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April 2006 Meeting Report

The April guest speaker was Brian Creasey, the present owner of Easton Lodge near Gt Dunmow, who bought the run down gardens and the surviving part of the original building, totalling 4.5 acres, in 1971.

The original lodge was built in 1597 on the site of an existing medieval hunting lodge by Henry Maynard who had had been given the estate by a grateful Queen Elizabeth, with some later Jacobean extensions built by his son. The increasingly prosperous Maynard family also later bought estates at Radwinter, Passenham and Walthamstow, as well as some coal mines and quarries.

On the 30th January, 1845, almost the whole building was burnt down by a catastrophic fire, probably caused by a candle or a piece of burning coal. This was replaced by a new house in the typical early Victorian style which cost £12,000. Viscount Henry Maynard, who died in 1865 at the ripe old age of 99, to everybody's surprise, and, in some cases, chagrin, left the entire estate to his 3 year old granddaughter Frances Evelyn Maynard, commonly known as Daisy. Her father, Charles Maynard, had predeceased her grandfather by some months.

Daisy was some girl, and with both good looks and wealth, was introduced to Queen Victoria's son Prince Leopold as a possible wife. She declined any offers and instead opted for Francis Greville Brooke who became Earl of Warwick in 1893 whose pad was Warwick Castle. They then joined the "Marlborough House set" with Prince Albert Edward ( yes, later King Edward) as the main man amongst a bunch of dissolute aristos. The Easton Lodge now became, as Brian put it, "a high class knocking shop", with our Daisy becoming embroiled in affairs with Prince Edward as well as Lord Charles Beresford. It seems likely that she was the Daisy in the bicycle made for two song, so puts a different perspective on some of the words!

The Lodge was burnt down in 1918, apparently by a sick monkey, only the West wing being rebuilt, being renamed the Warwick wing.

In the 1890s Daisy became disenchanted with this dilettante lifestyle and converted from being a socialite to a socialist,standing unsuccessfully as a Labour Party candidate in one of the general elections. She became involved in supporting a number of local good causes and offered Easton lodge to the Labour Party then to the TUC but both declined. Her wealth gradually dissipated and she died in 1938 surrounded by a menagerie of animals in the now smelly Warwick wing.

In 1902 she had commissioned Harold Peto to design and construct a garden and he laid out terrace beds, formal lawns and a sunken Italian garden with a 100 foot balustraded lilly pool. There was also a thatched tree house and a Japanese garden with a tea house in the lake. The whole garden originally covered some 35 acres and water was fed from a new water tower dominating the estate. Much of this construction work was carried out by 67 men from a Salvation Army Inebriates Home.

In WW2, the estate was requisitioned by the War Office and in 1942 the 386 Medium USAF arrived and cleared thousands of trees for a runway. The estate, minus the trees was handed back to the owner, Dasy's son, Maynard Greville in 1950 who then pulled down the remains of the Victorian building, planting an arboretum on the site. After his death in 1960 much of the stonework, including that in the superb Italian garden was sold for a mere £350 and the gardens became overgrown.

When the Creasys bought the estate in December 1971 they immediately started to create a garden on the concrete and rubble on the site of the original house. They managed to buy a further 4.5 acres in 1995 and started the full restoration of the Italian and Japanese gardens. Sadly there is now a major blot on the landscape in the form of a possible development of further runways for Stansted, which will have a major impact on Easton Lodge as this is just next door. However they are not letting that get in the way of the garden restoration which has now been registered Grade II by English Heritage.

The slide illustrations have wetted the appetite for many members so this may become a venue for a visit next year, hopefully without the 2nd or 3rd runways! The gardens are open for visits in the spring and summer so telephone 01371 876979 for further information.

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