Four Ashes was built in around 1660 by Henry Wollaston who came from a tanning family further north in Staffordshire.
Old stone walls and ridge and furrow in the fields suggest there were earlier buildings and settlements on the site.
The 1660 house was a symmetrical block which forms the core of the house today. At the back was a separate kitchen and outbuildings with a Dutch gable which survives today (possibly left from an earlier building).
Henry and his wife Martha had eight children, the eldest of whom was Thomas Wollaston, born in 1668, who succeeded his father.
Thomas Wollaston and his wife Ann had two daughters. Elizabeth, the eldest, who was born in 1706, married Joseph Amphlett and inherited the house on her father’s death in 1722.
Their son, Joseph Amphlett, born in 1734, was the eldest of ten children and succeeded his mother in 1758, living in the house until he died in 1811.
This was a time of great dreams, grand plans and expansion.
Some of Joseph’s siblings lived in the house with him. Most notably his brother Thomas Amphlett built the stable block in around 1760 funded by his activities in the East India Company (they were related to Clive of India).
The stable block is a beautifully designed building with very fine brickwork. Interestingly the massive barns attached, complete with two full size threshing floors and other agricultural facilities, were far larger than necessary for the size of the estate at the time.
Either contract work was intended or there were plans to increase the estate. He also drew up plans to rebuild the house in the same style. However on his return to India he “..fell a sacrifice to the confusion of the times, being barbarously massacred by order of Cossim Ally Cawn at Patna on the 3rd October 1763 and in the 28th year of his age.” He is buried in nearby Enville church where there is an elaborate monument to his memory.
The architects plans for alternative designs for the stables and house are in the archives. The house, however, was never built.
The Bath Pools
Between 1760 and 1800 pools or stewponds, possibly created when clay was dug out for bricks, were formalised into a chain and the Cold Bath House was built.
The Cold Bath House is built of brick with a tiled roof and consists of two small rooms. One room has a fireplace set diagonally in one corner. The other room has a small ankle depth pool and an opening for bathing in the large pool outside which is stone lined.
Nearby there is a small ice house probably of the same period (although it contains a later ram pump). The service buildings including the laundry block with its Chinese Chippendale staircase were probably built at about this time, together with the courtyard outside the kitchen with its ornate back wall with three substantial doors possibly leading to latrines (later altered to fowl houses).
A map in the archives dated 1807 shows the Hall surrounded by orchards with only a small area of grass to the south-east. The turnpike road from Stourbridge to Bridgnorth ran literally right outside the north-east front of the house. This same map also shows a building where the present lawn is. This may have been the original stables.
James Amphlett Grove
In 1811 Joseph Amphlett was succeeded by his nephew James Amphlett Grove who it seems had already moved to the house during his uncle’s lifetime. He was a lawyer and practiced from Four Ashes. Trunks of legal documents from this time were found in the outbuildings. He was clearly interested in the estate, perhaps continuing to carry out some of the ambitious plans of the previous generation.
In 1817 the turnpike road was diverted away from the house taking in an old cherry orchard to provide greater frontage. Work must have been done on the garden as there are many seed and plant bills from that time.
There is a reference in 1828 on a painting of a famous Enfield Cherry tree “..thought to be the largest of its kind in the Island died in consequence of the great drought in 1827. It was taken down in the month of November following to the great regret of the owner and his friends.”
Around this time elaborate trellis work was constructed around the house. Although it supported a variety of climbing plants including roses, it was a decorative feature in its own right.
In 1830 he added to to the estate with the purchase of Crump Hillocks Farm.
Also in 1830 the library was added to the house. The fine bookcases were clearly made for this well proportioned room. A lean-to timber conservatory was built in the resulting south west L-shape of the house. It cost £134 and contained a water tank and boiler for the exclusive heating of the conservatory.
The Enville Parish Tythe Map of 1838 shows that much work had been done on the garden. A pleasure garden had been created to the south east of the house and specimen trees such as Luccombe Oak, Atlas Cedar, Purple Beech and Spanish Chestnut were planted about this time.
Sometime between 1807 and 1838 The Bath Walk was created to provide a circular perambulation around a field known as Cow Leasowe. It included the string of pools and The Cold Bath and was planted with a wide variety of hollies.
Trees such as limes, a turkey oak and Cedar of Lebanon were planted, as well as shrubs like rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias. Between a large beech and cedar a vista was created to take in the views over the surrounding countryside to look up to the Shepherd’s Lodge on the Sheep Walk at Enville.
In 1854 James Amphlett Grove died unmarried and there were no further heirs from this branch of the family. The ancestry was therefore traced back to the original Henry Wollaston who built the house. His great great granddaughter through the line of his second son, Henry of The Grove, was due to inherit. Her name was Ann Smith and she had married Thomas Dunne of Gatley, Hereford.
As she did not want to live at Four Ashes her son Charles Dunne inherited having to change his name, take the arms of Amphlett and live at Four Ashes in order to fulfil the terms of James’ will. Charles Amphlett immediately set about making major alterations and additions to the house.
The architect James Cranston was appointed to build a new wing which replaced the original kitchens which were separate from the house. The new section was much larger and joined to the house as it remains today. It consisted of three storeys with kitchens, storerooms and staff rooms downstairs.
On the first floor there were childrens’ rooms with a gate at the end of the corridor and a swing hanging from eye hooks in the ceiling. On the third floor there were seven rooms for staff accommodation. At this stage he was married to Lucy Dew, from Witney Court, Hereford, but childless.
A Walled Garden, Study and Vinery
A large family was obviously planned however as he then went on to build a one acre walled kitchen garden, enough to provide for 15 to 20 people including staff. They later had six children.
Other developments at that time included the addition of a study beside the library and finally the large bay windows facing south on the dining and drawing rooms.
In 1870 a vinery was built in the walled garden complete with a heating system. Outside the walls other greenhouses and frames were added and an underground vegetable store built. The pet headstones between the kitchen garden and main lawn date from this time. Two grass tennis courts were also created.
Charles Amphlett had been rector of Earls Croome, Worcester. From Four Ashes in 1870 he organised the building of Tuck Hill Church nearby and became its first vicar.
He died in 1891 leaving the estate to his eldest son Charles Grove Amphlett who was an army officer serving in the Boer War where he was awarded the D.S.O.
His next son, Frederick, was also living in the house. According to his sisters’ diaries and judging by his photograph he was quite a character. They constantly refer to Freddie getting into “… yet another scrape.” He clearly loved Four Ashes and left to seek his fortune to bring home by acquiring the rights to a gold prospecting plot near Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
He never returned, dying there of typhoid in 1898 aged 30. His belongings, diaries and a small quantity of gold were returned to Four Ashes.
Charles Amphlett was wounded in the Boer war and returned to live in the house in some style. The stables were in use and fully staffed with grooms. The gardens were well maintained, the laundry rooms staffed and the house had a head cook, several maidservants and a butler living in a flat beyond the kitchen.
Charles carried out some further rationalisation of the estate (mainly disposals, possibly to finance his lifestyle). He died in 1921 and was succeeded by his younger brother George L’estrange Amphlett.
The house and stables began a slow decay with only minor maintenance carried out over the next 75 years. George was , like his Father before him, rector of Earls Croome. On moving to Four Ashes money was short and only a skeleton staff remained.
The topiary, probably planted by his father at the rectory, was brought with him on a lorry. This created the topiary garden as it is today.
Post War To Today
He died in 1944 but was survived by his wife, Blanche, daughter of Canon Coventry : rector of Severn Stoke, Worcester. She lived in the house until she died in 1968 aged 99.
The estate had already passed to her eldest daughter, Leila, who looked after her and then lived alone in the house until she died in 1993.
Her nephew Martin Thompson, the current owner’s father, then inherited and began the restoration process. He decided not to move to the house and passed it on to Stephen Thompson in 1997.