Thomas Ross of Kilravock House: His Life and Times

Eric Kings. Local History Publications 2006. £7.99.

This is an account of several years of research arising from a threat to demolish Kilravock House in Ross Road, South Norwood to make way for a block of flats. The account of the colourful life of Thomas Ross lifts the curtain on many aspects of life in 19th Century England.

Kilravock House was designed, built and owned by Thomas Ross (1794/5 – 1868). He was born, along with two brothers, in Cork City, and, perhaps because of the Wolfe Tone rebellion in 1798, the family moved to Suffolk. As an ensign in the West Suffolk Militia he saw active service in Ireland from 1813 to 1814, and retained his interest in the largely inactive Militia until 1858, when he retired as a Major, a title of which he was very fond. Along with George, one of his brothers, he became a builder and property developer in Camberwell, South London, in 1814. He contracted a short-lived marriage in 1816 and left his wife in 1818 or so to set up house in Lewisham with Sarah Atkins, the former mistress of John Lamb, a local builder. She already had two daughters, and then had a son with Thomas Ross. One of her daughters – Sophia – married Captain (RN) George Sartorius, and became Lady Sartorius when her husband was knighted. Their 3 sons joined the Army and very unusually two of them were awarded the Victoria Cross in quite separate engagements. From about 1828 Thomas and George Ross took a major role in developing the Cator Estate at Blackheath Park.

After Sarah’s death in 1833 Thomas Ross embarked upon a brief relationship with Susan Willis, and they had a daughter in 1841. Susan then left the scene, and Thomas set up home in the East Acton Manor House with his daughter and a housekeeper. He then bought an estate at Clapham Old Town and developed Grafton Square, where he lived from 1852 to 1861. Much to his annoyance his daughter eloped at the age of 16 with a young man without prospects, and Thomas had to step in to help them, and their growing family. He left his daughter an annuity to help with the education of 8 of the children, but the annuity then became a long-running series of legal challenges well-documented in court affidavits. The parents separated as a result.

Thomas Ross died in 1868 at Kilravock House, his retirement home from 1864. His will was a rambling one, and caused a great deal of controversy later. One result was that the title to Kilravock House was not transferred to his niece until 1901. There is an interesting account of his third brother, Christian Jacob Ross, and all 3 brothers had extra-marital relationships. The book contains a wealth of detail supported by numerous illustrations with estate plans and family trees. It is a fascinating account of a family over more than a century, and gives an excellent insight into the lives and concerns of the Victorian middle class. It makes an important contribution to the social history of South London.

Note: Kilravock House has survived against all the odds!

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