The history of Capel Manor charts back to the late 13th Century and in this guide you will see how a chain of complex events and passing of ownership has contributed to today’s reality. Even the boundaries of the estate in which the original two Manor Houses were located have moved over time and the current Manor House is actually the third property to take the name Capel Manor.
Our story starts in 1275 when the land, then known as ‘the Manor of Honeylands and Pentriches, alias Capels’, was held by Ellis of Honeyland. There is evidence of a manor house at this time but the one you see today did not exist until the 1750s. Instead it is believed that the original house was located on the site of Capel Manor Primary School.
In 1486 Sir William Capel became the owner of this first house which was kept in the family until the 16th Century when Sir Giles, Sir Henry and Edward Capel surrendered it to the crown.
In 1562 Queen Elizabeth 1st gave the house to William Thorne and it then passed through several hands including the Avery family. Samuel and Mariabella Avery arrived in Enfield in 1642 and then in 1653 Capels Manor passed over to their youngest son, William Avery, on his father’s death. Although nowhere clearly explained why it passed to their youngest son, it’s believed to have been as a result of the troubles experienced by many Cavalier families during that time. For more information David Avery’s book ‘Madam Susanna Avery – Her Book’ looks further into the issues families faced.
In 1688 Madam Susanna Avery, one of William’s daughters wrote a book on how to run a small country estate. It was a 17th Century equivalent of Mrs Beaton’s Victorian treatise on cooking and gives a fascinating glimpse of life at Capel during that period. As well as pies, puddings and cakes her recipes also include those for dog bites, lotions
and medicinal purposes including using moss gathered from the sunny side of an ash tree to stop bleeding and wild bugloss (a plant of the borage family) as an antidote to stomach upsets.
In 1745 the land passed to Robert Jacomb who demolished the original manor house and a new manor was rebuilt adjacent to North Field which he called Capel House.
During the 1750s Mr Hamilton (who died in 1761) built a second house on the estate which we know today as Capel Manor.
In 1793 Jacomb conveyed the whole estate including two manor houses to William Hart and ten years later it passed to Rawson Hart Boddam. The Boddams were a wealthy and well connected Enfield family with farms in Waltham Cross and on the Theobalds Estate.
Boddam decided to demolish Jacomb’s earlier manor house then known as Capel House in favour of the house built by Hamilton and so took the name Capel House to his new abode, the present Capel Manor in which the family lived. They were also successful in having Bullsmoor Lane rerouted several hundred yards away from the manor to its present location giving them more privacy as well as enlarging the gardens on the south side.
Rawson Boddam died in 1812 and the estate was sold off in lots and Capel Manor passed through a succession of owners until 1840.
In 1840 Capel Manor became the family home for James Warren, a successful tea planter. After his death the house stayed in the family going to James, his nephew, who was a pillar of the community. The Warren tea plantation was absorbed into Brooke Bond PG Tips and so still exists today. After his death the house was leased for about £280 per year until 1911 when great nephews James and John Warren (nephews of the original James Warren) decided to make Capel their country residence.
An extensive programme of refurbishment occurred including converting the conservatory on the west side to a study/library, oak panelling the rooms on the ground floor and carving the Warren family’s coats of arms into the panelling in one of the rooms. Oak panelling and the beautiful parquetry floor in the Fenwick room has the ‘W’ for Warren and coffee berries and tea leaves set into the floor in each corner of the room. In the hall you can still today see the original panel of wallpaper in the corner of the room with the ‘autumn leaves’ design manufactured by William Morris & Co 1888.
The house was then sold in 1921 – as the bachelors had to visit one of their plantations – and was subsequently leased out to various persons including a racing driver and an MP for Taunton. James then returned to England in 1925 when he bought back Capel House and remained in residence until 1932.
Staff during this time consisted of a cook/housekeeper, a parlour-maid, a between-maid, a chauffeur and gardens staff. Cows were kept and there was a diary by the stable block. Capel House had the first electricity, gas and running water and there are remains of the original ice house in the grounds. The gauge on the house wall, pump and well with brick circular walkway for the pony can still be seen today, just round the corner towards the walled garden. At this period the gardens were occasionally opened to the public.
In 1932 Lt Col Sydney Medcalf moved in until his death in 1958. The last private owner of Capel, he had a passion for horticulture and will be best remembered for his association with the breeding of Clydesdale horses having established a stud farm at Capel House. Capel Manor became a National Centre for Clydesdale horse breeding and the Medcalf cup is still awarded today. You can still see the impressive Clydesdale horse weather vane, fitted in 1954, on top of the main stable block which has been restored and gilded by the College. The vane depicts ‘Craigie Warren’ one of Col. Medcalf’s favourite Clydesdale horses. The clock was restored by the Fellows of Capel in 1978 and the bell of the clock, which sadly no longer chimes, was cast 90 years earlier.
The Colonel wanted to prevent Capel House falling into hands that would spoil its character and so considered offering it to the Government as the permanent residence for the Leader of the Opposition. He also explored the possibility of leaving it to the National Trust but finally decided in his will to leave it to the Incorporated Society of Accountants to use for research and refresher courses and endowed them the house with investments bringing in an income of £1250 per annum. In 1965 the contents of the house were sold in an auction. The gardens were continuously maintained and 12 acres of land together with stables were leased to the Horses and Ponies Protection Association in 1963.
The Incorporated Society of Accountants used the house for weekend residential courses and from March 1966 rented the property to Enfield College of Technology.
During the mid 1960s the eminent local horticulturalist Frances Perry suggested to the London Borough of Enfield that it would be opportune for the Authority to lease the badly neglected gardens of Capel Manor and a few outbuildings to train craftsmen gardeners, who were mostly employed by Local Authority Parks Departments, and from 1968 the grounds and some of the outbuildings were leased to the Capel Manor Institute of Horticulture, as it was then known.
In 1968 the first groups of students came to the estate one day a week to gain a City & Guilds qualification under the watchful eye of tutor, Principal and stylish horticulturalist Peter Robinson. In 1969 work started on the 30 acres of land to begin creating the beautiful themed gardens and grounds you can enjoy today.
It wasn’t until 1981 that the Manor House was taken over by the rapidly expanding College of Further Education to provide much needed office and teaching space within the three story building (reported to have a number of ghosts).
1986 saw the appointment of Dr Stephen Dowbiggin, OBE as the new Principal to coordinate growth of what is now know as Capel Manor College and in 1990 Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire agreed to become Capel Manor’s patron, under which a charitable trust was formed. This has done much to raise money and coordinate the restoration and developments of Capel Manor including a new building named after the college’s patron, The Duchess of Devonshire, which was opened by HRH Prince of Wales in 2000.
London’s only specialist centre for land-based studies, Capel Manor College is now a working estate where students and staff can gain ‘hands-on’ experience of all aspects of land based studies including Horticulture, Arboriculture (Tree Surgery), Garden Design, Floristry, Animal Care, Saddlery and Environmental Conservation. In 2008 Capel Manor College not only celebrates 40 years of education but also its growth from 15 students to 3500 with five centres across London.