Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The lost and found world of Worcester Park House

Those of you who saw the aerial photograph of Worcester Park House on this blog (here, if you missed it) taken by Charles 'Biggles' Brown in the last year of its glory in the summer of 1937 may be interested to learn of the return of the 2010 Expedition to locate and explore the site.

The Expedition left in March but progress was slow and laborious due to the thick tangle of undergrowth and trees that have totally enveloped the area surrounding what was once this 30-room mansion built in 1795 with grand curving staircase, carriage sweep, extensive grounds, ornamental lake, walled garden, kitchen gardens and orchards. How quickly nature reclaims her own.

There are no paths or animal tracks and progress was initially hampered by horse flies, rusty Coke cans and an old sofa that required a detour. Soon the Expedition left the detritus of civilisation far behind and entered a dark world of tall trees whose canopies competed for light far above, huge fallen branches and ancient briars that reached out and tangled with the intruder's clothing as if to bar entry. No bird or small animal made its presence felt though at night strange beasts could be heard prowling outside the explorer's hastily erected shelter.

Imagine the elation when after ages of monotonous and uneventful passage there appeared a low pile of moss-covered distinctive red bricks. Then the leader of the Expedition stumbled upon what was clearly a fallen chimney stack that perfectly accorded with those shown on a 1905 photograph of the House.

Next a large galvanised water tank came into view, twisted and half rooted in the ground. The old tank could not have travelled far from the spot where it fell in 1948 on the night of the Great Conflagaration caused by careless squatters or other dossers. Expectations rose and were not disappointed, suddenly a large stretch of waist-high wall appeared, the crumbling rendering showed clearly this was the wall that faced the long dried-up lake. Between the two was once a manicured lawn where the elderly Wheeler sisters took afternoon tea at three-thirty served by two of their many live-in servants.

If you view the photograp substantial trees, you can see that the substation trees on the left are actually growing 'inside' the House. Standing inside this room the remains of other walls became apparent, now covered with ground ivy.

What is shown in the photo, then, is all that remains above ground of Worcester Park House.

The conclusion was drawn that this was the remains of the south-east wing but nothing more was found save a lone stand of late Snowdrops, descendants of those that once graced the well-tended flower borders in their heyday.

But supplies were running low, and the weather taking a turn for the worse, so the decision was made to begin the long trek back braving the briars and fallen logs once more but promising to return someday to search for the remains of orchards, the balustraded bridge, the old ice house located by Tim Trent on the Expedition of 2006 - and of course the Wine Cellar!

Slowly the old House gives up its secrets.

7 COMMENTS (Add Yours Now!):

Carl said...

How does one get involved with the hunt for WP House?

Andrew B said...

I recall this subject a year or so ago. I left a comment at the time, which was followed by some interesting personal correspondence with "Jeff" of Old Malden. At the time, I mentioned my own incursion onto this land when I was a young lad - which I still am (early 1970s probably). I had no idea then of the house which used to stand, but DID find the low footprint of a building. I don't think what I saw has been seen as a part of recent expeditions.......
Anyway, despite my "revelation" I wasn't asked on this year's trek as team gooseberry or any other fruit.
So, it could be that I am the only one who knows the location of the mystery footprint and I think I might just take it to the grave with me...........

Worcester Park said...

Carl - e-mail me and I'll pass your e-mail on to Jeff, who led this recent expedition!

Carl said...


I have Jeffs email address, and have sent him my contact details...many thanks for the info and offer, though.

Jeff said...

Hey Andrew B, wouldn't want you to take your footprints with you to the grave, contact me off-blog on jeffhw@tiscali.co.uk please.

Carl said...

Jeff and I visited the site on Saturday, and using Jeffs excellent desk based research, and a couple of lucky finds in the earth, I'd be quite comfortable in stating that we have identified both the back wall of the house, and located the grand front of it, too.

Jeff said...

That's right, we even discovered the House's broken porcelain loo, too far from the road to be fly tipped. Using a plan of the House obtained from the National Archives it's clear that the photo (above) of the remaining section of wall is identical with the spot where that 1905 photo of the Wheeler sisters was taken that appears on page 59 of David Rymill's book 'Cuddington and Worcester Park: A Walk throught the Centuries'. Some change!

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