Grim's Dyke

Grim's Dyke is the name of a house and estate located in Harrow Weald, in Northwest London, England, built in 1872 by Norman Shaw, and named after the nearby pre-historic earthwork known as Grim's Ditch. The house is best known as the home of dramatist W.S. Gilbert, who lived there for the last two decades of his life. He died while attempting to save a girl from drowning in his lake. Lady Gilbert lived there until her death in 1936. The statue of Charles II now found in Soho Square stood on the property from about 1880 to 1938. The house was then used as a rehabilitation centre until 1963.

From 1963, the house was used mainly as a location for films and television including Futtocks End with Ronnie Barker. It was converted into Grim's Dyke Hotel in 1970 but continues to be used as a film location. Most of the lands have been separated from the hotel.


The house was designed in 1870 by Norman Shaw for the Victorian era painter Frederick Goodall, who had purchased 100 acres (0.40 km2) of land at Harrow Weald in 1856, but he did not begin to build until a lease on the property expired. Shaw's design for the house included aspects of Gothic revivalism, added to a late-Elizabethan style, which included high red-tiled gables, tall clustered chimneys and leaded lights. To the north of the house, Shaw built a small lodge, a walled garden and various outhouses and a stable block, later converted into garages by W. S. Gilbert for his collection of motorcars. Over the dyke (now a duck pond) Shaw built two stone bridges, which incorporated flint from the ruined church at Stanmore. Construction on the house was completed in 1872. Goodall's studio was built on a north-south axis in order to catch the light. Goodall sold the property in 1880 to Robert Heriot of Hambros Bank, who added a billiard room in 1883.

W. S. Gilbert purchased the property in August 1890 for £4,000. He made various additions and alterations to the property, including an elaborate fireplace of Cornish alabaster to the studio, now his Music Room. At the house, Gilbert wrote his last ten works from an armchair in his library overlooking the croquet lawn.Arthur Sullivan visited Grim's Dyke only once, with his nephew, Herbert. They stayed at the house for three days from 27 May 1893, while Sullivan worked with Gilbert to finalise Utopia, Limited. At the house, Gilbert kept a variety of animals including monkeys, lemurs, a lynx and many others. After Gilbert's death in 1911, Lady Gilbert and the Gilberts' ward, Nancy McIntosh, continued to live there until Lady Gilbert's own death in 1936.

After Lady Gilbert's death, the contents of the house, apart from a few items kept by Nancy McIntosh, were sold at public auction on 17 and 18 March 1937, realising £4,600. The house was acquired jointly by the Middlesex County Council and the London County Council, who leased it to the North West Regional Hospital Board from 1937 to 1962, at first as a rehabilitation centre for women suffering from tuberculosis (the house was used by the services during the World War II). Following the war, both sexes were admitted, and from 1948 only male patients were admitted. From 1963, the house was used primarily as a location for films and television, including Futtock's End with Ronnie Barker. It was converted into a hotel in 1970. It was featured in John Betjeman's acclaimed documentary Metro-land (1973). The hotel was seen in an off set episode of EastEnders in 2003.

The house and its gatehouse are both listed buildings. The current owners purchased the property in 1996 and refurbished the house and grounds at a cost of £3 million. Presentations of Gilbert and Sullivan operas and other entertainments are regularly held. The lands have been separated from the hotel and are being sold by Harrow Council as "Grimsdyke Farm".

The name Grim's Dyke is sometimes used to refer to a nearby earthwork known as Grim's Ditch which runs from Pinner Hill to Bentley Priory.

Statue of Charles II

A statue of Charles II was carved by Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber in 1681 and placed at the centre of Soho Square in London. By the early 19th century, the statue was described as being 'in a most wretched mutilated state; and the inscriptions on the base of the pedestal quite illegible'.

In 1875, the statue was removed during alterations in the square by T. Blackwell, of Crosse and Blackwell, the venerable jam firm, who gave it for safekeeping to his friend, Goodall, with the intention that it might be restored. Goodall placed the statue on an island in his lake at Grim's Dyke, where it remained while Gilbert owned the property. In her will, Lady Gilbert directed that the statue be returned, and it was restored to Soho Square in 1938.

Gilbert's Lake and death

The lake, which is some way from the house, beyond the ornamental gardens, was considerably extended by Gilbert during his time at Grim's Dyke. Work on digging out the lake began in 1899, with Gilbert himself assisting in the task. Eventually it covered about one and a half acres, with an island in the middle, a punt house and changing hut and an artificial waterfall that was ceremonially turned on in December 1899. The lake was drained and refilled each year, to keep the water clear, and was stocked with trout. In 1905 the lake was extended again to a roughly rectangular shape, measuring 170 yards by 50 yards. When Gilbert lived at Grim's Dyke he would swim in the lake every day from March to September.

On 29 May 1911 Gilbert had arranged to give a swimming lesson in the lake to two local girls, Winifred Isabel Emery (1890–1972), a teacher and niece of the actors Cyril Maude and Winifred Emery, and her 17-year-old pupil Ruby Vivian Preece. The three arrived at the lake at about 4 pm that day. In 1923, Winifred Isabel Emery related to Gilbert's biographers her recollection of what happened on that day:

At the coroner's inquest, Preece stated, "I found that I could not stand and called out and Sir William swam to me. I put my hand on his shoulder and I felt him suddenly sink. I thought he would come up again. My feet were on the mud then. Miss Emery called for help and the gardeners came with the boat." Gilbert had "died instantly of the heart attack". Once his body was recovered, it was laid out in the billiard room (now the hotel's restaurant) at Grim's Dyke. The family doctor, Dr W.W. Shackleton, and Dr Daniel Wilson of Bushey Heath Cottage Hospital, later certified that Gilbert had died at about 4.20 pm that afternoon of syncope (heart failure) brought on by excessive exertion. The coroner's jury, also meeting in the billiard room at Grim's Dyke two days later, on 31 May 1911, recorded a verdict of accidental death. Shortly after Gilbert's death, his wife, Lady Gilbert, had the lake closed off and largely drained. The incident is described in the documentary Metro-land.

Shortly after Gilbert's death, his wife, Lady Gilbert had the lake closed off and largely drained. Over the century since then, silt has built up in the mostly drained lake and trees and other vegetation have grown, dividing the lake into smaller ponds. In 2011, the rare Great Crested Newt has been found living near these ponds.

Film location

The following television shows and films used Grim's Dyke as a location:

  • The Avengers (1961) TV series
  • The Saint (1962) TV series
  • It Happened Here (1966)
  • Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks: Episodes 3 and 4 (1967) TV episodes
  • The Blood Beast Terror (1968; aka The Deathshead Vampire; aka The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood (1969, USA))
  • Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968; Boris Karloff's last film; aka The Crimson Cult (1970, USA))
  • The Champions (1968) TV series
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
  • Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969) TV series (aka "My Partner the Ghost" (1973, USA))
  • Department S (1969) TV series
  • Futtock's End (1970)
  • Cry of the Banshee (1970; Vincent Price's 100th film)
  • The Adventurer TV series
  • Endless Night (1972)
  • Sliding Doors (1998) film
  • EastEnders TV series (2003)