A series of huge vaulted cellars under a demolished mansion house just to the north of Heathrow Airport are to be opened up to the public as part of plans to improve the parklands around them.
Cranford House was the summer estate of the Berkeley family for 300 years up to 1918, and although relatively grand, it was for the family, something they considered a hunting lodge – and one of the precursors of the modern Berkeley Hunt now held in Gloucestershire.
The Canford estate dates back to before the Norman Conquest, and the lands passed through many hands over the centuries, before finally being sold to Elizabeth, widow of Sir Thomas Berkeley in 1618, who may have already owned some land locally. Although the estate remained in the Berkeley family for the next 300 years, the family itself fractured and split a number of times, and the lands eventually ended up with Charles Berkeley, 3rd Baron FitzHardinge, who died childless in 1916.
The house was used only intermittently by the Berkeley family from the late 19th century until the First World War. Over the next couple of decades, most of the estates were sold, and Cranford House estate was sold to the local authority in 1932.
The house, having been rarely used for the past 50 years seems to have been in a poor condition, and the council declined to fund the estimated £6,000 restoration costs and convert it into a museum.
A tender to demolish the mansion house was issued by Hounslow Council in 1938, but seems that it wasn’t demolished until 1944, and the rest of the estate became Canford Park and opened up to the public.
Although the mansion house was demolished, the 18th-century stables were retained. The demolition was also to the ground only, leaving the cellars untouched.
The cellars appear to date largely from the 1720’s, when the 3rd Earl rebuilt the house. JP Black, the architect of the drawing below, dated 1943, believed the central section to be early 18th with the sections at either end, later additions.
The “extensive range of cellars” were described in the Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette newspaper in Feb 1936 as being “vaulted in brickwork supported on square pillars,” and contained the “usual traditions of underground passages leading under the park”.
Now, at last, they are to be restored and for the first time ever, opened to the public.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) is providing £2.28 million towards an enhancement project costing £3.47 million, with the remaining sum being funded by the council and through other sources, including contributions from local developments and the Heritage of London Trust.
The funding will help pay for essential repairs to Cranford Park‘s historic stables, garden walls, ha-ha and historic landscape as well as the introduction of new visitor facilities and the regeneration of the orchard, woodland and meadows.
A new cafe will be built above the cellars, which will themselves be made available for events and exhibitions.
There are plans for an educational programme of archaeology, horticulture and orchard and river management, as well as a wide range of activities and events, displays and exhibitions, which will be overseen by a new full-time site manager and a new community engagement officer.