Buildings of Newport (12) by stuart46

Buildings of Newport (12)

Whitson Court

Whitson is a village on the outskirts of the city of Newport, South Wales. It is located about 7 miles (11 km) south east of Newport city centre on the Caldicot Levels, a large area of coastal land reclaimed from the sea. Administratively, Whitson is part of the community of Goldcliff.
Sir Joseph Bradney, in his 1922 "History of Monmouthshire", is undecided on the derivation of the name of the manor and surrounding village, but notes early spellings such as Witston, Widson and Wyttston. It seems most likely, however, that the name came from "Whitestone", similar to the adjacent "Goldcliff". In 1358 the manor was held " John de Saint Maur of Penhow of Peter de Cusance by knight service, as of his manor of Langstone". In the 18th and 19th centuries the Phillips family owned a large estate in the parish and lived at what was then called "Whitson House" (see "Whitson Court" below).
Whitson Court is a neo-classically inspired family house. Built in the grounds of a medieval tithe barn linked to Goldcliff Priory and on the site of an earlier house, the present property was built for the William Phillips (1752-1836), High Sheriff for Monmouthshire, in about 1791 and is a Grade II* listed building, one of the finer Smaller Country Houses in Wales, retaining many original features.
Originally believed to have been designed by Anthony Keck, who had designed a similar property at Iscoed in Carmarthenshire, Whitson House had many Nash-inspired additions including the unsupported cantilever stone spiral staircase in the hall, similar to that of Ffynone Mansion at Manordeifi in Pembrokeshire, with an arched door frame underneath and plasterwork known to have been used at other Nash houses. There were also false plaster windows added to the ends of the adjoining pavilions which were typical of John Nash. In the same year (1791), Nash was working on his design for Newport Bridge and The Lodge at Whitson Court is a typical Nash design.
Monumental inscriptions at Whitson Church indicate that the house was called Whitson House from at least 1789 and for most of the 19th century, but had become Whitson Court by 1903. Memorial stones for the Phillips family may also be found in St. Mary's church in the neighbouring village of Nash. (William Phillips also built Redbrick House in nearby Redwick).
After the death of St. John Knox Rickards Phillips,[ in 1901 ownership of the house passed to a distant relative, Fr Oliver Rodie Vassall-Phillips CSsR. In consequence of the persecution of religious congregations in France, the Sacramentines of Bernay of the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament at the time of the expulsion in July 1903, were compelled to close their boarding-school and go into exile. Thirteen of the sisters retired to Belgium, and founded a house at Hal, while the rest of their community settled at Whitson Court - thanks to the generosity of Reverend Vassall-Phillips, who wrote:

"This order of nuns existence is precarious, for they are not permitted to open a school. Their days are spent in prayer, adoration, and the making of altar-breads, vestments, and church ornaments." In 1910 the left pavilion wing, which was used as the estate laundry, was partially destroyed by fire.
A meeting of the Monmouthshire Bee Keepers Association, Whitson Court, c.1941
In March 1911, the Sacramentines were permitted by Archbishop Farley to open a house in Holy Trinity parish, Yonkers, New York and the house and estate at Whitson were then used as a training school for their African missions. In 1917, the vast Whitson Estate, encompassing most of the local farms and totalling some 1,050 acres (420 ha) and the Manorial Title, were sold at auction mainly to its existing tenant farmers. When Bradney published his "History of Monmouthshire" in 1932, the house stood empty.
In 1933 Whitson Court and its remaining 18 acres (7.3 ha) of gardens and parkland, were purchased from the then owner, Squire Oakley, by Mr Garroway Smith of "The Chalet" at Ridgeway in Newport who took up residence at the property with his wife Mary and his sister Louise. Mr William Maybury, his wife Olive Maybury and their daughters, Jane and Elizabeth also moved into the house. Their third daughter, Mary, was born at Whitson Court in May 1938.

During World War II, the family gave sanctuary to several German Jewish refugees (Walter & Johnny), as well as providing work for German Prisoners of War - many of the paths in the grounds were built by German POW Officers housed at the Prisoner of War camp in Nash. Ironically the house was also used as a reference point by German bomber crews, aiming their runs at Newport Docks.

Whitson Court in July 2015
Following the death of Garroway Smith in the late 1950s, the house and grounds passed to his niece, Olive Maybury who made various alterations to the house including three neo-classical plaster relief panels to the fire surround in the morning room, an ornately carved fire surround to the former kitchen and the replacement of the dilapidated spiral staircase to the top floor of the house, with a Gothic secondary staircase, removed from Plas LLecha at Tredunnock. The family collected exotic animals including Bornean Sun Bears, Himalayan Bears, a lion and Lionesses and a large collection of monkeys, reptiles and exotic birds. The family opened the grounds to the public during the 1960s and 1970s and the grounds were a popular attraction for local families and school children.
In 1980 Whitson Zoo was closed and many of the animals were re-homed. Olive Maybury continued to live at Whitson Court until her death in 1998 at the age of 99. The house and grounds were subsequently sold by the family and was again left empty, listed on Newport Council's "Buildings at Risk" register. It was sold once again in 2008 and has now been fully restored to its former grandeur by its current owners under the guidance of Cadw.
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