This post is about the history of Quebec House – not as the childhood home of James Wolfe, but as it made its way through the nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries from 1838 for about 100 years.
How I got to that story was more by accident than design because I was researching Westerham’s watermills at the time. We know there were at least three corn mills on the River Darent at Westerham, with photo-evidence of Darent Mill at the bottom of today’s Mill Street at the east end of town, Elm View Mill by the round pond at the bottom of Mill Lane near the Legion and Squerryes Little Mill which sat at the downstream end of the last lake at Spring Shaws
The road and street column records that John Howard lived at Quebec House. He was by that point a widower living there with three daughters, son Frederick, two house servants and a Groom who was also his gardener. But the next entry down was also for Quebec House, being thirty-one year-old Charles Robert Thompson, General Practitioner and Surgeon, living with his wife Emma and two servants. Both men are recorded as ‘Head of house, so Quebec House was at that time divided into two properties. The preview pane of the 1861 census noted that John Howard could be searched for on the 1851 and 1841 census, so I thought I would take a look at those too.
The 1841 census is regarded as the first ‘Modern Census’ in that it was the first to record information about every member of a household. Enumerators were given a DISTRICT of a size that allowed them to collect data from all households in a single day. They were instructed to record people's name, age, sex and occupation. A place of birth was not included in that census, nor was marital status or relationship to other members of the household - it was pretty-much just a head-count. It’s a difficult census to research as it’s almost impossible to identify the location of a household. ‘Place’ is often just described as ‘Town’ or ‘Out of Town’ though the big estate houses out of town are sometimes named. Profession or trade should be detailed e.g. Ag Lab, Miller or Bricklayer, but may just state ‘Ind’ meaning Independent means, or ‘M S’ and ‘F S’ for Male and Female Servant. The nearest to a Place of Birth was a column merely recording ‘born in same county’ to which the enumerators would just write ‘Y’ or ’N’… Having identified that District 16 covered the east-end of town, I found ‘Hill Park’ - the original house on the Valence estate on sheet 4 of 11 for that District that year. At that time there weren’t so many houses between the Valence estate and Quebec House so I carefully searched through names and professions - there were fifty entries per page on the 1841 census, so they're all crowded together in faint spidery copperplate. Entry 43 on the same page as Hill Park records one John Howard living with his wife Rosina, two servants and a 15 year-old lad named James Dicker. John Howard is recorded as a Miller, and James Dicker as ‘Millers Apprentice.’ The location of the household is not clear but the next household entry is for fifty-five year-old Thomas Drapper and that name rang a bell with me, I was sure I’d come across a Drapper as an inn keeper at some point… He was, however, recorded as ‘Ag Lab’ on that census, born in the County of Kent. I searched for him on the 1851 census, where each sheet contained only twenty entries and now gave a detailed place of birth by town and county.
He was the first entry on the next sheet. The enumerator had written a note in the margin of the first column where the Name and Surname were recorded - it said Quebec House, meaning that the beerhouse run by Thomas Drapper was ‘The Old House at Home’ in Quebec Square. The 1851 Quebec House entry recorded John Howard as Head of house, occupation ‘Miller and Corn Dealer’. Living with him was his thirty-three year-old wife Rosina, daughters Emma, Catherine and Rosina, and sons Marcellus, Frederick and Edward. They had two general servants living with them. But the next entry was also recorded as Quebec House, in this instance, the occupier being Maria Singleton, an eighty-year-old spinster described on the census as ‘Gentlewoman’ likely meaning she was titled-class, living on her own means. I decided to follow the Howard family through the later census’s beginning with the 1871 census. Quebec House was still divided in two but one half was unoccupied, Charles Thompson having moved his practice to Winterton House in the centre of town. Sixty-six year-old John Howard was still living in the other half of the house with his son Frederick. John was described as an Annuitant and son Frederick as a ‘Tea Dealers Clerk’
‘Quebec House School, Westerham, Kent. Mr C. Carreck Principal. The school house is most suitable in every respect. Prettily situated, and very healthy. The pupils receive thorough Commercial Education, they are also prepared for Exams. The Lower School has special attention, pupils are admitted from five years of age. Terms on application, payable in advance. Reduction made to a family. Term commenced 22nd January.’ In 1891 the house was still divided. The eastern half was then the residence of Frederick Howard, so I’m presuming his father didn’t make eighty-five years. Frederick was described as a ‘Commercial Agent’. Quebec House School had moved to London Road where it became ‘Holmesdale College’ and the western half of Quebec House was then occupied by Arthur Jeffkins, the Nurseryman at Darenth Nursery alongside and behind Quebec House
In January 1900 the Westerham Herald ran the following story: ‘Important Local Industry. We are informed that the Kent Vinegar Brewery Co Ltd, have secured the Swan Brewery, which was in the possession of Messrs Watkins and Son for many years. The principal promoter of the new company is Mr Frederick Howard of Quebec house, an old and highly respected inhabitant of Westerham, and who has been for many years connected with this particular business. The Company intend brewing pure Malt Vinegar, and manufacturing high class sauces and pickles. We heartily congratulate Mr Howard on his enterprise and wish him every success. We understand thoroughly competent men have been engaged, and it will be the means of creating a demand for labour and of bringing fresh capital into the town. We feel sure that Mr Howard and his new company will merit and receive the support they deserve’.
In 1901 Quebec House was still divided, but the Howard family had moved to the western half of the house. Living with Frederick Howard was his wife Ellen and sons Cyril and Wilfred, both then employed as commercial clerks. The family had one domestic servant. The eastern half of the house was occupied by William B. L. Hopkins, a Church of England Clergyman living there with his wife Emily and two domestic servants. But by 1903, the dynasty of the Howards had finished in Westerham. The Kent Vinegar Brewery Company had not been the commercial success Howard had hoped for. Quebec House was put up for sale and Frederick, Ellen and the boys moved to Brixton, where Frederick returned to his earlier trade as a Commercial Agent and Traveller.
December 21 1916 Mr and Mrs Wolfe Aylward gave an ‘At Home’ at Quebec House to the wounded soldiers form Dunsdale V.A.D. Hospital. The programme included Mr. Stave, a Musical Euthopian Entertainer, Ena Wayne, a Comedienne from The London Palladium, Captain Kettle, a Society Mystifier and London’s popular chorus vocalist, Rose Ralston. 25 August 1917 the Westerham Herald ran the following story: ‘Wounded Canadians at Westerham. A further party of wounded soldiers from the Ontario Military Hospital in Orpington visited and were entertained by Mr and Mrs Wolfe-Aylward at Quebec house on Saturday last. They took great interest in the history of Westerham’s famous soldier so indelibly etched in their history and they all took away photographs of Wolfe’s home and the statue on the Green when they returned to their Military Hospital at the days end’. And that same year, with financial backing from the Learmont estate and another wealthy Canadian, Sir Campbell Stuart, the house was bequeathed to the National Trust. Quebec House remained the residence of the Wolfe-Aylwards where they served to act as curator-custodians until 1930 when they retired and returned to Farley. Alexander Owen Wolfe-Aylward died at Farley on 28 April 1940, aged 78 years. His obituary was covered by the Sevenoaks Chronicle in their May 3rd issue.