If 200 years ago you happened to be a member of the landed gentry, with a prominent position in society and a shed full of money, the world was your oyster. If you wanted to cut down a few ancient trees to improve the view or move a main road because it got in the way you just got on and did it. Such autonomy was demonstrated by Sir William Cooper, the Chaplain-in-ordinary to King George 3rd. He lived in Isleworth House which still stands hidden behind a high brick wall and scaffolding on the A3004 road from St Margarets to Old Isleworth.
The house, dressed in imposing white stucco, overlooks a beautiful stretch of the Thames with views eastwards towards Kew Gardens, northwards to Syon Park and southwards to Richmond Hill beyond. Poet James Thomson (1700-1748) liked the view so much he was inspired to write…
"Here let us trace the matchless vales of Thames, Far winding up to where the muses haunt, To Twitnam's bowers."
When James Thomson wasn’t knocking out this kind of syrupy guff - “Twitnam’s bowers” indeed! - he did find time to write the lyrics of “Rule Britannia.”
In 1833 Sir William refurbished the house, fitting it out “in admirable style” as one commentator had it, with extensive gardens designed to sweep all the way down to the Thames. The only thing in his way, literally, was the main Richmond to Isleworth road. Undismayed Sir William simply closed the road and moved it inland. To complete the job he built a new bridge over the River Crane and put a high brick wall along the road to blunt the curiosity of the local riff-raff. The ‘new road’. the brick wall and the new Railshead Bridge are still in place today.
When Sir William’s ‘new road’ was first opened in 1833 it had high brick walls on both sides, one enclosing the estate as it does to this day and the other surrounding the estate’s kitchen garden. To enable easy access to the kitchen garden there is some evidence that a tunnel was dug under the Richmond Road. The kitchen garden wall was eventually removed to allow the construction of a housing estate.
After Sir William’s death his widow, the Dowager Lady Isabella Cooper was visited at Isleworth House by King William 4th who was much taken with the view from the garden…
“Isleworth with its two ferries, the church with the ivy mantled tower and the wooded grounds of Syon, with a glimpse of that noble mansion”
The King, who later was to buy the house next door for 8,000 guineas, was a bit of a gardener and landscaper and suggested ways of improving the outlook. On his instructions the trees lining the boundary of Kew Gardens on the far side of the river were removed in order to open up the view of the pagoda and the observatory opposite.
In 1892 Isleworth House was bought by the nuns of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth who turned it into a convent and care home. They also gave it a new name - ‘Nazareth House’. In April 1899 a new building, the ‘Red House’, was added to the estate as ‘Nazareth House Industrial School for Roman Catholic Girls’, certified for 120 girls. In 1922 the Industrial School was closed and the ‘Red House’ reassigned as a care home for needy children. It remained so until 1985. People who worked in the ‘Red House’ said that behind the high brick wall there wasn’t much love and laughter for the children who lived there.
In 2002 the Poor Sisters of Nazareth moved out with accusations of child abuse ringing about their ears. Now the entire estate is being redeveloped with luxury family homes and affordable flats. As part of this work the ‘Red House’, still visible through the main gates, will be pulled down, providing some small comfort for the young people who once lived there. The high brick wall still remains.
– from Martyn Day