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The History of Wood Estate

A story of 2 Williams, academic excellence, immense wealth, neglect, dereliction and eventual salvation 

William Lethbridge (William 1) (1825-1901) was born in a modest whitewashed farmhouse which stood on the site now occupied by Wood. His father died when he was a child and the family were plunged into poverty having to sell the farm and move to Tavistock where his mother established a school.  

William was a bright student ultimately gaining a scholarship to St John’s College Cambridge where he graduated with 1st class honours in maths. 

William worked as a teacher for a while before being called to the bar and eventually achieving great success as a lawyer. During his youth he became friends with a certain William Henry Smith whose parents owned a stationery company. Lethbridge persuaded his friend to expand the stationery business model and in time every mainline railway station would have a branch of WH Smith on the platform and this tradition continues to this day. 

He joined WH Smith in 1864 at the age of 39 and became a profit-sharing partner. William’s wealth must mostly have been derived from his partnership with WH Smith and son and he was best man at WH Smith’s wedding in 1858.  In 1876 Wood was bought back into the Lethbridge family at auction by WH Smith (by then ennobled as Viscount Hambledon).  Between 1876 and 1880 the whitewashed farmhouse was demolished and rebuilt as a victorian villa. During his time in London William 1 met Canada’s first trade commissioner Sir Alexander Galt who encouraged him to invest in the mining of natural resources in Southern Alberta, hence the Northwest Coal and Navigation Company was born in 1881. William 1 was the first president and the majority shareholder in this company and the city of Coalbanks in Alberta was eventually renamed Lethbridge in his honour. By this time he was suffering from bronchitis and he never managed to visit Canada. William 1 died in 1901 passing Wood to his nephew William 2. 

William 2 married Florence Webb in 1902 (accounting for the plentiful WL/FL engravings throughout the property. He then demolished the Victorian villa and built Wood as we know it between 1903-1905. William 2 employed the renowned landscape architect Thomas Mawson who worked with the architect Dan Gibson to design the gardens and house we now see. 

Thomas Mawson was the first president of the landscape architects’ society and wrote a classic tome entitled “The Art and Craft of Garden Making” which ran to 5 editions, the last of which was published in 1926. Wood was one of Mawson’s proudest accomplishments adorning the inside of the front and back leafs of the book and also appearing alongside innumberable other stately Mawson masterpieces throughout its pages. Wood then stayed in the same family (Kingsford-Lethbridge) until 1969 when punitive death duties forced its sale. It then became a country house hotel between 1971 and 1981 under two different owners. 

In 1981 it was bought by a Mr Peaster, a headteacher who used the property for weekend retreats and working parties for his students. During this time the gates were locked up and the property fell into a parlous state with the kitchen garden and greenhouses becoming badly overgrown. 

In 2002 Mr and Mrs Payne bought the property and began attempting to rectify the previous 20 years of neglect. Unfortunately in 2005 they ran into financial difficulties and in 2006 Wood was bought by Noel Edmonds. Noel fell in love with the gardens and explored redevelopment of the property but realising the scale of the project decided to sell Wood in 2008. 

In 2008 plastic surgeon James McDiarmid bought Wood from Noel Edmonds and began the painstaking task of restoring the estate to its former glory. This started with roof and window repairs, treatment of dry rot, asbestos removal, installation of central heating, electricity and a surgery centre complete with its own operating room and 6-bed in patient ward. 

In 2008 he thought it would take a maximum of three years to complete the project… 12 years after purchasing the property it is finally ready to open. Welcome to Wood MediSpa! 

- James McDiarmid

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