Soham is privileged to have at its heart a large green space called ‘The Recreation Ground’. Once a gentleman’ s Estate, the now diminished grounds still house what remains of the 19th century mansion.
The building is known as ‘The Walter Gidney Pavilion’, dedicated in recognition of Walter Gidney’s services as a Parish Councillor 1952-1985. It is currently a function room, used by many local groups, and houses the Town Council Office. The building, formerly known as ‘The Place’ would have been completely demolished, had the Council not stepped in and purchased what remained of the mansion and it’s grounds for the recreational use of the town.
The Pavilion is the third building on the site, the original, probably medieval, being surrounded by a now filled in moat, and the second being destroyed by fire in 1889. The Place Estate was sold in 41 lots by auction on 1st December 1876, being the property of the late John Dobede. The mansion was purchased for Mr Henry Dobede at a price of £3,500. At that time, the building comprised 4 good size reception rooms, and a handsome oak staircase leading to eleven bedrooms. There were Domestic Apartments, Offices, and Stables, as well as Walled Kitchen Gardens, Pleasure Gardens, and Flower Gardens, Estate Cottages, and Pasture Grounds and ‘valuable’ Farms. The whole Estate amounting to 2,238 acres. Henry Dobede was only able to purchase the mansion and it’s immediate grounds consisting of 11 acres. The Estate was consequently split up.
On the night of 11th January 1889, the tenant of The Place, John Taylor, awoke to the sound of the building burning down around him. The blaze had taken hold, and the fire brigade was unable to extinguish the flames, which devoured the interior walls of lath and plaster. It is not known how much of the original building survived, but it seems that the later brick façade was, at least, saved, even though early interior features perished. The Place was rebuilt during the same year to similar specifications as its predecessor, suggesting that the ground floor layout had been preserved. The Oak staircase however, was replaced by one of pitch pine, and the upper storeys much changed. Archive photographs show a distinct difference in the shape of the roof, which was evidently the area worst affected by the fire.
In 1925, the remaining portion of the Estate, and rebuilt mansion, were sold for Mr Arthur Bland of the Red House, Soham. The whole site was purchased for development, much of the perimeter land being sold off as building plots. The Parish Council finally intervened in 1928, and saved what remained of the mansion, as the upper storeys and domestic quarters were being demolished. Only a fraction of the ground floor of the building had been rescued. Minton Tiles, which still adorn the entrance lobby and a heavily beamed ceiling are the only clue to The Pavilions former glory. An opening ceremony for the towns new facility took place on Whit Monday 1929, the proceedings being conducted by Lady St. David.