History of Leith Hill Place

A circular version of the Wedgwood family tree at Leith Hill Place, with names of generations of the family

Modernised by merchants, run as a school, inspiring genius, the childhood home one of England’s most famous composers and a stint as a boarding house – Leith Hill Place has certainly seen its fair share of uses and had some fascinating inhabitants. Explore the history of this wonderful house and unravel some of its secrets.

Leith Hill’s owners

 
There has been a house on the site of Leith Hill Place since the 16th-century, perhaps even earlier. In 1725 it was bought by Colonel John Folliott, who decided to modernise the house dramatically and “reskinned” the 16th-century house in Palladian style which was fashionable at the time. In 1754 it was sold to Richard Hull, a Bristol merchant, who built Leith Hill Tower, which still dominates the hill today. When he died in 1772 the house was owned by various people, including a Reverend Rusden who ran it as a school, before it became the home of Josiah Wedgwood III in 1847.
 

Three amazing families

 
In 1847 Leith Hill Place was bought by Josiah Wedgwood III. Having retired from the family pottery business in Staffordshire, he brought his wife and three young daughters to live in the Surrey Hills. Josiah was married to Caroline Darwin, and her brother Charles, the famous naturalist, often used to visit. Charles Darwin in fact, involved his three nieces, Sophy, Margaret and Lucy, in his earthworm experiments in and around Leith Hill Place. In the parkland below the house you can still see his 'wormstone' which sits next to one of the orange trail markers.
 
Find out more about Darwin's 'wormstone'
 
Margaret married Arthur Vaughan Williams, but was widowed prematurely and moved back to Leith Hill Place with her three young children. Her youngest son, Ralph, (pronounced ‘Rafe’) went on to become the well-known English composer.
 

A generous donor

 
Having lived here as a child, Ralph Vaughan Williams generously gave the house to the National Trust when he inherited it from his brother in 1944. He always encouraged others to make music and believed that good music was one of life's necessities.
 
Learn about the life of Ralph Vaughan Williams
 

Wedgwoods as tenants

 
After the house was gifted to the National Trust, Sir Ralph Wedgwood Bt lived here as a tenant, followed by his son John. The family opened several rooms to the public and displayed items of Wedgwood.
 

Back to school

 
In 1972 the building became a boarding house for the nearby Hurtwood School. There were some interesting items left behind, including graffiti in the cellar, overlaying some 1960s wall paintings.
 

A long way to go

 
The house had suffered years of neglect and we are slowly trying to maintain it and secure its future for generations to come. Visit and see for yourself why it is worth saving.