One hundred years of Quebec House history

Bill Curtis

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

My research began with the 1824 edition of ‘Pigot’s Directory of Kent’ which names one Marcellus Howard as the Miller at Squerryes Little Mill. By 1830 Marcellus’ son John Howard had taken over as Miller at the Little Mill, where he remained until 1862 when it is believed the Mill was closed. As one of three Millers in the town, I was interested to discover where John Howard had lived so I searched for him on the Ancestry website taking a chance that he might have been born in Westerham around 1800 +/- 10 years. I struck lucky and he was the top entry for the 1861 census, born in Westerham in 1806. The 1861 census for the Westerham area is good to work with because the enumerators were quite diligent, and a lot of detail was provided.
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.
I found Drapper as the ‘Head’ of the last family recorded on sheet 13 of the District (6a). My hunch was confirmed as his occupation was then described as ‘Beer House Keeper’ but the residence was still not clear being just recorded as ‘Town.’ If their income remained steady and they stayed in work, most people didn’t tend to move around at that time so it would be reasonably safe to assume his neighbour might still be John Howard, and this turns out to be correct,
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’
It is the 1881 census that demystifies the conundrum by recording the house as Quebec House West and Quebec House East, so the house was divided side-by-side. The west half was still unoccupied and the east half remained the residence of seventy-six year-old John Howard, then recorded living there with his daughters Emma and Louisa. Howard was described on this census as a retired corn merchant. But only a year later, Quebec House West was tenanted to one Charles Carreck who opened ‘Quebec House School’ in that half of the house. In July of that year, The Westerham Herald in its second monthly edition carried the following worded advertisement:
‘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.
The new owner of Quebec House was Charles Warde who commissioned architect Granville Streatfeild to return the house to its original appearance as one dwelling, lost in 1838 when the house had been divided into two. In 1907 Beckles Willson, a Canadian journalist and author tenanted the restored house. In 1908 money was raised by public subscription to commission a statue in bronze of Wolfe the young hero, as a memorial to stand in the centre of Town. By 1910 the statue was complete but there was divided opinion amongst the townsfolk as to where the statue should be placed.
A Public Meeting was called by the Parish Council to make the ultimate decision by a showing of hands, and the vote that won the day was that the Wolfe Memorial should take pride of place at the head of the Green where the Victoria Jubilee fountain then stood…
On 2nd January 1911, the Wolfe statue was unveiled by Lord Roberts on the Green in front of a huge crowd. Among the dignitaries on the dais was one Alexander Owen Wolfe Aylward who had travelled from his Shepperton home to take a place of honour in the ceremony as a direct descendent of Captain Edward Wolfe, the grandfather of James Wolfe. In 1912 Charles Warde died and Quebec House was put up for sale. It was purchased by Joseph Learmont, a wealthy Montreal businessman with a great interest in early Canadian history. In 1913 Beckles Willson returned to Canada and Quebec House was let to Mr Wolfe Aylward and his wife Annie Elizabeth who had by then moved to Westerham and were living at Farley. The Wolfe Aylwards’ retained Farley, letting it out to tenants while they lived at Quebec House. This occupancy was conditional on the Wolfe Aylwards’ admitting visitors to certain rooms which contained pictures and other items of interest associated with Wolfe and Canada.
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.

Comments about this page

  • I’m researching my husband’s maternal family. His 2xgreat aunt Ann Barrell (1809- married Benjamin Howard (1810-1841), 4th son of Marcellus Howard. I was thrilled to find your blog about Benjamin’s brother John. I live in Australia and would never have found any of this interesting information. A grateful thank you for your generosity in sharing.

    By Robyn Spooner (23/07/2022)
  • I am a descendant of Marcellus Howard b. abt 1776 d. April 1830 Westerham and his wife Sarah Hodge b. 1774 in Westerham d. Nov. 1846 in Westerham. I read with interest your blog about the connection my family (specifically my 5th great uncle, John Howard) had to Quebec House. Thank you for the insightful information.

    By Brian R Anderson (02/01/2022)
  • Hi Brian, great to hear from you and glad you liked what you found! I gave this content as a lecture to Volunteers from Quebec House at Chartwell the year before lockdown. I ran it as a Powerpoint presentation with all the pix and newspaper ads and when I had finished I said “well that’s it, I hope you enjoyed it, do you have any questions?” The response was complete silence to which, after some 15 seconds, I said “Sorry, have I just bored you with stories you already knew too well?” This elicited a response from the group Director who said “I think I’m speaking for everyone when I tell you you have just stunned us, we thought we had researched Quebec House history exhaustively, but we knew nothing of any of that!” To my relief this was instantly followed by enthusiastic clapping and quite a few questions… It was a strange but interesting experience!

    By Bill Curtis (04/01/2022)

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