In 1896 plans were submitted to the Rushden Council by Messrs. Phipps and Co. for new premises in High Street, Rushden. This house was known as ‘Stonehurst.’ In 1901 the house was occupied by Mr. William Knight – agent for Messrs. Phipps & Co., with his sister living there as his housekeeper. The premises were also used as a wine store.
By 1911, Mr. Harry Chester was the Brewer’s agent, living in Stonehurst with his wife, Alice, and five year old daughter, also Alice. They had a general servant, a Miss Emily Ethel Thompson.
In October 1914, when the Belgian refugees started arriving in England accommodation had to be found for them. Some lived with families but it was felt that they might be more comfortable if they were all together. It was decided that Rushden could take 30 refugees, so suitable premises had to be found. It was then that Messrs. Phipps & Co. offered ‘Stonehurst’ at a very generous rent of 1/- per month. A committee was formed to take charge of the arrangements and very soon they were receiving offers of furniture and other necessary items. Seven bedrooms were furnished, two sitting rooms, a room which could be used as a dining room and a bathroom. A kitchen garden would provide work for the men to do. It was also decided to have a Belgian Day on Saturday 31st October. The town was decorated with flags and bunting in Belgian colours, and collections were made round the town. There was, of course, a torchlight procession organised and attended by the Rushden Fire Brigade. Whatever the event, there always seemed to be a torchlight procession. The total sum raised was £86/14/9.
19 refugees arrived in Rushden on 2 November 1914 by the 4.30 p.m. train. They included a 76 year old lady and her grandson, a soldier who had been wounded in the battle of Furnes, a man, his wife and three children and a father and daughter. They were taken to the home which had been prepared for them and given their first meal of hot Bovril, bread and butter, and cakes. Another refugee, who was staying at Shelton, acted as interpreter.
At the end of the war, when the Belgian refugees returned home, Stonehurst was converted into a house and was occupied over the next few years by several families including Arthur Cave, son of John Cave the boot manufacturer. By 1923 it was occupied by Donald Douglas Cox, who ran a transport company working between London and Rushden. Sadly this business failed in 1923. The Wheeler family were there from 1933 to 1963.
On 3rd October 1944 the Luftwaffe raided Rushden. One bomb hit the Queen Victoria Hotel, demolishing one of the twin turrets, but causing no casualties, and another fell on Station Approach injuring pedestrians. A water main was fractured in the High Street opposite Station Road, and two bombs cracked the foundations of ‘Stonehurst’ but failed to bring it down. Along the road a ‘fried fish saloon’ was so badly damaged it had to be demolished. The next serious damage was in West Street, where again the houses were so badly damaged they were subsequently demolished. There were casualties but no fatalities. It was in the centre of Rushden where the real harm was done. Two bombs fell through the roof of the boot factory belonging to Messrs. John Cave and Sons, one exploding among clicking benches killing four men and injuring several others. The next, and worst, blow was on the opposite side of College Street where a bomb exploded against a classroom of Alfred Street School bringing down a two-storey section of the building. The wrecked classroom had been full of children, aged about 7, but miraculously the majority of them escaped mostly unhurt. Sadly, seven children died, three of whom were evacuees.
Another factory in John Street received minor damage and a house was demolished. More bombs were dropped on the town but did little or no damage.
Alfred Street School after the bombing.
Cave’s factory in College Street, Rushden.
The Queen Victoria Hotel, Rushden.
Stonehurst was demolished in 1976 to make way for new shops. Today it would be conserved as part of the heritage of the town but things were different then. Old buildings were pulled down to make way for new, modern premises which now appear to be characterless brick boxes, and in some cases very shabby brick boxes. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
High Street, Rushden with Stonehurst on the right of the picture.
The site of Stonehurst in 2018