A large new residence is going up on the site of one of Wimbledon’s most historic homes, Lauriston House off Common Southside.

When this was demolished in 1957, a priceless ceiling painted by the famous Swiss Neoclassical artist Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) (she is shown above left) was lost forever.

The house had also been the home of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce.

Originally known as Laurel Grove, Lauriston House was built in 1724 for William Jackson.

It was set in three acres and next to four cottages pre-dating 1684 which became the stable block. Jackson’s widow sold the house in 1752 to Wilberforce’s uncle.

He commissioned Kauffman to paint magnificent murals for the main stairwell and in 1782 his famous nephew moved in to enjoy them.

Wilberforce’s friend, William Pitt the Younger, was then Chancellor of the Exchequer and about to become Prime Minister.

He became a regular visitor and he and Wilberforce became known for their drinking sessions there. One morning the flower beds were found to have been sown with fragments of a guest’s dress hat.

Wilberforce left the house in 1786 and launched his long anti-slavery campaign the next year but Pitt continued to visit Wimbledon regularly as his Cabinet colleagues Richard Grenville and Henry Dundas also lived nearby, respectively in Eagle House and what later became Cannizaro House.

Laurel Grove was renamed Lauriston House in the 1870s. It had many subsequent owners and at one point when it was run as a school for girls, the Kauffmann murals were covered up because of the nudity of some figures.

In 1902, the house was bought by Sir Arthur Fell, a wealthy solicitor and international businessman who had earlier lived first in Worple Road and then Ridgway Place.

As MP for Great Yarmouth from 1906-21, he became an early campaigner for a Channel Tunnel.

He was also a painter and Lauriston House was bedecked with his works.

It became known too for musical parties where two orchestras performed classical and dance pieces.

Fell died suddenly in 1934 while cashing a cheque at Barclays Bank in the Village.

When his widow died 23 years later Lauriston House was demolished and the garden sold for housing development. All that remain today are the adjacent Lauriston Cottage and the name Lauriston Road.

The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.

For more information, visit wimbledonsociety.org.uk and www.wimbledonmuseum.org.uk.

Click here for more fascinating articles about Wimbledon's heritage