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Craven Lodge - a History
The history of Craven Lodge epitomises the glory days of Melton's past, when the blue-blooded families of Europe congregated in the town to enjoy the hunting season and all that went with it.
Craven Lodge, one of Melton's few remaining buildings of heritage, could easily occupy a central role in the future economy of the Melton area. With this belief, Melton First intends to bid for the property when it comes up for sale by Leicestershire County Council in July 2004.
Burton House, the second house in Melton to be built south of the River Eye, was converted into a grand hunting lodge by the Hon William Craven and his bride, Mary Catherine Yorke, second daughter of the fourth Earl of Hardwicke.
The Craven family's home was a magnificent mansion in Fulham, known as Craven Cottage, now the home of Fulham Football Club. Craven Cottage was also the name given to their Melton home, later to become Craven Lodge. William Craven and his wife lived at Craven Lodge for eight years during which time it became a famous social centre. But Lord Craven's fortune was soon gone; the marriage was not happy and before long the couple separated.
Historian Brownlow says it's appropriate that Melton keeps up the Craven name after the family's close ties with the area for almost a century. Many members of the Craven family lived in Melton, including Barclay Craven the 'gambling dandy' and friend of Beau Brummel, and the wife of Viscount Grey de Wilton, from the Greys family of London's Gray's Inn. Countess Wilton lived in the town for some 50 years, held many famous parties and was affectionately known as the 'Queen of Melton'.
One of the area's finest hunting lodges
From 1867 Craven Lodge passed through several hands until it was sold for £8,000 to a shipping magnate, John Coupland. Coupland's extensive alterations made it one of the finest lodges in the area, as befitted a man who was Master of the Quorn Hunt for 14 seasons.
Coupland sold Craven Lodge in 1873 to William Younger, of the Edinburgh brewing family. In 1884 the house was again on the market and remained empty until it was purchased by Col. Edward Holmes Baldock. Baldock was a founder of the Melton Polo Club, organiser of the Melton Hunt Ball, and lived at Craven Lodge until shortly before the First World War.
The Craven Lodge Club
In 1922, Captain Michael Wardell acquired the property and divided it into apartments which he let to the hunting fraternity at rates from 10 to 25 guineas a week. The Club's large social rooms were now more luxurious than had ever before been seen in Melton, whilst stabling for 62 boxes and 10 saddle rooms added to the Club's attraction.
Among the titled persons who stayed at Craven Lodge Club were Edward, Prince of Wales; Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who opened the Melton War Memorial Hospital; Albert, Duke of York, later King George VI; Prince George, the Duke of Kent, and the Rajah of Kashmir.
In the mid 1920s squash courts were added to the Club's facilities so that Craven Lodge became the venue for many inter-Hunt squash tournaments. On 9 Feb 1927 the Sketch newspaper reported, "The Prince of Wales met a pretty seasoned veteran first pop, and not playing quite up to form, was beaten."
Said to be inseparable on the hunting field, the sociable Princes also took an interest in Melton town life. At charity dances and Farmer's Union dinners they would mix with the public, including at a dinner at the Corn Exchange in 1926. A plaque recognising the occasion is now located on the Corn Exchange site in Melton's Bell Centre.
Melton Mowbray and the Prince of Wales
Edward, Prince of Wales, greatly enjoyed hunting, and stayed in a suite at the Craven Lodge Club during a long visit to Melton in 1923. The attractions of the town proved strong, and Melton's Urban District Council soon passed plans for private quarters to be built at Craven Lodge Club. In Melton and London, the Prince of Wales became the darling of 1920s society.
From 1924 until 1929 much of Prince Edward's leisure time was spent at "his second home" as he liked to call it, where he was able to live a free and private life, hunting often, socialising extensively, and building his growing reputation as a playboy.
Craven Lodge and the abdication
In February 1929, the prolonged illness of his father, King George V, caused the Prince of Wales to stop hunting. But Edward kept his Craven Lodge apartment and visited regularly throughout the years of his well-known relationships with married women and his growing friendship with the American divorcee, Mrs Wallis Warfield Simpson.
It was this friendship, much of which took place at Craven Lodge and in houses around Melton Mowbray, which forced the abdication crisis of December 1936. As King and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Edward was unable to marry a divorcee. So Edward VIII became King in January, abdicated in favour of his brother Bertie, later King George VI, "to marry the woman I love".
The political storm that followed shook the foundations of the monarchy, as did the couple's fascination with Hitler. King George's wife, Elizabeth, felt so strongly that Edward had betrayed his brother, that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as Edward and Wallis became known, lived out the rest of their lives in the Bahamas and France.
Tangible link to a colourful past
The Craven Lodge Club continued until the Second World War when the property was taken over by the Army. After the War an attempt was made to reopen the Club, but failed. In 1952 Leicestershire County Council Education Committee bought the property as a residential school.
In Craven Lodge, Melton Mowbray has a tangible link to one of the most colourful periods of British history, and arguably to the most important single political event of the last century. Why more has not been made of Melton's association with the events of that time may rest with the nature of relationships that existed in Melton throughout the period, of service, duty and subservience.
Times have changed. With the forthcoming sale of Craven Lodge, Melton First has the opportunity to capitalise on a rich seam of public interest in royal history - interest that is demonstrated daily at nearby Althrop, and at other locations associated with British royal and political history.
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