Wolverton Express 6.10.1972
‘WHEN COSGROVE LODGE WAS BRANSON’S FOLLY’
Mackenzie Hill Ltd., who have bought Cosgrove Lodge for a reputed £250,000, may think its 110 acre park has a future potentially rich in capital returns.
But a glance at its history reveals a past rich in colour and controversy.
Colour was in the form of one George Frederick Branson, a 19th century version of today’s football pools winner, who came into a fortune by luck and allegedly lost it through luxury, leaving Cosgrove Lodge as his only lasting achievement.
Controversy has surrounded the estate for generations, from gossip mongers speculating the naughty goings-on at the Branson’s Folly as the Lodge was originally called, to the opening of the gravel pits and later the leisure park with thousands of day trippers pouring through the village with cars and caravans.
It all started, as some locals still recall, with “Squire” Branson’s arrival at Cosgrove at the end of the 19th century. This is how the “Express” recorded the story in 1961.
“Dover’s boy, potman, barman he might have been but when he came to this small Northants village in 1898 he had quite a sizeable fortune.
“He had won the money on a sweepstake in an out-post of the British Empire some say Canada, others India, South Africa or even Australia. Anyhow this rotund, jovial man with a charming wife showed a sound business head.
“Before coming to Cosgrove he set part of his winnings to work, buying up public houses, improving them and selling them to breweries at a handsome profit.
“It is a fact that Branson built the Lodge on the site of the former farmhouse in 1898 and he made sure people remembered him. His name was cut on a foundation stone near the front door. His initials stand boldly in stone over the porch, intertwined in the massive black iron gates and still be vaguely seen on some doorknobs.
“G.F.B. is carved over the fireplace and in the hall but the Bransons did not need the initials. People still talk of his fabulous extravagance, his generosity, his drinking and his all-night parties.
“Branson had a house in London and many were his rich friends he entertained at The Lodge with parties that set the village talking. Some people envious of his apparent wealth and contemptuous of his extravagance prophesied: ‘He’ll die a pauper’.
They may well have been right. About 10 years after making his home at Cosgrove, Branson left selling the house he had so splendidly built with all the best materials and returned to London. Some say he died a poor man.
“That may be so. But his monument is at Cosgrove in his house and in the memories of his misguided generosity.”
On Branson’s abdication a Mrs. Bird made the 10 bedroomed manor house her home for a short while. It was then empty for eight years before Mr. C. R. and Mrs. Whiting moved there in 1919. They stayed for 31 years.
In 1950 Mr. and Mrs. Betts and family took over the house for eight years, then Dowsett’s set up offices there while the M1 motorway was being built. For two years it remained empty until Mr. J. H. White of Barton Hartshorn Manor paid £7,300 for the house and land at a Northampton auction in May 1961.
It was at that sale that Cosgrove Sand and Gravel finally gave up the use of the vast gravel pits having exhausted supplies after many years of excavation.
Although Mr. White managed to get outline planning permission for a country club with sailing, fishing and sites for caravans, he did nothing to put this advantage to good use.
Two years later in July 1963 with the permissions the house and estate passed into the hands of the Clarke family for a reputed £35,000. With Mr. Harry Clarke, managing director of newly formed company Cosgrove Lodge Ltd., at helm and his son Peter as estate manager, the disused gravel pits were transformed in the following years into a huge leisure park and the Lodge into a hotel.