Description of Historic Place
Beaconsfield Historic House is a large Second Empire and Italianate influenced home located on the corner of West and Kent Streets. Prominent local architect, William Critchlow Harris designed the home for one of Prince Edward Island's most successful shipbuilders, James Peake Jr. (1842-1895). It has been restored to reflect its early period of occupancy and currently operates as both a museum and office space for the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation staff. The designation encompasses the building's exterior and parcel; it does not include the building's interior.
The heritage value of Beaconsfield lies in its association with various Charlottetown residents; its grand Second Empire and Italianate influenced architecture; and its role in supporting the Kent and West Street streetscapes.
Successful ship merchant, James Peake and his wife, Edith Haviland (1847-1931) lived in the family home on Water Street until the mid 1870s, when they decided to move to the more fashionable, west end of Charlottetown. For his new home, Peake chose a design by talented architect, William Critchlow Harris. He hired John Lewis to build the magnificent structure and it is commonly accepted that plasterer John Lewis fashioned the cornices. Before Peake could build on the site however, the mansion known as West End House was sold and moved off the site to a location across the street. Peake called his home "Beaconsfield" in honour of Britain's Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), the first Earl of Beaconsfield.
Beaconsfield was the most modern residence of the time featuring gas lighting, central heating, a water closet, and running water. The luxurious home had twenty-five rooms, imported tile, eight fireplaces and a beautiful stained glass window above the staircase that featured Peake's initials. All of these luxuries and modern conveniences cost a great deal and the house was reportedly worth 50 000 dollars at a time when the average wage was 300 dollars per year.
During the Peake's time at Beaconsfield, the home was the site of a number of grand parties. Probably the most notable dinner party guests were the Governor General of Canada and Marquis of Lorne, John Campbell (1845-1914) and his wife, the Marchioness of Lorne, Princess Louise (1848-1939), the daughter of Queen Victoria.
Unfortunately, Peake, like many others involved in shipbuilding, suffered from the decline of the industry and was forced to sell his new home. However, it proved difficult to sell such an elaborate and expensive home in Charlottetown and no one came forth to purchase it. Finally, Land Surveyor, Henry Jones Cundall (1833-1916) and his sisters, Penelope (1836-1915) and Millicent (1834-1888), who held the mortgage on the property, moved into Beaconsfield. All three lived out their lives in the home and never married. Henry Cundall, who was a philanthropist, ultimately willed the home as a residence for young women who came from the country to work or study in Charlottetown. The home would be used as a YWCA and later, a nurses' residence for the Prince Edward Island Hospital.
In 1973, Prince Edward Island's Centennial year, Beaconsfield was restored and officially opened by the Queen as the headquarters of the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation. Currently, the large home operates as a museum with offices on the top floor. The carriage house has also been converted to host interpretive programming.
Beaconsfield is set on a large plot of land at the entrance to Victoria Park and faces the mouth of the Charlottetown Harbour. The grounds of Beaconsfield compliment the home and feature a large curved driveway, a former carriage house, huge trees and a beautiful Victorian garden. In an area that features a number of heritage homes, Beaconsfield supports the Kent and West Street streetscapes.
Sources: Heritage Office, City of Charlottetown Planning Department, PO Box 98, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7K2
The following character-defining elements illustrate the Second Empire architectural influences of Beaconsfield:
- The overall massing of the building
- The Mansard roof
- The placement and style of the windows, particularly the tall, two over two windows of the first and second floor, the round headed dormer windows and the stained glass window on the east side of the building, featuring James Peake's initials
- The central placement and size of the double doors with their arched windows and arched sidelights
- The large verandah
Other character-defining elements illustrating the Italianate architectural influences of Beaconsfield include:
- The belvedere perched atop the roof and the decorative bracketing, mouldings and gingerbread
- The tall chimneys
- The beautiful gardens and the treed lot
- The curved driveway off of Kent Street
- The location of the home on the bank of the Hillsborough River with a view of the mouth of the harbour
- The overall massing and placement of the carriage house