Wake House in past times

By Rex Needle

Wake House is the large property on the west side of North Street, Bourne, and is best known as the birthplace of Charles Frederick Worth, son of a local solicitor, who founded the famous Paris fashion house and a blue plaque tells us that he was born here on 13th October 1825. The property dates back to the early 19th century and was built on the site of the old Waggon and Horses public house that was pulled down as part of the development.

The date of the building is probably circa 1800 but became the home of William Worth, a local solicitor, after he married Mary Ann Quincy in 1816, using the ground floor as the offices for his practice as an attorney at law. The couple had five children, William (1819), Harriet (1821), Sarah (1824) and Charles (1824) who died in infancy followed by another son, Charles Frederick, who was born on 13th October 1825 when the couple followed the practice that was usual at the time of giving him the same name and he was destined to become the Charles Worth of fashion history.

William Worth had an extravagant lifestyle of drinking and gambling and bad investments which led to bankruptcy and in 1836 he finally deserted his wife and children after his affairs collapsed and they left Wake House to live with wealthy relatives at Billingborough where she was employed as a housekeeper. When Charles was 13, he was put on a stage coach to London to take up a job with a leading drapery firm, later leaving for Paris to pursue his career and by the time he died in 1895, he had become an international celebrity in the world of fashion.

But his father’s impoverishment had cost the family Wake House which he had been forced to sell and the new owner was William Darwin of Elston Hall in Nottinghamshire but it was later acquired by G W Willders, a solicitor, who had taken over Worth's practice. In 1853, two years after Willders died, the property was bought by the solicitor Mr Stephen Andrews. 

From 1974 until 1993, it was used as the local offices of South Kesteven District Council but after standing empty for several years, a voluntary organisation, the Bourne Arts and Community Trust, was given a three-year lease of the premises in 1997 for a peppercorn rent of £5 a year and fund-raising began to turn it into an arts, crafts and community centre that was officially opened in September 2000 by Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, who lives at nearby Grimsthorpe Castle. Memorabilia associated with the house and with Charles Worth are displayed in the Baxter Room, formerly the council chamber while the rest of the house is now fully used in its new role.

For some years, there was a small metal plate commemorating the birth of Charles Worth fixed to the outside wall of the building by South Kesteven District Council but this was removed during restoration work and never replaced until December 2002 when the vacant space was filled by a prestigious blue plaque marking its connections with the famous Paris designer who is described as the "Father of Haute Couture".

Blue plaques are the responsibility of English Heritage to draw attention to buildings of interest because of their associations with famous people, provided they have been dead for at least 20 years and (1) are regarded as eminent in their profession, (2) have made some important contribution to human welfare or happiness, (3) had such an outstanding personality that the well-informed passer-by immediately recognises the name, or (4) simply that they deserve recognition.

Charles Worth has been adjudged as falling into one or more of these categories and has been so honoured while Wake House itself was listed Grade II in July 1977 and remains a protected property to this day.

NOTE: Text and photographs reproduced from A Portrait of Bourne © REX NEEDLE 2009.

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