Stone House is described as "an exceptionally fine late 18th Century Villa" in Sir John Summerson's 'Georgian London' (appendix 1) and as "the one individual house of interest in this area" in Pevsner's Buildings of England. It has been known as Stone House at least since the 1820's although it was known locally as Comical House during the 19th Century. Comical in this context meant peculiar. Three residents of Stone House were notable:
George Gibson – architect
Stone House was built for his own occupation by the architect George Gibson the Younger between 1771 and 1773. Gibson purchased the land (six acres) known as halfpenny's field in 1766 and added a small strip of land (Morrice's land) in 1768. In 1771 he started to build. Gibson had been a limner or architectural draftsman in Great Titchfield Street in the 1760's and in 1768 moved to Hanover Square calling himself an architect. He is likely to have moved to a cottage built on the property to supervise the building of Stone House. Gibson lived in Stone House for 25 years and then moved to Blackheath probably to build The Knoll. At the end of the Century he is known to have worked in Hampstead. His will dated 5th July 1821 in respect of which letters of administration were granted to his two sons George and Alexander Gibson on 21st August, 1821 describes him as "formerly of Rotterdam in Holland but now of Hampstead in the County of Middlesex" ….. "where my daughter Elizabeth Gibson [is] now residing with me". The will also refers to two further sons, James and Patrick as well as one additional married daughter, Helen. It does not refer to his wife Ann which suggests she had predeceased him.
Gibson was a gentleman architect "He would rather sip his claret, drink his Madeira, chat about Art and Music and take snuff with a gusto than ascend ladders, tramp scaffolds to see how Bricklayers filled in their work or try the scantlings of wall plates and bond timbers".
Other buildings known to have been designed by Gibson include:-
1. John Julius Angerstein's Woodlands built in 1774 and situated to the East of Greenwich Park. John Julius Angerstein's picture collection formed the first purchase for the proposed National Gallery.
2. The Knoll (now two dwellings) of 1798 facing Blackheath which has a fine entrance hall but is otherwise much altered.
3. St Mary's Lewisham. Thomas Wiggens a surveyor (who was owner of the Grange in Crooms Hill, Greenwich) and Gibson together surveyed the old church in 1773 and condemned the structure. Gibson rebuilt it, incorporating a portico reminiscent of that at Stone House, in 1774-1777.
4. The Cloisters Kirkby Stephen in Westmorland forming the entrance to the churchyard from the market place built "by the direction of the Will of John Waller Esq., a purser in his Majesty's Navy and a native of this Town – 1810 George Gibson Architect, William Richardson Mason". Once again this incorporates a portico (on this occasion of the Tuscan order). Gibson obviously knew the donor, did he do so by reason of Stone House being just down the road from His Majesty's Dockyards and in particular the Victualling Yard at Deptford?
Daniel Whittle Harvey (1786-1863) – Member of Parliament. Founder of The Sunday Times.
Lived at Stone House from 1822-26. Harvey was a leading radical politician and represented Colchester and then Southwark as a Member of Parliament during the period 1818 and 1840. He was widely considered as the finest parliamentary orator between Canning and Disraeli. During his earlier career as an attorney he attempted to be called to the bar but his application was rejected on the basis of accusations that he had stolen a document from an opposing attorney and cheated a client of £500. He fought for many years to get this decision reversed but to no avail.
In 1840 Lord Melbourne's government needed to appoint someone to the new post of Commissioner of the City of London Police. Whittle Harvey accepted the job and was a success at it leading the City of London force until his death. The reason for his acceptance of the post was that he needed the money having gone through his own inheritance and the fortune of his wife. Melbourne was keen for him to accept the job as although Whittle Harvey was a supporter his radicalism had become a serious embarrassment to the government. The bill creating the Commissionership disqualified the holder from being an M.P. which effectively sidelined Whittle Harvey.
During his occupation of Stone House, Whittle Harvey played a leading role in 1822 in the founding of "The Sunday Times".
Alderman David Williams Wire (1801-1860) – Lord Mayor of London.
Was born in Colchester and had his first legal training in Whittle Harveys office. He occupied Stone House from 1842-1860. In politics Wire was an ultra radical. He attempted to become an M.P. but failed to do so. In the 1851 contest for one of the Greenwich parliamentary seats one of the violent broadsheets against him put into his mouth the statement "For many years I have been the solicitor to the Licensed Victuallers and the connection arising therefrom has been my stepping stone to Stone Lodge".
The broadsheet ends with the attack:
"Electors of Greenwich, do not outrage common decency and insult the feelings of the Gallant Dundas, by electing such a man as this for his colleague – a mere Mushroom, a Jobbing lawyer, a City Corruptionist a Place Hunter, a mere Brawler for Liberty and Equality, with Freedom upon his Lips but Tyranny and Oppression in his Heart."
He was a successful solicitor and became a sheriff of the City of London and in 1858 was elected as Lord Mayor serving as such from November 1858-1859. An attack of paralysis which he sustained soon after prevented him from carrying out most of the duties of his office. An illustration in the Illustrated London News of November 6, 1858 depicts "the suburban Residence at Lewisham Kent of David Williams Wire Esq (Lord Major Elect)". It shows Stone House with the garden front still in its original form unextended and with a semi-circular headed entrance in the middle. It shows too the conservatory complete with castellations which extended the whole way along the back entrance front during the Victorian period.
The subsequent history of the house and its grounds has been varied. The six acres of land have now reduced to one. The ice-house is in the garden of one of the shops down the road towards New Cross. The property became a boarding school for girls, known as Queen's College, in the 1880's and then became the home of a succession of four physicians and surgeons. A proposal in 1957 to turn it into a boxing club was refused and an offer to Deptford Council in 1960 that it should be used as a local library or museum was declined.
Stone House remains as a private residence and was restored in 1993-1995.
Description of the House
Buildings of England London 2 South by Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner states:
"A maverick dating from 1771-73 is Stone House Upper Deptford which has a plan similar to Taylor's Danson Park and an elaborate portico". "The house stands in its own grounds, a square villa on an ambitious central plan, a very personal interpretation of the villa form that had been revived by Chambers and Taylor in the 1750's. Highly unconventional exterior (a characteristic of houses designed by architects for themselves), with projecting bow windows in the centre of three sides. The plan with central toplit staircase and rooms of different shapes making use of the curved projections, perhaps owe something to Taylor's villas, especially Danson Park, Bexleyheath."
One thing which is not stated is the existence of four buttresses, one at each corner. Whether or not these are original is hard to say, they certainly give the house a fortified feel. The house is built on sand but there is no evidence of any significant movement. This tends to recall the inscription on the tomb of Sir John Vanbrugh "lie heavy on him earth for he lay many a heavy load on thee".
Entrance and Hall
The lamp by the front door comes from the London Bridge of the 19th Century and is believed to have come here when the bridge was widened in 1903-1904. There is an apocryphal story to the effect that the house was built with stone from the old London Bridge. The construction of the house is brick with an outer stone cladding of Kentish ragstone – an early example of suburban stone cladding! The bridge was however not rebuilt until 1823-31 some fifty years after Stone House was built. However, Sir Robert Taylor (the architect of Danson Park) and George Dance (the architect of the Mansion House) had made a central navigation span to the bridge in connection with which they demolished two arches in 1760's. The stone is reputed to have been stored in South East London. Could Gibson, who most probably knew Taylor through his friendship with Thomas Wiggens who occupied the Grange in Crooms Hill from 1771 have obtained access to the store of stone from London Bridge and used it at Stone House? Pure speculation.
The face in Coade stone which together with the two roundels decorate the south west front is probably of Mercury and the early 19th Century doorknocker also incorporating a face has a ring of a serpent swallowing its tail, a symbol of eternity.
The door opens into an octagonal hall with an original patterned stone floor. (The stone floors here and elsewhere are a special feature of Stone House). In the hall the right hand door gives into a gothic room with two toilets (The gothic theme being derived from the small 19th Century grate in the corner). The left hand door from the hall reveals a bedroom complete with a four poster bed.
This room was extended outwards into the garden by about 6 feet between 1870 and 1893. The extension is entirely in character with the rest of the house as far as the stonework and the windows on the first floor are concerned although the greater length of this room and the one above destroy the symmetry required of a Palladian House. However, the ground floor windows are typically Victorian and include 3 sets of windows opening onto the terrace.
The mural on the dining-room walls was painted by a Greenwich artist Peter Kent in 1995. On one side the Naval College, Queen's House and Observatory are depicted while on the other St Paul's and the City in the 18th Century are shown. On the back of the entrance door is the view coming over old London Bridge through the tower of St Magnus the Martyr in Lower Thames Street. The phoenix rising from the ashes is the bird depicted on the south tympanum of St Pauls. The curved wall on the other side of the cabinet shows a view of Stone House and its portico. The vessels show Peter Kent's love of the river and its traffic. Peter lives in a magical house near the Trafalgar tavern. You can just discern Peter painting on a small craft to the right of the city scene, the boat flies a flag from its stern "P.K1995".
Over the central door onto the terrace there is a coat of arms with five six pointed stars on it. This is the coat of arms of Lord Mayor David Williams Wire. As we shall see these are not the only six pointed stars in the house.
The fireplace would originally have stood where the display cabinet is. The flues from this and indeed all other chimneys in the house pass to the centre of the parapet around the lantern and emit from there, thus being hidden from public view as is the case with at least two other Palladian houses in England, Mereworth in Kent (Colen Campbell) and Chiswick House (Lord Burlington). The current chimneypiece is later than the house and probably dates from the end of the 19th Century when the room was extended and the floor lowered to make a new entertaining room.
The square piano, which has recently been restored, dates from October 1815 and is by Thomas Tomkisson of Dean Street Soho "manufacturer to the Prince Regent". The state of preservation of its interior is remarkable.
Study and other ground floor rooms
The study has an original 18th Century fireplace depicting Cupid in its central panel and a couple of "rams-head" urns. The "rams-head" theme continues with the wall lights and the modern door handles.
The Library corridor (mainly a home for a collection of Country Life) was constructed together with its marble floor in 1994. To the right there exist various domestic offices as well as a cellar which lies under the portico. The kitchen has panels in the wall above the sink which used to house the weights operating the shutters in the green drawing room on the first floor. Unfortunately these shutters were removed in the 1930s when the original central heating was installed. A bread oven sits to the left of what used to be the kitchen range.
The staircase is of stone and runs only to the first floor branching off to the saloon on the right and to the upper hall to the left. The complex and intricate shape of the space within the staircase area has a "William Kent" feel to it. The plaques depict William III and the first three Georges. The alcove awaits the inclusion of a classical statue!
This is the main room of the house and is divided into three sections. The room is effectively a stage set since all the columns and ceilings are wood and plaster. The form of the room dates to 1771-3 as indeed do the pillars, vaulting and architrave. The painting of the central circular ceiling as well as the over-mantels to the two doors and the gilt decoration on the vaulting suggest a date of approximately 1830 when the passion was for French decoration. The panels of the over-mantels have been recently uncovered to reveal paintings beneath incorporating an inverted fan decoration (not unlike that of the central ceiling) and oak leaf garlands. These will hopefully be restored and reinstated. The six point stars in the vaulting which appear to be much later than the rest of the decoration are probably additions of the time of David Williams Wire who we have seen had a series of six point stars incorporated into his coat of arms. The fireplace dates from the 1830's redecoration.
The curtain boxes were designed and made by Edward Bulmer (the designer closely associated with Home House, Portman Square) in 1995.
The saloon opens out onto the portico which has a ceiling of intricate plaster work and six columns of a debased order incorporating oak leaves and acorns in the capitals. You will note some of the acorn cups are empty. The columns themselves are of stone but all above that is of wood. The Coade stone relief at the base of the pediment is thought to represent a Roman wedding.
Sitting room/Bedroom/Chinese room etc.
Returning to the house you may visit the green sitting room (which has fine plaster work and an 18th Century chimney surround), the Chinese room, the upper hall with its cloud effect in the ceiling, the bathroom and the main bedroom (which affords a good view of the garden).
The Gallery and Lantern
The lantern is reached by a small staircase in the upper hall which leads to the small bedrooms and then ultimately to the gallery and lantern itself. The gallery has the original floor and a cradle of metal supporting the bell which has 1766 cast on its side (the year in which Gibson bought the land on which Stone House is built). The view down into the hall is most impressive. The view from a number of the windows too is interesting and depending on the time of year may reveal the City, Canary Wharf, Greenwich and the Dome. The construction had been lowered in approximately 1920 but why is unknown. The present owner restored the elevations between 1993 and 1995.
The garden has been designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, a landscape architect who is an adviser to Royal Palaces and has written a book on 'The London Town Garden 1700-1840". The Victorian rustic summer house has been restored and placed in a new position while the water garden which dates from 1933 when it was an exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show is working again.