Wanstead House was built by in 1722 on the proceeds of East India Company (EIA) money.
The house was built by Sir Richard Childs, who inherited his fortune from father Sir Josiah Childs, who had been a governor of the EIA .
The house was eventually inherited by Catherine Tylney-Long at the time (the late 18th century) she was the richest woman in England with an annual income of £80,000.
The tragic story of Catherine saw her turn down the possibility of marrying the future King William IV in favour of William Wellesley Pole – the nephew of the Duke of Wellington.
Catherine made a terrible choice when she married William in 1812. He cheated and abused her, squandered her fortune and finished by selling the house off in bits.
The house was on a level with Blenheim Palace, so had it survived the whole development of this part of London would have been very different. The fascinating story of William and Catherine is told in the excellent Angel and the Cad by Geraldine Roberts.
The activities of the East India Company have risen to prominence over recent years, with the TV dramatisation, Taboo, starring Tom Hardy (part of which was filmed at St Marys Church) and Beecham House. But now William Dalrymple has produced a brilliant book, the Anarchy, looking at the bloody rise of the East India Company – the first big multinational that became too big to fail.
The EIC started life as a trading company in 1599. The Company struggled to get “a foothold in India and the region.” This though all changed in the mid-18th century, with the EIC effectively transforming from being a trading company to an aggressive military combatant in the region. By 1750, the Company had a 200,000 strong standing army.
Dalrymple nicely summarises the transformation of the EIC over the 35 years to 1798, “from a trading company to a privately owned imperial power with a standing army and territorial possession far larger than that of its parent country.”
The joint stock nature of the Company structure meant that many in the elite of society – including a large number of politicians – were heavily invested in the enterprise. So when it hit trouble, the EIC was regarded as too large to fail.
The 1770s crisis also marked the point when Parliament would come to regulate and control more and more of the Companies activities. A major regulatory role was the price exacted for a huge £1.4 million loan extended to the Company by Parliament in 1773.
While operating as what amounted to a corporate mercenary the Company managed to take over running most of India - defeating the previous Mughal Empire rulers, then other pretenders such as the Nawabs, the Marathas and Rohillas.
Key players over the years were Robert Clive, a bold brutal British adventurer, who really established the military vice that was to extend out across India. Then power was consolidated under the likes of governor generals Warren Hastings, Philip Francis, George Cornwallis and latterly the Richard and Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington).
The Wellesleys finished off the effort of the Company to take over most parts of plunderable India, whilst also moving the enterprise ever more closely under the control of the British State. It took though until 1857 before the Company was effectively no more, with India passing under the total control of the British Empire.
The Wellesleys also played a key role in bringing to an end the legacy of the EIA in Wanstead, given it was their relation William Wellesley Pole who oversaw the demise of Wanstead House.
The great strength of Anarchy is in revealing the truly brutal and aggressive nature of those pursuing the early stages of creating the rudiments of what was to become the British Empire. Dalrymple does a great service to history with this work that reveals the reality of what really went on, rather than the shiny image often presented in British history books of empire as some sort of civilising force for humanity