Who was Katharine Knapp?


Another historical mystery solved…

(republished from Village Voice April/May 2011:  Issue 143)

D.H.Hughes writes:

My wife and I had occasional contact with the Katharine Knapp Home for Old People which for many years was prominent in Tylers Green. But in the 30 years that we have been here we had never found anyone who knew anything about Katharine Knapp. So with the willing help of the staff at the County Council’s archives at Aylesbury, I think I have her saga:

In the early 1900s there was a family called Knapp living in Lindford Hall at Wolverton in North Bucks. Mr John Knapp and his wife Katharine were known for helping the blind. In 1911 they formed a committee which was called the North Bucks Committee for the Blind and this soon became the Bucks Association for the Blind, which still exists. Katharine Knapp was the first secretary and her husband, who was Chairman of Higher Education at the County Council, was a member of the Committee. A few years later, Katharine Knapp became a Vice Chairman and she continued as Secretary until 1925, about the time her husband died. She remained a Vice Chairman until her death in 1942, by which time she was a J.P. and was living at Little Orchard, Denham.

The Association must have been active and efficient in fund raising – in 1945 it bought Ashwells Manor at Tylers Green with three adjoining fields for £8,000. The manor was converted to a home for elderly blind people and it was renamed as the Katharine Knapp Home for the Blind “in commemoration of the work done by the late Mrs Knapp for the benefit of the blind, not only in Bucks but throughout the country”.

The home for the blind was managed jointly by the Association and the County Council, which took responsibility for the maintenance of its 4.5 acres of gardens. It continued as a home for over 20 years, although all that remains now to remind us of it is the derelict seat at the Church Road entrance to Ashwells Manor Drive.

In 1964 the Association sold their three fields to Wycombe Council for £40,000. They have since been developed as Wheeler Avenue and its adjoining roads. When the manor ceased to be a home for the blind – around 1967 – the Association sold it with 4.673 acres of gardens to the County Council for £45,000. It was changed to a home for old people and the County Council retained the name, Katharine Knapp.

Katherine Knapp

The Katharine Knapp Home was in use for about 38 years until it was closed in 2005 and its residents transferred (some reluctantly) to a more modern care home situated down the road in Hazlemere. The County Council sold part of the gardens for development in 1980, then in 2005 sold the manor and its remaining two acres of garden to a developer, who converted the manor into six flats and built 16 other flats and two houses in the grounds. A development now known as Ashwell Gardens.

So the name of Katharine Knapp will probably soon be forgotten. But thankfully not quite: the seven houses which were built on the garden of the Manor are served by a road called Katharine Close.

Local historian Miles Green adds his knowledge of the Ashwells Manor site:

The house was originally called Ashwells Manor and was built in 1901/3 by Professor William Rose, a cousin of the second Sir Philip Rose. It stands on the site of an old farm building, which earlier still was a small manor house for a 90-acre estate which ran down the valley to near the London Road and is recorded by name, Eswelle, as early as 1235. The house was the birthplace of the politician Nicholas Soames, whose father, Lord Soames, was married to Winston Churchill’s daughter Mary.

When the County Council gave notice, in 2003, of its intention to close the Katharine Knapp Home, a planning application to demolish it and build 39 houses and flats was submitted and fortunately refused, but there was no protection for the house itself. An amended application was expected when the house was unexpectedly Listed as a building of architectural and historical importance. An enterprising local resident had made the application and now the house can never be demolished and the development around it is required to respect its setting.

The Listed building description is of ‘a high-quality large Edwardian country house in a picturesque vernacular revival style reminiscent of Charles Voysey or M.H. Baillie Scott, with fine 17th-century-style panelled and plastered interior, several oriel windows, bay windows, exposed studding, wooden leaded casements and a fine oak staircase’.

Copyright:  D.H. Hughes and Miles Green

 Posted by at 8:10 am

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