Concerned villagers are launching a campaign to save historic Dunford House at West Lavington after learning that it could be converted into new homes.
These include former priest-in-charge of Heyshott Chris Boxley and his wife Lydia and Sue Beavis and her sister Jo who grew up in Dunford House.
They went into action after discovering ‘pre-application’ plans for the house which was home to Richard Cobden, arguably the greatest backbencher of his time in Parliament and widely regarded as the father of Free Trade.
Cobden formed and led the Anti-Corn Law League to abolish taxes on imports of foreign corn. He finally convinced Peel’s government to repeal the laws in 1846 making him a national hero.
Dunford House is owned by the YMCA and until recently was used as a training, conference and wedding venue. But they say its current use is ‘loss making’ and want to sell it with permission for an alternative use.
Many priceless personal possessions remain in the house, including Cobden’s library, containing many of his personal papers, family paintings and the seal used on the corn law repeal documents.
The house provides the backdrop to his parliamentary work, during which he moved among rulers at home and abroad and in the 20th century Dunford is reputed to have hosted a visit by Gandhi.
“This house and all the artefacts in it are a hugely important part of our national heritage,” said Lydia. “Richard Cobden literally put bread back into people’s mouths. He was the earliest apostle of Free Trade, believing it held the key to promoting peace between nations. The house was left by his family to be a place of education and learning.
“We believe it is incredibly important to save the house and the precious items in it.”
The group has the backing of the Heyshott Cobden Club Committee, formed in the village by Cobden’s youngest daughter Jane.