Open House Weekend (II) 2019

Clifton Lodge, open to visitors last Sunday afternoon, incorporates parts of an earlier orangery belonging to St Margaret’s House. Its cruciform shape appears on an estate map as early as 1817. It was converted to a private residence with the addition of another storey from the 1870s.

The original house on this site was Twickenham Park, a riverside estate with extensive picturesque grounds. It was renamed St Margaret’s House in 1830. Francis Needham, father with Priscilla Hoste of Charles, had demolished that building by 1852 and had another St Margaret’s House designed for him by Lewis Vulliamy. Vulliamy also built the Neo-Gothic church of St John the Divine, Richmond (1836).

In 1840, the Royal Female School for the Daughters of Naval and Marine Officers was founded at Hope House, Richmond Green. It moved into St Margaret’s House in 1856, and built the Chapel – the school had its own chaplain – in the grounds in 1868. (The school remained on this site until 1942, when the building was bomb damaged.) The chapel bell tower has a naval weather vane which points to where the wind is blowing “and thus needs to be read backwards to find where the wind is blowing from”.

The chapel was named the Violet Needham Chapel in 1987 by the West London Institute of Higher Education, then in possession; details of Violet Needham follow below.

From 1957, Clifton Lodge functioned as a nursing home, taking its name from a Miss Clifton who was the Lady Governess of the Royal Naval School.

Brunel University, having in time come to occupy the entire site, moved away in 2005. At this point, Clifton Lodge was designated a Grade II listed building.

Clifton Lodge is now the home of Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. Two additional dance studios are housed in the Violet Needham Chapel. The buildings were converted to this use between 2005-7.

(Marie Rambert was born Cyvia Rambam in Warsaw, 1888. Sergei Diaghilev, having observed her performance in a dance class at Dalcroze College, Paris, invited her to study with him in the Ballets Russes, Berlin.)

My post of 21/7/19 referred to the birth of Charles Needham at Twickenham in 1844. In adulthood he became a Colonel in the 1st Life Guards and a gambler, and married the tin heiress Hendrika Amelia Charlotte Vincente Barones van Tuyll van Serooskerken (known as Amy). They had two daughters, Evelyn, the firstborn, and Violet, born on 5th June, 1876.

The family lived in Rome from 1895 to 1901, when Charles was military attaché there.

Evelyn went on to marry and have four sons, while Violet lived at Forest Row, East Sussex, with their parents. Charles died in 1934, and Amy in 1936.

Following the sale of their home, Violet moved to London. In 1939, at the age of 63, she achieved a long held ambition to publish a children’s book, The Black Riders.

The writer Michele Roberts pays tribute to Needham’s tale in her own short story, A Bodice Rips. Plot spoiler: the closing chapter of the story opens with “The game was loosely based on the plot of The Black Riders by Violet Needham, which Maria had got out of the local children’s library. She had made up her own version of the story, which she preferred to the one in the book. She felt that hers was more true, that it contained all the bits underneath and in between, which Violet Needham did not spell out because she was writing for children, after all…”.

Violet Needham produced a further eighteen novels. In the early 1950s, she went to live with her widowed sister. Violet died on 8th June, 1967, and Evelyn’s death followed the next day.

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