Friday, 18 September 2009

The Lost World of Worcester Park House

(click photo to enlarge)

Blog reader and keen local historian Jeff has sent me this rarely-seen aerial photograph of Worcester Park taken in the summer of 1937. It was captured by Charles Brown, who took the photograph because the newly-formed Cuddington Residents Association were fighting a plan to develop the site.

Local history buffs amongst you will of course recognise the property as 'Worcester Park House'. Constructed in 1795, the imposing Worcester Park House was inhabited from 1875 by about 8 unmarried brothers and sisters who lived there in some style.

Jeff has investigated the history of the house and has pieced together the story of its final occupants. His research has uncovered that by 1937 there were only two occupants left and in July 1937 when this photo was taken one of them, Nina Wheeler, died.

The last remaining occupant, Laura, laid off the 8 servants and had moved out by 1938 leaving the 30 room House empty. The photo by Charles Brown is believed to be the last ever picture of Worcester Park House in its full glory.

After Laura moved out, the house was never again inhabited. One of the wings was hit by a bomb in the war and in 1948 the whole place burnt down. The ornamental lake dried up, the ornate balustraded bridge collapsed and nature reclaimed her own.

Much of the area today is almost impenetrable wilderness. There have been some incursions: the Hogsmill Tavern in the 1950s and in the 1970s two housing developments and two special needs schools but about the majority of the estate remains as wilderness.

The area is owned by Epsom and Ewell Council who have distant plans to develop the area with 'social housing and amenities'.

Jeff told the Worcester Park Blog:

'There will be a hell of a fight if they try as it is the 'lungs' of this end of Worcester Park helping to counteract pollution from the Kingston and Ewell bypasses.

When the time comes we will probably find an endangered species of newts in the area to prevent development, even if we have to introduce the newts ourselves!"

Today, only a few discernable remnants of Worcester Park House can be found:

"If you've ever driven down Church Road/Old Malden Lane you will have noticed the ruined house on the right before the hauliers yard, that's Worcester Park Lodge which was the stables of Worcester Park House and stands opposite what was the main entrance to the grounds of Worcester Park House.

I've made two incursion in there from the Grafton Road side but the area where the house, ponds and bridge were couldn't be reached due to a boggy ditch and impenetrable brambles so next time I shall enter it by the opening next to the Hogsmill Tavern."

The area once occupied by Worcester Park House became a popular destination for generations of adventurous school kid explorers particularly in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Perhaps readers of the Worcester Park Blog have their own childhood recollections of the Lost World of Worcester Park House (and grounds)?