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)?

28 COMMENTS (Add Yours Now!):

coffee man said...

i think i have got it right, but wasn't 20 odd acres of this site were sold off 2/3 years ago by auction. interesting to know what for !!!!!

Jeff said...

For the benefit of WP Bloggers less familiar with this corner of Worcester Park, the line of trees emerging from the bottom left corner of the photo follow Old Malden Lane, the road running up on the right hand side is Grafton Road, the road joining them left to right is Cromwell Road and the road going off into the distance at the top is The Avenue. Today's Hogsmill Tavern is located in the bottom left corner. The summer of 1937 was particularly wet and sunless so this photo, taken on a rare sunny day, must have been shot around late July or early August.

If the last of the old dears who lived there had waited a few years, I'd have taken over the rental though I might have had to cut down on some of the servants.

Andrew said...

When I was a lad in the 1970s I ventured into this area, directly opposite the ruined Worcester Park Lodge, Old Malden Lane (still standing). I found the footprint of a building - like bricks or blocks underfoot just above foundations, probably just a small part of the grand old house or maybe one of its outbuildings. At the time I knew nothing of what once stood there - I was just exploring as boys do ! I feel sure that any "trespassers" today would find evidence such as this of the old house.

Jeff said...

That's certainly the area where the old house stood, Andrew. It's interesting that you found the footprint of a building as late as the 1970s. When Tim Trent led "the 2006 Expedition" into the area he found only a couple of piles of moss covered bricks and a grown-over mound that could be the old ice house. And he knew his way around the area because he'd played there years before.

The pictures he took on this Expedition can be viewed on the entry for 'Worcester Park House' on Wikipedia.

Andrew said...

Thanks Jeff. Have looked at the Wikipedia entry. There may be some confusion in the first paragraph between the house we are discussing, and the old house which once stood at the top of The Avenue / corner of Delta Road. But I'm no expert.
I think I have a picture in one of my books of the Worcester Park House in this blog, showing the house with the lake in front of the camera. I'm sure you are aware of this photo.

Jeff said...

Andrew - the old photo of Worcester Park House with the lake that you mention appears in David Rymill's excellent book "Worcester Park and Cuddington - A walk through the centuries". There's also a 1905 photo showing the old biddies who lived there sitting outside with the house in the background.

Incidentally, they were the last people in Worcester Park to switch from a horse and carriage to a car. Or should I say the last people who could afford a horse and carriage and a car to switch.

Yes, the Wikipedia entry is full of misinformation and confusion with Worcester House, the old Royal Palace that stood where the Avenue becomes Grafton Road. I believe it was later the site of the old Blakesley School.

Jalyn said...

I love anything to do with local history and this is a fantastic photograph. Can anyone tell me what roads are shown towards the top left - are they Highdown, Leyfield, & The Manor Drive or have I got this completely wrong?

Jeff said...

Hi Jalyn - Yes, you are absolutely right, those roads top left are the Manor Drive Estate including Highdown, Leyfield, Manor Way etc. Manor Drive stopped at the roundabout and didn't continue to Church Road (where the Parochial School is) until after the war.

I have 7 other aerial photos of Worcester Park shot on the same flight including a couple that focus on the Manor Drive area. If you want a copy via e-mail attachment e-mail me on jeffhw@tiscali.co.uk

Gordon said...

The wilderness around Worcester Park House provided endless hours of fun for adventurous kids back in the early/mid 1950s. We built camps in there, cooked food in tin cans dangling over wood fires and searched the ruins looking for a cellar where rumour had it 'treasure' would be found. I never found any treasure but remember filling my pockets with plums, apples and apricots from long unpruned fruit trees in an orchard area just outside where a kitchen garden appeared to have been. There was only a marshy pond where the lake had been but I think most of the stone bridge was still there. But the ruins of the old house had long since been ransacked for building materials in the post-War austerity years and quite a few fly-tippers had dumped their loads there. Them was happy days! Does anyone else remember exploring the old Worcester Park House and grounds?

Anonymous said...

A fascinating photograph, really interesting to see the growth of the 1930s estates. In the far background the embankment of the Chessington Branch Line is under construction.

Also in the background is the last surviving farm, New House Farm, which was a POW camp during WWII.

I was raised in the Plough area and also spent my summer holidays climbing through the negligble fence by the brick bridge. I remember the large bull rushes in the residual lake.

I knew a lady who was born c1880 and lived in "the village" (Old Malden) all her days. She remembered the Wheeler family riding to church in their coach on Sundays. At Christmastime they gave gifts of bankets to the poor of the parish.

Does anybody remember exploring the derelict "Forge Cottages" opposite Stroudes Close near the Plough?

Ted

Jeff said...

'The History of Old Malden', 26 Nov.Thurs.3pm Old Malden Library - Sue Lamb, the Chief Archivist of Kingston BC, is giving a talk about the history of this end of Worcester Park so any of you lucky enough to live up the posh end (only joking) and are so rich they don't have to work for a living (so are at a loose end mid afternoon on a Thursday) may want to come along.

John Nolan said...

Hi Jeff,
you mentioned, "There's also a 1905 photo showing the old biddies who lived there sitting outside with the house in the background."
Well, I am a relative in Australia and would deeply love to procure a copy. I can help you with their Australian connections too.
Regards,
John
johnnolan_@hotmail.com

Steve said...

my Nan and Grandad for many years lived in what I think is Worcester Park Lodge, my Mum lived there for a lot of her childhood,and I remember spending time there when I was a kid too in the lates 1960's and 1970 and up to the early 1980's.. been back there a couple of times over the years to see what has become of the building! last time was in 2002 on the morning of my Nan's Funeral..

Jeffers said...

Worcester Park Lodge is now just a shell of a building but it used to be the stables and later the garage serving Worcester Park House. Someone told me yesterday that the Lodge was occupied by a large family after the war, perhaps when your Nan and Grandad and Mum lived there.

Vivienne Mancey said...

Hi

I was fascinated to read about Worcester Park House - I used to live just at the end of Worcester Park Road and I remember being woken up when I was very young to look out of our bathroom window when the old house went up in flames.

As a teenager I spent many enjoyable hours 'in the woods' climbing trees and watching the lads on their track bikes and taking our Irish Stter for walks in 'the cornfield' which is right in the centre of the photo.

I was born in Briarwood Nursing Home which was at the end of the The Avenue - have you any photos of that area?

Vivienne Mancey

jeffers said...

Hi Vivienne

Surprisingly, there has been no suggestion that the fire was an insurance job for a property which by 1948 was running into difficulties obtaining repair money from the war damage fund.

The word on the street was that squatters accidentally set fire to the House whilst trying to keep warm. Let's hope that the one big 'warm-up' was worth them losing their squat.

Some of the other photos partly show the top of the Avenue, well the Church anyway, if you'd like the other aerial shots of Worcester Park e-mail me on jeffhw@tiscali.co.uk

bfg369 said...

Hi Vivienne (and many others I suspect) who were born at "Briarwood" in the post WWII era the property provided a place for unmarried mothers to have their babies and arrange adoptions. I wonder if there are any others trying to trace Birth Mothers. bfg369@gmail.com

Cliff Dixon said...

I was yet another local youth who enjoyed the ruins of Worcester Park House with local friends. I went to Blakesley School until 1954 (ish) when I went to Rutlish with 2 friends from Blakesley.
I would like to get any more info on the history of the House - or Blakesley - and would appreciate any advice on how best to do it.
cliffdixoncda@hotmail.com

Jonathan Todd said...

Hi I'm not sure if anyone can help but I have in my possession an oil painting of the plough pub dating back to 1880c could be early 1900, I am trying to find out when the extension may have been added to the left of the pub as the painting I have of the pub does not show this.

Any help would be happily received.

regards

Jonathan

Jonathantodd67@btinternet.com

phil maguire said...

ANY ONE HAVE ANY HISTORY OF BROWNING AVENUE PAST PICKS ECT

jimbo said...

Do you remember John Major at Rutlish?

Russell said...

Jonathan

Just to help you I work on the corporate side for the company that own the Plough. The extension was added by the previous owners Trust House Forte during the seventies. Since then there has been little change to the building fabric. The main building is listed and any works internally or externally requires consultation with the local authority, especially around the stable area.

To clarify on local myths, we own the main building and all land around it. The green to the front is owned by the Parish Council and the land where the old toilet block is built is owned by Kingston Council, hence the parking issues are not all to do with the Plough itself.

Regards.

Dave said...

Interesting as your posting is, you are talking about quite a different place, best part of a mile away.

I don't know what you mean by "Parish Council" but I understand Malden Green (aka Plough Green) to be former Common land administered by Kingston - very unlikely that it is "owned" by anyone.

Dave said...

Whoops! I should have read the posting you were replying to - not that it has anything to do with Worcester Park House.

Chris Amies said...

I used to play in there as a kid in the '70s. I think my Dad took some bricks from the ruins to use as the foundation for the garden patio ... naughty. It was certainly overgrown even then and we feared the ruins would vanish under the 'school for autistic children' that was planned for the site.

Steve Fay said...

I lived in Mortimer Crescent just around the corner from Worcester Park House until 1969. As a child I used to play in the area of the house and lake. I was born in 1948 the same year as the house was burned down. We used to cut through the grounds on our way home from school at Cuddington Primary. Up to 1958 the Ice House was still there if not in entirety. The lake had become a dark and dower and stagnant beast by then. There were still some walls standing in the house area. Whether these were of the house or garden I do not recall.

Deborah Altunel said...

Is there any way some helpful person could orient this photo for me and name the roads that can be seen as I'm desperately trying to overlay this photo onto more modern maps help anyone :-)?

Steve Fay said...

I've always assumed that the housing development at the top of the picture is the Highdown/Leyfield estate. Therefore the road to the right of Worcester Park House would be Grafton Road and the road in the immediate foreground would be Cromwell road that links Old Malden Lane to Grafton Road. Hope this is of Deborah

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