Catherine Dalley House

The Houses on the Hill

As one climbs up the long and gradual rise of Scalford Road towards the village of that name, we once used to see and know quite well, on the right hand side an old dwelling which was used in recent times as the very popular care home known widely as  Catherine Dalley House.  Recently, and sadly for many, the home which was owned and operated under the auspices of the Leicestershire County Council from its headquarters in Syston, has finally closed its doors. The new owners, developers McCarthy and Stone, propose to re-open on the site, a rejuvenated and altogether enlarged state-of-the-art facility as yet another new care home for the town and area. Why or how, was this warm and friendly nursing home given the title of ‘Catherine Dalley.’?

Well first, let us take the opportunity to learn something of the old house which was originally constructed in 1875 by successful local businessman Mr Warren Sharman for his family, it then being in an isolated position, half-way along the eastern side of Scalford Road and close to where once stood a working windmill, one of several which once existed on the higher ground of the market town. Originally known as ‘The Old Lodge‘ but later renamed as ‘Highfields’, it is this house which would later become known to us all as ‘Catherine Dalley House.’ It is an interesting fact that much of the nearby Wartnaby sandstone used in its construction was taken from the house known as ‘Hill House’ on Ankle Hill when it was demolished to be replaced by the much grander residence, ‘Wyndham Lodge‘ better know later as the ‘War Memorial Hospital.

Within a decade, Mr Sharman was joined by two other businessmen, Mr Ladbury and architect Mr Winter Johnson who both built large houses in the close community. Northfields House, immediately across the road from Highfields and like almost every similar large house in Melton, would be utilised as a ‘hunting lodge’ for the duration of the three months winter season, housing many wealthy and aristocratic visitors of great reputation and almost all of them hunting or equestrian aficionados who enjoyed the many available stables which would provide plentiful and generous accommodation for the many equine visitors.

An easy way to understand the practice of leasing hunting lodges or hunting boxes as they were often known, could perhaps be compared today with the renting of the large houses in Wimbledon during the much awaited tennis weeks at the world famous courts each summer, when large rents can be demanded and the owners go off on holiday to pursue other matters.

Who was Catherine Dalley?

Someone asked me recently, “Who was Catherine Dalley?” It was a fair question to which I did not possess a ready answer, as the care home bearing her name has been with us in the town for perhaps a half a century or more and has only recently bid us its sad farewell; so who indeed was the lady?   As it happens, Catherine was not too difficult to trace since as suspected, she was clearly a real person and not of fiction and it was thus interesting to discover some of her background as I searched for items of interest in the biography or genealogy of this interesting socialite who once inherited a chemists shop in Syston which doubled as a busy post office and who was to marry Leicester surgeon of some repute.

Catherine’s father was Thomas William Stain (1845-1947) a well respected chemist who also doubled as the local Postmaster for the Royal Mail for the nearby village of Syston on the periphery of Leicester, who lived and worked with his wife Mary (Hack). Born in 1845 in Oundle, Northamptonshire, Thomas was to marry Mary and the couple worked as a team in their small shop in the High Street, the main road to Melton Mowbray. Two daughters were born to the couple; Catherine Emma Stain – the subject of my search – being born in July 1871 and she followed by sibling Frances Martha the following year.

In 1897, by now aged 29 yrs and successfully educated in medicine, Catherine had become legally registered with the Post Office on taking over her father’s licence on his retirement, to act as the new Postmistress at Syston from the family home then known as ‘The White House.’ 

Marriage and Medicine

Three years later, in 1902, Catherine married Harry Parker Dalley, a highly respected Leicester physician/surgeon, but no children were born to the marriage.  Throughout a lifetime of being connected with medical matters, Catherine also became involved in the day-to-day working of the Leicestershire Hospital Boards and it happened that Syston was the location of the department which dealt with the elderly and all care homes of the County.  When it was decided that Melton Mowbray should support such a hospital, a suitable building, namely ‘Highfields’, as above was found to have been available just then and suited the needs of the proposed new home. It was duly purchased by the Board and converted ready for its official opening in 1957 to complete the advent of what was to become became the popular – and now alas, mourned – Catherine Dalley Home which was to provide for more than a half-century, comfort and succour to many grateful people.

JM Feb. 2020

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