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Clarendon Wood Pickering: Architect Unknown A Royal Whodunit-
Victor Russell | March 30, 2015

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From Issue No. 239 | April 14, 2015

Early View of Clarendon Wood With Gardens

On October 2, 1912 a Toronto newspaper noted that English aristocrats, Lord and Lady Hyde, their two small children, and Lady Hyde’s brother, Lord Somers, had moved into a new house on their estate called Clarendon Wood. It was also reported that during the construction of the house in the summer of 1912, Lord and Lady Hyde gave a tour of the property to HRH the Duke of Connaught, the son of Queen Victoria, along with the Duchess of Connaught, also known as Princess Louisa of Prussia. These Royals brought along their daughter, Princess Patricia (of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry distinction) to view their new, albeit unfinished home.

It happens, however, that the estate was not in some pastoral setting in England a la Downton Abbey; rather, it was in Pickering, Ontario, a few kilometres east of Toronto. The Clarendon Wood property was actually a typical Ontario farm of 100 acres situated at the north end of Liverpool Road, about a kilometre past old Kingston Road.  The property was purchased by Lord Hyde upon arrival in Canada in 1911 and was intended to be the permanent family home of the two British Lords and their related families.

After acquiring the Pickering property, Lord Hyde and his extended family moved into a small stone farm house that then existed on the property. But soon after, he commissioned the construction of a new, much grander home.  During the construction of the new house, observers noted that Hyde and Somers worked closely with their architect to complete a home suitable “for a family of six, with three servants” and ended up with a large scale, three story house of eighteen rooms.  While the English, almost Tudor, influence was readily discernable Clarendon Wood has been described as a large house “of no pronounced architectural treatment … a happy blend of good construction and beauty of design.”

Unfortunately, attempts to uncover the name of the architect of record have come up empty.  Surprisingly, Mary Agnes Pease featured the home in the October 1934 issue of Canadian Homes and Gardens but does not name the architect that worked with Lord Hyde in 1912. Mary Pease hints that the architect was Canadian when she writes that Hyde and Somers wanted certain “English methods” followed; but,  the architect insisted that “differences were necessary because of the rigours of the Canadian climate.” Other brief articles have been written by local historians on the property but none have named the architect of Clarendon Wood.  Both Lord Somers, the godson son of poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, and his uncle, Arthur Percival Somers Cocks, were members of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto where any number of established architects were also members; but there is no source that indicates if any of these men designed their lordships’ new home.

The outbreak of World War I changed the plans of these aristocratic settlers and most of the entourage immediately returned to England.  Lord Hyde, George Herbert Hyde Villiers, became the 6th Earl of Clarendon upon his return to England and he entered the House of Lords.   Hyde would later serve as Governor General of South Africa and Lord Chamberlain to the Royal Household.  Arthur Herbert Tennyson Somers, Lord Somers, returned to England to rejoin his regiment, the Life Guards, and saw action at Ypres where he was twice wounded.  As a Lieutenant Colonel, Somers later commanded the 6th Battalion of the new Tank Corps. For his service, Somers was awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. Somers later became the 6th Baron of Evesham, served as the Governor of the State of Victoria, Australia, and in 1941 he succeeded Lord Baden-Powell as Chief Scout of the British Empire. Arthur Percival Somers Cocks actually joined the Canadian Army and served with the 198th Bn. of the CEF, known locally as the “Buffs” and affiliated with the Toronto based Queen’s Own Rifles. Somers Cocks returned to England after the War and succeeded his nephew to the Barony, becoming the 7th Baron of Evesham in 1944.

As for Clarendon Wood, although abandoned by the British nobles in 1914, the property remained unoccupied but cared for until 1922 when it was purchased by Victor Ross as a country home.  Ross, a wealthy business man and vice president of Imperial Oil, made few changes to the house, but he did improve the grounds and gardens. He had a pond excavated, fed by Duffin’s Creek, and then had a lily pond and sculpture by Florence Wyle added to the front of the house.  Lord and Lady Clarendon (formerly Lord Hyde) were known to have visited Clarendon Wood as guests of the Ross family, and later the widow Mrs. Ross hosted Lord Hyde’s daughter during her visit to Canada. The Ross estate sold Clarendon Wood in 1948 to the Jesuits and today it is a well- known landmark in the area as the Manresa Retreat Centre.


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