The parish of Peper Harow is said to have been named after a proprietor called Pepard or Pipard. It is referred to as Piperherge in the Domesday Book and stated to be owned by Walter Fitz Other, Castellan of Windsor. This would have been in about the year 1100 A.D.

Since then there is an unbroken record up to the present day of the estate’s owners, many of whom held high positions in the service of the king or queen of their time. One owner on the other hand, Sir Bernard Brocas, was beheaded on Tower Hill in January 1400 for plotting against King Henry IV. The estates were forfeited to the Crown but later restored to Sir Bernard’s son and remained in the Brocas family for a further 170 years.

Passing through the hands of Ralph Peckshall, Master of the Buckhounds to Edward IV, so to his son and various other owners, the estate came into the ownership of John, Earl of Clare, who had to have a special Act of Parliament passed to authorise its sale to Philip Frowde, postmaster-general in the reign of Queen Anne.

From him it was bought, in 1713, by Brodrick, afterwards created Viscount Midleton and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. What the house was like in his time we have no record as it was completely rebuilt in something like its present form by the Third Viscount, though the work was not completed until after his death in 1765. The estate remained in the Brodrick family in unbroken succession to the 9th Viscount Midleton, who was responsible for the additions to the house which brought it to its present size in 1930. So it remained until after the Second World War, in which it was used as the headquarters of the Canadian Ordnance Corps. In this house a large part of the planning for the Dieppe raid and the Normandy invasion was carried out.

After the death of the 9th Viscount Midleton, by then raised to the title of Earl, the house was sold by his son to the managers of Park House School and the farm and largest part of the lands to Mr Fuller.

As stated earlier, the house as we know it today was not conceived or begun until the time of the third Viscount Midleton, nor finished until some time after his death in 1765. It was designed by Sir William Chambers, architect of Somerset House in London. His first drawings show a house 80 ft by 88 ft, with only two stories between basement and hipped roof. These measurements were adhered to in the building but alterations to the arrangement of rooms within the outline were made before completion of the work.

The original estimate of the cost was £8,180, of which the principal items were:

  • Brickwork £2,253 0s 0d
  • Portland stone £1,208 13s 8d
  • Firr and Labour in floors and roof £1,179 5s 0d
  • Westmoreland slating £ 336 0s 0d
  • Lead for roof, gutters, water pipes, etc £ 386 10s 0d

The final bill was for £9,912 10s 51/2d, but by the completion of the work only about £900 remained to be paid as payments had been going out since the beginning of the project. The bill included fees to Samuel Alken, wood-carver and Joseph Wilson, R.A., sculptor, for work on door frames, chimney pieces, etc. He also included the cost of painting and decorating, which must have been considerable. We know that the ceiling of the drawing room (later Gould Houseroom) had six coats of paint, green on a purple ground with a white ornamentation. That of the dining parlour, later Godfrey Houseroom, had five coats of green with white ornamentation, while the ‘ground to centre’ in this room was ‘seven times done, finished in Lalock colour’. The ceiling of the library (later Spielman Houseroom) had a scheme of grey on a pink ground. Decoration in the hall (Front Hall) included ‘three pictures by Stubbs painted on purpose’. Other examples of the care and consideration that went into the construction and finish are to be found in specifications on paper headed ‘memorandums relating to the finishing of the house at Peper Harow’, notably that for sound-proofing: ‘all the floors built on the principal storey and attick to be filled between the joists with cockle shells’.

Once completed, no major alterations were made to the house until the time of the late Lord Midleton, who succeeded his father in 1907. In 1913 the parapet was taken down, laid carefully around the house while a third story with a low pitched roof was added in place of the old attics, and then replaced.

The coming of the school in 1950 brought further changes not so much to the outward appearance of the house itself but the grounds in which it stands. With the laying down of Park Avenue and the erection of houses for staff, each taking a parcel of land for a private garden, has almost disappeared the last trace or what was an exceptionally beautiful leisure garden, stocked with many rare trees and shrubs, stretching from the house right up to the wrought iron carriage gates at the northern end of the estate. In its place, besides the staff houses, a lawn tennis court was laid down, a new sick bay added for the school and the old conservatory was converted to a gymnasium.

Written by John L Ranger, former resident of Park House