The Wallaces at Eardiston

In 1868 Colonel George Wallace, with his three spinster sisters, the misses Phoebe, Isobel and Margaret Wallace, purchased Eardiston house and estate, along with many acres of surrounding farm land. They became a very successful fruit, hop and cereal growing organisation, eventually setting up The Eardiston Farming Company, employing most of the local workforce.

The Wallace family must have been well respected employers by their employees: the few folk who are still around today always speak of their admiration of the company. The work was hard, but they were treated fairly.

The Wallace sisters didn’t attend Lindridge church for general church services. They went to Eastham instead. Apparently they didn’t like the steep set of steps up to the entrance to Lindridge church.

The company built many houses for their workers, the higher the status of their employment the better the house, with a fair rental system. Highfield, were I now live, was the home of 31 year old Harry Willis, his wife Florence and two sons William and Harry. Harry senior was employed by the Wallace family at Eardiston House as a motor mechanic cum chauffeur. Harry had met his future wife whilst chauffeuring the Wallace family on one of their visits abroad in Europe. Florence at the time was a nanny in the employ of a wealthy London family who were also on holiday.

When World War One broke out Harry joined up and his wife and children left Eardiston and returned to London. Although Harry survived the war, the family never returned to Eardiston. The Pound family moved in afterwards. Jim Pound the head of the family was the engineer for the company.

The workers enjoyed many advantages that were provided, including a clean running mains water supply: they didn’t have to rely on drawing water from a well on the back yard. Natural supplies of water on the estate were harnessed and developed for the benefit of the various properties and also certain adjoining property owners.

There were several different schemes in operation to serve different needs. By far the most important was The Mancroft Clean Water Scheme which supplied fresh water to no less than twenty-three houses and also the Parish Hall, the Moor Farm and Lamberts Bakery in Eardiston. (I have been reliably informed that their bread was really good. They also made lardy cakes to die for.)

Even the river Teme was used, by the use of a ram type electric pump situated in an old boathouse adjacent to Meadows Mill which pumped water to a reservoir situated to the rear of the Whitehouse Farm which then gravitated to various properties drawing water from this supply.

With all these different schemes in operation it must have required quite a complex set up of gathering chambers, engine houses, rams, wells, reservoirs not to mention the miles of pipework required, the maintenance cost must have been quite high.

Much of what remains of the system can still be seen around the estate today.

Following the death of Colonel Wallace his three spinster sisters carried on running the company. Apparently one of the conditions written in to an agreement when they were made directors of the company, was that they should remain unmarried, lest the business went out of the family. Margaret Wallace died on 20th March 1940, and Phoebe Isobel Wallace 9th June 1946. Following the death of the last surviving sister Isobel Jane Wallace on 24th Feb 1950, the terms of the will stated that the estate should be left jointly to a nephew, retired Colonel Eden George Wallace and a niece Marion Isobel Fell, née Wallace (note how the name Isobel is used in many of the family’s Christian names), wife of Henry Gregson Fell. Eden Wallace physically ran the company from his home at The Woodlands. Under his direction the company soldiered on for another six years. It was expected that one of his heirs would carry on the tradition after his retirement, but it seems they expressed little interest.

After this brief period the company was dissolved. The Wallaces moved back to Bishops Castle from where they originally came.

As one can imagine the company’s employees were devastated as they thought they had a job, and for many, a home for their lifetime.

Consequently the estate was broken up, and in 1956 it was sold off at auction of 66 lots, as a Freehold Residential, Agricultural and Sporting Estate, by auctioneers and estate agents, Cattell & Young of Worcester Street, Kidderminster. The sale took place at The Lion Hotel, Kidderminster. Many of the employees who had resided in company houses were given the opportunity to purchase their homes as sitting tenants, but only a few took up the option. (Perhaps the others were unable to raise the necessary cash to purchase.)

A few examples of prices that properties were sold for in 1956   Eardiston House with grounds and including three flats: £4,750. Whitehouse Farm including Hopyard and hop pickers’ accommodation was withdrawn at £8,250. The house Highfield were I now live, was sold to the sitting tenant Mr Jim Pound for £2,000. At the lower end of the scale one could have picked up a small cottage for as little as £230.

So became the end of an era in this corner of the Teme Valley. Life as the locals knew it would never be the same again having to seek other employment.

During their years at Eardiston, the Wallaces must have been very charitable to their employees. Ray Jenkins, when a child at Lindridge school, recalls the many picnics and garden parties the local children used to attend at Eardiston House. He recalls being lined up at the school with the other children, being marched army fashion along the A443, entering by the rear entrance of the grounds of the house, and eventually arriving at the back door. There, they patiently had to wait until a kitchen window opened, and then in turn each received a plateful of goodies and a soft drink. Afterwards they crossed the footbridge for Fun and Games in the pleasure grounds opposite.

For many years local children would get invited to the Wallaces at Eardiston House for a prize giving and games in the garden. A Mrs Porter in her memoirs talks about a sewing kit she won as a prize around 1940, and she states she still had the prize in her possession in the year 2000.

The Wallace family had the Lindridge Reading Room (a village equivalent of a library) built in 1910 for the benefit of the locals. It was set up as a charitable trust, and if ever it became redundant and perhaps sold off, the balance of any monies would pass to Tenbury Hospital.

One can imagine it proving very popular, before the days of radio and television.

Some years later it changed its status to what is now the Parish Hall, now being used for all types of functions and meetings.

Compiled by Derek Marks, 2012