I was asked to paint a watercolour painting of Clissold House in Hackney, East London.
Though London is often perceived as a sprawling metropolis, it is also blessed with an abundance of public parks and open spaces. Many of these began life as private country estates with Clissold House and park being an example.
Clissold House (originally Paradise House) was built in the latter half of the 18th Century by Jonathan Hoare, the head of a family of Quaker Irish bankers. When the family were not banking, they were campaigning for the abolishment of slavery and prison reform.
At this time Hackney was almost entirely rural with open parkland and farms, an ideal spot to build a mansion.
There is a bit of a mystery over who designed the house, legend says that it was designed by Joseph Woods, the architect and botanist who was the nephew of Jonathan Hoare. That said, at the time of its building Joseph Woods would have only been 17 so it seems unlikely.
Jonathan Hoare didn’t have much time to enjoy his fine new home. A few short years after he moved in his bank made more than a few substantial losses and got into mortgage difficulties. It was rumored that he even went door to door selling milk to try and make ends meet.
Sadly, the bank foreclosed on the mortgage. Jonathan had to move to Grafton House a smaller property up the road.
The Love Story on How Paradise House became Clissold House
The next owner of the estate was Thomas Gudgeon, though he eventually sold it in 1811 to William Crawshay, he being very wealthy ‘new money’ industrialist trying to shin up the greasy pole of respectability.
Like any other little big guy on the make, William had an eye to marrying his daughters off to landed gentry. Thus bringing a ‘Lord’ or a ‘Sir’ into fold.
Frustratingly for him however, one of his daughters Eliza fell in love with the lowly Curate in the church next door, St Mary’s Old Church. This would not have been an issue if the Curate Augustus Clissold didn’t feel the same for Eliza.
Of course, William banned them from meeting and threatened to shoot any messengers that brought letters from Augustus. He even built a high wall between the two properties so they could not even glimpse each other.
Well, love knows no boundaries and when in 1834 William Crawshay died, Eliza and Augustus promptly married, renamed the property Clissold House (William would have been furious), and lived happy ever after. Eliza died in 1877 and Augustus in 1882.
Sadly, they had no children and eventually it was bought by Metropolitan Board of Works to open it as a public park which is how it remains today.
Clissold House Today
Today the house and park are a well-used and welcome open space for Londoners. I think, most fittingly, you can hire the house as a wedding venue. I am sure Eliza and Augustus would greatly approve.