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Dunorlan Park

The Origins of the Dunorlan Estate

The estate that later became known as Dunorlan first emerges into history as Burnthouse or Calverley Manor Farm. The original farmhouse appears on the earliest Tunbridge Wells map produced by John Bowra in 1738. After the death of owner Thomas Panuwell in 1823, the farm was acquired by the developer John Ward as part of the 1000 acre Calverley Estate. Ward's primary intention in acquiring this land was to create a new town at the top of Mount Pleasant hill to rival the old village centred on the Pantiles, so the Burnthouse Farm property was retained in its original state. His set of estate plans dated 1829 show the farmhouse, the chalybeate spring and a stream flowing into a very insignificant looking pond. T Stidolph's survey of 1838 for the town's first local government shows little change, except that the pond has been enlarged to form a substantial lake.

Henry ReedHenry Reed creates Dunorlan

In the 1850s, the farmhouse and its associated lands were purchased by the Tasmanian millionaire and evangelist Henry Reed (1806-1880). Henry Reed was born in Doncaster in Yorkshire in 1806, but emigrated to Tasmania in 1827. There he built up a six and a half thousand acre estate, and exported wheat and timber to England. He became something of a local hero, praised by his contemporaries for helping to bring civilisation to a colony whose inhabitants were mostly convicts.

Dunorlan HouseThe House

Intending to establish his retirement home in Tunbridge Wells, Henry Reed demolished the existing farmhouse and erected an ornate mansion on the site. It was completed in 1862 and is believed to have been designed by the architect William Willicombe. Henry Reed named his new house Dunorlan. In the sale brochure of 1871-2 Dunorlan is described as 'a most elegant and substantial mansion, erected ... entirely of Normandy stone, in the Italian style of architecture, finished throughout in the most perfect manner, and in every way adapted for the comfort and enjoyment of a nobleman or gentleman of fortune'. More recent witnesses were, however, less complimentary. Josephine Carminhow, who worked there in the house's latter days, characterises it as an 'architectural monstrosity (which) represented everything one might expect from a man with too much money and too little taste'.

Fountain and avenue at Dunorlan ParkThe Grounds

In addition to building a new house, Henry Reed also had the surrounding area, previously divided into fields, landscaped and planted to form a park. The work was carried out according to designs prepared by Robert Marnock (1800-1889), a distinguished landscape architect who first made a name for himself by designing the Royal Botanic Society's garden at Regent's Park in 1839. Marnock worked at Dunorlan according to his guiding principle of 'harmony with nature'. He made prominent use of the existing stream and other water features. The lake was adapted to form 'a fine ornamental sheet of water of about six acres, with prettily shaped islands and well stocked with fish'.

New plantings included 'a luxuriant avenue of deodaras and douglas picea, leading from an elegant grecian temple to a handsome stone basin and fountain'. The fountain, constructed by James Pulham and exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1862, was lavishly ornamented with classical figures which matched the double row of statues along the avenue. It was surmounted by a figure of Hebe. Although appearing to be sculptured stone, the fountain and statues were in fact moulded from a composite material known as pulhamite, also used for a variety of artificial rocks. The fountain was powered by water pouring out of the main lake, down a waterfall and into a continuation of the stream. Reed was a keen supporter of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, and often used his grounds for open air preaching meetings.

The Estate is bought by the Collins family

Despite the effort and expense invested in the Dunorlan estate, Henry Reed did not settle for long in Tunbridge Wells but moved to Harrogate in 1870. He returned to Tasmania, where he died in 1880. Meanwhile, Dunorlan was put on the market, but it proved difficult to find a buyer. Eventually, in 1874 it was sold to Brenton Halliburton Collins, a banker from Halifax, Nova Scotia. After B H Collins' death in 1924, the estate was inherited by his son, Carteret Fitzgerald Collins. At this period, the public were sometimes admitted to the park, especially in winter for skating on the lake.

World War II bullets found in the lake at Dunorlan ParkDunorlan during World War II

When Carteret Collins died in February 1941, the house fell vacant and was requisitioned for the war effort on 15 May of the same year. It would appear that in the early years troops were billetted there. According to local tradition, they were responsible for destroying the avenue of statues and the figures on the fountain by using them for target practice. In 1943 the War Damage Commission took up residence and were to remain entrenched for fourteen years.

The lake at Dunorlan Park in the 1970sThe Dunorlan Estate becomes a public park

Meanwhile, the family of Carteret Collins had entered into negotiations with the Town Council regarding purchase of the estate for the public benefit. In November 1944, the Council agreed to purchase from Lieutent Colonel R L H Collins at a price of £42000 the house and grounds, plus three farms, Collinhurst and High Wood at Hawkenbury, the Hawkenbury Sports Ground, and various other parcels of land. The transaction was concluded early the following year. In March 1946 the Council agreed that thirty acres of the estate should be opened as a public park 'as a temporary measure'. The 'temporary' measure soon became accepted as permanent, and over the next two years new gates and fences were installed, footpaths created, and seats erected.

The Council could not, however, take possession of the house, due to the wartime requisition order. On 17 April 1946 a fire broke out in the house. Although the Ministry of Works undertook repairs to make the building usable, it is clear that much remedial work was neglected, as in 1951 the Parks Committee was still discussing the possibility of restoration. The property was surrendered to the Council by the War Damage Commission on 31 July 1957. The Ministry of Works agreed to pay compensation for the dilapidated state into which the property had fallen since 1941. Sadly the Council, having finally gained possession of the house thirteen years after purchasing it, could now find no use for it. In September 1957 it was sold for development along with one lodge and some adjoining land for £7650. Dunorlan was demolished in the following year, and eight houses constructed on the site.

Boating on the lake began in April 1949, and has been run since 1954 by Ron and Norman Matchett. They had also operated a 'mobile canteen' to supply refreshments, and were granted exclusive catering rights in 1950. A purpose built 'tea pavilion' was not erected until 1966.

In 1996 the meadows on the south side of the lake, always part of the estate but previously leased out for grazing, were incorporated into the park. These are currently managed for their wildlife interest. The fauna includes a variety of grassland butterflies, grasshoppers and crickets.

Dunorlan Park today

Find out more about Dunorlan Park

Please send your own stories and memories of Dunorlan Park to museum@tunbridgewells.gov.uk