Woodholme Castle

Located in north-west London, Ontario, this magnificent mansion has both historic and heritage significance. It is a unique structure built during the late 1800's almost entirely of concrete in a style reminiscent of an English castle.

The structure's features include a secret passage between levels, maze-like hallways, floors and ceilings constructed of cement and decorated to look like tile and wood. Woodholme was designed and built as a residence by Richard Shaw-Wood. He lived there until his death in 1909, leaving the estate to his daughter, Anna who sold the property in 1920.

It served for many years as the residence of the Honourable Ray Lawson O.B.E., prominent London businessman, government representative and philanthropist. Subsequently his son, Colonel Tom Lawson and his popular wife, Miggsie, lived there and expanded on the family business and philanthropic tradition.

As Regimental Commander Tom Lawson, with Miggsie, hosted Prince Philip at Woodholme in 1983 when the Royal Canadian Regiment celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Colonel Lawson died in 1991 and Miggsie died in 2004, leaving their medieval-styled home to the Lawson estate. Portions of the land were latter sold by the estate and developed into residential housing and a retirement home complex.

The Woodholme 'castle' is now owned by Sifton Properties and is for sale. Due to the price tag and the extensive repairs required, the mansion and property remains is a state of limbo.

Architectural Attributes excerpt from the 'Reasons for Heritage Designation' document.

Woodholme has been altered since its original construction in 1894. On various occasions additions have been attached to the north and northwest facades. Pebble dash stucco was later applied to face the exterior concrete. Certain interior features have been added or altered. Unless noted below these later additions and alterations are not included in the heritage attributes worthy of preservation.

Architecturally important exterior features of Woodholme which should be preserved include:

1 ) For reasons of technology and style, exemplifying the picturesque interpretation of the Gothic Revival style, exterior facades showing the shape and massing of the original Shaw-Wood structure on the east, south and west facades are important. The historic muntin and framing design, found in all but the plate glass windows, should be retained. Beneath the later pebble-dash, the exterior walls are grooved to resemble ashlar a reflection of Richard Shaw-Wood’s innovative use of concrete.
Other exterior ‘medieval” elements include: the corbelled parapet and irregular roofline on the south facade, its battlement, stepped gable, concrete chimneys and the two towers, including the one on the southwest with its arched portal and door.

2) Doors and windows on the east facade of the original building vary in their appearance but the segmental arch is common. In a main entrance paired doors containing rectangular panels are separated by a vertical course of octagonal panes and surmounted by an arched fanlight pierced with decorative small circular panes. On the second storey paired windows are placed above the main entranceway but to the north on this facade the windows are more asymmetrical in their placement and appearance. A second storey balcony rests on angled concrete abutments and supports a wooden balustrade. On the third storey the two windows at the north also rest on concrete abutments including an oriel window. Second and third storey windows contain paired twelve and ten pane lights respectively headed by a round-arched fanlight which itself contains a rectangular panel between two arcs. Concrete abutments below certain windows further illustrate the use of this building material.

3) While entranceways vary considerably in their style and size, of note are the paired ground floor window /doors into the formal living room on the west facade. An arched fanlight holds eight oval shaped panes of varying length above rounded arched doors with muntins creating octagonal panels surrounding smaller diamond panes. The paired windows on the second and third storeys are simpler but retain the rounded arch and fanlight effect. A similar octagonal and diamond pattern is present in the tripartite window facing to the south from this room.

4) Also important is the bay on the west facade immediately adjacent to the west entrance. This addition/alteration by Ray and Helen Lawson after their purchase of the house in the 1920s is a sympathetic addition to the original structure. Specific interior features within this section of the building are described later.

Interior features worthy of preservation are as follows:

5) The gothic ‘medieval’ castle concept is further developed in the interior in several respects: i) a central passageway ceiling vaulted with molded arches and constructed of concrete impressed to resemble brick to complement the red brick on the passageway walls; ii) a large cooking fireplace in the formal living room. This fireplace is lined with narrow ceramic tiles angled to reflect the heat and incorporates an early ‘heatilator’ system to warm the room. Adjacent to it is the bricked firewood storage closet headed by a brick arch; iii) the use of a wood balustrade on a landing backlit with rounded arched windows creating a clerestory; iv) cement floors showing an impressed tile pattern in the passageway and formal living room on the ground level; v) brick piers along the passageway which echo the use of brick in the formal rooms; vi) Wood doors sliding on iron railings in two locations on the central passageway are of interest as are the concrete stairs leading to the landing between the ground and second floors compartment; vii) The wood paneling on this passageway, extending to the landing, while a later, Lawson, addition, is also noted for its role in ‘softening’ the austere concrete surface.

6) Further emphasizing the sense of a building created over time are several unexpected nooks and alcoves including one, about four feet high, at the end of the central passageway leading to exterior windows. Along this passageway is the entrance to a small, cramped, ”hidden” staircase accessing a second storey room.

7) In the principal formal room is the patterned concrete floor in which inlaid hardwood is set and a large fireplace mentioned above. A hall through the room is marked at the ceiling level by a structural wood girder ornamented by wood cutouts and a strip of wood fretwork. Wood moulding in octagonal designs is set against a tongue and groove ceiling. Also evident are bricked arches. In the south-west corner, a remaining original fireplace is present illustrative of the original heating system.

8) In the large room to the south, the original front entrance door remains and should be preserved. While several windows are later alterations, east and west windows retain the original two over two design.

9) On the third floor of interest are the glass block ”lights” set into the floor presumably to transmit light to the lower level from the clerestory windows on the roof of the east facade. As well, one of the original arched doors, once common throughout the second and third storeys, is evident and should be retained as representative of the early doors and door frames initially installed.

IO) The concrete tunnels with concrete walls and barrel vaults found beneath the older portions of the building form a unique and effective structural component of the building while adhering to its ’medieval’ character.

11) The “Green Room”, a principal room on the main floor created by the 1920s Lawson alteration is noted for its wood paneling, inlaid hardwood flooring, stuccoed walls containing white bas-relief pictorial tablets and an inset fireplace with wood mantel.

12) On the second floor, reflecting the later Lawson alteration, the principal bedroom has inlaid wood hardwood flooring similar to the floor below in the Green Room.

1 comment:

Craig said...

I went to WoodHolme a few years ago around the time of the pictures that were taken. Man what an awesome place! I didn't get to stay very long in there because my girlfriend who stayed in the car alerted me that security was running up the driveway. I escaped but I will never forget Woodholme