A closer look at the home of town’s Admiral

editorial image

On May 20 this year, the Collingwood Society held a hog-roast and picnic in the grounds of Collingwood House.

Collingwood House was once the home of Admiral Lord Collingwood (1748-1810), Nelson’s second-in-command at Trafalgar.

It is now the presbytery of St Robert’s Roman Catholic Church, and the picnic was held in the church grounds by kind permission of the parish priest, Fr Peter Stott.

We are lucky to have Collingwood House. It is the only proper garden house left in Morpeth.

By a garden house, I mean a large house set in its own grounds. The Kylins, Greystoke and Southgate are all gone. Winton House (the Masonic Hall) happily survives, but its grounds are largely given over to car parking.

Because the grounds of Collingwood House are occupied by the church and school, it still has flower beds and lawns, much as it did in the Admiral’s day.

And, while the others I have mentioned were of 19th century date, Collingwood House is of the 18th century.

It has that quality of simplicity touched with grandeur that you find in 18th and early 19th century domestic architecture.

It is amazing, too, to have such a house so close to the town centre. When the Collingwoods lived there, it was actually on the edge of town, but still close to the Market Place and the shops.

One of its curiosities is its two front doors. The real front door is the one on the right. This leads into a fine entrance hall with an elegant ceiling (not visible in our photograph) that was revealed only recently when a false ceiling was taken out.

In a paper on Lord Collingwood, read before the Literary and Philosophical Society in 1888, John Clayton displayed a photograph of the house looking much as it does today. The caption says: “the middle door has been inserted since his time.”

If so, it means that the principal entrance to the house as built, was the door on the left. I find this incredible. Yet, looking carefully at photographs of the facade, I can find no sign of disturbed brickwork. So it seems that one (or both) of the existing doors must be original.

This is really a job for an expert in the archaeology of old buildings. But for what it’s worth, my interpretation is that the left-hand door is a side or tradesmen’s entrance.

This would be necessary because a cottage stood where the drive is now. You can see its outline on the gable end of the house.

Collingwood House falls well short of the 18th century ideal of symmetry. It looks very much like a five-bay house, extended westward. The position of the main entrance suggests this. And if you look at the upper floor, the windows are nicely spaced until the last on the left, which is squashed up.

Captain Collingwood, as he then was, came home on leave in April 1791. On June 16 he married Sarah, daughter of John Erasmus Blackett, a rich merchant of Newcastle. They moved to the house in Oldgate soon after, where their two daughters were born.

They did not own the property. It was leased, and the lease was up in 1802.

Rather than risk losing the house, Mrs Collingwood bought the freehold. But the seller made it conditional on her buying the two cottages across the road as well, making it a much more costly business.

Cost apart, this was what Collingwood wanted. He loved the house, the grounds and the surrounding area, and had plans to improve all three, including demolishing the cottages opposite to make a separate pleasure ground, and giving them a clear view to the river and the steeply rising banks on the other side.

The Treaty of Amiens meant that he was able to come home in March 1802, just as his wife’s negotiations were being completed.

He was at home for a year, during which time he was made a rear admiral. It was his last ever home leave.

We can no longer be certain of the exact boundaries of Collingwood’s property, but he evidently owned all of the land behind his own house, and behind what are now the Hunter Homes and Collingwood Terrace as well.

He may also have bought the field on the east side of the house to stop it being put to a disagreeable use.

Wood’s map of 1826 shows his garden full of trees, but it would have had a vegetable garden, orchard and drying ground as well. And, of course, his quarter-deck.

This was a walk laid out for him by his gardener, Old Scott. It ran close to the bank of the river. As is the case now, the ground was held up by a retaining wall.

A photograph taken in 1936 shows it about a yard wide, running just behind the retaining wall. At the far end, built out into the river, was his poop-deck — a small shelter known as a gazebo.

Although hidden by a luxuriant growth of herbage, the stone foundation still exists.

In Collingwood House are two views of the gazebo, which we reproduce here.

Acknowledgement: My thanks to Fr Peter Stott for permission to take and publish photographs of the interior of Collingwood House, and of the paintings preserved there.