St. Leonard's

Windsor, Berkshire

Rebuilt in 1932, for Horace E. Dodge Jr. (1900-1963), the party-loving playboy heir to the Dodge Motor Company in Detroit. The purchase and works were financed by his mother, Mrs Anna Dodge, who had just paid for the construction of Marly (now the Belgian Embassy in Washington D.C.) for Horace's sister, Delphine. The hill on which it stands (and thereby the house) takes its name from a monk who built a chapel here in the 14th century dedicated to Saint Leonard of Noblac. Despite its holiness, this didn't help one of the estate residents who became the second victim of Jack the Ripper....

This house is best associated with...

Horace Elgin Dodge Jr.

Horace E. Dodge Jr., of Detroit etc., President of the Dodge Boat Works


Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr.

"Joe" Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom


The house itself dates back to the early 18th century when it was known as "The Hermitage" but had become a ruin by the time it was rebuilt by the Duke of Gloucester in 1773 who renamed it "Sophia Lodge" for his daughter. By 1813, it was the property of William Dawson who employed Royal architect James Wyatt to transform the lodge into an exemplary 60-room example of Gothic-Revival architecture, akin to Strawberry Hill.

In 1850, it was purchased by Sir Theodore Brinckman, 2nd Bt., who named it "St. Leonard's". One of the coachmen in his employ lived on the estate with his wife, Annie Chapman. In 1888, she made the headlines as the second victim of the notorious serial-killer, Jack the Ripper. Sadly, Annie had long struggled with alcoholism and despite entering one of the first alcoholic rehabilitation centers in Britain, it couldn't save her marriage. Leaving St. Leonard's, she went to London where she met her grizzly end.

In 1921, the Brinckman family sold St. Leonards to the industrialist James Railton (1863-1949) C.B.E., who in 1930 sold it for a reputed $2 million to the American auto-heiress Mrs Anna Dodge who gifted it to her only son, Horace E. Dodge Jr. Two years previously Dodge had married Muriel Dorothy Sisman (his third of five wives) in London and his mother funded the remodelling of St. Leonard's into a 103-room Art-Deco villa, with running costs of $30,000 a year. In 1935 Horace's sister, Delphine, married her third husband (Timothy Godde) here and from time-to-time their mother used it as a base for her European shopping trips with Lord Duveen, adding to her collections at Rose Terrace.

Between 1938 and 1940, Horace allowed his friend Joe Kennedy (father of JFK) to live here rent free. The Kennedy family used it as a weekend home while Joe was U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Dodge served as a Major in New York during the war but was resident again at St. Leonard's in 1945 when he was quizzed about his reported fourth marriage to nurse Clara Mae Tinsley, of Kentucky. From St. Leonards, he commented: "I am not denying it. I am not confirming it. I would like to know about it myself". 

Horace continued to divide his time between St. Leonard's and his other three homes in Detroit, Greenwich (Connecticut) and Cannes in the South of France. He died in 1963 and while his estate was going through the courts some light was thrown on St. Leonard's: "Items in the inventory included a castle and 99-acres of land in Berks County, England... St. Leonard's, of which Dodge is named sole owner, is valued at $500,000. The villa, described as a business enterprise with Dodge and his widow, the former Gregg Sherwood, one-time showgirl from Beloit, Wisconsin, as stockholders, is valued at $800,000". 

In 1966, his mother (who was also his sole executor) sold St. Leonard's for £250,000 to Billy Smart, of circus fame. He died just three years later in 1969 and the house then became part of Windsor Safari Park which was opened to the public in the same year. The park has since become "Legoland, Windsor" and the mansion is its headquarters. 

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 20/04/2021 and last updated on 22/04/2021.
Image Courtesy of the Archives at Windsor Safari Park; Sophia Lodge, David Nash Ford's Berkshire History; The New York Times & the Oshkosh Northwestern; St Leonard's Road, Facebook


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