Milverton Lawn, better known to many Leamington residents as The Sunshine Home, is now apartments, and renamed Goodway House, but it was once a substantial Victorian family home, with a fine multi-coloured marble staircase, and a double height ballroom..
The house was built in the early 1860s for the Company Secretary of the Warwick and Leamington Bank, Hubert Lloyd, whose initials are still to be seen engraved in the pilasters flanking the main entrance. It was designed in the elaborate Late Classical Style with Egyptian decorative motifs, by G T “Metz” Robinson, drawing teacher and architect of a number of Midlands buildings of note, who was at that time living nearby in Milverton Crescent.
A ground floor plan dated 1878, signed by Robinson, shows reception rooms of elegant proportions, generous domestic offices, stables and a coach house. As most of the other properties along this side of Warwick New Road, built before Milverton Lawn, were red brick-built, it may be that the house was ‘encased’, – i.e. aggrandised by the addition of limestone ashlar blocks which cover the brick skeleton of the house. Certainly rumours circulated that Hubert Lloyd hoped to entertain Queen Victoria there, should she ever make a return visit to Leamington.
Hubert Lloyd died in May 1881. The house had been let for some time before, but it had become run-down, a sad story which was to be repeated at least twice more in the house’s history. Copies of letters from the surveyor for Margetts & Co, local Estate Agents and Valuers, to Pines & Co, Hubert Lloyd’s executors, make painful reading. There was damp in many of the rooms, cracks in the glass tiles in the roof, the cornices, and the lead flashing above the windows. The guttering was damaged and downspouts were missing. In the opinion of the surveyor, “although the House itself is thoroughly & most expensively built, many of the details are very indifferently finished, …The heating apparatus is quite unfit for use, …The Stabling is very meagre & poor for a House of this rental,” – and so on, for three or four closely-written pages.
The tenant, who had been renting the house for the previous five years, was extremely dissatisfied, as one might imagine. He anticipated “an outlay of at least £300 [on the necessary repairs] before he [would] renew his lease”, but was nonetheless willing to offer to buy the house for £6000, – an offer which the surveyor urged Pines & Co to accept on the grounds that local properties recently put up for auction were attracting no bids, and the [unnamed] tenant, “an impulsive man”, was likely to withdraw his bid and give notice to leave.
The tenant was Joseph Hinks, J.P, a retired oil lamp manufacturer and inventor from Birmingham, who twice became Mayor of Leamington, in the 1890s. In spite of the problems noted above, he bought the house and went on to live there for over twenty years. He later sold the house to William Lord Bollin Hinde, an Estate Agent, who lived at Milverton Lawn until 1908. William Hinde in turn sold the house to William Walter Westwood J.P, of the Grange, Southam, who promptly leased it to Mr & Mrs Austin Edwards of Warwick for a five year term.
In 1912, at the expiry of the lease, Austin Edwards moved back to Warwick, where he continued his business as ‘Austin Edwards Photographic Films Ltd‘ at Coventry Road.
William Walter Westwood, mortgagee of the property, then lived in the house for the next three years, before moving nearer the centre of the town. According to documents held by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, he had taken out a number of mortgages on the property, and by the end of WW1, having failed to find a new tenant, was in financial difficulties. The empty house was vandalised and was in danger of becoming derelict.
Mr Westwood was obliged to carry out extensive repairs before leasing it out again, this time to Gilbert Sydney Farnfield, M.A, a schoolmaster who turned the house into a very successful boys’ preparatory school. Within three years, the school had outgrown the building and moved to The Lawn, Emscote, former home of the Nelson family, becoming one of the most successful prep schools in the area.
Milverton Lawn then again remained empty and uncared-for, though old Leamingtonians such as Peter Weare recalled the ballroom as a popular venue for visiting singers, dance bands and other musicians. Eventually, Mr Westwood was declared bankrupt, and the house was bought at auction by the Sunshine Homes Charity.
In 1926 the house opened as the Sunshine Home for Blind Babies. It was later known and flourished for 60 years as the Sunshine House Nursery School. Although the “bones” of the house remained untouched, many adaptations were carried out to accommodate the pupils and staff. A false ceiling and partition walls were installed in the ballroom and main bedrooms to provide dormitories. A small indoor swimming pool and classrooms were provided in additional outbuildings. The garden was equipped with play equipment such as swings, slides and a climbing frame. Although the Home closed in 1986, and the site was redeveloped in the 1990s as apartments and mews cottages, the name Sunshine House can still be seen on the old gateposts.
Margaret Rushton 2011
Sources: Leamington Spa Courier; National Archives Census Returns; Margetts & Co Documents held at WCRO; Eileen Paling, Secretary to the last Headteacher of Sunshine House Nursery School