Stocks House

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Stocks in around 1995.
A photo of Stocks while undergoing renovations on 7 May 2007

Stocks manor house is a large Georgian mansion, built in 1773.[1] It is the largest property in the village of Aldbury, Hertfordshire. Stocks House and its manorial farm is an 182-acre (0.74 km2) estate surrounded by 10,000 acres (40 km2) of National Trust Ashridge Forest and the Chiltern Hills.

It takes its name from the old famous stocks of the medieval village of Aldbury just down the road.


Stocks manor house was inherited by Sir Edward Grey, 1st Viscount of Falloden, who served as British Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United States, from his grandfather. Lord Falloden's career never allowed him to live there, and in 1892 he sold Stocks House [2] to best-selling British novelist Mary Augusta Ward[3] who made Stocks her beloved home until her death in 1920.[4] While Ward lived at Stocks, it became a bustling salon of leading intellectual luminaries of her day, including her nephews Aldous and Julian Huxley, her son-in-law historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, and such guests as George Orwell, who gathered for long weekends, to join as many as 50 other literary and intellectually inclined overnight guests and friends who could be accommodated in the main house. Ward is buried just down the road at Aldbury Church.[1] Upon Ward's death, Stocks was inherited by her son, a Member of Parliament, Arnold Ward.[5] who sold Stocks to the Blezard family, who later sold it to the Brown family, before Stocks became an exclusive girl's school in 1944.[2]


In 1944, Stocks House became a residential school[4] when the oldest finishing school in England for upper-class girls, Brondesbury, moved to Stocks manor house from its previous manor estate in Surrey, where it had been located since 1865. The school moved to Stocks House due to the danger of bombing raids toward the south of England during WW II. At that time, the school was under the direction of Brondesbury's headmistress, Frances Abbott, who had been headmistress since 1916. Upon moving to Stocks in 1944, the school was then dubbed Brondesbury-at-Stocks. Abbott was succeeded in 1956 by Katharina Forbes-Dunlop, a British author.[6]

Brondesbury-at-Stocks school was limited to 48 girls, aged 7 through 16, often from the same families for several generations. The girls prepared for college preparatory exams under the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examinations Board and were tutored in etiquette, daily adherence to the complex system of British hierarchical protocols, world affairs, Imperial and Parliamentary affairs, speech, conversation, social tact, history, languages, literature, art, history of art and architecture, philosophy of the enlightenment, lawn tennis, lacrosse, drawing, botany, embroidery, voice, opera, music, ballet, ballroom dancing and equestrian skills. The girls sang Anglican hymns twice a day every day in the Stocks chapel and held a formal attire ballroom dance in the Great Hall of Stocks in long dresses once a week. They were taught the art of the deep curtsey (for presentation at Buckingham Palace and at Queen Charlotte's Ball before the Queen was pressured to modernize and abolish the tradition) and learned their ballroom at Brondesbury-at-Stocks under Madame Vacani, who was dancing mistress to Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and other royals, including Princess Diana who worked for Madame Vacani in her early ambition to be a dancer. The girls kept their own ponies at Stocks and could ride everyday. Stocks had stables, saddles, a tack room, paddocks and a resident riding mistress. Dressage and jumping events were held. The girls could join the local fox hunts established by British banking families: Baron Rothschild, Barclays, and the Marchioness of Salisbury. Girls would begin learning to hunt by chasing the foxhounds and mounted horses on foot.

Each room of Stocks had a special name given during the Napoleonic era and those names were used throughout the Brondesbury years. In keeping with the fashionable neoclassical revival of the Napoleonic era, each room was named after a Roman province or other revered place of antiquity. For example, four of the names of the large rooms on the second story of Stocks were: Perugia, Urbino, Venetia and Petra.

In 1972 Forbes-Dunlop, the last Brondesbury headmistress, retired. She died at age 100.[6]


In 1972, Stocks House was purchased by American Playboy executive Victor Lownes and English Playmate Marilyn Cole[1] for £115,000.[2] They installed a massive jacuzzi - thought to be the largest in the country - in the house. The mansion was used as a training camp for Playboy bunnies[4] and was well known for hosting extravagant parties with celebrities, including a 25-hour party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Playboy magazine. The 1970s A-list that attended Stocks parties held by Lownes, was the same celebrity crowd who also partied and played the tables at the London Playboy Club. Stocks during that era was considered the Playboy Mansion of England, copying the general concept of a great Old English mansion of Hugh Hefner, which served as the Playboy Mansion in the U.S.

Coincidentally Lownes also owned 1 Connaught Square in London, the townhouse of Mary Augusta Ward, the former owner of Stocks, where she had died.[2]

Following Lownes' dismissal from Playboy in 1981 he remained in the property for several years and developed it into a high-end resort hotel, but he was eventually forced to sell it due to the high running cost.


Following Lownes' ownership, Stocks was owned by English Cricket player Phil Edmonds, who added a swimming pool and a golf course to the extensive grounds; allowing him to turn the Stocks property into the Stocks Golf Resort Hotel and Health Spa. Harlequin F.C. Rugby Club also owned Stocks for a time.

In 1997 the album cover of Oasis' Be Here Now was photographed by the pool at Stocks.[4]

Reversion to private house[edit]

In 2004 Stocks was sold to Peter Harris, a retired horse trainer, entrepreneur and multimillionaire (£360m), for an undisclosed sum. Shortly afterwards 6 months notice was given to the staff of the hotel. A planning application to Dacorum to restore the historic Stocks Hotel back to a private home was made. The plans included a total overhaul of the building, building stables, adding a swimming pool and tennis courts, and converting some of the surrounding land of Stocks Golf Club into a garden and pasture land for cattle.

The extensive renovation work was undertaken by Holloway White Allom and completed in early 2008. The architect for the project was Hugh Petter, Director at ADAM Architecture. It is now a family home once again for Harris' son-in-law Walter Swinburn.[1][4]


  1. ^ a b c d Reynolds, Chris. "Stocks House". Hertfordshire Genealogy. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  2. ^ a b c d Lownes, Victor (1982). Playboy Extraordinary. St Albans: Granada Publishing. ISBN 0-246-11793-1. 
  3. ^ William Page, ed. (1908). A History of the County of Hertford. Victoria County History 2. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Aldbury: Be here now". Hertfordshire Life. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  5. ^ Spartacus page on Arnold Ward
  6. ^ a b Bernstein, Margaret. "Inspiration". Growing Azalea Music. Retrieved 2009-05-19. , archived at

Coordinates: 51°48′38″N 0°36′20″W / 51.81056°N 0.60556°W / 51.81056; -0.60556