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John Tredwell (1805-1875)

John Tredwell, Railway Contractor
John Tredwell, Railway Contractor

was born in Devizes in 1805. In 1841 John is with his brother Thomas and his wife Ann and their 3 year old daughter Eliza in Reigate, Surrey. Also with them is Sophia Bourne (later Piggott), their sister, married to Thomas Bourne. John married Elizabeth Skilliter in 1824 in Langford, Beds.  It appears they may have had a son  William, born and died 1825.  Elizabeth died in 1869 while living at Leigham Court, Streatham Hill, Surrey. He then married Maria Coxe from Chalford, Glos. in March 1870. Maria was living with the family as a companion according to the 1851 census at Leigham House. He appears with her on the 1871 census still at Leigham Court, along with his niece Eliza Skilliter, a George Temple as visitor and about 10 servants.

Mrs John Tredwell
Mrs John Tredwell

The following information has very kindly been provided by a member of the Streatham Local History Society (copyright JOHN W BROWN/LOCAL HISTORY PUBLICATIONS/THE STREATHAM SOCIETY) giving me an insight into John`s life in Leigham during this time. 

 ‘Leigham Court House was one of a number of fine mansion properties built in Streatham in the 19th century.  These large houses normally stood in extensive grounds of landscaped gardens and park land.  Some of the properties were virtually self-sufficient entities, their kitchen gardens, dairies and brew houses providing ample provisions for the household.  Numerous servants would be employed to cater to the needs of their masters and to keep the house and surrounding land in good order. Leigham Court House was one of the largest and grandest of these mansions, surrounded by large formal gardens, woodland walks and open parkland. The grounds in which the house stood now form the Leigham Court Estate encompassing Amesbury, Barcombe, Cricklade and Downton Avenues, Emsworth Street, Faygate Road and part of Hillside Road.  The house was built in the 1820s by John George Fuller.  In 1831 Fuller described himself as a wine merchant of St James`s Street and was an owner of Boodles Club.  The original house cost £6,500 and was extended by the addition of a wing designed by John Papworth.  It is said that the house was originally intended to be used as a country gaming club associated with Boodles but it appears to have spent most of its life as a palatial private residence.

Leigham Court, Streatham, home of John Tredwell
Leigham Court, home of John Tredwell

Following Fuller`s death in 1849, the property was purchased by John Tredwell, a railway contractor.  Local legend tells how he started life as a “humble navvy” and rose to a man of great wealth through his contracting work.  As a reminder of his humble origins he is said to have kept his pick and shovel in the hallway at Leigham Court to serve as a constant reminder to him of his unostentatious early life!  Herbert Baldwin, the author of “Streatham Old and New”, came from a distinguished publishing family.  His father, Edward Baldwin moved to the area in 1859, where he resided in a large house at the top of Mitcham Lane, opposite Streatham Green.  Edward was a noted newspaper proprietor, at one time being the owner of “The Daily Herald” and part proprietor of “The Standard”.  Herbert remembered visiting Leigham Court on one occasion and mentions how he was standing admiring a “very fine painting of a man in ordinary working clothes” when John Tredwell approached him “and with natural pride explained that it was no effect of the painter`s imagination, but a portrait of himself.”

Behind the house was a large formal garden with a central fountain with orchards beyond.  The grounds contained a large lake, euphemistically called the Fish Pond, complete with a boat house and a small island for rowers to head for, which was a popular spot for summer picnics.

At the south eastern extremity of the estate John Tredwell built a tall tower as an observation platform, which was known locally as “Tredwell`s Folly”.  From the top of the tower panoramic views of the surrounding countryside were obtained. Tall trees and shrubs screened the grounds from public view and a pair of large entrance gates stood on Streatham Hill behind which was a small lodge where the gatekeeper lived.  A long carriage drive led from Streatham Hill to the house and neighbouring stables.

The railway tunnel which passes under the grounds of Leigham court was constructed in the mid 1850s by Tredwell so that his estate would not be scarred with a large railway cutting passing through it.  Streatham Hill Station which was located near the Streatham Hill entrance to his property, was the first railway station to be built in Streatham.  It was opened by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) on 1st December 1856 as Streatham Station but changed its name to Streatham and Brixton Hill Station in 1868,  becoming Streatham Hill Station the following year.  The building remains much as it was when first erected and is one of the last stations of its type to survive in London.`  

John died in December 1875 leaving about £200,000. He married his first wife Elizabeth Skilliter 9th November 1824 in Langford, Beds.  Elizabeth died 1869 at Leigham Court.  His second wife Maria Cox he married 1870.  Maria was with the family before Elizabeth died. No children from either marriage. In his Will (held) John leaves bequests to numerous Skilliters, members of his first wife`s family and also to his plentiful nieces and nephews. He is buried West Norwood Cemetery ‘Sacred to the Memory of John Tredwell of Leigham, Streatham Hill who died 13 December 1875 in the 71st year of his age’.  Also ‘ Elizabeth wife of John Tredwell died May 22 1869 aged 65. Return unto thy rest of my soul for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee – Psalm 116 v7’. ‘The family vault of John Tredwell Leigham Court, Streatham.’ John appointed his wife Maria, nephew by marriage Henry Worton Elliott and George Wythes of Reigate as executors.  All residue left to Maria ‘as long as she remain my widow’!  It appears Maria remarried in 1890 to Joseph Flitcroft Fletcher.  I cannot find what happened to either of them after that date, although elsewhere on the internet I see Maria may have died in 1893 and Joseph 1899.