The earliest record which we have of the site of Farleigh is contained in a covenant of 27 January 1841. Part of the terms of purchase of the land, whereby Thomas Greenwood covenanted with the previous owners of the land that he and his successors in title would not
“at any time hereafter carry on or permit or suffer to be carried out in or upon the said ground hereby assured any noisy or offensive business nor shall any bricks or tiles be made or burnt thereon after the 29th day of September 1843 and particularly that no furnace, foundry smith’s shop or any manufacturing of a noisy kind shall be erected within 150 feet of the said New London Road or fronting thereto shall be faced or otherwise than with white brick stone or cemented brickwork.”
Most houses along New London Road had similar covenants and this not only preserved the area for high class housing, but also assured that the brickworks on the site of the present cricket ground should continue to do good business.
The house itself was built in 1858/59 by John Edward Ormes of Bocking for Alfred Copland, whose family owned and developed adjoining land. It was designed by architects Beadel, Son and Chancellor. Frederic Chancellor, the first Mayor of Chelmsford in 1888, and on six subsequent occasions between 1894 and 1906, was responsible for many notable buildings in Chelmsford. The property was then named “Spergula House,” possibly from “Spergula Arvenis” (wild corn spurrey), which covered the site.
In 1881, we learn from the street directory and census return that the house was occupied by Alfred Copland, retired publisher, aged 68, with his wife Mary Millbank, aged 64. Both were born in Chelmsford. They had two live-in servants, Elizabeth Hazleton (25) from Springfield and Emma Cutts (21) from Rivenhall. By 1891 we learn that Mary Copland was a widow and the house was sold to Dr. John Clough Thresh, MD. Before Dr. Thresh came to Chelmsford he had trained as a Pharmaceutical Chemist and was a BSc. of London and Fellow of the College of Surgeons. In 1881 he was living in Buxton.
The census returns of 1901 show that the property was still occupied by Dr. Thresh (50) Medical Officer of Health Surgeon ECC born in Yorkshire, his wife Maria (50), also born in Yorkshire, his daughter Gertrude Mary (25), his nieces Margaret Smirken (20) and Dorothy Smirken (17), Arthur Ed Porter (28) Assistant Medical Officer, Julia Clarkson (41) Housekeeper, Lillian Barr (20) Housemaid and Alice Tarbun (18) Cook.
In the lodge at the back of the house lived Arthur Lucking (30) Groom/Gardener with wife Anne and five children aged 11 days to 9 years. There was also a monthly sick nurse to help look after mother and baby. A photograph taken by Frederick Spalding in 1903 shows various members of the family and staff outside the house. A later (1915) photograph shows Robert Seabrook, father of local gardening expert Peter Seabrook, who was one of eleven children whose father died when they were quite young. They lived in Wood Street and Robert went to school in Moulsham Street. He went to the house almost every day before school to clean knives and silver, rake the drive and other small jobs for the Thresh household to earn money for his family.
In 1932, Dr. Thresh's executors sold the property by auction through Fred Taylor & Co. The property was described as being one and a half acres with detached cottage. The house was subsequently occupied by Colonel Barrington Wells DSO, who was the grandson of Frederick Wells, the local brewer, who lived in Oaklands House, Moulsham Street. During this time and for many years afterwards, there was a large orchard at the rear of the property, and apples were sold from it to passers-by. Members of the Wells family and one of their friends have happy memories of living in the house or visiting it. The Beauchamp children who lived there later have memories of a large bush growing near the front of the house which was used for climbing in and out of the upstairs rooms.
It was Colonel Barrington Wells who renamed the house Farleigh. He had attended Uppingham School, where he was a member of Farleigh House, and had happy memories of that time.
During the early part of the 1939-45 War, the house was partly occupied by Bomb Disposal officers, and during this time an aircraft crashed on the house next door. The Wells family moved to Bournemouth in 1943 and after this the property was used by the Army for housing personnel, some of whom worked as printers for HMSO at the Mercury Press in Goldlay Gardens. It seems that possibly only the ground floor was used for this purpose, the rest of the house being sealed off.
In 1947 Dr (later Sir) Ivor Beauchamp, a former medical missionary in China, moved to Farleigh with his family to set up his own medical practice. Initially, the two front rooms at Farleigh were waiting room and surgery, but subsequently Sir Ivor had a surgery built at the side of the house and his wife, who was a qualified nurse, acted as receptionist and assistant. Sir Ivor’s son and daughter again have many memories of happy days spent there as children.
After Sir Ivor moved out, around 1952, Essex County Council purchased the property and converted it first for occupation by young adults, but subsequently as a mainstream Community Home for children between the ages of 3 and 15 years.
Among the houseparents were Mr. and Mrs. Sorrell and Mr. and Mrs. Stevens. Facilities for the children were at first a little sparse, and rotas were drawn up for which children had the harder and which the softer chairs in the television room. One of the rooms on the ground floor was used as the children’s lounge, while the conservatory became the dining room. Former staff and residents have many stories to tell about events at the home, and the staircase banister still bears the marks of the teeth of one boy who slid down it rather too fast. A small swimming pool was erected for the use of the children (one even tried out a canoe which he had built at school) and this was still there, though the worse for wear, when the Hospice took over the building.
The children were as far as possible integrated into community life. One former resident recalls being taken to see Pat Phoenix of Coronation Street open Bonds (now Debenhams) store extension. Another remembers waving a Union Flag rescued from the cellar to greet Princess Margaret when she passed by after opening the Essex Regiment Museum.
Children’s homes were gradually phased out by Essex County Council in the early 1980s. The steering committee, which was exploring the possibility of a Hospice based in Chelmsford held its first meeting on 6 March 1981. One of the options for location discussed was use of a children’s home. (Incidentally, another option was land at Broomfield Hospital, now to be the new home of Farleigh Hospice.) It was some time before Farleigh came on the market, but when it was vacated the Committee put in a bid. After a great deal of discussion with planners, politicians, the local Health Authority and council officials, the land and buildings were purchased by the newly-formed Chelmsford Hospice Service, as Farleigh was then known. The Hospice took over a building full of happy memories, but in rather poor physical condition.
To convert the house for hospice care necessitated very careful design, and Alan Woods, the architect, based his design around a three-storey lift shaft. When building work commenced, many of the difficulties in dealing with an old building in a conservation area became only too apparent. Added to this was the fact that there was at the time a building boom in Docklands, and bricklayers and others tended to disappear from the site overnight, having received a better offer backed with cash in hand, so it was not surprising that building work took almost four years to complete. Even when the bulk of the work was done, there was insufficient money to surface the rear yard. It was only possible, with the aid of a temporary ramp, to open for patients in late 1988.