The Hubbards and Loders of Leonardslee

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These are exciting times at Leonardslee. Since 2010, when the property was sold, the 240-acre Grade I gardens have been closed to the public, much to local regret, but now, in a hugely  welcome move, as from 30 March this year the public can visit again, thanks to the initiative of latest owner Penny Streeter OBE. And not only that, but Leonardslee now boasts a quality restaurant and, thanks to Penny's South African expertise, a Pinotage vineyard. So there’s lots going on.

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We have written about Leonardslee before, but this was nine years ago, and given all this activity, now that the spotlight is very much on the place, it seemed a good idea to republish our account of its history and personalities; the information will be new to many members, so we hope its revival will be of interest.

Before 2010 the Loder family, and earlier the Hubbards, had owned Leonardslee and its gardens - the Loders since 1889 - but the house had been disposed of in the 1980s to release funds for further investment in the grounds. However both house and gardens were purchased in 2010, and now continue under the ownership of Penny Streeter. The estate’s earlier story goes something like this.

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It starts with another name, that of Charles George Beauclerk (1774-1845), who bought about 1,000 acres of land from the St Leonard’s Forest estate, owned by the Aldridge family, at the very beginning of the l9th century, and built a house called St Leonard’s Lodge where Leonardslee now stands. Its gardens were first put underway in 1801, according to the Loder family. The Beauclerk family sold the estate to William Egerton Hubbard, a ‘City Russia merchant’, in 1852, and he demolished St Leonard's Lodge and built the Leonardslee house we know today. Then in 1889 the house and estate were sold on to his daughter Marion's husband, Sir Edmund Loder.

William Egerton (1812-1883) was a son of John Hubbard, who had presided over the family trading firm of John Hubbard and Co, 17 St Helen’s Place, London EC, in which his son also played a part. The latter’s wife was named Louisa Ellen, and they had the following surviving children: William Egerton Hubbard junior, Rev Cyril Egerton Hubbard, Louisa Maria Hubbard, Marion Loder and one other daughter. Two other sons, Ernest Egerton and Edward Egerton Hubbard had died young, aged 13 and 17 respectively. 

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Louisa Ellen died on 18 September 1882 at Leonardslee (‘the domain of her husband’) at the age of 66 and her coffin, tastefully draped with a violet satin cloth from Hunt Bros in Horsham, was placed in the family vault at Holy Trinity, Lower Beeding. Her husband followed her shortly after, on 5 December 1883, aged 71, and his cortège from Leonardslee to the church was accompanied by some twenty carriages. All the landed gentry from the area were there, Burrells, Aldridges, Lyons, Godmans and Calverts, to honour ‘the deceased gentleman who had been much respected in the neighbourhood’. And as with his wife, local schoolchildren from Lower Beeding lined the path to the church, all kitted out in black, the boys in blackcoats, caps, ties and gloves, and the girls in black cloaks, gloves and hats - thanks to the good offices of Miss Hubbard.

William Egerton senior’s eldest brother, John Gellibrand (1805-1889) achieved particular distinction. He too started off in the family business, in the Hubbard counting house, and showed an early aptitude for financial matters, and in later life became an acknowledged expert on income tax. He was appointed a director of the Bank of England at the early age of 33, and after spells as an MP was raised to the peerage as Baron Addington in 1887.

William Egerton’s eldest child, Louisa Maria (1836-1906), was born in St Petersburg, where her father was based at the time. When the family returned from Russia they moved to Leonardslee where Louisa was educated privately and spent most of her adult, unmarried life. She made a considerable name for herself as a social reformer, and her Work for Ladies in Elementary Schools, published in 1872, led to the establishment of a training college for girls (Otter College) in Chichester the following year. She was forthright in her campaigning, but not quite forthright enough to put her full name to her articles, which were generally signed off ‘LMH’.

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She campaigned to widen the opportunities available to women who, through circumstances, were required to work, and described her mission: ‘I gradually drifted into the position of wishing to champion the cause of the unmarried woman, and from the first I refused to apologise for her existence’. Between 1875-1898 she also published The Englishwoman’s Year Book, and strongly advocated a mixed bag of activities such as nursing, massage, typewriting and gardening as being suitable middle-class occupations for her sex. And among other things she helped form the Working Ladies’ Guild in 1876 and the Teachers’ Guild in 1884. As relaxation she enjoyed landscape painting and horse riding. She died on 25 November 1906 at the age of 70 while staying at a hotel in the south Tyrol.

One of her brothers did much good locally, and was praised for his ‘educational, social and benevolent work’. William Egerton junior was a JP and funded the building of the old Drill Hall in Park Street, and ended up as Hon Major in the Sussex Rifle Volunteers. He was also treasurer of the National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children, and a director of the London, County and Westminster Bank.

In 1891 he and his first wife Jane (the daughter of Rev Cary Borrer, rector of Hurstpierpoint) vacated Leonardslee and moved across the road to Selehurst, and the parish magazine for February that year noted, rather sweetly, that ‘he wished to commemorate the occupation of his new home by warming the homes of others’, by donating a gift of coals to the parish. It had also, no doubt, been on his mind that the winter of 1890 had been particularly severe, and he and others, locally, were generous in their gifts of fuel to the needy.

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Apparently business matters later took him away from Sussex but when he died suddenly on 10 January 1918 it was back at Leonardslee, where he had been spending Christmas with his sister, and he was again placed in the family plot at Plummers Plain, with his brother Cyril, who had been rector of Holy Trinity from 1882-1886, in attendance. Jane had died earlier on 13 June 1892 (a second wife was Mary Jesson of Brighton), as did one daughter just four months before her, aged only 13. 1892 had been a bad year.

Marion was the younger sister, and it was she who married, in 1876, Sir Edmund Giles Loder, the 2nd baronet, who came from a Dorset family, settled in that county since 1563. And so Leonardslee came into the Loder family in 1889, and over the years its gardens gained a fine reputation based on Sir Edmund’s work, particularly for its azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias and exotic conifers - although it should not be forgotten that Beauclerk had established some of the plantings earlier in the century. Loder planted in large groups, taking care to produce fine colour effects without losing the natural woodland character of the setting, and the famous hybrid Rhododendron loderi is but one testimony to his work.

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The wildlife there was also well known, and today‘s wallabies (40, including albino variants) are a reminder of what had earlier been. A description in 1910 stated that ‘in the park are deer of almost every class, including the antelope, and an African springbok. Beavers are also cultivated and bred’. Not only that, but there was a fine collection of dead, bony things as well: ‘Attached to the house is a museum containing many interesting specimens, consisting mainly of horns and skeleton heads from all parts of the globe. There is a fine example of an African elephant’s tusk which measures 9 ft 5 ins in length .... There are also the head and tusks of an African elephant, and a perfect specimen in skeleton of an Irish elk. A varied collection of stuffed wild animals is arranged in the adjoining rooms’. It all sounds rather spooky.

So Sir Edmund was very much a hunting and shooting man. He was the eldest son of Sir Robert Loder, 1st baronet, and was born on 7 August 1849. Following Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, he succeeded to his father’s title in 1888, and married Marion Hubbard on 21 November 1876. They had two children, Robert Egerton (born 10 March 1887), who was killed in the Great War on 29 March 1917 and is commemorated at Holy Trinity, and Patience Marion (born 4 February 1882), who on 21 June 1904 married a local man, William Otter of Horsham. 

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Edmund had three brothers, the youngest of whom, Gerald Walter Erskine Loder (later 1st Lord Wakehurst), was born at High Beeches (the family house bought by Sir Robert Loder in 1848), came to live at Wakehurst Place and did great work there on its gardens, and attained some distinction in the world of politics. He was MP for Brighton from 1889-1892, Assistant Private Secretary in turn to the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for India, and ended up as a Junior Lord of the Treasury in 1905.

Edmund's son had married in 1913, before his untimely death, and he was succeeded by his son Giles, born in 1914 and died in 1999. Giles succeeded to the baronetcy in 1920 when his grandfather Sir Edmund died. In 1945 Sir Giles took over the running of the estate from his mother, the Dowager Lady Loder, and carrying on the family tradition, successfully exhibited rhododendrons as well as camellias at the Royal Horticultural Society’s shows at London until the 1970s, in the course of which he won many Gold Medals and the prized Victorian Medal of Honour.

In 1981 Sir Giles retired, and his son Robin took over, to be followed in 2005 by his twin children Tom and Mary, in whose time (2010) the sale of the 240 acre Grade 1 listed gardens was effected.

Written by Brian Slyfield for the Horsham Society, the civic society for the town of Horsham in the county of West Sussex, UK

Emily Grey