The Queen’s Spymaster and Barn Elms

by 5ocietyx

Barn Elms map

Barn Elms map

Sir Francis Walsingham was Queen Elizabeth I’s Spy Master and lived in Barn Elms.

It is directly opposite Rocks Lane, the former location of the notorious Elm Guest House where politicians and VIPs are alleged to have held regular paedophile parties where they abused young boys from Richmond Council ‘care’ ‘homes’.

Its name is derived from the Georgian house and parkland, the original manor house of Barnes, which stood on the site, until it was burnt out and demolished in 1954. In earlier times the manor house of Barnes was in the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury and then of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s. The Georgian house replaced the earlier one occupied by Sir Francis Walsingham, “Elizabeth’s Spymaster”. Queen Elizabeth I would visit Barn Elms to see her Spymaster. Barn Elms features in English literary history from the time the royalist poet Abraham Cowley moved to the house belonging to John Cartwright in 1663. In the 1660s Barn Elms became a fashionable destination for boating picnics: Samuel Pepys, who arranged many a Sunday afternoon or moonlit evening boating party to Barn Elms himself,recorded that on 26 May 1667

“I walked the length of the Elmes, and with great pleasure saw some gallant ladies and people come with their bottles, and basket, and chairs, and form, to sup under the trees, by the water-side, which was mighty pleasant”

When Barn Elms was in the possession of the bookseller Jacob Tonson, the Kit-Cat Club met at Barn Elms for many years; here the “Kit-Kat portraits” hung; Tonson’s extensions to the house, c1703, seem to have been made under the general advice of John Vanbrugh, a Kit-Kat member. During Tonson’s tenure, John Hughes wrote a poetical description of sunrise in “Barn-Elms”:

Let Phoebus his late happiness rehearse,
And grace Barn-Elms with never-dying verse !…
Ye verdant Elms, that towering grace this grove
Be sacred still to Beauty and to Love !

John James Heidegger, the opera impresario, resided at Barn Elms, where he entertained George II, and as Heidegger’s guest Georg Friederich Handel stayed here at his first arrival in England, in 1711.

As London’s suburban sprawl encroached, Barn Elm’s reputation waned over the decades. In the 1980s the adjoining Barnes Common became infamous for being a late-night hang-out and pick-up point for cruisers.

This may help explain why the notorious Elm Guest House set up shop on Rocks Lane – the common was an area that already attracted deviant types. Its proximity to Westminster must also have been a factor for politicians who paid regular visits there.

The house was later remodeled or rebuilt for Sir Richard Hoare, who died at Barn Elms, and enlarged in the early 19th century by his son, Richard Colt Hoare. When Hammersmith Bridge was erected in 1824-27, the company that undertook the work bought Barn Elms and drove the access road, Upper Bridge Road, now Castelnau Road, across the park. The house was also the home of Sir Lancelot Shadwell, who was Vice Chancellor of England in the 19th century: on one occasion he delivered an injunction while up to his neck in the cool lake. From 1883 to 1939 Barn Elms was used as the club-house of the Ranelagh Club, with polo grounds and extensive gardens.

More recently the site was the home of Ham Polo Club.

An interesting side-note is that this area is being trampled underfoot by the Sagittarian Rider in Mary Caine’s Kingston Zodiac.