Saturday, November 12, 2011
Today a leafy, post war suburb of Old Town, Hesketh Crescent stands on the site of The Croft, an impressive house once modestly described as merely a large villa!
The property appears on the 1841 census, then relatively newly built and occupied by Alfred Southby Crowdy, an Old Swindon solicitor with offices in the High Street.
By 1861 another Swindon solicitor, James Copleston Townsend was living in the house on the hill, but probably the person most closely associated with The Croft was Levi Lapper Morse, owner of the Regent Street department store, politician and devout Methodist.
The Morse commercial empire began in Stratton St. Margaret in the 1830s where Charles Morse had a drapers and grocers shop. Levi, eldest son of Charles and his second wife Rebecca Lapper, was born over the shop at Stratton Green in 1853.
In 1875 Levi married Winifred, the daughter of Isaac Humphries, a farmer from Broad Hinton. By 1881, with the town centre store up and running, the young couple was living in Stratton Street and ready to relocate.
At the time of the 1891 census Levi, Winifred and their growing family were living at Granville House on Bath Road, but the upwardly mobile couple would soon be on the move again, this time to The Croft.
A description of the house is given in a sale catalogue dated 1899 when the property was up for auction.
Set in over four acres with a paddock, fountain and a tennis lawn, the grounds also contained flowerbeds and terraces with ornamental trees and shrubs providing shady walks for family and houseguests.
The extensive grounds made a fine setting for fetes and social gatherings and the Primitive Methodist conventions that Morse held at The Croft.
A walled kitchen garden had the usual potting shed and green house but also boasted a 'lean to Vinery.' Other outbuildings included stone built stabling, a Coach House, Trap House and a 'Harness Room with Man's Room over loft.'
Approached by a lengthy carriage way the house opened on to a 'spacious Hall with Dome.' The ground floor rooms included a 'handsome Drawing Room 27ft by 18ft communicating with Library 23ft by 17ft and a fine Dining Room 34ft by 18ft.'
Upstairs was reached by a double staircase with seven bedrooms, two dressing rooms, a fitted bathroom and lavatory, Housemaid's Closet and linen cupboard leading off a gallery extending around and over the hall. A separate staircase led to two servant's bedrooms.
Somewhat surprisingly Levi Lapper Morse was only a tenant at the time of the sale, paying just £100 a year for this very desirable residence. He continued to live at The Croft until his death in 1913.
Levi Lapper Morse was elected Mayor of Swindon in November 1901 and Liberal MP for South Wiltshire in 1906.
He owned properties throughout Swindon, including villas in Evelyn Street, shops in the Regent Street Arcade and 28 houses in a street off Commercial Road, which was later named in his honour.
Winifred Street, built at the turn of the 20th century on land adjoining The Croft, was named after Mrs. Levi Lapper Morse.
In 1896 Morse signed a seven-year lease on 20 acres of land called Tismeads on the Wroughton Road owned by Fitzroy Pleydell Goddard.
Colour photographs were taken by William Hooper and are published courtesy of Paul Williams - for these and others visit www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/