A brief background to the current comedy of ongoing errors and apparent apathy regarding the planning and development of the so-called Wyndham Grange estate, which brings it to the regretful situation that exists at the present time.
(Being a brief resume of the arousal of a rankling disappointment amongst many people of Melton Mowbray which is heading towards further angry and organised protest at the next planning appeal.)
In The Beginning
When Lieutenant Colonel Richard Dalgliesh, C.B., D.L. J.P. (1844-1922) arrived at the elegant front entrance to the large house known locally as Wyndham Lodge on the slopes of Ankle Hill to be greeted by a small but very excited and expectant group of Melton people, it was to be a significant moment in the town’s long history because of the Colonel’s avowed purpose of fulfilling a hitherto secret promise to officially open for business what was to become fondly known as the ‘Melton Mowbray War Memorial Hospital’. Several important people of the county were present for the iconic occasion, not to mention the attendance of Royalty in the guise of His Royal Highness, Prince Henry. Adding to the romance of the occasion was the most important fact that the Colonel was also the prime and sole benefactor of this wonderful gift to the people of the town and thus it was that on the 19th January 1920, the War Memorial Hospital was officially opened with great fanfare, pomp and royal ceremony with the Town Silver Band playing no doubt accompanying the consumption of tea and cakes.
Colonel Richard Dalgliesh
Born to David and Susannah Dalgliesh in Northamptonshire, their eldest son Richard whilst employed as a young civil engineer in Leicestershire, was to discover that the agricultural land about the small village of Holwell to the north of Melton Mowbray, was rich in iron ore and to put things into a nutshell, he went on to develop not only a productive mine in the area, but he later established the Holwell Ironworks at Asfordby which was to become a seminal landmark for more than a century, providing financial security for many families over these long years. In the early days of his marriage he lived with his family on the main street in Asfordby village, close enough to share the sounds and inhale the sulphurous fumes and smells of his nearby smelting works along with his neighbours, though the family was later to regard home as the once salubrious mansion known as Asfordby Place. When the horrors of the Great War began to be unveiled in the autumn of 1914, Colonel Dalgliesh’s business priorities were to become the vital production and supply of iron and steel for the war effort, but his social interests were to deflect and expand further afield – likely as a result of his earlier military life – when he commenced to dedicate much more of his personal time to community matters involving the recovery and care of hundreds of wounded servicemen returning from the battlefields of Europe.
At the beginning of this awful war, the county of Leicester was hard pressed to provide sufficient and suitable bed space to provide the much needed solace to the great numbers of physically and mentally damaged men returning to ‘Blighty’ and as most of us realise today, a sizeable number of these victims were treated at the temporary facility at Wicklow Lodge on the Burton Road, a readily available large house which had been abandoned by its owners for the duration of the conflict. So successful was this remedy that the good Colonel later created a committee which was to look into the future possibility of creating a more permanent cottage hospital in Melton in order to take some of the weight from the authorities at Leicester and to avoid the onerous and uncomfortable journeys to and from that Borough.
What many of the people who were present at that official opening in the stark Winter, post-war days of 1920 were unaware of was that Colonel Dalgliesh was by then, at the age of 78, almost a broken man, weary from his exertions at his blast furnaces and becoming so deeply involved and distracted by his social and civic activities both during and after the war years, his doctor had personally advised an immediate slow-down due to another, tormenting illness which was unconnected with his hectic public life and adding a prognosis which indeed suggested the coming to an end of his useful life. Spurred on by this unwelcome prediction, he was to forge ahead with a difficult personal decision concerning an off the record and personal dream of purchasing an old semi-abandoned hunting-box on the gentle slopes of Ankle Hill for use as a cottage hospital. Like many of the big houses then standing in the town, the owners of the once grand mansion known as Wyndham Lodge had moved as faraway as possible for the duration of the conflict in Europe and throughout the previous decade whilst only occasionally occupied on a short lease availability through the agents in London, it had slowly but surely fallen into disrepair.
His Generous Gift.
Aware by now of his pending – even imminent – personal demise, the Colonel determined to see his way to completing the purchase of the whole available estate to donate as his personal gift of thanks to the people of the Town, revealing later that his gesture was in thankful return for the great help and assistance he had received from the Borough over his very successful and prosperous life. He had told the assembly that in agreeing to buy Wyndham Lodge together with 15 acres of land for £5,000 of his own money [£298,602.15 today] and subject to the approval of the Hospital Committee, he was further prepared to pay also for the necessary alterations and to hand over to the town a completed Cottage Hospital. He maintained in his address that he wished to make a precondition that the new, people’s hospital should be available both for Melton Mowbray and for the surrounding district. The alterations would cost in the vicinity of £2,000 [£119,440.86] aided by garden parties, fairs and parades organised by the Committee – almost half a million pounds in today’s money was a grand gesture indeed! In minimum time, the hospital was to grow and eventually acquired the addition of modern wards, operations rooms and later, as the number of staff grew, a purpose built residence for nurses and other staff was provided. It is pretty well accepted fact that from birth to the grave, every resident of the population of Melton Mowbray would have visited the place for one purpose or another.
Unfit for purpose
With a promise treatment free-for-all with the arrival of the NHS in the 1940s, the weekly collection of health insurance monies on a Saturday morning came to a welcome end for many and the mighty machine of National Government took the people’s hospital, in its entirety, under its wing. Staff wages, transport, care and maintenance of the once beautiful gardens and the gentle slope towards the River Eye would all be accounted for under its umbrella. Sadly but inevitably, as the buildings and its general condition were to deteriorate with time, the upkeep of the War Memorial became beyond reasonable cost and the standards of its maintenance being unfit for purpose in an increasingly sophisticated operation, brought the expected result of closure and after many long years of wrangling and political debate and not without some serious problems of its own along the way, a new replacement hospital was constructed in Thorpe Road alongside the old Union Workhouse. By the end of the 20th Century, the beloved old family hospital on Ankle Hill was no more.
Dereliction and Decay
For the next decade or so, the old and tired War Memorial hospital stood sadly isolated and steadily rotting from its once substantial foundations right up to its leaking roof – which now apparently housed – according to wild life observers – at least three long-eared Pipistrel bats which, protected by law, would create future awkward and delaying problems. However, the old house still appeared to be saveable, though the adjacent buildings continued to become overgrown and inviting to all manner of local wild life which took advantage of its gaping cracks in the decaying timbers. This of course is not to mention the human vandals who entered to remove many attractive items of the vital infrastructure. In the new, 21st century, whilst still remaining within the ownership and control of the National Health Service or local PCT, the time did eventually arrive when the estate, now comprising just 6+ acres (9 acres having been sold off to Lord Hamilton for the construction of his large mansion now known as Warwick Lodge) and the main house being barb-wired to deter boarders, talks were begun with regard to a proposed purchase of the abandoned site with a view to providing one more new housing developments for the town.
Public access for dog walkers and other visitors remained in the Northern parkland as they continued to walk by the gently flowing River Eye, but the lodge itself continued to become almost overwhelmed by a rampant undergrowth of ivy and tangled wild blackberry bushes making a sad spectacle of the once handsome hunting-box. Security guards employed on a twenty-four basis on the site, seem to have slept or turned a blind-eye during the moments when every square yard of the weather protective lead sheet was un-ceremoniously removed from the main buildings. It was a criminal act of vandalism and theft which, over the five years, was to create the destruction by water of the great bulk of its ancient timbers both inside and out.
Who Owned the Wyndham Estate?
A very significant and crucial question did arise at the time of these talks however, something that had been talked of for many years, when the very contentious question of the legal ownership of the now deserted estate was taken up by public opinion. Suffice to say here that the gift of Colonel Dalgliesh to the people of Melton was regarded as having meant just that by most people, but with an absence of any legal paperwork almost a century later to establish an enforceable ownership, it was decided that as the NHS had maintained the property for so many years at the tax-payer’s expense, the general principal of squatter’s rights would win the day and the local PCT, after initially suggesting that they themselves might develop, sold the ‘jewel in the property crown’, to the initial developers.
The Final Straw
After a decade of convoluted and delaying events, the final chapters of this very sad narrative still await a bottom line, both for the town itself and its residents. The remaining five acres of land originally purchased by Colonel Dalgliesh had without question become overused, unkempt and symptomatically largely neglected as the people employed to maintain the property dwindled in number. There was absolutely no question or dispute that the old war Memorial was long past its usefulness as an efficient public hospital and the requirement of modern standards of health and safety rightly dictated that its worth had come to an end. But the site, on its gently sloping hillside studded with special trees and other flora and fauna, much of which was imported from around the world over a century ago, remained to be regarded as the jewel in the crown of potential residential sites in Melton, the perfect place to develop and show off what might be achieved with modern architecture, but sadly and eventually, almost disastrously in the eyes of many, through a drawn-out series of poor planning, changes of mind and a lack of local involvement seemingly offering little or no respect or even interest in, the heritage of an historic town, (Not to mention an inordinate amount of rainfall) we have today the modern equivalent of a post-war council estate sprawling over a potentially desirable and sought after location and now seemingly planned for the sole desperate purpose of profit and completion, rather than the original proposition to provide affordable and attractive housing for a variety of potential buyers on a once beautiful site. The initial proposition was folly and achieved in an atmosphere of desperation to meet numbers required by her Majesty’s Government: the people of Melton look like being the losers. As the summer of the year 2019 arrives, the wrangling continues with more planning appeals lined up to promise even more debate and cross-recriminations.
Before I prepare to add to the rest of this very sad story with my many personal questions of ongoing breaches of conditions, I have one observation which has really puzzled me since I first saw it: can someone explain to me how on earth, such an historic and locally connected site be maligned with one of its only two roads having the appellation, ‘Kennelmore Road’ – the other one being named after ‘Arthur‘ – Drive? Is any person or group – excluding the developers who might yet make a profit – who actually belongs to the town, consulted in this matter?
Melton Mowbray, 11th May, 2019
This application appeal is now officially withdrawn – we all hope!.
17th May, 2019