A couple of weeks ago, I got to return to lovely London to visit the oldest house in the city, that of Eldon House, located at 481 Ridout Street North, overlooking the Thames River. Built in 1834, the two and half storey Georgian house with Regency details, retains an exquisite amount of heritage elements as it remained within the Harris family for 125 years. The Harris family were highly influential to the early development of London, entertaining the elite of local and Upper Canada.
Just south of the house at the forks of the Thames River, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1793 chose the site for the new district of London. In 1821, John Harris (1782-1850) was made the treasurer for the new district of London. Harris of English descent, had previously been in the Royal Navy (1803), served in the British military in the War of 1812, and was part of the surveying of the Great Lakes in 1815. While surveying, he met Amelia Ryerse (1798-1882), the daughter of Samuel Ryerse, the founder of Port Ryerse. It was an instant connection for John and Amelia and the two were married on June 28, 1815.
John and Amelia Harris
With his significant position in London, Harris needed a house fit for an English gentlemen within the rising district. Eldon House was constructed in 1834, on an 11-acre property, just north from Harris’ office at the London Court House. John and Amelia moved into the house with their eight children, and had two more children while in Eldon; seven girls and three boys. A very full household, when servants also occupied the house, and a guest room was left open in case an unexpected well-to-do visitor came to call.
When the Harris girls were coming of age, the British Garrison happened to be stationed in London during the Rebellion of 1837. This was the point that my mind conjured up images in that of the romantic fleeting social lives of the characters of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and the later Downton Abbey. One could imagine the life of Amelia, with seven daughters that needed to be married to wealthy men, allowing for secure futures within successful households.
Eldon would have been a very busy household, with numerous visitors, planned parties and dinners, all in the hopes of maintaining an elite status for the current and future generations of Harris’. Luckily, some of the women of Eldon house kept diaries providing fantastic insight into nineteenth-century London life. This includes Amelia, her daughter Charlotte, Sophie (Edward’s wife), Lucy (George’s wife) and Amelia Ronalds. Some of the important visitors that visited Eldon included: Colonel Thomas Talbot, Sir John A. Macdonald, Edward Stanley (son of Lord Stanley), Egerton Ryerson and Sir Charles Tupper.
Four of the Harris girls ended up marrying British officers. Sarah (1821-1916) married Captain Robert Dalzell, and moved to England. Mary (1825-1898) married Lieutenant G. Shuldham. Eliza (1825-1910) married Colonel Charles Crutchley. And Charlotte (1828-1854) married Captain Edward Knight. Very successful matches indeed!
When John died in 1850, Amelia was left in care of the large home and family. Left without an income to finance the estate, marriages that would bring security to Eldon were very important. John and Amelia’s son Edward (1823-1925) married Sophia H. Ryerson in 1860, daughter of Egerton Ryerson (a leader in Upper Canada education- Ryerson University was named for him). With Edward’s position as a lawyer in London, and Sophia’s inheritance Eldon House was able to be updated and expanded beginning in the 1870s. This included the large wrap around verandah on the south and west elevations, the addition of a large drawing room, kitchen, and servants quarters.
Eldon House, c. 1875. Out front George, Teresa, Amelia and Sophia
Following Amelia’s death in 1882, and the move of Edward and Sophia to England, Eldon House passed to George Harris (1836-1923); John and Amelia’s son and the first born within the home. George similar to his brothers was also a lawyer in London. He married Elizabeth Lucy Ronalds in 1867, and they had previously lived around the corner in Raleigh House. When Lucy came into a large inheritance in the 1890s Eldon House benefited again, and was updated to a style of the late nineteenth century. George and Lucy had four children Amelia, Charlotte, George and Edward. Amelia was the last to live at Eldon House, calling it home until 1959. Following her death in late 1959 the house was turned over to the City of London for its wonderful heritage to be preserved and shared. The House is still maintained as a heritage site, and provides visitors with a step back in time, within the modern downtown city of London. The house is also protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust Easement Agreement, that includes the exterior, portions of the interior and the scenic property.
Front Hallway, which contains numerous exotic treasures from the expedition of George Henry Ronalds Harris (Grandson)
The Dining Room at Eldon, featuring British Columbia fir ceiling
The library at Eldon, BC fir ceiling also seen
Library fireplace, with original tile surround; a wedding gift to Amelia from Dutch relatives
Drawing Room at Eldon, with marble fireplace moved from the Delphi Terraces in London, England (c. 1775)
The Red room, an example of the upstairs bedrooms, all named for their colour schemes
When I have some free time a potential Eldon House screenplay will be in the works, utilizing the Harris diaries and of course the wonderful house itself…in making of Eldon the Downton Abbey of London, Ontario!