The Houses of Mrs Oliphant

Contributed by Joan Richardson With thanks to Christine and Keith White, Mr and Mrs Ashwell, and a kind, anonymous contributor (click for a larger version)

7 Ulster Place (early 1856-Jan 1859) was the London house Mrs Oliphant was so happy in. In her autobiography she describes passing the house often in later years, and feeling that if she just opened the door, she would find Frank and the children still there. (Unfortunately this photo was taken of the wrong house in the row, due to postal renumbering in recent years! Per the autobiography her house was actually the far left corner house, when looking across at it from Harley St. However all the houses in this short row are pretty much identical.)

6 Clarence Crescent (Dec 1865-Apr 1872) was her first house in Windsor. Over the past 11 years before moving here, Mrs Oliphant had lost three infant children, her husband (1859), and her 10-year-old daughter Maggie (1864). With two small sons remaining to her, her plan in moving to Windsor was 'to educate my sons at Eton…which possibility, combined with the beauty of the river and the castle, and the air of cheerful life about, decided me very quickly to settle here…. It makes me wonder, looking back, how, after the despair of my grief…my own life burst forth again with an obstinate elasticity which I could not keep down.'

9 Clarence Crescent (May 1872-Mar 1896) became her permanent home in Windsor, actually two houses joined together. (No. 8 is to the right of No. 9 in the second picture.) The Crescent garden across from the house was '…a wonderful little piece of landscape gardening…with its fine trees and wild nooks and corners.'

[Note from webmistress: I have, since Joan Richardson contributed her research on the Oliphant homes, heard from the present owners of both No. 8 and 9, Christine and Keith White. Number 8 (now Elizabeth House) did recently undergo a massive refurbishment, and similar work is taking place at No. 9 (Oliphant House, awarded a blue plaque by the Eton & Windsor society) at the moment. This work was much needed, as the house is at present, in words of Mr White, “literally a shell”. This has also uncovered two passages joining both houses, one, at the basement, probably intended to communicate service quarters.

Mr White was also so kind as to request his neighbours from No. 6 to contact me. The Ashwells emailed me and corrected the caption for my general view of No. 6, which was actually No. 7, and sent in an extraordinarily beautiful view to replace it]

The Hermitage, Wimbledon Common (Apr 1896-Jun 1897) was Mrs Oliphant's last house, after the death of her last child. This early 19th century cottage is now divided into two (the smaller section, through the gate, not really visible in the picture). The address nowadays is 10 West Place. The owner of the larger section told me that the front of the house was pushed out a few feet several years ago - almost certainly after Mrs Oliphant's time. Originally there must have been an old-fashioned pretty Georgian bow window, the window she lay at when she was dying, watching the Jubilee fireworks on the common. Her friend Robert Story later recalled: 'Her voice was still strong, with its old, familiar tone; her wonderful eyes were as lambent as ever; and her mind was as calm and clear as a summer's sea.'