Clifton Lodge and the Violet Needham Chapel
- Original design
- Not known, 1852
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme on 21st August.
Clifton Lodge was originally built as an orangery forming part of the extensive picturesque grounds of the riverside estate Twickenham Park, which later became known as St Margarets House. The lodge, which was formerly called The Orangery, appears on an estate map as early as 1817 in a cruciform shape and in an 1850 account The Beauties of Middlesex by William Keane the orangery is described as a building measuring 50 x 18 ft. housing citron trees and camellias, celebrated orange and peach trees.
St Margarets House was demolished and rebuilt by the Earl of Kilmorey (Jack Francis Needham) between 1851 and 1852. The Earl also owned Gordon House and situated his Egyptian mausoleum at the bottom of the garden which can still be seen today within a walled garden opposite the Ailsa Tavern, St Margarets Road. The Earl sold the buildings in 1854 to the Conservative Land Society which enabled the Royal Naval College (previously based at Hope House Richmond Green) to take occupancy in 1856. The college was one of the very first public schools and it remained at St Margarets House until 1942 when the house was damaged by a WW2 bomb. Clifton Lodge was used as a private residence from the 1870s when a second storey was added to the original building. The Hare family moved to the lodge in 1900 where they lived for over 45 years – residents noted how beautifully they kept the grounds. It’s likely that the lodge was named after Miss Clifton who was the Lady Governess of the Royal Naval College – the name Clifton Lodge was used from 1957 when the building functioned as a nursing home.
Maria Grey College moved to the St Margarets House site in 1946; subsequently merging with the Borough Road College and Acton & Chiswick Polytechnic to form the West London Institute of Higher Education. At this time, Clifton Lodge was used for accommodation and lectures for the students from Chiswick Polytechnic completing their social work certificate.
In 1979 part of Rambert School moved to the West London Institute under the direction of Gary Sherwood. The School had been established by Marie Rambert in 1920 and for many years occupied the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill. In 1995 West London Institute became part of Brunel University. Brunel sold the entire site including Clifton Lodge when they moved the Osterley and Twickenham Campus departments to Uxbridge in 2005.
Rambert School was keen to remain in Twickenham and, following enormous support from the local community for the villa to be kept and preserved, Clifton Lodge was designated a Grade II listed building. It was agreed that the School would occupy two of the historic buildings contained within the land for sale and between 2005 and 2007 with the support of a number of generous donors and foundations, including The Sainsbury Family Trusts, Clifton Lodge and The Violet Needham Chapel were converted complete with five dance studios for the newly constituted Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance.
The Royal Naval College built the chapel in the grounds of St Margarets House in 1868 to accommodate the spiritual side of its education provision and at that time had its own chaplain.
A description of St Margarets House in 1824 includes mention of an outbuilding formed into the semblance of a chapel surmounted with a picturesque tower perhaps providing a precedent for this addition which became an important landmark. The building was constructed in Victorian stone with gothic brick interior, featuring a stone rose window with an Italianate bell tower. The chapel was situated to the West within the spacious grounds of the College. Unusually the Chapel bell tower has a naval weather vane which points to where the wind is blowing and thus needs to be read backwards to find where the wind is blowing from. The Naval College relied on appeals and donations as well as fees for its income – just as Rambert School does today.
In 1950 the chapel was acquired by Maria Grey College and was used for secular purposes thereafter including a nursery for staff/students and local residents.
In 1987, as the then owners (West London Institute of Higher Education) exercised a policy of giving buildings names of people, the chapel was endowed with the name of Violet Needham (1876-1967). Violet, the granddaughter of Jack Francis Needham and a Victorian children’s author, wrote 19 books including ‘The Black Riders’ in 1939. Violet never lived in Twickenham, however the link with her Grandfather’s estate and her success as an author, make Violet a very appropriate choice as a name for the chapel.