Elsie Perrin Williams Estate is a City-owned, self-sustaining historic estate. It is operated by the Heritage London Foundation (HLF) a charitable organization that supports the preservation of London’s built heritage as well as environmental conservation. In addition to the Elsie Perrin Williams Estate, HLF also operates Grosvenor Lodge, another historic property, as a resource center and home to non- profit and environmental organizations.
The History of the Estate
According to the Land Registry Abstracts for the City of London, the property called Windermere, a 68 acre estate located in the north-east half of Lot 19, Concession 111 of London Township, was purchased by Colonel William Glasss, Sheriff of the County od Middlesex, in 1877. This land had been originally occupied by his father, Samuel Glass, from 1826 until 1830 when Samuel sold the land to move into the town proper.
The estate, being comprised of a Victorian house and farm, had the name ‘Windermere’ on its front gates. Colonel Glass used Windermere as a summer residence, a residence that was described by a contemporary as being a social centre in London:
“…the scenery is said to be unsurpassed in Western Canada. The grounds have been laid out and ornamented with great taste, making a charming spot, where his (Col. Glass) many friends are hospitably and pleasantly entertained.” (Goodspeed, 832)
Upon the death of Colonel Glass in 1893, the executors of his estate sold the property called Windermere to Daniel S. Perrin in 1894. Perrin, among the most successful and prominent manufacturers of London (then a flourishing centre for Southwestern Ontario), was a biscuit and candy manufacturer whose factory was situated on the north side of Dundas Street (the location now occupied by the Bell Canada Building).
In 1903 Perrin presented Windermere to his daughter Elsie as a wedding present for her forthcoming marriage to Dr. Hadley Williams a prominent surgeon at the University of Western Ontario and Victoria Hospital.
While the Williams were abroad in England during the First World War, Elsie had the old Victorian home demolished and in its place the present Windermere home was built. The house was unique in it’s Spanish architectural influences – and influence presumed to have been the result of Williams’ many visits to California, and area known for its Spanish architecture.
Architecturally, the principles of the Spanish influence upon the new house at Windermere took shape in the use of white stucco, Romanesque arch porticoes, heavily beamed ceilings, ceramic tiles around the fireplaces, leaded windows, and perhaps the most prominent feature – the juxtaposition of the simplistic white stucco exterior with black wrought iron grills and the exotic low sloping red tiled roof. Notwithstanding, the extensive and well-groomed grounds of Windermere complimented the house itself. Being golf enthusiasts, the Williams were founding members of the Thames Valley Golf Club, and had their own personal nine hole golf course laid out on Windermere grounds.
An interesting feature of the estate is the consecrated ground wherein both Williams are buried (Hadley died in 1932, Elsie in 1934). Within this area of the grounds are the stone plaques in memory of the Williams and their many, and much loved, dogs.
One plaque, commemorating a favourite dog sums up the loving dedication of this dog in simple terms: “Sempre Fidelis — Always Faithful”. The dedication of the Williams’ family, tremendous benefactors to the City of London, could also be summed up in those same simple words.