Getting to know Mr Parr
Until recently we relied on black and white photographs and newspaper reports for our knowledge of life at Wymering Manor in the period from 1899-1938, when it was the home of Thomas Knowlys Parr. Some of the photos are displayed on our website. Recently though we have been able to add some colour to this period of the house's history, bringing it more vividly to life. I have been able to photograph some of the pictures and furniture in their current home in Lancashire. I also had privileged access to two large leather bound 'scrapbooks' compiled and annotated by Mr Parr. In them were photographs, press cuttings, event programmes as well as sketches, cartoons and watercolour paintings probably executed by Mr Parr but certainly selected and arranged by him. The scrapbooks are a unique window into life at the manor and tell us about Mr Parr and his time there in his own words.
Wymering Manor was initially the home of Mr Parr, his aunt Mrs Nightingale and her two spinster daughters. Other relatives also came to live there at various times, sometimes for years, as well as the round of visits by a large extended family. Mr Parr was directly related to several important Lancashire gentry families, the Parr, Knowlys and Hesketh families. Mrs Nightingale also had links with the court of Queen Victoria. They moved in a social circle dominated by family ties, class and wealth but also supported many charitable organisations.
Mr Parr and Mrs Nightingale made extensive renovations and changes to the manor when they moved there, so that it became a typical English country house, with walls filled with oil paintings - family portraits and works by famous artists. The antique furniture was filled with china, silver and objets d'art, which must have made it a nightmare for the maids to clean, for of course they had a range of servants to work for them. James Norton, his valet and principal servant, served the family for over fifty years and was remembered as 'the honoured friend of the whole family' when he died in 1935.
We were already aware of many charity events that took at Wymering Manor but many more were revealed in the scrapbooks. He made the house available for a meeting of the Church of England Homes for Waifs and Strays in 1911. In November 1922 there was an 'Open House' to raise funds for the Portsmouth Girls' Club, which provided facilities for girls working in factories and shops. Mr Parr was praised for his interest in 'social advancement'.
Many events used the garden, which was much larger in those days and extended into adjacent fields. The English Folk Song and Dance Society returned again for their Festival there in 1933 and performed on the lawn. In 1936 the Cosham Carnival raised money for local charities, including the King George V memorial fund which eventually led to the opening of the King George V Playing Fields. He noted that he had 'Over 200 people in the house for tea ... the whole thing was apparently an enormous success'. Only a week before the Lancashire Society, of which he was Vice President, once again held their annual Garden Party there and he noted 'This was a very great success this year.'
Important visitors to Portsmouth were also entertained at Wymering Manor. The Crown Prince of Japan (who later became Emperor Hirohito) visited Portsmouth in 1921. Mr Parr invited the officers of the flagship 'Kashima' to tea, prompted probably by authorities keen to keep them occupied as he was asked to 'have them out for an afternoon'. Twenty five officers visited and around the margins of the letter of thanks he received he wrote that 'They seemed most interested seeing an English Home'. He 'gave them a sit down tea in the dining room with plenty of homemade jam, cakes and sweets and all my best china and silver out. They all admired our English china and seemed to thoroughly enjoy their tea'. I wonder what they made of the house. What a contrast the house must have been to the traditional Japanese house!
The manor also entertained a less welcome visitor however, though his identity was only discovered later. Several German officers came to Portsmouth on the pretext of learning to speak English. One stayed at Wymering Vicarage and was invited to dine at the manor on New Year's Eve (most probably in 1906). The other guests included Mr Thistlethwayte of Southwick Park, naval officers and titled guests with connections at King Edward VII's court. Some of the guests were suspicious and one commented after the dinner was over, 'That man is no ordinary German, he talks the very best German and Parisian French & pretends he is here to learn English which he knows perfectly.'. The king was informed and the visitor was unmasked as one of nine high ranking German officers living here under assumed identities. It is hard to think of Wymering harbouring a spy but Portsmouth was the home of Britain's Imperial fleet and the German navy was being increased substantially at this time. At least the German officer was able to eat well during his assignment. The sumptuous New Year's dinner menu was preserved in the scrapbook and consisted of nine courses, with dishes including an hors d'oeuvre of caviar, a Parfait of foie gras, turkey stuffed with truffles, but also a flaming plum pudding and mince pies.
Mr Parr and his aunt renovated the manor extensively, adding marble fireplaces, some salvaged from Bold Hall. Over the years Mr Parr commissioned many photographs of the rooms which also show the paintings, furniture and decorative pieces which he tells us he inherited from various family members. He referred to a large number as 'The Wreck of Rossall' because they were practically all that remained of the glory that had been the Hesketh family home, Rossall Hall near Fleetwood, Lancashire. He lamented the loss of Rossall, even though it occurred before he was born. Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood had been forced sell to pay the debts accumulated in establishing the town of Fleetwood. The remaining pictures and furniture were eventually brought to Wymering Manor by Sir Peter's widow who died at the manor in 1900. When Mr Parr died his effects were valued at £25,683.16s.4d and much was transferred to Meols Hall near Southport under the terms of his will. Pictures and furniture identified in the photographs of Wymering Manor and other records have been matched with those now at Meols Hall. Walking through Meols Hall today gives an impression of what Wymering Manor was once like. The infant chair dated 1659, reputed to be that that of Richard, Oliver Cromwell's son, three chairs from the Coronation of Charles II from 1661 and the gloves, etc. left by Queen Victoria when she visited Fleetwood in 1847, are displayed. All these were once at Wymering Manor, along with display cases that were once the bookcases of the manor.
Why were the scrapbooks created? It seems likely that they began as a 'commonplace' book - a place to put information, letters etc. that Mr Parr wanted to keep, about people he knew or reports that interested him. It is clear that the books were not meant just to pass the time. There were also hints for self improvement, for example 'There are a hundred things you can do this month to improve your business, your position and your general outlook. Why not begin now?'. It was also a place to put pencil sketches, watercolours, etc. and though none is signed many were probably his own work. He was proud of his family's history and recorded family events such as marriages and deaths, family trees, with information about the properties and titles the families had once held. As his health declined in the 1930s he reminisced about his life and people he had known, filling up the gaps in his 'scrapbooks'. He recorded information for the benefit of his descendants, including the provenance of furniture and pictures, and his distribution of family silver, rings etc., as gifts among the various branches of the family. 'I thought it best to give it in my lifetime.'. He saw himself as the custodian of the families' treasures and was preparing to hand them on with 'I hope when I am dead and gone they will be taken great care of'.
He also talks to us directly about his life, his views and activities. Mr Parr was an only child and his mother had died soon after his birth. He carefully preserved in his scrapbooks recollections of her from her friends and mementoes of her life. She is always referred to as 'my dear Mother'. His relations with his step mother may be judged by his comment 'She often suggested faults in the child that were not there.' He never married and tells us 'I never wanted to hand my breed onto any children ... I had a horror of producing children and impossible people with no money or brains'. He continued to live a Victorian lifestyle while around him electric lights, telephones and cars became common, though he recognised, with regret, some of the changes taking place. 'In any English Home now in 1937 no one cares - there is not a house I know of that says Grace - modern people laugh at it'.
Meols Hall and the scrapbooks open up a new view of Wymering Manor in the years before World War II. My husband Ian and I are very grateful to Catherine Hesketh for showing us around her beautiful home and allowing us to study the scrapbooks. They are a unique source for uncovering the story of Wymering Manor and the people who lived there. They show that Thomas Knowlys Parr and his family were very much a part of local and national society and Friends of Old Wymering continue to work towards renewing the connection with the community.
Colouring the PastIn the 1930s Mr Parr in the 1930s commissioned some photographs of Wymering Manor. In them you can see pictures and furniture which are now displayed at Meols Hall in Lancashire.
In the picture of the Drawing room to the right of the fireplace, you can see a picture of a landscape painted by Ingelbach and to the right of door there are bookcases which are now used as display cases.
In the picture of the Music room above the fireplace, you can see a picture of the Hesketh family at Rossall Hall painted by Arthur Devis about 1742 and to the left of the fireplace there is a picture of Sheep in a farmyard in winter painted by George Morland.
The research for the above topic was carried out by Janet Hird. It is subject to copyright and should not be copied or transmitted in whole or part without her acknowledgement. We ask you to respect her copyright.