Wardington Manor: England, The Octopus & Ferguson’s Gang

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Built in 1665 by George Chamberlain Wardington Manor is located between the villages of Upper and Lower Wardington.  Many subsequent owners have made alterations and extensions to the original building adding new wings, staircases and a library.  The most creative series of improvements were made by the architect  Williams-Ellis and acknowledged as  ‘one of the most imaginative programmes of restoration of an older house in the Oxfordshire county’.

Born and educated in Northamptonshire, Williams-Ellis was the creator of the Italianate village of Portmerion in North Wales.  In 1928 he wrote England and the Octopus as a response to the urbanisation of the countryside and the loss of village cohesion.  He denounced insensitive building and ugly modern developments.  This book inspired a group of young women to form Ferguson’s Gang; a secret society raising money for the National Trust!  They took up Williams-Ellis call for action and were active in rescuing important but lesser known rural properties from being demolished until 1946.  The gang raised huge sums of money which they delivered in imaginative ways –  coins hidden inside a fake pineapple, a one hundred pound note stuffed inside a cigar and five hundred pounds presented with a bottle of homemade sloe gin!  Their stunts were reported in the press, and when they make a national appeal for the National Trust, the response was overwhelming!  The women remained  anonymous, hiding behind masks and using bizarre pseudonyms.  The gang’s leader Peggy Pollard (known as her pseudonym Bill Stickers) and Williams-Ellis became lifelong friends.

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2 comments

  1. An amazing story – I wonder why the women remained anonymous? I’m guessing they were Society women – so maybe such activities would have been frowned upon? The fake pineapple is a lovely image!

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  2. They were society women! I bought the book! it’s fascinating – I’ll post an image of it. I felt it was such an interesting story – and perhaps slightly ‘at odds’ with how I think of the National Trust today?

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