A History of Queensmead
‘Queensmead’, the elegant Victorian structure which houses Brigidine School was designed by W. F. Lyon, F.R.I.B.A., for Henri C. J. Henry of the Windsor Tapestry Manufactory who leased the land from the Crown Commissioners in 1880. According to the Building News, July 1879, “This mansion is now being built at Windsor, on a piece of ground which is being laid out with great taste by the proprietor, Mr. H. Henry, overlooking the long walk. It is being carried out in the Elizabethan style of local red brick with cut and moulded red brick details and red tiled roof....the grand hall in centre will run up the whole height of the roof which will be of open timber work. The floors of all principal rooms will be of oak parquetry and the entrance hall will be laid out in marble mosaic pavement”.
With regards to the design of the interior The Royal Windsor Stained Glass Works, Old Windsor, 1878-1890 describes the hall as “lined with tapestry paper....there are several examples of domestic stained glass and his (Henry’s) monogram ‘H’ with another ‘H’ superimposed at right angles is painted in blue on a gold ground on some of the ornamental hardwood polished roof trusses. Some have three lions ‘passant guardant’ and others a red daisy on gold.....High at one end above the main staircase a pair of windows includes the arms of the Royal Borough of New Windsor in stained glass....the vase of sunflowers was the symbol of the Aesthetic movement (Japanese influence on nineteenth century art) repeated in stained glass in unimportant windows in a gallery at the rear. A pair of front gallery windows each contain a peacock in full plumage facing in opposite directions, reputed to record the German Crown Prince’s opinion of the Prince of Wales at that time. Henry had no reason to like the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII who did not share his brother Leopold’s enthusiasm for the Royal Windsor Tapestry Manufactory at Old Windsor – in fact he tried to order it to be closed, after Prince Leopold’s death in 1884, as he feared being pilloried as the President of a bankrupt works”.
Henry lived at Queensmead himself at first, “It had been expected that Prince Leopold the Queen’s youngest son would live there, but he occupied Boyton Manor, Wiltshire” (The Royal Windsor Stained Glass Works, Old Windsor, 1878 – 1890).
By 1890 Queensmead was occupied by Baron de Linden and then from about 1898 to about 1940, by members of the illustrious Spencer-Churchill family, first Lord and Lady Edward and later Lady Edward (neé Warburton) alone until her death in 1941.
Evidence of the Spencer Churchill’s occupancy can be observed in the hall where the family coat of arms can be found on the mantelpiece. Some mid Victorian mahogany hall chairs depicting the lion rampant can be seen as well as a bust sculpted by the celebrated Henry Weekes, RA (1858) who is best known for his portraiture and whose works include the first bust of Queen Victoria after her accession, a monument to Percy Bysshe Shelley, statues for the Martyrs' Memorial in Oxford, and the Manufactures group of the Albert Memorial in London.
Also to be found is an engraving (after Sir Joshua Reynolds) of Lord Edward’s ancestor Lavinia, Countess Spencer and her son, John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp and later Earl Spencer (The Viscount’s aunt was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire the famed Whig hostess).
Lavinia, Countess Spencer and Viscount Althorp, c 1877 (after Sir Joshua Reynolds, c 1783)
Augusta, Lady Spencer the wife of Lavinia’s descendent Lord Edward involved herself with many endeavours whilst at Queensmead, including chairing meetings of the RSPCA for many years:
“Following internet research and searching the 1901 census, we discovered that this building still exists and is now occupied by the Brigidine School for Girls....their archives show that Lady Spencer-Churchill moved to Queensmead in 1895 and she died in a car accident in 1941. This ties in with our minute book as her name suddenly vanishes from the Committee in 1941” (RSPCA Annual Report, 2005).
After Lord Edward’s death (1911) and during the Great War, Queensmead was used as a V.A.D. Hospital.
Following this, Lady Augusta Spencer-Churchill became an O.B.E. (1926) and C.B.E. by 1940. In 1945-1946 the house was used by the Red Cross to look after repatriated Commonwealth Prisoners of War. Zelda Dunlop, a nurse at the time “gave a warm homecoming to liberated POWs who were not, in fact home at all. Queensmead House in Windsor provided provisional quarters for ex-POWs from the far reaches of the British Empire. Liberated but not yet home, the men found freedom at the house and a friend in Zelda.
“After Germany surrendered and the camps were being liberated, these men came over. The POWs came from Germany first of all. And then later on from the Far East. I would say 15 was probably the most we took. It wasn’t that large, the house. The name was Queensmead. It’s in King’s Road, Windsor. It was quite a nice place to be. One side you had Windsor Great Park to walk in. On the other side you had Windsor town to wander round, the castle, Eton College. As nurses we were very excited. It brought us very much more into the front line, in a way. We thought that it was marvellous to have these chaps come back. They were in khaki uniforms. Having soldiers was quite exciting. They weren’t English, of course. They were chaps from what we called the Empire in those days. This was the point: they came to the centre because they had nowhere else in England to go to. We had one or two who were Anglo-Indians. One chap was from [what was then] Rhodesia and one man from Guernsey. There were people who came from Hong Kong: the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force. Quite a few chaps belonged to that.
Well, they weren’t expected to go straight [back] into the Army once they were liberated from the camps. They weren’t really fit for that.”
In 1948, the building was taken over by the Brigidine Sisters who set up the Brigidine Convent or as it is now known, Brigidine School.
Compiled by Ruth Graham, with contributions from Mrs Gwenda Lilley, August 2012