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Thornwood

Thornwood
Plaque no. 4
Date of plaque unveiling
16 October 1970
Speakers
Rev. M.A. Garland
Location
329 St. George Street (at College Street), London, Ontario

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History

Henry Corry Rowley Becher, builder of Thornwood, was born in London, England on June 5, 1817, son of Alexander Becher, a Royal Navy officer, and Frances Scott, daughter of the Anglican rector of Kingston and Port Royal. His family had interesting naval and literary connections. Henry’s cousin was the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, and his brother Alexander was an admiral.

In 1835, Henry came to London and articled as a lawyer. His studies were interrupted by the 1837 Rebellion, and he took part in the destruction of the rebel ship “Caroline”, which was cut loose and sank in the Niagara River above the Falls.

Becher was called to the Bar in 1841, was made a Queen’s Counsel, and later gained a reputation for court duels with Edward Blake and Oliver Mowat. He was well connected with the local elite and invested successfully in banks, oil, railroads, real estate and toll roads. In 1882, he became a barrister of the Inner Temple in London, England.

Becher married Sarah Evanson Leonard, daughter of the Sheriff of Niagara, in 1841. The couple had seven children; their son, Henry Junior, was London’s mayor in 1885. Their original wooden house, Thornwood, was built in 1844 and burned in 1852. Becher replaced it with a brick design of his own which included Gothic and Tudor styles. The house is situated on high land overlooking the Thames River and its floodplain (now Gibbons Park). A verandah, added in 1856, contributes to its architectural and domestic charm.

Becher and his descendants entertained many dignitaries at Thornwood, including Sir Robert Borden, the young Winston Churchill who planted a birch tree in the yard, the Duke of Connaught, Sir John A. Macdonald and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII).