The Gray Family of Wandlebury

Stapleford History Society member Christine Ruse gave us a very personal account of the last private owners of the Wandlebury estate, based on reminiscences of people who had had connections with the family as well as written records.home for injured troops, made all the more popular by the Grays hospitality.

The Gray family were established in Ireland by the early seventeenth century, steadily building up their wealth. They had in addition a villa and vineyards in France.  In 1904 Harold and Rowena Gray bought the Wandlebury estate, which had passed through several hands in quick succession over the previous decade. They were keen on the horses, which Harold bred: perhaps the closeness to Newmarket influenced their purchase. They lived in considerable style, with elaborate gardens and numerous servants.  Harold became MP for Cambridge in due course, and was knighted in 1938 for his work for the Conservative party. They hosted regular fetes in the grounds: in 1933 18,000 people attended, and Stanley Baldwin (then between his second and third terms as Conservative Prime Minister) gave a speech. Rowena was also a prominent figure in Stapleford, regularly visiting the school (daunting no doubt for pupils and teachers alike) and founding the local branch of the WI.

During the First World War, Harold and Rowena provided an ambulance in France, assisted by their chauffeur.  In the Second World War the mansion at Wandlebury became a convalescent home for injured troops, made all the more popular by the Grays’ hospitality.  However, their resources were becoming depleted, and after the end of hostilities the house never recovered its grand style.  Their son, Terence, was more interested in the theatre than in estate management. When he inherited in 1953 much of the land had been sold.  In 1954 Terence donated the decaying house, stable block and gardens to the Cambridge Preservation Society, which was able in addition to buy the surrounding estate and open the whole to the public.  The Gray family lived at Wandlebury for only two generations, but their generosity has provided an enduring legacy for the local community.

John Street