The current Basing House was built in 1740 on the site of the house once occupied by William Penn - it is not known how much of the earlier building survived. The house became a school in 1839, and in 1870 was bought by Dr Roderick William Henderson, a local JP. He extended the property, originally of five bays [see photograph below left], by adding the wings at either end. Among his other achievements, Dr Henderson was instrumental in setting up the local fire brigade and establishing the town's first fire station at the west end of the High Street. In 1930, following Dr Henderson's death the previous year, Basing House was turned into Council offices, a function it continued to serve until the opening of Three Rivers House in the early 1990s. It remains in Council ownership and Three Rivers Museum has occupied its current location in the building since 1992. In November 2002 Basing House was struck by lightning which damaged original roof timbers.
The manor of Rickmansworth was granted to the Abbey of St Albans by Offa, the Saxon King of Mercia, in the late 8th century. A farm was established adjacent to the church, and marshy ground drained to create better farming conditions. By 1363 the manor was said to be worth œ18 14s 9d and produce was mainly appropriated for the Abbey's kitchen. At this time there must have been a farm house and probably a Reeve in residence to look after the Abbey's interests. In the late 19th century, while building work was being carried out in The Bury, a stone was found with the date 1327 carved in it. This was felt to be from an earlier building on the same site, possibly the farmhouse mentioned above.
At the time of the Dissolution (1536-1540) the manor was in lease to a John Palmer but, when Edward VI came to the throne, the manor and house were granted to the Bishops of London. In 1553 the Bishop, Nicholas Ridley, was arrested under the Catholic Queen Mary and an earlier Catholic Bishop, Edmond Bonner, put in his place. Ridley was burnt at the stake in 1555 but, when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, Bonner was again deprived of his see and spent the last years of his life in prison.
In 1572 Queen Elizabeth granted the lease of the manor to a Margaret Palmer and later to her son, Francis Palmer. In 1608 the manor was occupied by Sir Francis Wolley, but two years later a sixty-year lease was granted to Sir Gilbert Wakering. There is some doubt whether it was Sir Gilbert or his stepson, Sir John Hewitt, who substantially improved the house around 1620-1625. Certainly around this time a parallel building behind the original east wing was added, making the main building two rooms deep rather than one. It is probable that about this time the ownership of The Manor of Rickmansworth was separated from the ownership of The Bury since, in 1632, the Manor was sold to Thomas Fotherley, whose father - also Thomas - was buried in St Mary's Church and whose family had lived in the area for over a hundred years.
Hewitt continued to live in The Bury, perhaps until his lease ran out in 1668, but by 1673 John Fotherley, Thomas's son, was recorded as paying a hearth tax on the property for twenty hearths. John died in 1702 but his widow, Dorothy, continued to live in The Bury until her death in 1709. The property then passed to her nephew, Temple Whitfeld, and his brother Henry. They added the Fotherly name to their own. Henry predeceased Temple and, when Temple died without issue in 1732, it all passed to Henry Fotherly Whitfeld, Temple's nephew. This Henry died in 1747 leaving everything to his son, another Henry Fotherly Whitfeld. This gentleman had the south wing made into an orangery and refurbished the windows on the west wing to give a symmetrical appearance across the whole facade.
Notwithstanding these improvements, The Bury was not entirely to his liking and he built a new palatial residence for himself in Rickmansworth Park. To fund all this work he had to sell off a lot of his landholdings in and around town and, when he died in 1813, his estate was much reduced. His widow then married his solicitor and between them they managed to dissipate most of the rest of his estate. In 1826 The Bury and Rickmansworth Park properties were sold to different purchasers.
In the 1830s The Bury was purchased by George Alfred Muskett, the MP for St Albans. This gentleman had quite a lot of money, mainly inherited from his wife and her brother, and with it he set up The Bank of St Albans. This venture went spectacularly bust in 1841 and ruined many local people. Muskett died in 1843 and the property was purchased by John Taylor, a coal and coke merchant who became a flour and grain merchant and baker. Taylor built an arm of the river coming in front of the house and the nearby stable block to act as a wharf for the unloading of barges of materials, and used parts of The Bury as a warehouse for his goods. He is said to have cared little for the condition of the building, and when he died in 1868 it had seriously deteriorated. The Bury was next purchased by John Saunders Gilliatt who owned much property in the area. He carried out some repairs but then sold it to Lord Ebury, who continued the process but then sold it to T W Bevan, a Watford solicitor, who put in a great deal of refurbishment work and brought the house up to fully habitable standards. On Bevan's death the property was auctioned by Harrods and the description given in their sales brochure showed a gentleman's residence of considerable charm and comfort. The property passed to Phillip Vos, a KC, and from him - immediately prior to World War II - to the Rickmansworth Urban District Council.
In the war The Bury became the local Civil Defence headquarters, and after the war it was taken over by Hertfordshire County Health Authority as a health centre. It continued to serve in this way under the National Health Authority until alternative premises were built in the 1980s. Various schemes for its future use were put forward but none met with local Council approval. The building was boarded up and continued to decline until, in 1991, a fire broke out which caused considerable damage. Still no acceptable schemes for its use were found until, in 1998, work began on conversion to seven individual houses; maintaining the exterior appearance as much as possible and taking care to preserve as much of the interior as had survived the fire.
Occupation of the refurbished property began in April 1999.
- Ian Haigh 2001
The Elms is a rare example in Rickmansworth of a Georgian House, having been built in 1722, towards the end of the reign of George I. The house saw a succession of occupants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but one in particular is remembered. This was Mary Ann Lewes [below left], better known today by her pseudonym George Eliott, who arrived at the house in 1875. She did not stay for long, her lover George Lewes dying in 1878, but while in Rickmansworth she revised her novel Daniel Deronda for publication.
After a number of further occupants, the house was purchased in 1921 by the Catholic Order of Daughters of Jesus. Nuns of the order had established a school in no.11 High Street in 1909, expanding into no.9 and soon outgrowing that as well. The Elms forms the core of the much expanded St Joan of Arc school to be seen today [below] but, despite the addition of a modern wing and other new school buildings in the past thorty years or so, the original house can still be clearly identified.
Rickmansworth's first Town Hall was built in 1869 by the Rickmansworth Town Hall Company on a site on the south side of the High Street formerly occupied by the Market Hall [see below]. It was not a town hall in the modern sense, used purely for the administration of the district, but more of a community centre in which social events such as balls, dances, concerts and lectures were held. For many years the most popular events were the monthly meetings of the Penny Reading Society, founded by the headmaster of the National School located in Gable House, adjacent to the Baptist Church on the north side of the High Street. And from 1912 until 1927, it served as the town s first cinema.
Today, the Gothic-style frontage has gone, replaced by a single story building housing two small shops on either side of an entrance passage. But the passageway leads through to the remainder of the former town hall building, which still stands, now converted into offices, in one of the yards behind the High Street.