Gedling House - The Owners

Through the history of Gedling House it is possible to follow a property through the late Georgian and early Victorian periods, and to see the styles and influences that affected its development. The study area comprises Gedling House, a grade II listed building (DoE 1987), and the surrounding grounds, an area of some 70 acres (Fig 1). Although the property has been described (Pevsner 1979 132; Gerring 1908 165-6) it has never previously been formally studied in great detail, so for this study it was necessary to look at some very basic archive sources to confirm historic information, such as the earliest owners and the possible date of construction. Other areas that need to be looked at in the early development were the influence of James Paine junior, the Reverend John Swete and local builders Samuel and William Stretton, and the relationship between Gedling House and Bridgford Hill House, East Bridgford. While much of the archive is easily accessible it has not previously been assembled in a coherent form. It is not possible to study buildings in aesthetic independence from their cultural, social and economic context. The reason for their being built and being occupied need to be properly understood. The history of buildings is also about people, not just the building materials.

Fig 1 The house in its setting: Gedling House from the south, with lawns in front and woodland behind.

In looking at the estate the land that does not form part of a coherent landscape design is ignored, as in this study it is only intended to look at that area which forms part of the immediate landscape of Gedling House in the late Georgian and early Victorian periods. The peripheral farmlands form a large part of the estate but they are not part of the impact the owners wanted to have on the landscape of the Trent Valley.

The dates chosen to confine this study are from c.1790 to c.1850 and were chosen to reflect the major period of development of the house and estate, and covers the period of ownership by the two people who had most influence on that development. The first date derives from the period around which the first owner, Thomas Smith, was building up the estate in the run up to the Gedling enclosure and the construction of the house. It is to the earlier years of ownership that most of the development of the house can be placed. The final date is drawn from the time just after the death in 1844 of the second owner, William Elliott Elliott, but allows for speculation on changes made shortly after.

The remainder of chapter one deals with some of the basic background information that is needed to understand the history of the house and the more important source material used to reconstruct that history. Chapter Two is a discussion of the early owners of the house, which not only provides a context for the local historical development within which the house can be placed, but also shows how the fortunes of a house are linked to those of the owners. A study of the background of the house and the eighteenth century influences on the style is undertaken in chapter three. Several sources suggest that James Paine Junior advised and influenced the original design. The possibility that one of the better known contemporary Nottingham builders had a hand also cannot be ignored. Some of the detail has certainly come from Georgian pattern books and similarity with other local buildings is apparent. Close family ties provide links with a number of surviving Nottingham buildings. Chapter four provides an architectural study of the house, while the layout of the grounds is covered in chapter five. The final chapter provides a discussion of the conclusions that can be drawn from a study of Gedling House.

Fig 2. The Gedling House estate and gardens: the extent of the study area.

Location and Topography.

Gedling House lies about five miles east of Nottingham, on the north side of the Trent Valley. The village of Gedling now forms the eastern limit of the suburban growth from Nottingham. The still identifiable village core, lying in a small valley, has been overshadowed by the colliery, railways and modern housing development. In 1832 Gedling was a village with 458 inhabitants and could be described as 'standing in a picturesque valley' (White 671).

Until 1993 Gedling House was run by the Education Resources Department of Nottinghamshire County Council. They have now moved to the Sandfield Centre, Radford, while the house has reverted to private ownership. The present owner is currently converting the house and outbuildings into flats and, that part of of the garden still attached to the house is to be renovated. A large part of the grounds have been taken up for use by Carlton-le-Willows Comprehensive School, which somewhat detracts from and masks the original layout. The extent of the house and grounds can be reconstructed both on the ground and from archive material.


While the main source of information is the house itself a number of other Nottinghamshire sources have proved invaluable in untangling the history of the estate. Three Nottingham resource centres were crucial in providing information on the house and the people involved: the Local Studies Library (LSL); Nottinghamshire Archive Office (NAO) and; the Nottingham County Council Education Resources based at the Sandfield Centre, Nottingham (SFC).

Written Sources and Local History.

There are few directly useful local histories that discuss Gedling House, the most important being by Charles Gerring (1908 165). It is unfortunate that Gerring appears to have misread the title deeds, recording Jonas Bettison as the original owner in 1780. He provides useful photographic evidence of the house in the Edwardian period, complete with its new ballroom (Fig 3). Thomas Smith, the actual owner was recorded by Gerring as a witness to the title deeds. Other local histories barely mention the house, although just enough to reiterate Gerring's date of 1780 for the construction of the house (Norfolk 1960; Swann 1985).

Nicholas Monsarrat, author of The Cruel Sea, wrote in his autobiography, Life is a Four Letter Word, of his Christmas visits to Gedling House in the early part of the twentieth century, providing the only written account of life in the house, albeit from the perspective of a child of six (1966 passim).

Both Thomas Smith and William E Elliott knew the local eighteenth century diarist Abigail Gawthern and there are a number of interesting and useful entries in her diary regarding them and, changes to the house and grounds (Henstock 1980 passim). Matthew Baker provides a second interesting and important contemporary source is the short description of the house and the garden temple (1835 131).

Nottingham Record Office.

The record office holds an important series of papers relating to the estate between 1565-1803 (NAO: DD/LK/50). The eighteenth century documents reveal how the land was built up by the Smiths and, how Thomas Smith consolidated his property and probably built the house in the mid-1790s. The 1803 documents refer to the sale of the house to William Elliott Elliott and provides a description of the layout at that time (Appendix 4). An important source for providing the most likely date for the construction of the house are the East Bridgford and Gedling Land Tax Assessment's of 1781-1832 (NAO: QDE 1/4; Appendix 3) on microfiche at the Nottingham Record Office. These show Smith in ownership from at least 1780 up to 1803 and how he is increasing the amount of his property tax over this period.

Fig 3 Gedling House: photographs from Charles Gerring, 1908.

Education Resources, Sandfield Centre.

The Education Resources were until recently based at Gedling House and they have built up a useful resource regarding the history of the house, especially in regard to the later occupants, the Burnside family and Sir John Turney. Of particular importance is the original watercolour by the Reverend John Swete of a smock mill in Gedling with the house in the background, painted in the early nineteenth century (Fig 4). A few short oral histories and notes of interviews provide a bit of colour for the occupancy of Sir John Turney in the early twentieth century, and give some idea of the social organisation of the house.

Fig 4 A smock mill in Gedling, with Gedling House in the background on the right. Watercolour by Rev. Swete c.1805.

Georgian Nottingham, Social, Economic and, Political Background.

It is important to look at the effect of Georgian Nottingham on the owners of the house as the late eighteenth century was a period of social, political and industrial change and upheaval. The character of Georgian life had a direct influence on why and how the house was constructed and the economic changes provided the financial wherewithal for the owners to undertake the work. The history of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Nottingham has been fairly well studied (e.g. Chambers 1946; Meaby 1946; J. V. Beckett 1990). Christopher Hussey has discussed how the changes in eighteenth century architecture and taste are directly linked to changes in the economy and politics, "The neo-classical movement in architecture, the Romantic Revival and the cult of the Picturesque, are thus seen, with the revolutionary trends in industry and political thought, as facets of the new age" (1955 10).

Georgian Society.

During the course of the eighteenth century the population of Nottingham increased without a corresponding increase in the land available for building. Between 1781 and 1801 the number of inhabitants increased by nearly 11,000. In 1785 the first back-to backs were built and similar building continued well into the nineteenth century (Barley & Straw 1969). Although the worst Nottingham slums had not yet been built the population was growing within a confined urban area. Nottingham had become associated with disorder and riots. For the period covering the building of Gedling House there were riots over food shortages, caused by poor harvests and exorbitant meat prices or, disaffection amongst frame work knitters nearly every year. Nottingham was regarded as a hotspot of political disaffection from the 1780s until the early-nineteenth century (Wells 1984 passim).

As the towns attracted growing numbers of people more houses became crammed into every available space to accommodate the new industrial classes. As the quality of houses in the urban centre declined the new middle class began to look outside the towns to find a healthier and more invigorating place to live (Barley & Straw 1969).


The owners of Gedling House played an active part in the political life of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. All the owners were freeholders, entitling them to vote in parliamentary elections (Reed 1983 15).

Thomas Smith was a close relation of Abel Smith and George Smith, members of parliament for Nottingham through the late-eighteenth century (Field 1880 passim). After George Smith was elevated to the peerage as Lord Carrington he became, because he was highly respected as a leading banker, the economic adviser to the Prime Minister, William Pitt.

William E. Elliott was High Sheriff of Nottingham in 1801, two years before moving to Gedling. Abigail Gawthern recorded in her diary for that year that Fanny Elliott (William's wife) had several new diamonds (Henstock 1980 87). The year that Elliott moved to Gedling he was the Deputy Lieutenant of the Town and County of Nottingham. Both William E. Elliott and his brother John were Justices of the Peace for Nottinghamshire. The J.P.s were responsible for the administration of the counties, exercising wide judicial and administrative powers. They had to supervise road and bridge repair, the regulation of wages and the administration of poor law. By acts of parliament of 1732 and 1744 they had to possess landed estates worth more than £100 a year (Reed 1983 17). The County Magistrates were all Tories, and often in conflict with the Whig hierarchy of the town. In March 1820 both William and John Elliott were involved in a Tory 'take-over' of the police offices in order to thwart the Whigs appointment of overseers to the workhouse (Field 1880 335).

John Stanford Elliott, William's brother, was a colonel in the Nottingham Volunteer Infantry, and his commander was Samuel Smith, the banker. The volunteers were formed at a time when there was a threat of invasion from France by Napoleon Bonaparte and fear of French-style insurrection at home (Wells 1984 passim).


Although the real growth in the industry of the East Midlands did not occur until the 1840s a small economic boom took place in the eighteenth century. As will be seen in the chapter on the owners new local fortunes were being made from new trades. Of particular relevance are the banking fortunes of the Smiths and the textile fortunes of the Elliotts, Stanfords and, Burnsides.

Both of the early owners of Gedling House were the recipients of large fortunes from successful entrepreneurs. Thomas Smith received land in East Bridgford and Gedling, including part of the Gedling House estate, from his grandfather Abel Smith, a successful Nottingham banker and member of parliament. As well as owning a large country estate Thomas Smith was also the distributor of stamps in Nottingham, based at Bromley House, Nottingham, from at least 1792 until 1806, when he died. In 1798 he took out a mortgage on his land in Gedling to cover his liabilities up to £10,000. Samuel Smith and Lord Carrington also provided money for these liabilities (NAO: DD.LK.50/50).

William Elliott Elliott received most of his money and lands from his father, who in turn received it from his uncle, both called William Elliott. The uncle had built up his fortune during the eighteenth century after discovering and maintaining a monopoly on a method of dying black silk hose. The economic background of the towns of Georgian England in general is important for understanding the rise of provincial prosperity as it had a great impact on the building trade in and around Nottingham.

Gedling House - The Owners