The Grange, New Orwell

Formerly Orwell Brewery; Orwell Iron Works; Cundall's Factory; a Parachute workshop; a secretarial finishing school; Oatlands; The Grange; and Cambridge Private Hospital.

By David Miller

With all those different names and uses over the years, the history of this secluded property is bound to have been both varied and interesting!

Photo:Orwell Grange in 1922

Orwell Grange in 1922

In earlier times, the distinguished looking Victorian house was hidden behind a very large brewery building which was almost directly on the main road. It is more than likely that the house was built for the owner of the brewery, although we have not found anything to confirm this yet. It was said in some 1927 sale particulars that the house had been built in existing pleasure grounds but there is no explanation of why the grounds were there first without the house. It is not known whether the house or the brewery came first. The brewery was owned by Philip Meyer and Arthur Hugh Meyer his younger brother. They came from a wealthy Arrington farming family, and perhaps the brewing and malting business was to ensure a regular market for the grain produced by the farm. There were two public houses in 'New Orwell,' as the area on the Orwell side of the main road at Wimpole was called,

Photo:The extensive brewery buildings.

The extensive brewery buildings.

so there was a demand for the products of the brewery right on its own doorstep. Meyers also had The White Hart in Orwell village. New Orwell was a part of the Parish of Orwell until recently, when it was transferred to Wimpole Parish so that all the property fronting the main Cambridge road was in the same parish. There are some further details of the brewery and photos of its associated buildings on the excellent website of Wimpole local historian Steve O'Dell here:

By 1897 the Meyer Brothers had retired and sold out to John Phillips and Joseph Edward Phillips, trading as J & J.E Phillips Ltd.  This company had numerous other premises in the area, served by their brewery in Royston. [Royston, by the way, was famous for the quality of its malt, produced from the barley grown on the light chalky soil of the hills nearby.]  The Phillips family seems to have been involved in brewing in many parts of England but the full story has yet to be written, although there is a collection of the Company's old title deeds at Herts. Record Office.

Photo:Royston Brewery beer bottle label

Royston Brewery beer bottle label

Photo:Stone jar from Meyers Orwell Brewery.

Stone jar from Meyers Orwell Brewery.

Brewing replaced by engineering

It is likely that Phillips brought to an end beer brewing in Orwell, for in 1908 the premises became The Orwell Iron Works, where the The Cundall Paper Folding Company manufactured its machines, and Phillips finally sold the property off in 1917. There is a very good contemporary account of the Cundall company here. The company moved down to this area from Shipley near Bradford, and several of the workers moved down with it. Local historian Dr Shirley Wittering has informed us that a cottage in Thriplow - Sunny Peak cottage - was built with bricks from the demolished Orwell Brewery.

Wimpole's contribution to the War Effort - 1914 - 1918

During The Great War, the factory was taken over for war work and was used for the manufacture of parachutes. These were not to equip the pilots of the Royal Flying Corps aircraft, who were supposed to stay with their doomed machines in a true heroic manner. (The Germans, on the other hand, realised that their pilots were far more valuable than the machines, and did allow pilots to carry parachutes.) The parachutes made at the Cundall factory were for the artillery observers carried aloft in baskets slung under balloons, who would need a quick exit if the gas in the balloons was set on fire. Here is an extract from the local paper which gives us a few more details:

1928 01 07

Everybody’s buying parachutes. They are war-time parachutes purchased from the Air Ministry and are being sold at the business establishment of a well-known Cambridge alderman. A friend of mine dropped in to purchase one and was interest to note the date and place of origin stamped on each. The inscription in black lettering reads: “W. Holmes and Son Ltd, Orwell, Cambs”. The date was 28th November 1918, just after the Armistice. It is a curious coincidence that these parachutes made for war purposes a few miles from Cambridge had come back nine years later to be sold in a Cambridge emporium for the practical uses of motor car covers, dust-sheets, tents and the like

Photo:Parachute makers in the factory premises.

Parachute makers in the factory premises.

The factory was bought from Phillips in 1917 by Charles Townley, and it was closed at the end of the war. In 1921 Mortgagees of the estate of Charles Townley put the factory up for sale (together with the houses and lands) "with the sewing machine benches" which were still in the building and together with "four villas in course of erection."  It did not sell, being withdrawn at £4400, despite having the undoubted advantage of an electricity generator, powered by a 28 foot long steam boiler with a 12 foot flywheel!

Demolition of the factory

The property was up for sale again in 1922, but by this time the factory had been demolished and removed, making way for a much more genteel view of the big house. To sell half finished houses suggests that Mr. Townley's plans for the property were never fulfilled, but nevertheless the money for death duties had to be found. [Cambridge Record Office has copies of the Sale Particulars of 1921, 1922, and 1927. And see below.]

The house should then have had a happier history, as it was bought by Col. Briscoe, M.C., the local M.P. who lived at Longstowe Hall. The 1922 Sale Particulars indicate that this was a proper gentleman's residence, with a cottage for the chauffeur, rooms for the staff, a separate laundry, and even a telephone (number Harston 17.) Orwell did not have its own telephone exchange, but calls came through the exchange at Harston. Col. Briscoe however decided not to keep it, for there was a further auction sale in 1927. With typical agents' optimism, the particulars mention the concrete base of the former factory building, saying that it "could, if desired, be converted into a hard Tennis Court." Yet another use for this versatile piece of land?

We hope that someone from the Wimpole area can now give us details of what happened to the property from 1927 until the 1960s. Steve Odell, Wimpole's historian, says that the house was used during the Second World War for training agents, before they were sent off to France and Belgium.

We have some further interesting comments from Jeannette Owen as to how she remembered The Grange when she lived there post 1965,  This is what she says:

Orwell Grange as a training place for secretaries and riding instructors

"My mother and I lived at The Grange from 1965 to 1971, when she ran a  finishing and secretarial school there, as well as instruction courses for the British Horse Society Instructor's qualification.  All that was left of the former brewery/iron works was the shape of the brick basement, which I called 'the pit paddock.'  We had heard of the brewery history, but not of the ironworks. One noteworthy mention is of the beautiful drawing of racehorses on the wall of the 'coach house' the lovely dovecote in the field. I would ride all over the scenic Cambridgeshire land on my ponies; what memories that house holds for me. I drove my first pony to Arrington."

** NEW INFORMATION HAS JUST COME IN, on January 18th 2016,  REGARDING THE RACEHORSE DRAWINGS MENTIONED ABOVE !  A gentleman in Ipswich has discovered an album of photos relating to The Grange and the racehorses bred there, with details of their careers and their Orwell owners.  All will be added to this page in due course.

Orwell Grange becomes the family home of the Erians

Orwell Grange was purchased in about 1971  by a Cambridge academic, Dr Pratt and his wife, who lived there until 1987 when they sold to surgeon Mr Anthony Erian, his wife Susan and their four children.  Mrs Erian, a remarkably capable and energetic lady – a partner and landowner in a Norfolk farming family and a former teacher and Assistant Director of a Norfolk Sixth Form College– set about renovating the old Victorian house and its outbuildings.  She replaced architectural features that former owners had removed from both the house itself and its associated cottage, and returned the overgrown land to useful pasture. 

Mr and Mrs Erian establish the Cambridge Private Hospital

In 1988 at her husband’s request Susan began the enormous task of building and equipping a hospital within the grounds of Orwell Grange on a building plot purchased from Dr and Mrs Pratt.  The Erians established the fully-registered Cambridge Private Hospital here, with Anthony as Chief Surgeon and Susan as Chief Executive and Registered Provider with the Care Quality Commission.. The Hospital opened to patients in 1994.

Sadly, in 2005 a decline in Susan’s health due to multiple sclerosis forced them to sell the hospital and the land surrounding it to ‘hospital tycoon’ Sean Leyden, though they retained The Grange as their family home.

Sean Leyden’s business was hit by the economic slump of 2008 and the hospital went on the market.  Having learned that many builders were interested in the site’s potential for residential development, Susan attended the Clarridges of London auction in November 2009 and outbid all comers, regaining control over The Grange’s surroundings.  The hospital was then tenanted by The Hospital Medical Group Ltd. operating under the name Cambridge Park Hospital, providing consultations, various procedures and post-operative care for the Group’s patients, in cosmetic, plastic and bariatric surgery.

In 2023 the tenants of the hospital buildings are the East of England Veterinary Specialists.

An excellent history of the Grange can also be found on Steve Odell's Wimpole site at

 Cambridge News page on Mr. Erian.

1921 Sale Particulars complete.


Photo:The Grange, Iron Works, Cottages and Foreman's house in 1909.
Photo:Sale plan from 1921 Particulars.
Photo:The 1922 plan. The factory has gone!
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Grange, New Orwell' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Grange, New Orwell' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Grange, New Orwell' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Grange, New Orwell' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Grange, New Orwell' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Grange, New Orwell' page
Photo:Foundry workers preparing sand castings in the Iron Works. Click on the photo to enlarge it.
Photo:Cundalls Factory workers. The girl is Florence Freestone, the Company Secretary. She seems to be wearing a wedding ring, and she was married in 1915 at Chesterton.
Photo:The parachute girls.
Photo:Photo showing in the background some stable buildings at The Grange.
Photo:The Grange rear view post War.
Photo:The Grange in 1965
This gallery was added by David Miller on 26/11/2013.
Comments about this page

in wondering if they ever found the other airraid shelter? 

By Jeannette Owen
On 31/03/2020

My grandparents, Mr and Mrs Robert Owen King, lived at Orwell Grange in the 1920s and 1930s, with their seven children.  They were both Canadians.  My grandfather was a scientist and inventor and with an American colleague had devised a system of raising sunken ships from the sea bed by means of air pressure, and of enabling damaged vessels to remain afloat.  During the First World War he was asked by the British government to work at Imperial College, London, to carry out research for the Royal Navy.  At the outbreak of the Second World War he was recalled to Canada to be Director of the Defence Research Board there to evaluate any new inventions to see what they might contribute to the war effort.  His sons, George, Donald and Francis (my father), and their four daughters, Florence, Sally, Elspet and jenny remained in the UK to assist in the War effort.  George trained as a pilot at Duxford and was killed over the Channel.  Donald, a doctor, served with the army in Burma. My father, a scientist, served in the British army with a unit protecting the pipeline in Palestine and Egypt, providing fuel for the Eighth Army in North Africa. Sally remained at Orwell until after the war.  I believe that Canadian airmen were billeted at Orwell during the war.

By Mrs Judith Sproat (nee King)
On 17/09/2021

I came across this page when I was looking into when Orwell Grange was sold by my aunt, Sarah Bailey and her husband Maurice, which would have been in the early 1960's.  They would most probably been the owners of the racehorses as Maurice trained point-to-pointers although I was not aware they had bred any.  Prior to my aunt, it was owned by my grandparents. I have never heard of it being used as a training establisment for agents in WWII. My grandmother gathered some of her grandchildren and their mothers there in 1940 with the intention of them all going to Canada. My grandparents were Canadian. The two sons, my father and my uncle did not want their families to go except by convoy and my grandmother returned on her own. Unfortunately she died in Canada before convoy places were available and the families all remained in the UK.  My grandfather had returned to Canada earlier in 1940 and died in Ottawa in 1966 aged 91.

By Frances King
On 17/09/2021

The biography of R O King, who lived with his wife Frances and their seven children at Orwell grange from 1922 has recently been published. It mentions some of the improvements ROK made to the property during the 1920s. These included the design and installation of a hot water system that could supply hot running water to all four bathrooms, the seven bedrooms, kitchen and pantry simultaneously. R O K also took to removing two tree stumps close to the house with the use of dynamite! It is correct that Squadron Leader George King was shot down over France and is buried in a military cemetery there and that Frank King served in the Middle East but to the best of my knowledge, my grandfather Major Donald Plimsoll King, the youngest of the three sons, never served in Burma. As a doctor he volunteered with the RAMC and was initially stationed in Gibraltar. In the summer of 1944 he was sent to Normandy, organising the clean up after the battle Falaise Pocket. He finished the war in Belgium.    

By Stephen King
On 25/05/2023

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