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 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.
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'.
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
Dunorlan 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.
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.
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