Everywhere has a history – this then is Hook Heath’s. We hope you enjoy it and discover that your area really is unique - although as you shall soon see, to start with the area was far from special.
Hook Heath, as a name, was first recorded in a survey of the Manor of Woking in 1280 as ‘La Hok’ (Hok or Hoc being an Old English word for a ‘spur of land‘). The Survey recorded 113 acres of poor arable land valued at just 18s 10d. (95p), with just nine acres of moor (or heathland) valued at 1 shilling (5p) per acre! The fact that the moor was more valuable than the arable shows just how ‘poor’ the land really was.
What's in a Name?
Hook Heath in 1793
These nine acres were the start of the ‘heath’ - or should I say the remnant of the heath at that time – as the original heath here would probably have been ‘developed’ during the Bronze Age. The thin Bagshot Sands could not support the intensive farming of the late Neolithic and Bronze Age period - and it is clear from a later survey of the Manor that the medieval farmers did little better! By 1410 the arable land had decreased to just 40 acres, although its value had increased to 4d (2p) an acre ‘when sown’ or 1d an acre when not sown – ‘the land then used for pasturage [it] being very dry and sandy’. Later still practically all attempts to farm the area were abandoned and the ‘Hokeheath’, as it was known in 1594, became part of the vast, open, ‘Woking Heath’- which itself was part of a larger area of heath and commonland covering much of north-west Surrey . The villagers of (Old) Woking held certain rights to graze their animals in the area and to cut ‘turf's, heath, fern, loam, gravel, clay, and ragstone’ as well as collect brushwood, and take sand – but only for their own use! It is hard to imagine now, but most of this area was so poor that according to one local historian ‘during the 17th and 18th centuries it was the haunt of tinkers and squatters’. Later still, in the mid 19th century, there is a record of a family of eight ‘living in a tent on the common’ at Hook Heath!
The Necropolis Company
So by the mid 19th century this area was of little use and little value. In the 1830s the London & Southampton Railway (later the London and South Western Railway) had been built across the heath, with a huge cutting taking the line from the lonely station at ‘Woking Common’ westward towards the next station (in the next county) at Farnborough. The material taken from the cutting was used in the embankment between what is now the Golf Course and the Hermitage Estate at St Johns . The branch line to Guildford went to the south of the heath in the mid 1840s – eventually becoming the main line to Portsmouth in 1859. But that is taking the story on too far. Back in the early 1850s, there were plans to develop a huge cemetery on the common at Woking . The story really starts in London in the late 1840s. There they were experiencing immense problems with the increase in population and a corresponding increase in the death rate. At the same time the amount of burial ground in the capital had remained almost static and hundreds of people were dying because of the unsanitary conditions. Someone came up with the idea of using the newly developed railways to transport the bodies away from the capital and the idea of using Woking Common (and therefore Hook Heath) for a cemetery was formed. The idea was taken up by a new company – The London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company – who in 1851 were incorporated to build a huge ‘national’ cemetery on the 2,600 acres of Woking Common. Their original plans would have meant that the whole of Woking’s common land would have been used as a cemetery – not just Hook Heath, but the whole of what is now Woking Town Centre, Maybury, Heathside, St Johns , Knaphill and Brookwood, as well as outlying areas of common at Westfield , Smarts Heath and Prey Heath. In the end only 400 acres were used for the cemetery – at Brookwood – but even this is the second largest cemetery in Western Europe ! Brookwood Cemetery opened in November 1854, and by the spring of 1855 the Necropolis Company were already drawing up plans to sell certain ‘surplus’ land around Woking Station and Knaphill. However, they did not, at first, attempt to sell any of the land around Hook Heath. The company were given just ten years to sell their land, but in 1864 so little had actually been sold that they again went to Parliament to gain an extension of five years on their land sales. The problem appears to have been partially due to the image developed by the early land sales. Most land around Knaphill had been sold for the development of large institutions, the Surrey County Pauper Lunatic Asylum and the Woking Invalid Convict Prison, Woking soon gained the nickname of the home of ‘the mad, the bad and the sad’! By 1869, when the Necropolis Company won unrestricted permission to sell their land for development, they had learned their lesson, and land sales from then on seem to have taken a more commercial turn. But still the Hook Heath area remained undeveloped. It was not until their land closer to Woking Station had been sold, that the company turned its attentions to this area.
The Early Development of Hook Heath
By the end of the 1880s the market was right for the development of Hook Heath and the Necropolis Company set their sights on developing the area as Woking’s ‘high-class’ residential district. They could afford to be patient and were careful to encourage only the ‘right sort’ of development on their estate. By the mid 1890s there were still only a few select properties on the heath, including ‘Hook Hill’, built before 1893 for the Duke of Sutherland (who later moved to Sutton Place), and Ivy Cottage off Hook Heath Road.
Hook Hill, 1896
The main period of development in the early years was from about 1895 until the start of the First World War. During this period large houses such as St Catherine's off Hook Heath Avenue, Hook Heath House in Hook Heath Road and Comeragh Court in Pond Road were built. Comeragh Court was one of a number of properties on the heath designed by the architects Tubbs & Messer. Others included ‘The Links’, also in Pond Road, with ‘Stoney Fore’, ‘High Housen’ and ‘Little Widbury’ in Hook Heath Road. Each had their own distinct style, paying homage to the Arts and Crafts movements and in particular the ‘Surrey Style’ of Edwin Lutyens (more of whom later). Most of these early properties had extensive grounds (none less than an acre) and the Necropolis Company were careful to retain where possible the trees already growing in the area. The ’health-giving’ properties of the pines were often commented on in guide books and brochures advertising Woking and Hook Heath in particular – one guide noting... “The Inland Bournemouth” is a name which has been assigned to Woking on account of its sandy soil, the curative and health-giving properties of its aromatic pines, its soft and equable climate, and its protective hills. The sandy soils and ‘coastal feel’ to the area was to attract more than just houses – as we shall see in the next chapter.
In 1892 a group of barristers from the New Court, Temple, London, decided to set up a golf club. Golf was still very much in its infancy – there were apparently only about 250 golf ‘links’ in the whole of Britain, and most of these were coastal courses. There were few easily accessible from London, but with its excellent rail links and the London Necropolis Company’s desire to attract development in the area, they found at Hook Heath the ideal location for their new club.
The Club House, Woking Golf Club
Thus Hook Heath became the site of one of the first ‘inland’ links in this country. The course was designed by Tom Dunn, a well- known ‘designer’ of golf-courses (he supervised the construction of nearly 140 courses) and was opened in 1893 with just eleven holes! The other seven were added soon after, with the ‘nineteenth hole’ housed originally in an old farmhouse called ‘Rose’s Farm’ (later used as the Steward’s flat). The present clubhouse was built in 1894-6, with additions in 1902-4.
Golf was not the only sport that took place there! In the early days skating was popular on ‘Jesse’s Pond’ and a specially constructed pond by the 17th tee was used for curling. In fact curling was so popular that a special concrete rink was constructed by the 1st fairway (used in the 2nd World War as a rifle range).
As mentioned above, the course was built by a group of barristers the first 100 members being members of ‘the bar’, but the Necropolis Company were careful to ensure that they gained from the venture in more than just monetary terms . They used the golf club (and later the Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club) to promote their estate. A brochure by the Company in the early years of the 20th century emphasised that...
‘the membership of the [Golf] Club is full up, and many names await election, but the Company, in letting the Links, stipulated for the entrance of future settlers on the Estate, so Golfers need have no fear on this score when considering the attractions of Woking.’
The Woking Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, formed in 1905, originally had four Croquet lawns, but gradually, as the popularity of tennis increased the lawns were cut back to two with the others being converted into four grass tennis courts. Nowadays there are 18 tennis courts on the 3.5 acre site – five of which are ‘lawn’, eight tarmac, four acrylic and one a small teaching court! The Woking Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club has certainly made progress over the past century, but it seems to have been golf that was the main attraction. sporting wise. One local estate agent, writing on the eve of the First World War noted...
‘We consider that – golf has played no small part in the development of Woking as a residential neighbourhood. Judging by the class of people who have lately taken, and are seeking residences in the vicinity of the golf courses, we consider that it is now rapidly becoming quite a fashionable neighbourhood'.
Hook Heath in the Early 20th Century
The early part of the 20th century saw a number of large properties being built on the heath, some by well-known architects of the day, some for well- known personalities.
One property that falls into both categories was Fishers Hill, built in 1901 by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Gerald Balfour MP and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Balfour, nee Lytton. Lutyens married Emily Lytton, sister of Elizabeth (Betty) Balfour and daughter of The Dowager Lady Edith Lytton, so it was natural that he should design such a fine house for his sister-in-law and her husband.
Fishers Hill (divided into four properties in 1947) is a Grade II listed building, as is ‘Gorse Hill’ in Hook Heath Road which was built in 1911. Apparently the original owner, Mr John Ingram, was an investor in the ’Titanic’, whilst it is said that a later occupant of the house was prevented from joining the neighbouring golf course due to the fact that he was a ’scrap-metal merchant’!
The property later went on to be used by the Indosuez Bank, and the British Railways Board as a training college. It is now a ‘Conference Centre’. Lutyens is not the only well-known architect to be represented on the heath. ‘South Hill’ in Hook Heath Road, was built by and for the architect, Horace Field, whilst on the gardening front Gertrude Jeykll not only landscaped the grounds of Fishers Hill, but also (in 1921), Little Wisset in Hook Heath Road.
By then the Necropolis Company were also allowing some smaller properties to be built in the area, although where they could (notably along the escarpment along Hook Heath Road ) they used the lie of the land to the full.
A brochure for the company throws some interesting light on the period and the companies undoubted ability to sell itself...
‘It must not be thought that only mansions are permissible on Hook Heath; on the contrary, the writer was shown here one of the most delightful cottages that could be imagined. Although still in the builder’s hands, it was possible to see what a charming home such a cottage would afford, with its sloping red-tiled roof, latticed windows, wrought iron door latches, and cosy window seats, the whole, set in a delightfully rustic garden, forming an ideal abode for a young married couple.’
The brochure went on to state that...
‘the bridegroom who has £500 to invest, can borrow, say, £1,000 from the London Necropolis Company, and in a few years find himself the absolute owner of his house’.
What price now for that ‘delightful cottage’?
W.G Tarrant & W.J. Drowley - Two Local Builders
One of the best known builders in the Woking area in the early part of the 20th century was W.G. Tarrant, of Byfleet.
Walter George Tarrant was born on the 8th April 1875 at Brockhurst in Hampshire. He was a tall, imposing figure (well over six feet tall) and in later life sported a thick beard and abundant grey hair. He was obviously a remarkable character. When he was just twenty years old he established his own business, working first as a carpenter and then a builder. By the early 1900s he had already built a number of exclusive properties in the fast developing West Byfleet and Pyrford areas as well as some properties in the Heathside district of Woking and here at Hook Heath.
‘Hembury Knowle’ in Hook Heath Road was built by Tarrant in the early part of the 20th century, with ‘Homewood’ in Pond Road – dating from 1897 – being one of his earliest properties in the area.
By 1911 his works at Byfleet covered over five acres - including a joinery workshop, a stone- mason’s yard, a timber mill and drying shed and works providing wrought ironwork and leaded lights. He had his own brickfields at Chobham and at Rowlands Castle with nurseries at Addlestone and Pyrford.
From 1911 Tarrant concentrated mainly on developing the Hockering Estate in Woking, as well as St George’s Hill at Weybridge. During the First World War the firm turned its hand to making portable wooden buildings for the British Expeditionary Force and even developed a bomber aircraft – the Tarrant Tabor – which unfortunately crashed on its maiden flight at Farnborough, killing both pilots.
After the war Tarrant returned to house building and some properties on Hook Heath date from this period. ‘Corner Cottage’ in Firbank Lane, is believed to have been built by Tarrant in 1923, with ‘Fawdon’ in Cedar Road dating from 1927, but by then Tarrant was again concentrating his efforts on another estate – Wentworth in Virginia Water.
Unfortunately the recession eventually hit the company and in 1931 the firm went into liquidation – although Tarrant Builders Ltd (with his son, Percy as a director) did go on to build many large houses in the area.
In the late 1930s ‘W.G.’ did start up buisness again, developing the Pyrford Woods estate, but it appears that no more houses in this area were built by him. In 1940 he died at his home in Wales, aged just 66, but W.G Tarrant was not the only master builder on the heath – W.J. Drowley & Co., of Church Street, Woking were also responsible for many fine houses – some of which have been accredited to Tarrant by mistake.
A brochure produced by Drowley’s in 1907 shows a number of properties on the heath, including Comeragh Court and all of those by Tubbs and Messer (mentioned in chapter three). The house has since been demolished, although the lodge does still survive.
It is strange that the name of Drowley is not so well known as Tarrant, as the brochure clearly shows that his workmanship was equal to (if not better than) that of his more sought after rival!
Allen House School
One of the larger developments on Hook Heath in recent years has been Allen House Park, built in the early 1990s on the site of the old Allen House School. The school was built here in 1911-12, but its history goes back much further than that. It was started in September 1871 by the Misses Moody in a house called ’Boxgrove Lodge’ on the London Road in Guildford. With room for just twelve boys they soon outgrew those premises and in September 1875 they moved to an old 17th century property in Guildford High Street – opposite the Royal Grammar School. The property, which had been used as a boarding house for the Grammar School, was called ‘Allen House’ after Anthony Allen, a gentleman who owned the property in the 1720s.
It is, therefore, through a rather roundabout route that Allen House Park has gained its name from an 18th century property owner of Guildford! In July 1904 the headmistress, Miss Grace Moody, died and in January 1905 the school was taken over by a Mr F.W. Maw.
It was Mr Maw who realised that the site at Guildford was not ideal for a preparatory school and he soon started to look for a site ‘in the country’, with room for expansion and away from the hustle and bustle of town life.
It was at this time that the Hook Heath area was really developing with high-class houses – an ideal location for a school of its kind. On the 21st October 1911 Mr Maw’s wife laid the foundation stone for the new premises, and by the spring of 1912 the school was ready for occupation!
The original building had accommodation for just fifty boys, but soon this expanded, so that in the end it could cope with well over three times that number. A description of the boys dress in the early days makes interesting reading. Apparently on schooldays the boys wore ‘Norfolk jackets’ and knickerbockers, whilst on Sundays they wore ‘Eton jackets, stiff collars and dark trousers’!
Famous Former Residents
Perhaps the best known family to live on Hook Heath were the Balfour’s of Fishers Hill (see chapter five). Gerald Balfour was born in 1853, the fourth son of James Maitland Balfour and Lady Blanche Cecil (sister to Lord Salisbury).With their uncle’s connections both Gerald and his elder brother, Arthur James, entered politics – Gerald being elected to represent Leeds Central from 1885 – 1906, whilst ‘A.J.’ represented Hertford (1874 – 1885) Manchester East (1885 – 1906) and eventually the City of London (1906 – 1922).
Whilst Arthur served in various positions for his uncle – eventually becoming Prime Minister himself between 1902-5 – Gerald also had an eventful, if somewhat less high-profile, career in politics.
He was Chief Secretary for Ireland between 1895- 1900, President of the Board of Trade (1900-1905) and President of the Local Government Board on two occasions (1885-6 and 1905-6).
In 1903-4 Gerald was also Captain of the Woking Golf Club, being followed (unusually for him) by his brother, whom it must be remembered was also Prime Minister at the time! He probably preferred his time on the course at Woking more than in the House of Commons as one historian noted...
‘It was his misfortune to take office when his party had been uninterruptedly in power for seven years. Ministers were jaded, and the electoral pendulum was beginning to turn against them. The party was also divided – so that Balfour was obliged to devote much of his time – to the task of devising a policy acceptable to both sides.’
A.J. Balfour actually died at Fishers Hill on the 19th March 1930.
In the final months of his life he was visited by many famous politicians of the time, including Chamberlain, Baldwin and Winston Churchill.
Gerald and Arthur were not the only ones to enter politics, although Gerald’s wife, Lady Elizabeth (Betty) Balfour was only a local councillor. Nevertheless she did gain the distinction of being Woking’s first female councillor, being elected in 1919 to represent the St Johns Ward (which at that time covered Hook Heath).
She had a major role in the council’s policies on Public Health and Council Housing – Balfour Avenue in Westfield actually being named after her. She died in 1942, with her husband dying three years later, a few months before the end of the Second World War.
Another famous resident for a time on Hook Heath was one of the Balfour’s close friends and colleagues – Alfred Lyttelton – who lived at Little Frankley, Hook Heath Road. Lyttelton was not just a politician (serving as Colonial Secretary in A.J. Balfour’s government), he was also a distinguished footballer, cricketer and tennis player – playing all three for his country. He was also captain at Woking Golf Club in 1897-8!
It seems that the Balfour’s were the centre of Hook Heath life as a third famous resident, Dame Ethel Smyth, was a friend and near neighbour. She had bought a plot of land in Hook Heath Road in 1908 where she built a small cottage called ‘Coigne’.
Ethel Smyth was a composer and suffragette, being the President of the Woking Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage. She was apparently quite a militant and one story in particular that concerns Hook Heath proved to be of national importance. In 1910 she invited her friend Emmeline Pankhurst to stay with her at Hook Heath and one night the two went onto the golf course to practise ‘throwing stones’ at some trees.
Dame Ethel Smyth
It appears that Mrs Pankhurst needed the practice as her first attempt narrowly missed Ethel’s dog (she had a succession of Old English Sheepdogs – all named ’Pen’). Having gained enough practice at Hook Heath the two embarked on a campaign in London, finally being arrested and sentenced to prison.
Dame Ethel lived at Hook Heath until her death there in 1944.
A friend of Dame Ethel Smyth who lived in the area was Adelina de Lara OBE., a pianist and composer who lived at Adelina’s Cottage off College Lane, Star Hill, from 1929.
In 1878 at the age of just six, she had performed in a concert at Liverpool, before going on to study under Clara Schumann in Liepzig.
In the early days of television she was something of a ‘star’ one of her last broadcasts being a concert on her 82nd birthday. She died at her house in Woking on the 25th November 1961.
Nowadays many of the older properties have been divided or demolished to make way for ‘small’ estates of large houses. However with the Fishers Hill and Hook Heath Conservation Area’s, Hook Heath will remain one of the most sought after areas of the Borough of Woking and the legacy of the Necropolis Company will live on.
To learn further of how Lynch Sales & Lettings can be of assistance to you, please feel free to contact Tony Lynch on Woking 01483 772000.