A London merchant, George Ward, was encouraged to move to Cowes in the late 18th century by William Arnold, the Isle of Wight’s impressive Collector of Excise. George Ward duly acquired Bellevue and some surrounding land.
Over the years he acquired many other properties, both in Cowes and all the way to West Wight. Eventually his acquisitions amounted to over 5,000 acres including, it is said, four-fifths of Cowes (including the Fountain Hotel), and many tenanted farms and smallholdings. Members of Cowes Heritage have trawled through old records to tell the story of some of the homes involved.
Also recalled is that in keeping with his Lord of the Manor lifestyle, George Ward created a near-mile long grand drive to his home, leading all the way from what was then the boundary of Northwood Park.
Architect John Nash
Following George Ward’s death in 1829 his heir, George Henry Ward, decided to build a new house on the site of Bellevue. The architectural practice of John Nash drew up the plans, and Northwood House was finished in 1841.
George Henry Ward died in 1849 and in a subsequent auction of effects Queen Victoria purchased an imposing marble statue of an Egyptian figure, which is still a feature of Osborne House. Next to inherit Northwood House was Edmund Granville Ward who rather than continue to live in the property decided to acquire for his home Egypt House on Cowes seafront.
Northwood House gifted in 1929
Never again was Northwood House to be occupied by a Ward, although it remained with the family until 1929, during which time it had several uses, including as an academy ‘for sons of noblemen’, a nunnery, and a First World War auxiliary Red Cross hospital. Then in 1929 it was gifted ‘to the town of Cowes as municipal buildings and public park’ – the donation being made by Captain Herbert Joseph Ward who was to become chairman of the Isle of Wight Council from 1956 to 1967.
The Wards, following their conversion in the 19th century, were a leading Roman Catholic family. Besides leaving many properties to various Catholic institutions, they paid for the construction of St Saviours RC Church at Totland, not far from Weston Manor, which William George Ward had built in 1871.
A huge number of photographs
A huge number of photographs exist of Northwood House include those of the richly ornate decor of the public rooms, exquisitely painted ceiling portraits of famous people of antiquity, and some of its 36 all-different marble fireplaces.
There are also many photographs of Weston Manor, including its fine chapel. Most of these pictures were taken by Cowes Heritage member Jim Green. There are also reminders of the various roles played by Northwood House in the Second World War.
Three week exhibition
Starting on 23 October 2010, there’s a three-week exhibition taking place.
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Image: Northwood House