Dunford House

Copy of email sent on 5 May 2019 to Reg Bailey, Chairman of the YMCA in England and Walses


Dear Mr Bailey,

It is a difficult task, running a charity. I know from my own experience (with The Midhurst Society) that sometimes principles are compromised for the greater good in the longer term.

However, I was disappointed to hear that you have asked Savills to put Dunford House on the market, with a view to turning the property into a purely commercial venture. Before our time, over 60 years ago, the Cobden family entrusted the estate to the YMCA to preserve Richard Cobden's name and legacy. If the YMCA has found that it can no longer honour the pledge made at the time it would seem fitting and proper that the estate be handed back to the family.

The memory of Richard Cobden deserves to be preserved. The YMCA does valuable work, and no doubt the proceeds of a commercial sale would be put to good use. But this is one time, surely, that the reputation and ethics of the YMCA should not be compromised.  By handing back what remains of the estate (I believe parts have already been sold off) you would be ensuring an honourable end to the YMCA custodianship. 

In times of stress individuals and nations tend to revert to insularity and protectionism. The Cobden Monument, just outside Midhurst, proclaims: “Free Trade, Peace, Goodwill among Nations”. This is not just a nineteenth century and obsolete curiosity; it is a message for today and for future generations. In the hands of the Cobden family and local supporters Dunford House could become a beacon of enlightenment.

On behalf of The Midhurst Society, which represents the views of many of the residents of the town and surrounding parishes, I urge you to gift the property back to the Cobden family.


Harvey Tordoff
The Midhurst Society
"Making Midhurst a better place to live, work and enjoy"



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Saving Dunford House
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Letter to the Editor of the Financial Times Weekend Life and Arts Section

Published FT Online 11 March 2019


Simon Schama, in his excellent article on Richard Cobden When Britain chose Europe, (FT Weekend, Life and Arts, 2nd and 3rd March 2019) is headed with a photo of himself standing under the statue of Richard Cobden in Mornington Crescent. He refers to him as a great Victorian liberal reformer and speaks of the horror that the great free-trader would feel at the prospect of leaving the EU because for him, champion of entrepreneurial energy and political decency, British patriotism meant not turning away from Europe but embracing it in the spirit of peace and goodwill. More parochially, many of us in West Sussex are wondering how dismayed he might have been to witness the sale of his house – left in trust by his family to be a centre of education – to a private buyer.

Dunford House, near Midhurst, was rebuilt c. 1848-53 as a family home. It has ever since been associated with the values of free trade, peace, and international goodwill which Cobden’s career exemplified. The House is also a cradle of feminism – a suffragist and suffragette home. After their father’s death, two of the Cobden sisters who had been brought up at Dunford and lived there for some time afterwards were to play an unusual part in later Victorian life. Dunford was always a centre for global society and the international community. Cobden’s career as the ‘International Man’ has been fully reflected in the later history of Dunford and since the 1950s it has been run as a conference centre preserving all the values mentioned, running educational courses, training schemes and other activities designed to assist vulnerable people and lift them out of poverty

On the market for £1.75m, Cobden’s home is a local asset much prized by the community, and the newly set up Cobden Foundation, which includes Nick Cobden Wright, Cobden’s 3x great grandson, is trying to raise funds to buy it and its contents to restore it both as a museum and a local centre for education and well-being. Many pieces of furniture and artefacts used by the family are still there – including the seals attached to the document repealing the Corn Laws, and, more relevant still in these times, a Sevres vase sent by Napoleon III to celebrate Cobden’s negotiation of improved relations between Britain and France. Should any reader be moved to support us more information is available at www.cobdenfoundation.org

Yours faithfully

Chris Boxley.

1 Pinewood Court, Church Road, West Lavington, Midhurst GU29 0EH





The Cobden Hall in Heyshott was the ideal venue for the gathering of people 9 January 2019 to hear news of our plans to save Dunford House.  

Heyshott man Chris Boxley provided the following report:
And how wonderful to have with us members of the Cobden, Bright and Potter families along with a lady whose mother cooked a meal for Gandhi when he was visiting the house.  Nick is Richard Cobden’s great great great grandson, Diana is John Bright’s great great great niece, Beatrice Potter is the great granddaughter of Thomas Bayley Potter and Dorothy Brett’s mother was Agnes Dudman, cook at Dunford House in the 1920s.
The purpose of the meeting was to honour a commitment we made to the Cobden Club and to those who were our early supporters to inform them of the progress of our campaign since we learned of the closure of Dunford House in late May/early June 2018.  Wonderfully our group has grown since those early days, and through the newspaper, led to the great joy of being contacted by Nick, who is now very firmly leading the campaign.  Invitations to the meeting were sent to individuals and groups we had encountered on the way, and the invitation was published in the Heyshott January 2019 Newsletter.
It was a joy and a privilege to welcome and address nearly 70 of you who came on Wednesday evening. We committed to sending you a brief report of the meeting and establishing a Dunford News group.  I have collated almost all the emails you have given us, so thank you, and that is why you are receiving this communication.  I need to verify two or three contacts who will be added when I have confirmed the details.. You will also be receiving it if you are one of our friends who have been with us from the beginning and have been enabling us to make progress, but you live and work a long way from Dunford House.
Chris gave a brief outline of events. The house was closed. Early 2018 we learnt it was to be sold. Prof Anthony Howe, Modern Historian, University of East Anglia, editor of Cobden’s letters and a great expert on him, was shocked to hear the news. Happy to join any effort to save the House and everything in it, as part of our national heritage.  He wrote a piece outlining three reasons for conserving the Cobden home and history.
A meeting in early August, attended by Paul Smillie company secretary of YMCA, Prof Anthony Howe, Gordon McAra of Midhurst Town Council, Sue Beavis, who grew up in Dunford House, and Lydia and Chris Boxley.  YMCA confirmed intention to sell the house.  The question arose about what to do with the artefacts.  The intention was to dispose of the house and contents separately.
During the summer made contact with National Trust, English Heritage, South Downs National Park and others to arouse interest.  No progress there.
In September a letter was sent to the Cobden Centre in London.  This is an educational charity set up mainly by Toby Baxendale, to further Cobden’s ideals and values of ‘good money’ and his desire to help people out of poverty.  Toby had not visited Dunford House before, and following a visit which took in his grave in West Lavington, the obelisk, Dunford House itself, and a visit to Heyshott to see the church where Cobden worshipped, and the cottages which were left to the village by Jane Fisher Unwin, and the Hall which now is the home of the Cobden Club, Toby was inspired to help us work to preserve the house and everything in it as a memorial to Richard Cobden and as a place to carry out the wishes of the family as expressed in the Trust deeds of the estate.
Through an article in the local press the wonderful event of Nick Cobden Wright making contact was achieved.
Nick expressed his gratitude at being able to reconnect with his family home and thanked all who had led to this being possible.  He connected with Toby at the Cobden Centre, and with Paul Smillie at the YMCA.
Nick’s biggest concern is to address the matter of the original donor intent.  When Jane set up the trust it was to be permanently endowed to the YMCA in 1952 to be used for educational purposes.  Over the years property and land have been sold.  Nick has been pursuing the matter of the trust, and has been obtaining legal opinion from a number of sources, and the legal review in ongoing.  Land and artefacts can be sold, but there are many judgements about what the YMCA can do.
Nick is seeking a collaborative way forward with the YMCA.  The fabric of the house is deteriorating, and time is of the essence in preserving everything.  Nick is engaging with the Trustees of the National Council of YMCA.  The conversation is around a plan asking the YMCA to gift the house and land to a newly formed Cobden Foundation, with all the values and causes espoused by the YMCA, especially their care for young people.
Nick in his proposal to the YMCA says:
We will establish a new charitable incorporated organisation called The Cobden Foundation with a defined number of trustees drawn from the family, economic and political think-tanks, academia and the local and national communities.

Our charitable purposes or “objects” will be:

To promote general educational purposes as per the Cobden family’s original donor intent/trust deed for the public benefit, in particular but not limited to young people and low income groups in the local area and beyond. This will be done in accordance with Richard Cobden’s Christian values of fairness, compassion and unity so people can benefit from increased prosperity and wellbeing.
Our values and principles:

Our common belief is that Dunford can act as a convening point and catalyst to bring about change for the greater good of mankind and humanity. It may sound like a bold statement but looking at past events through the Cobden and YMCA years this is what Dunford is all about. The Conferences are testament to that. We will reinforce the Cobden family’s beliefs including:
Promotion and advocacy of free trade, the benefits it brings, the positive impact on people and prosperity (as relevant now as it was in the 1840s)
Encouragement of freedom of speech, diversity and inclusivity, women’s rights (shining the light on the suffragette/suffragist campaigning of Richard Cobden’s daughters)
General values of compassion, decency, trust, peace, tolerance, ethics, fairness and equality.
Our values and people within our movement mirror the Christian values of the YMCA and like you we welcome all religious denominations under this umbrella.
Nick’s proposals are on their way to the Company Secretary of the YMCA and he hopes to connect with Trustees of the National Council of YMCAs as they prepare for their AGM on 6th February when we understand a decision will be made about the future of the house.
As soon as we learn the outcome of the YMCA meeting we will share the news with you.  The outcome will determine how we will need to proceed.
Thank you for your support
"Without Richard Cobden, there would not have been the reform of the Corn Laws and literally the masses able to afford to eat bread. Free trade in the Victorian period may not have happened as it did, liberating large parts of the world from poverty. He knew the more people traded and talked with each other, the more peaceful the world would be. He and his heirs gave his house, in effect, to the nation via a Trust, to be used to promote these ideas and others (sound money, feminism to name but a few). It's essential this donor intent is respected as it transitions from the YMCA's loving care to a new future. Right now, in this country, when the dialogue is so polarised, Dunford, as a convening place, routed in the aforementioned values, could well help, as we as a nation navigate into new arrangements with the world."  Toby Baxendale, the Cobden Centre.