he died in 1906 and Durrants was sold to C. Morland Agnew of Thos. Agnew and Sons, Fine Art Dealers it comprised 224 acres. Agnew died in 1931, and after his widow died the following year, the estate was sold to the Watford building company Bracey (Roads) Ltd who redeveloped the major part of the estate with semi-detached housing. The remaining land and the house was bought by the Old Merchant Taylors who laid out playing fields in the grounds, added tennis courts, and converted the mansion into a clubhouse.
The house has been subject to alterations since its initial construction. The north-east wing linking the main house to the clock tower was originally single-storey: in a contemporary photograph it appears to have a loggia on the south side. The 1898 OS map shows that a large extension had been added to the rear of the north-east wing to create the ballroom, and it was probably at this time that a second storey was built over the single-storey wing. In the service courtyard, the range on the west side has been remodelled and slightly extended westwards, and a cross on the map over the west courtyard entrance indicates that it has been built over to provide a covered entrance. By the time 1914 OS map was published, the gap between the north-west service wing and the ballroom had been filled in, and a small building is shown in the south-east corner of the courtyard. Since then, the rear section of the house has been further remodelled, incorporating the long, rectangular range on the south side of the service courtyard and the small building that first appears on the 1914 OS. In 1964 the conservatory was demolished and replaced with two squash courts. The reception rooms have been little altered with the exception of two partition walls which have created a small additional room and a bar in the south hall. On the first floor a partition wall has been inserted in the landing, and some of the bedrooms have been remodelled to serve as lockers for the clubhouse.
MATERIALS: Red brick laid in English bond, with moulded brick and stone dressings, and red, clay tile-covered roofs.
PLAN: The house has an asymmetrical plan consisting of a rectangular, south-facing range containing the reception rooms with rear service rooms; a north-east wing consisting of the ballroom, clock tower, and squash courts (which replaced the late C19 conservatory); and a rear service courtyard comprising staff accommodation, former stabling and coach house.
EXTERIOR: The irregular elevations are given varied architectural treatment, characterised by blocked and moulded stone mullion and transomed windows of one to five lights; moulded brick-coped, kneelered gables; and steeply pitched roofs with tall, decorative, moulded brick chimney stacks, either rectangular or octagonal, single or grouped. The eaves have brick corbelling, and a moulded brick string course runs at first floor level, except on the service block. The south front, which presents the only regular elevation, has a central doorway, recessed behind a loggia of three stone arches with keystones and pillars in the form of gaines. Above this is a low, stone-carved, strapwork parapet, and a two-light mullion at first floor level. The entrance is flanked by single-stepped, gabled bays with ball finials and arrow slits, and full height, square bay windows containing five-light mullions. The west elevation is divided into two parts, the service block on the left and the principle entrance and reception rooms on the right. The polite half is dominated by a single-stepped, gabled bay on the left containing a gabled porch with an elaborate, Tudor-arched, stone architrave with the date 1866 in the lintel, surmounted by a cartouche with a cast-iron door knocker. To the left of the porch is a four-light mullion, a cross window above, and a chimney stack projecting from the first floor through the apex of the gable, the right kneeler of which is embellished with a winged gargoyle. To the right are two mullions, a projecting chimney with paired stacks, followed by another mullion. The service block has two plain gabled bays, the one adjacent to the polite half deeply recessed, and a door on the left. The east elevation of the main range is roughly divided into four irregular bays, mostly with cross windows. The first bay has one window and a wide, projecting chimney with paired stacks; the second bay has two windows; the projecting third bay has a narrow chimney projecting from the first floor, a full height canted bay window under a hipped roof with four-light mullions on the front and one on each side, flanked by ground-floor cross windows, followed by a tall, one-light mullion on the ground floor and a cross window above. The fourth bay, which projects slightly further, has a tall, one-light mullion on the ground floor and a cross window above. The south front of the north-east wing has two plain gabled bays, a clock tower, and a C20 squash court. The squash court has no historic or architectural interest. The first bay has a recessed entrance porch giving access to the ballroom, and a five-light mullion above. The second has a canted bay window with three-light mullions on the front and two on each side, and a three-light mullion above. The clock tower has an elaborate, round-arched, stone architrave with carved spandrels, keystone and corbels incorporating the initials of the owner, surmounted with a cartouche flanked by urns. Above this is a cross window and then the clock, set in a stone surround with a triangular pediment containing a shell design and the date 1867. The tower has louvre slats, a pyramidal roof covered with grey, fish-scale tiles, and is surmounted by a weather vane. The rear elevation presents four plain gabled bays and incorporates part of the service courtyard as a result of mid-C20 remodelling. The other two sides consist of a row of accommodation with cogged eaves and dormers, and a former stable block with arched gateway.
INTERIOR: Many of the fixtures and fittings are original. Much of the ironmongery survives, including the bell pull, window handles, strap hinges, and handle and lock plates; as does much of the joinery, including the doors, dado rails, cornices, window shutters and surrounding panelling. The most ornate decoration is found in the reception rooms which have panelled ceilings of raised, geometric patterns in moulded wood, and fireplaces ranging in style from baroque to neo-classical, complete with basket grates and tiled surrounds. The west porch leads into the large entrance hall, formerly used as a lounge hall, which is divided into two main spaces by a wide, shallow arch resting on corbels and spanning the width of the room. The first half contains a C17-style wooden fireplace, and the second half the open-well staircase with quarter pace landings. The staircase has small square panelling, a closed string, square-plan newel posts with elaborate finials and pendants, and two twisted balusters per tread which continue along the landing. The hall leads through a Tudor-arched opening on the right to the south-facing reception rooms. The showpiece of the house is the ballroom, panelled to dado height, with a wooden dentilled cornice and elaborate ceiling which has a raised white and gilded geometric pattern on a green background. A large, square-panelled, cambered alcove with fluted columns contains a C17-style stone fireplace with carved dragons in the spandrels and coats of arms in the lintel. This is surrounded by a second, carved, wooden surround with jambs in the form of herms, and overmantel incorporating a picture frame. On the first floor the ceiling of the landing is panelled and there are Tudor-arched openings leading to bedrooms which are comparatively plain with less elaborate fireplaces.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: In the grounds, a short flight of steps leads from the south front to a circular garden feature which is partly surrounded by a ha-ha constructed of brick and flint. The walls and posts marking the drive on the west of the house have been partially rebuilt.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.