She was known for talking to herself, throwing the odd tantrum and insisting male employees turned their faces away from her when she passsed them, but she loved Chorleywood and was passionate about our community.
Over Easter weekend 2015 the red and white Summer House in Chorleywood House Estate was brought back to life with an exhibition curated by Lynda Herity and The Friends of Chorleywood House Estate. Visitors to The Summer House on the Estate walked into the world of Lady Ela Russell, to discover the stories, and browse photographs and maps. The exhibition, was visited by many Chorleywood residents.
Lady Ela Russell was the eldest daughter of the ninth Duke of Bedford, and like her father who was known for his agricultural development of Woburn Abbey, she dedicated herself to Chorleywood House and developed the Estate to be virtually self-sufficient, with her own farms and market garden. She created formal gardens and parkland near the house, and built cottages for her chauffeur and gardener behind the house.
She installed electricity using a generator housed in a building near the summerhouse. Water was pumped from the Chess by a waterwheel to a well, which was also supplied by a spring.
Clearly a fan of Boulton and Paul, a British general manufacturing company, she bought at least three prefabricated buildings from them, a chapel, a drill hall (which was used by her Rifle Club and, during WWI as a military convalescence home) and the charming red and white Summer House .
The one thing the unmarried Lady Ela failed to provide for her Estate was an heir to carry on her work. After her death in 1936 the Estate passed to her sister.
In June 1940, the mansion and land were bought by the Chorleywood Urban District Council together with Hertfordshire County Council and London County Council and designated a public open space.
During the war, the mansion housed evacuees from London, under the care of a matron. Army troops and German prisoners of war were housed in Nissen huts in the grounds. Later, Chorleywood UDC adopted the house for their offices, and the Public Library was housed there. Tenants lived in flats in the upper storeys – one remarked that these were the best council flats in the country.
When Chorleywood UDC became Three Rivers DC with buildings in Rickmansworth, the mansion was converted to flats which are privately leased.
The grounds remain as a public open space.
Many locals donated memorabilia to the exhibition including an original oil landscape painted by Lady Ela, maps and even the alphabet that decked the Summer House walls in the 1950s when the building was used as a nursery school.
The exhibition re-opens at various times throughout the year – check our What’s On page for details