Queenslea in Kingston-upon-Thames
via email from John Downs, 2-19-2005
Dear Mr. Cooper,
     I am the proud Father of Simon Downs, who is in touch with you about Claude Graham-White, Queenslea in Kingston-upon-Thames &c. When built, Queenslea was in Surbiton - then know as the Queen of the suburbs - but the urban boundary was changed, certainly before 1939.
     Lily Langtry had the house built for the Aunt who brought up her Daughter. This was a 'thank you' present for her after the Daughter was married. After we bought the house in 1963 our next door neighbour used to tell us how she would be brought in on a Saturday to be given sweets when Lily Langtry visited.
     Lily Langtry was known as the Jersey Lily, having been born in Jersey. Do not be fooled, however, by the famous picture of her holding a flower. This is a Guernsey lily. Part of the new Kingston University is named after Lily Langtry. We called the little room under the stairs: "Lily Langtry's Favourite Room". It had a magnificent mahogany toilet seat!
     Following the Langtry period, Queenslea was owned by Ethel Levy, a very popular actress, particularly on the New York stage. There she was the star in many of the "Hullo" revues, such as "Hullo Ragtime". The Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for "Revue" shows a picture of this being performed at the London Hippodrome. Ethel Levy never succeeded in films.
     Ethel Levy became the second Wife of Claude Graham-White and they were the toast of all the gossip columns of the time. This was when Graham-White was setting up the Hendon Flying Club.
     He pioneedred the Coronation Air Mail flights in 1911. These flew from Hendon to Windsor and back. Mail was collected from six London department stores (numbered from 1 to 6), were taken either to Hendon or to Windsor and posted after the flight to the final destinations.
     The original plan was to fly along the route of the actual Coronation Procession, but this was forbidden in case there might be an accident. As a result the flight followed the River Thames.
     There is a great cult among postal historians who research every aspect of this issue. I have seen one display of about 320 different items!
     During WW1 Graham-White manufactured aircraft at Hendon. He complained bitterly to Churchill when all contracts were stopped at the Armistice. Graham-White had foreseen the future need for aircraft as a passenger service. After the War he spent much time promoting the Empire.
     Shortly after the Hendon Museum opened I took the opportunity of having a special visit by presenting a few accessories made by Charles Anthony Vandervell to assist in starting the early aircraft engines. Even at that stage the Museum was getting along nicely.
     The man from whom we purchased Queenslea was very interested in his 52 foot launch, while his wife spent most of her time playing tennis or bridge. We had our work cut out when we moved in. Fortunately we were young and able.
     I rewired the house to modern standards, fitting a total of 40 power points in the rooms. I reglazed the 15'x12' conservatory, laying a fitted carpet. (The roof was really watertight.) Naturally we had the house replumbed with full central heating. It became a splendid family house.
     The house had been finished to a very high standard. Architecturally the staircase was known as a "French Staircase": the sum of once the going and twice the rising totalled 23". (So now you know). The external brickwork was notable for using shaped bricks where there were 45 degree changes in the outlines of the bay windows. Many builders merely halve bricks at these points. !0"x4" timbers in the framing were commonplace.
     We have photographs as well as the original plans, signed as contact documents. You are welcome to copies, with full permission to use them. Incidentally our William Morris wallpaper still adorns the hall. Our purchaser did not want the matching curtains, so they came with us. The finished hall and landing were stunning with curtains (drapes) at the external doorways and at the 11' window at the landing.
     Why did we leqave? The countryside called and, besides, we no longer needed such a large property. (2400 Sq. ft. plus conservatory.) Furthermore our driveway at the rear was frequently blocked, so we needed Police assistance to get cars out of and into our double garage.
     Here garaging is a joke and we back out to open country at the lower end of the Cotswolds.
     In conclusion, if your aircraft interests extend as far as rocketry, you can find seven research reports from the Hermann Goering Rocket Research Establishment in the Smithsonian Library. Six of them are numbered and stamped "GEHEIM" (secret). I passed these over two or three years ago.
     They are interesting among other things for showing both the single and the twin engined Heinkel Jet Aircraft flying before the War. They picture also the development of the VI (the Doodlebug) which often came along when I was an Air Raid Warden.
     I had better finish my ramblings and get back to my Postal History.
John Downs
45, The Pastures, Westwood,
BRADFORD-on-AVON, Wiltshire, BA15 2BH

     If you search for "Queenslea +"bed and breakfast", using the Google search engine, (5-12-05), you will find about 180 links! Perhaps the most helpful is the homepage of the Queenslea Bead & Breakfast itself.
Queenslea Bed & Breakfast
     This page introduces a very compete description of the Queenslea house as described above by John Downs. It is currently being operated as a bed and breakfast resort and is characterized as follows:
"Whether you're heading for the sights of London, visiting Hampton Court Flower Show, enjoying Wimbledon tennis or going horse- racing at Sandown, Kempton, or the Derby at Epsom, Queenslea Bed & Breakfast offers you top-quality accommodation at reasonable prices in an elegant English home. Situated in Kingston-upon- Thames in the beautiful county of Surrey, Queenslea is within easy reach of central London and is also ideally located to explore the many fascinating castles, palaces and stately homes and gardens of South East England."
     You will find a small photo of the house itself, (a copy of which I have placed at the top of this page), as well as a number of views of the interior and points of interest in the surrounding area. You can access the site by clicking on the title above.

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