Heritage London Foundation is an innovative charitable organization founded in 1981 that advocates for the preservation of significant heritage properties. Created when the wrecker’s ball was rapidly destroying many of London’s architectural treasures, Heritage London Foundation now provides viable contemporary uses for two beautiful houses, the Elsie Perrin Williams Estate and Grosvenor Lodge, and is open to future projects. Revenue from Grosvenor Lodge and Elsie Perrin Williams Estate assists Heritage London Foundation to preserve, protect and promote London’s built heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
In addition, HLF collaborates with other heritage groups and museums to educate the public and raise awareness about the profound importance of conserving London’s heritage buildings.
The earliest record of the Elsie Perrin Williams Estate indicated it was originally owned by Colonel William Glass, Sheriff of the County od Middlesex, in 1877. He called the 68 acre property, “Windermere” and used it as a summer residence – it was described a social centre in London.
“… The scenery is said to be unsurpassed in Western Canada. The grounds have been laid out and ornamented with great taste, making a charming spot, where his (Col. Glass) many friends are hospitably and pleasantly entertained.” (Goodspeed, 832)
In 1893, a prosperous time for the region, the Colonel died and the property was solid to Daniel S Perrin the following year. Perrin was a biscuit and candy manufacturer and had a factory on the north side of Dundas Street.
In 1903 Perrin gifted Windermere to his daughter Elsie as a wedding present for her forthcoming marriage to Dr. Hadley Williams, a prominent surgeon at the University of Western Ontario and Victoria Hospital.
While the Williams were abroad in England during the First World War, Elsie had the Colonel’s house demolished and the estate was reconstructed with strong Spanish architectural influences including the white stucco, Romanesque arch porticoes, heavily beamed ceilings, ceramic tile fireplace settings, leaded windows, iron grills and iconic low sloping red-tiled roof.
An interesting feature of the estate is the consecrated ground wherein both Williams are buried (Hadley died in 1932, Elsie in 1934). Within this area of the grounds are the stone plaques in memory of the Williams and their many beloved dogs.
Upon Elsie’s death in 1934, the care of the house and a substantial fortune to maintain the property was passed to Elsie’s housemaid and friend Harriet Corbett so that she could maintain and care for the property. However, in 1979, Corbett fell ill and Elsie’s will was reviewed, the government chose to disregard Elsie’ wishes, seized the substantial fortune that had been set aside for the preservation of the property and redistributed it.
To preserve this Estate, rich in natural and historic charm, Heritage London Foundation was formed to not only care for the property but to encourage Londoners to come and become a part of this great estate’s history.
Built in the ‘Tudor Gothic’ style, Grosvenor Lodge was built in 1853 by Samuel Peters, one of London’s pioneer families and it remained within that family for over 120 years.
Samuel and Anne Peters left their native Devon, England to come to Canada in 1835. They bought 500 acres of land and had their nephew design the Victorian-style residence. Work began in 1853 and the family moved into the home a year later.
The façade is adorned with gable finials and panels, one marked with the date and the other with Samuel Peters’ monogram. The corners are emphasized by quoins topped by corbels. The stained glass window over the front door has the initials S and A, for Samuel and Anne, entwined in a Victorian love knot.
The veranda linked the home with the surrounding grounds and provided a place for the family to repose in the shade during the hot and humid summer months. This stifling heat would have been a surprise to people coming from England’s gentler climate.
Grosvenor Lodge remained in the Peters family for three generations. This extensive country estate, originally a working farm, was refined into a gentleman’s farm under the stewardship of Samuel and Anne’s son John, who inherited the property.
John was a Justice of the Peace and raised thoroughbred horses and greyhounds on the farm. Leila Gertrude Peters, John’s daughter, was only 25 years old when she inherited the house in 1915. Leila raised shorthorn cattle, made her own butter and ran the farm business from the kitchen. She married James Paul Dunn and had a son, William Lawrie Dunn.
Leila Peters Dunn lived in the house until her death in 1974. Two years before she died, Leila sold the property to the University of Western Ontario under the condition that it be preserved as an historic site. The Lodge was designated as a Heritage building under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1972. The University transferred the ownership to the City of London in 1977, at which time the London Public Library Board took over, and from 1981 operated the Lodge as the Lawson Museum and History Centre.
In 1990 Heritage London Foundation entered into an agreement with City to run the Lodge and to continue to preserve this beautiful property for the enjoyment of the city.