The house was named after Lord Eldon, the Lord Chancellor of England during the early 19th century. He, like John Harris was a “self-made man,” born to humble beginnings and having worked hard, rose to success. Similarly also, the two men acted as civil servants – Eldon as chancellor of the courts and judicial system, Harris as Treasurer of the London District. To name one’s house after oneself was seen in the 1830s as immodest, and so, John Harris who admired Lord Eldon, named his house in his honor.
Eldon House artifacts are almost exclusively authentic to the Harris Family. When the house was gifted to the city of London, so too was the 11 acres it stood on as well as the majority of it’s contents. Unique to Eldon House are the multiple eras that are represented: Because the Harris family resided in the house for four generations, spanning the years 1834 to 1959, artifacts and technologies included in the collection are able to give visitors a glimpse into the evolution of this family home.
Milly Harris, granddaughter of John and Amelia, was the last resident of the house. Milly travelled a great deal throughout her long life and had many interests, including photography and hockey and was active on community service. When Milly died in 1959, the house passed to her nephews and niece who had grown up in the house. Together, they generously decided to give the estate to the City of London to be used as a museum and park.
John Harris was born at Dartington, Devon in 1782 to a family who served on the Campernowne Estate. John worked in his early career as a merchant marine. After being “impressed” into service to the Royal British Navy, he came to serve in North America during and after the War of 1812. During a survey mission of Lake Erie in 1815 he met his future wife Amelia Ryerse. Upon their marriage, John would permanently settle in Canada.
Ronald Harris, grandson of the original builders of the house, spent five years in Africa working as a mining engineer. At the turn of the century, he while on expedition in Angola, Portuguese West Africa, Kenya and Uganda, collected the trophies include game animals hunted for food, such as roan antelope, gnu and water buffalo horns as well as some more exotic artifacts from safari-hunted animals like the rhinoceros and elephant.
In John Harris’ lifetime, the family was comfortable at Eldon House, but did not possess the wealth that one might imagine upon seeing Eldon House as it looks today. John Harris as the Treasurer of the London District and retired Navy Master had a suitable income which allowed home comforts, travel and for the education of his children. All three sons were trained in the law. John’s youngest son George Harris married Lucy Ronalds, who would allow for many improvements to be made to the house as well as enable the family to take their famous 11-month world tour.
The number of servants that the family employed would vary from generation to generation. Typically, the family would employ a full-time cook, housemaid and parlor maid for indoor work as well a head-gardener to oversee the maintenance of the property. During certain times, it wasn’t unusual for a chauffeur and nursemaid to be employed.
The square footage of Eldon House is 9,983.90 sq. ft.
There is a popular ghost story linked to Eldon House which involved a brief visit from a British Lieutenant named Wenman Wynniatt. Wenman Wynniatt who was courting Sarah Harris, daughter of John and Amelia, was apparently seen at Eldon House at the moment of his death – though he died several kilometres away from the property.
The motto carved into the top of the mirror has been the subject of much speculation. It is a misspelled Latin motto: the nearest correct spelling for the crest would be: “Kar Duw Res Pub. Trar”. This motto is included in James Allan Mair’s Proverbs and Family Mottoes (1891) and is translated to mean “For God and the Commonwealth.”