Cannizaro House & Cannizaro Park
Warren House, now known as Cannizaro House, was built in the early 1700s in the Queen Anne style. In 1705, William Brown bought 300 acres of poor quality land, most likely formerly part of the local common-held land that was later to become Wimbledon Common, and commissioned the building of both Warren House and its neighbour, Westside House.
The modern day name of Cannizaro, which is attached to both the house and the park as well as a nearby road, derives from its occupants in the early 19th century, the naturalised British citizen, Francis Platamore, Count St Antonio, and his Scottish wife, Sophia who leased Warren House in 1817. In the early 1830s, Francis succeeded to the dukedom of Cannizzaro in Sicily. Unable to resist the temptation of Italy and his Milanese mistress, the Duke left both his wife and Wimbledon. Sophia, now Duchess of Cannizzaro, continued to live in the house until her death in 1841. The house has been known as Cannizaro, and variant spelling of Francis’ dukedom, ever since.
The house and park have long associations with the great and good (and wealthy) of London. Famous occupants have included John Brown, Governor of the Bank of England, Thomas Walker, Surveyor General and Member of Parliament (from 1738-48), Lyde Browne, a wealthy London businessman from 1757 to 1785 and Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, Home Secretary and First Lord of the Treasury (in residence from 1785 to 1806 and under whom the House became a major social centre for London’s elite), Arthur Eden, a Treasury Civil Servant from 1842-54, Duleep Singh, the deposed Maharajah of the Punjab briefly in 1854, John Bousted – a Ceylon tea planter merchant from 1860 to 1879 , one Mrs Schuster from 1879 to 1896 who held amateur dramatic performances in Cannizaro Wood and Lord Aberdeen, Prime Minister under Queen Victoria. Among visitors to the House were William Pitt and Sir Robert Walpole, both Prime Ministers, King George III, Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Lady Randolph Churchill and the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Salassie.
Henry Dundas created the Lady Jane Wood in the park as a memorial to his second wife, Lady Jane Hope.
A major fire in 1900 destroyed much of the House but it was restored and extended to form the house much as it stands today.
My attention has been drawn to the use of Cannizaro House as an American Red Cross Hospital during the First World War by a photograph taken in the grounds of the house showing soldiers being attended by butlers.
Kenneth Wilson, a director of the Ellerman and Wilson shipping line, moved into Cannizaro with his wife in 1920. Together they did much to restore and develop the grounds into the park as it is today. The Wilsons were the last private owners of Cannizaro House and gardens. The Wilson’s daughter Hilary, wife of the 5th Earl of Munster, sold the house and gardens to Wimbledon Borough Council after her parents’ death in 1947.
Cannizaro House became a municipal home for the elderly in 1947 and the gardens and park were opened to the public. Under Wimbledon Council and, from 1965, its successor body, Merton Borough Council, the gardens saw further improvement until decline set in as a result of swingeing cuts in local government funding from the 1980s onwards. These improvements included the water and wild gardens and the Belvedere (although I’m not sure I’d class that particular development as an improvement). The House itself was sold by the Council and has been a hotel since 1987.
In 1987, Cannizaro Park, which extends to 34 acres, was listed in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest as Grade II*. In part in response to the decline in standards of care given to the Park by Merton Borough Council, the Friends of Cannizaro Park was established by a group of local residents as a voluntary group to protect the interests of the park. This had led to renewed interest in the park, and importantly, additional funding. Major re-planting have been undertaken in the Azalea Garden, the Water Garden and Iris beds as well as better general maintenance and some municipal facilities like night time security and cycle racks. An anniversary ceremony was held in 1999 marking 50 years of public ownership and a Millennium fountain commissioned which was presented in 2001. Historic statues such as that of Haile Salassie (who served his exile from Ethiopia in Wimbledon) and Diana and the Fawn have been restored and most recently the Friends have funded the creation of a new Herb Garden.
April 2009 (photos taken in April 2009)