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Dunford House

A Grade II Listed Building in Heyshott, West Sussex

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Latitude: 50.9662 / 50°57'58"N

Longitude: -0.7352 / 0°44'6"W

OS Eastings: 488910

OS Northings: 119290

OS Grid: SU889192

Mapcode National: GBR DF9.6YD

Mapcode Global: FRA 96BK.CCX

Plus Code: 9C2XX787+FW

Entry Name: Dunford House

Listing Date: 18 June 1959

Last Amended: 6 September 2019

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1025929

English Heritage Legacy ID: 301880

Location: Heyshott, Chichester, West Sussex, GU29

County: West Sussex

District: Chichester

Civil Parish: Heyshott

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Sussex

Church of England Parish: Heyshott St James

Church of England Diocese: Chichester

Tagged with: Building

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Former house, built between 1848 and 1853 for the manufacturer and politician Richard Cobden, on the site of his earlier place of birth. Designed in an Italianate style by FK Wehnert. Modifications in the mid-C20.


Former house, built between 1848 and 1853 for the manufacturer and politician Richard Cobden, on the site of his earlier place of birth. Designed in an Italianate style by FK Wehnert. Modifications in the mid-C20.

MATERIALS: the building is constructed of stone and brick with a stucco finish, and topped by hipped slate roofs with terracotta ridge tiles, and rendered and brick stacks.

PLAN: the house has a U-shaped footprint. The main rooms are arranged either side of a central corridor with stairs in the southern wing and the northern tower. There is a long C19 rear wing to the north which has been subsequently widened in the C20. Attached to the north-west is a J-shaped C20 wing* which is also linked to the rear of the main house by a C20 first-floor bridge*; neither are of special interest.

EXTERIOR: the former villa is a largely two-storey building topped by hipped roofs with modillion cornices. The east elevation has a central entrance way with double doors flanked by side lights. To the left is a square-bay window and to the right is a tripartite window. The ground-floor openings are all flanked by pilasters and topped by cornices. There are seven first-floor windows, arranged three-one-three, all containing margin-glazed sashes. The south elevation includes attached timber and metal, hipped-roof and catslide-roof glasshouses. Above are two first-floor windows with eight-over-eight sashes and the elevation is topped by two dormer windows. To the north is a setback three-storey wing lit by an asymmetrical arrangement of sash windows. In front is a flat-roof arcaded porch; within is a six-panel door. Attached is a four-storey square hipped-roof tower with round-arch top-floor windows. There is a dedication stone on the north elevation which reads ‘DUNFORD HOUSE/ National Council of YMCAs./ ‘That they all may be one’/ Home of RICHARD COBDEN. M.P./ 1804-1865’. Further north is a two-storey rear wing with C20 casement windows, doors and a lateral brick stack; there is a mid-C20 flat-roof addition along its west elevation.

INTERIOR: most ground and first-floor doors in the main range are four-panelled; some C20 fire doors have been added, including within the corridors. There is timber panelling around some of the ground and first-floor windows. The central east door opens into a vestibule with arched alcoves. Opposite the main door is a multi-glazed door leading to the corridor and in both side walls are six-panel doors. The door to the right leads to the music room (formerly known as the dining room) which includes a chimneypiece with a metal grate, marble surround, and a stone architrave topped by a mantelshelf supported by consoles. The door to the left leads into the drawing room which contains a marble chimneypiece with a metal grate and a stepped surround flanked by decorative pilasters supporting a mantel shelf. The front rooms have elaborately decorative plaster cornices and ceiling roses. The rooms on the courtyard-side of the corridor contain further chimneypieces, fixed shelving and alcoves, including one with a corner shelved alcove with a modillion cornice. In the southern wing are two further rooms known as the Cobden library and the Bright library, named after Cobden’s long-time friend and political ally John Bright MP. Both rooms have stone chimneypieces with metal grates; the one in the Cobden library is black stone, and in the Bright library is polished granite. The rooms on the southern side of the house have doors opening into the attached glasshouses, with full-height multi-panelled shutters. The southern wing contains a dogleg open-string staircase with a curtail step, stick balusters and curved handrail. The northern tower contains an open-well staircase with curved newel posts, stick balusters and a first-floor pendant. The ground-floor rooms in the northern wing have been subject to some rearrangement. There is a large L-shaped entrance hall accessed via the colonnaded porch; in one wall is a dedication stone to Richard Cobden and his work. Beyond the entrance hall is a reception area; the partition between the main north wing and the rear wing has been removed to create an open-plan space with a kitchen in the former rear wing and bedrooms beyond. In the main range, the first-floor has some plaster cornices. The bedrooms along the eastern side of the house are at a slightly higher level, accessed via split flights of stairs. There are several first-floor marble chimneypieces with metal grates. En-suite bathrooms have been inserted into many of the rooms. On the upper-floor levels are further panelled doors of various dates and chimneypieces may survive in the rooms (not accessible at the time of the site visit, 2019). There are further bedrooms in the C19 rear wing.

* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the C20 J-shaped north-west wing and first-floor link bridge are not of special architectural or historic interest; however, any works which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require LBC and this is a matter for the LPA to determine.


Dunford House was built between 1849 and 1853 for the manufacturer and politician, Richard Cobden (1804-1865), on the site of the earlier farmhouse where he was born. It was designed by Frederick K Wehnert of Wehnert and Ashdown, and built by James Grist of Midhurst. It has been suggested that the notable garden designer, architect and politician Sir Joseph Paxton, who advised Cobden on planting, was involved in the design of the associated glasshouses. Depictions from the mid-C19 show the completed house in an Italianate-style with adjoining four and five-storey towers. The estate appears on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1: 2500, 1875); the main house had a roughly U-shaped footprint with a rear wing to the north. Also depicted is a formal garden, kitchen garden, detached glasshouse, stables and coach house, entrance lodges and a nearby farm complex. Cobden also built water pump houses with a water wheel in the grounds.

Cobden was a prolific letter writer, with much of his correspondence to fellow politicians and contemporary dignitaries written at Dunford House. Cobden died in 1865 and his family stayed for a few years after his death before eventually letting the property. In 1919, Richard Cobden’s daughter, Jane Cobden-Unwin, and her husband, presented Dunford House to the London School of Economics (LSE); it was returned to the family a few years later. In 1924 the house was given to the Cobden Memorial Association to be used for meetings and debates on free trade, peace and goodwill. It played host to a series of international conferences and lectures, and among the notable figures believed to have visited were Mahatma Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw. In the latter half of the C20 the top floor of the five-storey tower was removed, and the stack to the adjacent four-storey tower was truncated. The house was conveyed to the ownership of YMCA England in 1951 to be used for educational purposes. Some internal changes occurred including the addition of en-suites to bedrooms and the rearrangement of rooms in the northern and rear wing. The building was also extended to the north-west, on the site of the earlier garden and former detached glasshouse. The house continues to retain books, portraits, other paintings and artefacts belonging to Cobden and his family, including a Sévres vase gifted by Napoleon III to the politician in recognition of his role in the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty. The YMCA centre closed in 2018.

Richard Cobden was born on 3 June 1804 at Dunford Hollow, Heyshott, West Sussex. He began working in London before moving to Manchester in 1832, living first in a house on Mosley Street and, later, in 19 Quay Street (Grade II*). Cobden became as a member of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and was involved in the campaign for the incorporation of the city. Along with other notable figures including John Bright (1811-1889), Cobden was heavily involved in the Anti-Corn Law league which was founded in 1839 in protest of the regulations and duties imposed on the import and export of grain. He became its chief spokesman, giving speeches and lectures across the country. In 1841 he became Member of Parliament for Stockport. The Corn Laws were eventually repealed in 1846; however, the campaign took a heavy financial toll on Cobden. In 1847 a public subscription was organised on his behalf, raising £76,759; this was used to purchase his former home in Dunford, Heyshott including extensive rebuilding and landscaping. After 1848 Cobden was involved in several national political campaigns, organisation and associations including the National Public Schools Association and establishing the National Freehold Society. During the political upheaval in Europe in the 1840s and 1850s, Cobden was a supporter of the Peace Society, campaigning for retrenchment in defence spending at home and non-intervention policies. He lost his parliamentary seat in 1857 but returned as MP for Rochdale in 1859. That year Cobden journeyed to France to negotiate with the French government with the aims of promoting freer commercial trade between Britain and France. His negations included two meetings with Napoleon III (1808-1873) President of France. He collaborated in the negotiating with John Bright and French economist Michael Chevalier (1806-1879). The Anglo-French free-trade agreement, which became known as the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty, was signed on 23 January 1860. Cobden died in his London lodgings on 2 April 1865 having suffered an asthma attack while travelling to take part on a parliamentary debate on fortifications. Following his death several statues were erected to Cobden including on Camden High Street, London (Grade II), Stockport city centre (Grade II) and St Anne’s Square, Manchester (Grade II). An obelisk was also erected in his memory in 1868 in Heyshott, around 600m north-west of Dunford House (Grade II).

Cobden lived at Dunford House with his wife Catherine Anne (nee Williams; 1815–1877), and their six children. Catherine was a supporter of the woman’s suffrage movement and many of their children became active in political campaigns, including as notable figures in the suffragist and suffragette movements. Ellen Melicent Cobden (1848-1914), who for a time was married to the artist Walter Sickert, was a suffragist and novelist; her writings included ‘Sylvia Saxon – Episodes in a Life’ which included a fictional depiction of Dunford House. (Julie Sarah) Anne Cobden-Sanderson (1853-1926) was part of the early suffragette movement, member of the Independent Labour Party and a founding member of the Women’s Freedom League. In 1906 she was imprisoned for two months following arrest along with other leading suffragettes involved in a demonstration outside the House of Commons. She married the barrister and book binder T J Cobden-Sanderson with whom she established Doves Press which became an important part of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and her friends included William Morris and Jane Burdon. (Emma) Jane Cobden-Unwin (1851-1947) was a suffragist, treasurer of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, as well as being active in other political campaigns including the cause of Irish home rule. She was one of the first women to be elected to the London County Council in 1889. She married the progressive-literature publisher Thomas Cobden-Unwin. Jane, who gave Dunford House to the Cobden Memorial Association, was particularly concerned with her father’s legacy and organised his papers, placing some in the British Museum.

Reasons for Listing

Dunford House, Heyshott, West Sussex is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as a good example of a mid-C19 country house with attached glasshouses, built in an Italianate style with characteristic detailing including a stucco finish, hipped roofs, corner tower and modillion brackets;

* it retains a legible original plan and good-quality internal features including well-detailed plasterwork, joinery and dressed stone.

Historic interest:

* rebuilt for Richard Cobden on the site of his birthplace, it has a strong association with the eminent C19 politician, who was at the centre of several nationally significant campaigns and movements, and his family, many of whom were heavily involved in the early years of the women’s suffrage movement;

* in the first half of the C20, the house played host to a series of international conferences and lectures relating to Cobden’s political interests of the peace movement and free trade.

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