The history of Shoreham’s Buckingham House and its many different faces

Zoe Hutton took this picture of the facade of Buckingham House
Zoe Hutton took this picture of the facade of Buckingham House

I read with interest Mike Mendoza’s column about Buckingham House (Shoreham Herald, June 25) and agree that Woodview Court, which now stands joined to the ruins, is totally out of character with both them and the houses in Woodview Close.

Ironically, it was this incongruity with the houses in Woodview that helped save the walls from demolition in 1966, when no one wanted the responsibility for their upkeep – in spite of them being listed.

The listing in 1954 was due to the last-minute intervention of the late Michael W.D. Norman, local Shoreham historian and author, when he discovered they were due to be demolished the next day.

At this time about a quarter of the interior of the house still remained, including an inglenook fireplace and a blocked window dating to about 1655.

The remaining quarter and the 1873 red brick western service wing with its tall chimneys were demolished in 1962/63 and Woodview Court built it its place.

The grounds around the house were developed as Woodview and again, Michael Norman intervened to ensure the sight lines to the ruins were preserved from the south and east.

Shoreham owes a great debt to Michael and one which did not appear to be acknowledged at the time of his death in 2013, shortly after that of his wife Pam.

Hopefully, this letter will go some way to rectifying that.

The old Buckingham House was actually built c1655 and the east elevation appears in a painting by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm dated 1782, which is now held at the British Library.

The surviving yellow brick and stone facades were remodelled by the architect John Biagio Rebecca some time between 1808 and 1820 in the Palladian style.

The work included blocking a number of windows shown in the 1782 painting and this blocking could still be clearly seen before the interior of the walls was rendered in the 1960s.

Michael Norman’s 2001 book ‘Biagio and John Biagio Rebecca’, about this architect and his work at Buckingham House and elsewhere, is in Worthing Local Studies Library.

The Irish author George Moore referred to Buckingham as the ‘Italian House’ in four of his works including the most famous ‘Esther Waters’ in which the house is called Woodview – hence the name of the modern developments around it.

With the death of the Henry Head in 1905, the house was left empty until the estate was purchased in 1910 by William Godson Little, who built the new Buckingham House in 1911 on the site now occupied by Cypress Close.

It was at this time that the old house was gutted, possibly by fire but in Michael Norman’s view demolished due to dry rot, as there was no evidence of scorch marks inside the ruins.

The old lodge designed by Rebecca was also demolished and replaced by a new one in the same style as the new house and which still stands on the Upper Shoreham Road.

Sadly, the new house was demolished in 1961.

With much help from Michael Norman I wrote my own book, ‘The Buckingham Houses Old Shoreham – A Pictorial History’ in 2011, copies of which are in Shoreham and Worthing libraries.

I may update this book in due course and, to this end, am wondering if any readers have copies of postcards showing the interior of the new house when it was the Downs School in the 1930s that I could borrow or buy?

I would also be interested in any other pictures of the two houses.

If any one can help please contact me by email: buckingham.house@ntlworld.com, or write to Peter Kefford, 10a Crossland Road, Redhill, RH1 4AN.

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