Introduction - what is is, and where it is
Early Days - up to the 19th century
Victorian House - the present mansion is built
End of an Era - the early 20th century
Wartime Secrecy - The Frythe does its bit
Modern Times - scientific research
Postscript - a finality
References - the sources of my information
Appendixes - more detail for those who are interested
The Frythe is a country house set in its own grounds in rural Hertfordshire, just outside the village of Welwyn, about 30 miles north of London.
In its time, it has been a landed gentleman's residence, an hotel, a secret government research establishment, and now a modern commercial research facility.
I worked there, as a lowly research assistant from 1963 to 1973.
The grounds stand to the west of the old Great North Road (now just the B197) and can be seen from the A1(M) motorway, just south of exit 6 (though trees shield the house itself from prying eyes). A gently sweeping drive leads up the hill from the road, and is met by a side entrance (now closed) from the top of White Hill, leading up from Welwyn village. The grounds are very fine, with woods that contain some beautiful and exotic trees (I could only identify Redwoods and Cypresses), some of them very tall and very rare, and meadows that slope gently down to the valley of the River Mimram. There had originally been some 600 trees in the collection, but many of these were lost in the two great storms of 1921 and 1987. There are also banks of Rhododendrons - wonderful when in bloom. The series of terraces that used to decorate the area to the south of the house has mostly been built over (during and after the war). There is no lake, but a small fish pool was constructed on the top terrace in the sixties.
|Aerial view (low resolution, from GetMapping)|
The red brick house is modest in size, and contains some good rooms and a grand wooden staircase in the hall. To the west of the main part of the house is a wing containing a sun-lounge - in my day this was used for rest and relaxation. In the grounds there were originally a few minor buildings (certainly green-houses and garden sheds, stables, a brewhouse and the odd cottage), but now the site is dominated by modern laboratories and manufacturing plant.
The name is a Saxon word meaning "wooded country", and was the name of its earliest known resident, John del Frithe in the 13th century. During medieval times the estate belonged to the Holywell convent in Shoreditch. It was leased to the Wilshere family, who had lived there since the time of Richard II. A lease dated Michelmass, 1523 states -
Dame Johanne Lynde prioresse of the Monasteriy of Saint John Baptiste of Holywell by London in the Countie of Middlesex and the convent of the same place leases to William Wylshere of the parish of oure blessed Lady of Welwyne in the Countie of Hertford yeoman a tenement called the Boreshede which one Edward Swynnerton Gentleman late helde and occupied and another tenement called the Frithe which standeth in a felde called Grigges felde and 50½ acres of land in the same parish.In 1539 Holywell Priory was dissolved, and The Frythe was granted to Sir John Gostwyke, who died in 1545. His son William conveyed the property to William Wylshere, the former tenant. William Wylshere died in 1558 and, in his will, made many bequests to the local poor, St Mary's Church in Welwyn, and the upkeep of the local roads. The long connection of the Wilshere family is commemorated by a panel on the south wall of St Mary's. Over the following centuries the estate was handed down from father to son - many of them being named William.
It was a nephew of this William Wilshere (another William, MP for Great Yarmouth 1837-46) who commissioned the present "Gothic revival" mansion from the architects Thomas Smith and Edward Blore: it was built in 1846. He died unmarried in 1867, and left the estate to his brother Charles Willes Wilshere, who enlarged the house by adding a portico and faceless clock-tower (chimes every quarter hour announced the time). He also financed rebuilding work on St Mary's Church in Welwyn, and built the Frythe chapel (later dedicated to Saint Nicholas) on the south aisle. One of the rooms at the Frythe was used as a private chapel for a time, and the following Latin inscriptions were under the lights of the east window.
HANC DOMUM REAEDIFICAVIT GULIELMUS WILSHERE A.D. MDCCCXLVIOver a door in the south-west wall, an inscription in the form of a chronogram is supposed to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - possibly in 1844. However, I have been unable to find any documentary evidence for such a visit.
(William Wilshere rebuilt this house A.D. 1846)
NISI DOMINUS AEDIFICAVERIT DOMUM IN VANUM LABORAVERUNT QUI AEDIFICANT EAM
(Unless the Lord have built the house, they have worked in vain who built it)
HANC DOMUM AMPLIFICAVIT KAROLUS WILLES WILSHERE A.D. MDCCCLIII
(Charles Willes Wilshere enlarged this house A.D. 1853)
HAEC PORTAEach side of this door are these inscriptions -
VICTORIA PRIMA REGINA
AVLAE ADIVNCTA EST
(This door was added to the hall in the reign of Victoria I)
IN TRAN TIBUS SALVE (Welcome to those entering)An examination of the Victorian censuses shows a world that is now long gone, with upwards of a dozen servants looking after the house and its owners. For instance, in 1881 the occupants of the house were Charles W Wilshere, his wife Elizabeth Marie (née Farmer), and three daughters, Edith E, Everilda F and Alice D Wilshere. The staff consisted of a butler, footman, hall-boy, under groom, stable boy, housekeeper, cook, kitchen maid, upper and under laundry maids, upper, under and third housemaids, a still room maid and a ladies maid. Even more people staffed the lodge, cottages and a brickyard.
EX EUN TIBUS PACE (Peace to those departing)
Charles Willes Wilshere died in 1906 and the Frythe passed successively to his three unmarried daughters, who themselves carried on the tradition of funding building work on the church. In 1934, the last surviving daughter, Alice, died, and the estate passed to a great-nephew, Captain Gerald Maunsell Gamul Farmer. Under the terms of the will, he changed his surname to Wilshere. In the First World War, Captain Farmer had served in the Royal Artillery and was wounded and taken prisoner. After an exchange of prisoners he came home and was invalided out of the service. He ran the house as "The Frythe Residential and Private Hotel". In 1936, he was advertising for "retired officers, and gentry", but in later advertisements this requirement had been dropped, and tennis and other inducements were on offer.
|View from the South (pre-war?) - from Hertfordshire Countryside|
In August 1939, a group of people from Military Intelligence arrived to tell the staff and residents that the Frythe was seized for the war effort. Resistance was futile. For the winter of 1939 the Frythe was used by Section D (for Destruction) of MI6 - this was a small sabotage department led by Major Laurence of the Royal Engineers.
Special Operations Executive (SOE) was formed on July 19, 1940, and took over the Frythe, naming it Station IX (Station 9). Research and development was carried out at The Frythe, and successful devices went into production at Station XII (Aston House, just up the road near Stevenage). Research was conducted into explosives, sabotage, camouflage, weapons etc and (some say) even bacterial and chemical warfare (just in case the enemy used it first). Small huts began to spring up around the site to house laboratories and workshops (some of these survived to the 1970s (I worked in one) and may still be there today). A more substantial brick-built building with a corrugated asbestos roof was also built. This "Thermostat Hut" housed a number of constant-temperature environments for testing the effect of temperature on delayed-action devices. I think that it must be this building that was later used as a library by ICI and Unilever.
Some of the most famous devices developed here were -
The Special Signals Section designed a series of clandestine radios between 1941 and 1945. The "S"-Phone was used to talk-down Lysanders delivering and picking up agents - it consisted of a bulky section in the aircract, and a smaller set with a directional aerial carried by a ground operator. Others included a suitcase radio, and one (30,000 manufactured by Philco), hidden in Huntley and Palmers biscuit boxes.
About 1941 the Frythe became part of the Inter-Service Research Bureau, where Corporal Doris Craig of the ATS was one of eight young ladies assembling and testing radios for the resistance. In 1945 it became the Admiralty Experimental Station under the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. In 1946 it was placed under the Director of Aeronautical and Engineering Research to continue development on the use of Hydrogen Peroxide as a propellant. It finally closed in November 1951.
After the war Captain Wilshere let a large part of the estate, including the house, to ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd), for their Butterwick Research Laboratory. Captain Wilshere lived down in the village until the 1950s. He was chairman of Welwyn Rural District Council for some time, later emigrating to Bermuda. Following the death of his wife, he returned to England, and then retired to the Isle of Man.
ICI continued to use many of the old wartime huts, but added a couple of modern buildings that can be seen at the south and south east of the above aerial view. ICI's work at The Frythe was not purely applied research into its own products, but high quality pure research was carried out there. The work of Joseph Chatt, for example, laid the basis for modern coordination chemistry - yet was not exploited by ICI in any product.
|Chatt and party on the Frythe's Staircase|
In 1963 the Frythe was sold to Unilever Ltd, although the site was shared for a while. Unilever is an Anglo-Dutch company with interests mostly in food and detergents. At the Frythe applied research concentrated on various aspects of lipid chemistry and physics (that's fats to you). Projects included replacements or extenders for the most expensive fats (such as cocoa butter), and improvements to the margarine manufacturing process. Pure research was also carried out (always with the hope of practical spin-off) and a Molecular Biophysics Unit was set up in one of the ICI buildings, with all sorts of fancy kit such as an electron microscope and a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. A new "L" shaped block was constructed (south-west of the house in the aerial view). In one wing was the library, and in the other (red roof in the photo) were organic and physical chemistry labaratories on the ground floor, and a bakery lab, experimental kitchen and tasting cubicles upstairs. The organic chemistry department moved here, and did work mostly on the synthesis of glycerides and phospholipids - this is where I eventually worked. Later, a pilot plant was built between the house and the car park (to the west of the house in the photo) - this seems to have been greatly extended by the present owners. Unilever had a similar research establishment at Colworth House in Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire and in the mid 70s they decided to close the Frythe and move everyone to Bedfordshire - this is when I left.
In 1977 the house and grounds were bought by the pharmaceuticals company Smith, Kline & French for their UK Research Institute. Today it remains with their successors, Glaxo Smithkline.
The following Death notice appeared in "The Times" of Thursday 9th March 1972 . . .
WILSHERE - On 6th March 1972, peacefully at Ramsey College Hospital, Isle of Man, Gerald Maunsell Gamul, aged 76 years, of Ballacree, Lezayre, formerly of Welwyn, Herts. Cremation on March 19th 1972, at Douglas Crematorium. No flowers by request, but donations if desired to Imperial Cancer Research Fund.. . . and so ended the centuries long connection of the Wilshere family with the Frythe.
These are the main primary and secondary sources that I have used in writing this short history.
I have not yet read the following, but they would provide much more detailed information.
This is a short and not very detailed genealogy of the WILSHERE family of Welwyn.
Fields (for 1841) are - Name - Age - Occupation (abbreviated) - If born in the County
Fields (from 1851) are - Name - Relationship - Marital Status - Age - Occupation - Where Born
HO107/437/9 f36 p12 Frythe House, Welwyn, Hertfordshire
Charles R R PEARSON 7 Ind N
Albert HSRFORD 1 none N
Dorothy WILKINSON 20 FS N
William HARMSBRIDGE 25 MS N
Samuel BLAKE 40 MS N
Mary HOLLOWAY 25 FS N
Lucy GREGORY 20 FS N
Sarah SHEIVERS? 15 FS Y
Mary GREGORY 15 FS Y
James KIDBEY 15 MS Y
Mary TIERSON 40 FS Y
HO107/1712 f258 p52 The Frythe, Welwyn, Hertfordshire
William WILSHERE Head U 46 Landed Proprietor Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Henrietta POWELL Serv U 65 Housemaid Middlesex, Lunsbury
Ann ELLIS Serv U 26 Cook Denbighshire, Llangowan?
Eliza STANLY Serv U 34 Laundrymaid Essex, Debden
Eliza ELLIS Serv U 30 Housemaid Denbighshire, Ruabon
Amelia THORNTON Serv U 19 Under Housemaid Essex, Marsy Lane
Eliza PRITCHARD Serv U 21 Kitchen Maid Hertfordshire, Willian
Robert WOOLISTON Serv U 34 Butler Norfolk, Lenbury?
Edmond DONALL Serv U 28 Footman Worcestershire, Difford
James STEVENS Serv U 19 Under Groom Hertfordshire, Gaddesden
plus cottages, farm, garden and lodge
RG9/826 f35 p16, F36 p17 Frythe House, Welwyn, Hertfordshire
William WILSHERE Head U 56 Landed Proprietor Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Edward MOORE Visit M 59 Barrister in Practice Surrey, Richmond
Mary Cecil do Visit M 42 Wife of do London
Harold PUGIL Visit U 11 Scholar Yorkshire, Leeds
Elizabeth MILLER Serv U 47 Cook & Housekeeper Pertshire, Kincald
Lucy STOKES Serv U 47 Housemaid Essex, Leigh
Mary MILES Serv U 20 Under Housemaid Hertfordshire, Digswell
Eliza SAVAGE Serv U 23 scullery Maid Islington, St Mary
Isabella CLARK Serv U 23 Kitchen Maid Galloway, past Luxham?
Mary Ann PRATT Serv U 34 Lady's Maid to Mrs Moore Hertfordshire, Sawbridgeworth
Thomas ELLIOTT Serv U 34 Footman to E J Moore Esq Dorset, Henley?
Henry REDDISH Serv U 27 Footman to W Wilshere Esq ?, Henshall
William SLADE Serv U 41 Butler to W Wilshere Esq Wiltshire, Warminster
Henry VINER Serv U 15 Under Groom Hertfordshire, Wades Mill
plus garden and stables
RG10/1375 f30 p6, f31 p7 Frythe House, Welwyn, Hertfordshire
Charles W WILSHERE Head M 57 Magistrate Farmer 160 acres employing 10 labourers & boys Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Elizabeth M do Wife M 60 none Essex, Helvedon
Edith E M do Daur U 29 none Middlesex, London
Everilda F L do Daur U 24 none Middlesex, London
Florence MALET Daur Visit M 23 Wife of G Malet Lieut R H A Tuscany, Florence British Subject
Alice A WILSHERE Daur U 20 none Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Guilbert MALET Son-in-law Visit M 31 Lieutenant RHA on Active List Somerset, Frotherstone
William E SLADE Serv U 51 Butler Wiltshire, Warminster
John CHERRY Serv U 20 Footman Hertfordshire, Shephall
Agnes BIRCH Serv U 18 Domestic Servant Hertfordshire, Hatfield
Samuel YOUNG Serv U 18 Garden & Farm Labourer Herfordshire, Ardsley
Margaret H THOMPSON Serv U 55 Housekeeper Durham, South Shields
Amelia RAILE Serv U 28 Lady's Maid Rutland, Wing
Jane WILKINSON Serv U 29 Housemaid Durham, Gateshead
Eliza TAYLOR Serv U 24 Kitchen Maid Norholk, Hackwold
Sarah GILBEY Serv U 24 Housemaid Northampton, Benfield
Maria SAUNDERS Serv U 18 Housemaid Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Sarah BERRYAMN Serv U 17 Kitchen Maid Middlesex, London
Emma KING Serv U 17 Sjullery Maid Hertfordshire, Datchworth
plus cottages, lodge and farm
RG11/1428 f36 p11 The Frythe House, Welwyn, Hertfordshire
Charles W. WILSHERE Head M 67 Landed Proprietor Magistrate Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Elizabeth M. do Wife M 70 none Essex, Colchester
Edith E. do Daur U 39 none Middlesex, Westminster
Everilda F. do Daur U 34 none Middlesex, Westminster
Alice D. do Daur U 30 none Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Alfred BYFORD Serv M 37 Domestic Servant Butler Essex, Billericay
George ROBINSON Serv U 22 Domestic Servant Footman Cheshire, Winsford
Thomas HURRALL Serv U 14 Domestic Servant Hall Boy Hertfordshire, North Mimms
James SMITH Serv U 16 Domestic Servant Under Groom Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Thomas FISHER Serv U 15 Domestic Servant Stable Boy Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Margaret THOMPSON Serv U 66 Domestic Servant Housekeeper Durham, South Shields
Jane BLUNDEY Serv U 27 Domestic Servant Cook Berkshire, Hungerford
Caroline CROSSMAN Serv U 24 Domestic Servant Kitchen Maid Somerset, Langport
Ellen LEE Serv U 28 Domestic Servant Upper Laundry Maid Surrey, Dorking
Irene CRADDOCK Serv U 20 Domestic Servant Under Laundry Maid Northampton, Gt Harrowden
Ann DIBLEY Serv U 38 Domestic Servant Upper Housemaid Kent, Lee
Maria SAUNDERS Serv U 28 Domestic Servant Under Housemaid Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Emma WREN Serv U 19 Domestic Servant Third Housemaid Hertfordshire, Welwyn
Louisa MORSLEY Serv U 18 Domestic Servant Still Room Maid Hertfordshire, Berkhamsted
Anna RUNIFF Serv U 34 Domestic Servant Ladies Maid Norwich, Gt Yarmouth
Plus others in the lodge, other dwellings and the brickyard
RG12/1113 f31 p12, f32 p13 - The Frythe, Welwyn, Hertfordshire
Charles W WILSHERE Head M 77 Landed Proprietor, Living on own means Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Elizabeth M do Wife M 80 none Essex, Colchester
Edith E M do Daur S 49 Living on own means London, Westminster
Everilda F L do Daur S 44 Living on own means London, Westminster
Alice A do Daur S 40 Living on own means Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Alfred BYFORD Serv M 47 Butler Domestic Essex, Billericay
David GARDINER Serv S 18 Footman Domestic Suffolk, Livermere
Dennis HARTWELL Serv S 16 Footman Domestic Warwick, Farnborough
Charles J COOK Serv S 16 Groom Domestic Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Grace JAMES Serv S 42 Housekeeper Domestic London, Wardour St
Elizabeth REED Serv S 33 Lady's Maid Domestic London, Marylebone
Susan PAPWORTH Serv S 28 Cook Domestic Carmbridge, Boxworth
Emily LAMB Serv S 19 Scullery Maid Domestic London, St James
Sarah WAKENELL Serv S 45 Laundry Maid Domestic London, Friern Barnet
Hannah MORRIS Serv S 23 Laundry Maid Domestic London, St Lukes
Maria SAUNDERS Serv S 38 Housemaid Domestic Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Lizzie GRICE Serv S 24 Housemaid Domestic Lincoln, Aylesby
Eliza LOWINGS Serv S 17 Housemaid Domestic Huntingdon, Abbotsley
RG13/1308 f30 p8, f31 p10 - The Frythe, Welwyn, Hertfordshire
Charles W WILSHERE Head W 87 Employer of outdoor servants Agent Hertfordshire, Hitchin
Elizabeth M do Daur S 59 none London
Everilda F do Daur S 54 none London
Alice A do Daur S 50 none London
Charles FULLER Serv M 53 Butler Domestic Surrey, Godstone
James BOWLES Serv S 18 Footman Domestic Northamptonshire, Peterborough
Eliza L(illegible) Serv W 57 Cook Domestic N K
Bertha LINDSAY Serv M 29 Kitchenmaid Domestic Hertfordshire, Welwyn
Elizabeth REED Serv S 43 Ladys Maid Domestic London
Sarah WAKENELL Serv S 55 Laundrymaid Domestic Hertfordshire, East Barnet
Emma ASHRIDGE Serv S 65 Housemaid Domestic Northamptonshire, Sawtry
Emily HORSEMAN Serv S 23 Housemaid Domestic Gloucestershire, Weston on Avon
Florence PEEL Serv S 17 Housemaid Domestic Huntingdonshire, Waresley
Beneath this Aile and the Chancel of this Church are interred the bodies of the undernamed (with many others of the same family which hath been settled at the Frithe in this parish from the time of Richard 2nd)
1) WILLIAM WILSHERE of the Frithe, Gent, born about the year 1479, purchased in the 32nd year of HENRY 8th the Advowson of this church with other possessions of the dissolved priory of Hollywell in Middx Died 15 November 1558.
2) THOMAS WILSHERE, his only son by CICELYE his first wife Died 15 May 1570.
3) THOMAS WILSHERE, only son of the above named Thomas by ALICE his wife Born 14 April 1553, he in 1606 presented Thomas his second son to the Rectory of this parish and in 1615 granted the Advowson to John his elder son by whom it was sold to All Souls College, Oxon Died 16 March 1620.
4) JOHN WILSHERE, elder son of the second Thomas and of JOAN his wife Born 1575 Died .. July 1646.
5) THOMAS WILSHERE, Clerc, second son of the same Thomas and Joan. rector of this parish from 1606 till his death 10 June 1651 in the 75th year of his age.
6) JOHN WILSHERE, elder son of the above named John by ANN his first wife Born .. December 1608 Died unmarried in the lifetime of his father 10 June 1635.
7) THOMAS WILSHERE, second son of the same John and Ann Born .. February 1610 Died .. June 1666.
8) THOMAS WILSHERE, elder son of the last named Thomas and of MARGARET his wife, daughter and Coheiress of Thos WILLIAMSON, Esq, Reading Died unmarried 15 February 1670 at the Age of 28 years.
9) JOHN WILSHERE, his next brother Born .. September 1645 Married 1686 Dorothy, fourth daughter of Wm WHITBREAD Esq of Cardington Died 10 October 1721
10) WILLIAM WILSHERE, son of the last named John and of DOROTHY his wife Born June 1700 Married 1729 SARAH daughter and Coheiress of Willm SEELING, Gent Died 15 October 1786 leaving an only son WILLIAM WILSHERE.
These entries from "The Times" were obtained via the Times Digital Archive at The British Library Newspaper Library, Colindale.
Sat 16 Nov 1867 - Death
On the 10th inst., at Paris, William Wilshere, Esq., of The Frythe, Welwyn, age 63.
Sat 31 July 1869 - Marriage
On the 29th July at Christ Church, Albany Street, by the Rev W Wyndham Malet, Guilbert Edward Wyndham Malet, lieutenant, Royal Horse Artillery to Florence Wilshere, 3rd daughter of Charles Willes Wilshere of The Frythe, Welwyn.
Thu 13 September 1877 - Birth
On the 10th inst., at The Frythe, Welwyn, the wife of Capt G. E. Wundham Malet, Royal Horse Artillery, of a son.
Mon 17 September 1877 - Death
On the 14th September, at The Frythe, Welwyn, Florence, wife of Captain G E Wyndham Malet, R.H.A., aged 29.
Wed 26 February 1919 - Death
WILSHERE - On the 25th February, Everilda Frances Laura Wilshere, of The Frythe, Welwyn.
Tue 14 February 1928 - Death
WILSHERE - On February 13th, at The Frythe, Welwyn, herts, Edith E M Wilshere. Funeral Welwyn Church Friday next 2.30 pm.
Tue 1 May 1934 - Death
WILSHERE - On April 28th, at The Frythe, Welwyn, Herts, Alice Augusta, last surviving daughter of the late Charles Willes Wilshere, aged 83. Funeral at Welwyn Church 3.30 tomorrow (Wednesday).
Tue 22 May 1934 - Obituary - Miss Wilshere
- not yet transcribed - mention of the Oxford Movement
Sat 25 April 1936 - Personal
A charming country house is offered to Retired Officers, H.M.Services and Gentry (married or single); large country house 400 ft above sea level, gravel soil; 12 acres gardens, 100 acres park; 35 minutes Kings Cross. Terms from 3 guineas inclusive. Write for illustrated brochure to The Manageress, the Frythe, Welwyn, Herts.
(This and similar adverts were repeated over the following years.)
Thu 15 August 1946
ICI's New Research Laboratories.
Imperial Chemical Industries has leased the house and laboratories at The Frythe, Welwyn, Herts, for long-term general and academic research. Among the subjects to be studied are the antibiotic properties of moulds, kinetics of continuous chemical reactions, and the deformation of materials under high stress of short duration. Work will also be done on the design of industrial instruments and on industrial toxicology.
The new laboratories will eventually house 20 or more senior research workers, with assistant and administrative staff. The premises at The Frythe are intended to provide temporary accomodation until a site at Butterwick Wood, near St Albans, which was originally selected, can be developed. The Butterwick Research Laboratories will be completely independent of all other ICI research departments, which will continue to work on more specifically industrial problems.
From 1957 - Advertisements for ICI Akers Research Laboratory.
From 1982 - Advertisements for Smith Kline and French.
|My life at the Frythe in the 60s and 70s.|