The Side of the Heath
Where Woking Town Centre is today was once part of Woking Heath. The town of Woking was the area we now know as Old Woking and between the two, on the ‘side’ of the heath, was ‘Heathside’. From old maps it appears that Heathside Road/Park Road marked the edge of the heath, with several farms to the south, down towards the River Bourne (or Hoe Stream). Heathside Farm was in Heathside Road (where the junction with Heathfield Road would now be), whilst in White Rose Lane could be found not just White Rose Farm but also Uplands Farm (opposite the entrance to Woking Park). Much of Woking Park was built on the land of an old farm known as Blackness Farm – the farmhouse of which was in Blackness Lane, near the park’s bowling green. On the Guildford Road heading towards Mayford were Bedford’s Farm, Barnsbury Farm and Egley Farm , whilst in the Mount Hermon area the farm land there was shared between Cross Lanes Farm in Guildford Road (Mount Hermon Road) and Oaks Farm in Goldsworth Road (York Road). Despite these farms the area was still fairly isolated, making the area ideal for the prize-fights that were popular after 1849 when bare-knuckle fights became illegal. Even before then Woking had been the scene of at least one world-championship fight when the best fighter in England, Nat Langham, took on the Australian champion, William Sparkes. In those days the rounds were thick and fast. The fight was fairly even until the 36th round when Sparkes knocked Langham off his feet, but Langham fought back and in the 62nd round caught Sparkes with a blow to his neck. After a struggle the two fell to the ground with the Englishman on top. The fall broke Sparkes’ right arm and, although he carried on for five more rounds, eventually he had to give up, his backer throwing in his hat in the 67th round! The last fight at Woking, in about 1865, lasted for four and a half hours and only ended when one of the fighters had his eye put out and the other broke his arm! It is claimed that the ‘ring’ was more or less where the Royal Mail sorting office is now and that the ring equipment was kept at the nearby Castle Ramwick Inn.
Tudor Farms and Houses
As has already been noted, there were a number of old farms in the Heathside area and a couple still survive along with two old labourers cottages in Park Road.
White Rose Farm
The name White Rose was first recorded as ‘Whitetrowes’ in 1548 – the ‘trowes’ part coming from the Old English word ‘Treow’ meaning a tree – in this case presumably a Silver Birch tree. The house dates from the early 16th century, with the barn (now a separate residence called ‘High Barn‘) originally dating from the 17th century.
Cross Lanes Farm
Cross Lanes Farm in Guildford Road was built in the late 15th or early 16th century, with two cross wings added in the 17th century. The earlier, central portion was probably part of an open-hall house – in other words it had no chimney, just a large central hall with a fire in the middle. Timbers in the roof of the two central bays are blackened with soot – a sure sign of an open-hall. It appears that in the early 17th century the solar bay (private bedroom end) was gutted and part of it converted into a smoke-bay, with a smoke hood taking the smoke away from the upper storey rooms. Later a new parlour wing was built to the right and a chimney inserted to serve both the hall and the parlour.
This 17th century, timber-framed cottage in Park Road was once an inn – known as the Castle Ramwick Inn. It closed some time in the mid 19th century when it was converted back into a cottage and then extended. It is a grade II listed building.
The Old Cottage
This timber-framed cottage, also in Park Road, dates from the 16th century, but was partially clad in brick in the 18th century when a chimney replaced the original smoke-bay (i.e. a timber-framed section where the fire once was). It too is grade II listed.
Land Sales & Early Development
For centuries little changed for the poor farmers in this area. Then, in 1838, the London & South Western Railway opened their station on the common and two years later a hostelry – the Railway Hotel (now called The Sovereigns) – was opened on a small parcel of farm-land on the edge of the heath in Guildford Road.
The Railway Hotel
Coaches started to travel along the main Guildford to Chertsey Road as far as the new station, but after 1845, when a branch line to Guildford was completed, the traffic must have dwindled and the area returned to normal. The coming of the railway had little impact on the area at first! But in the 1850s the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company bought the whole of Woking Common for their cemetery. They only used a small part of the land (at Brookwood) eventually selling off the rest for development. In the Heathside area the Necropolis Company only owned the land to the north of Heathside Road, so the major influence to development here came from the various farms mentioned earlier. The first major sale of land in the Heathside area (apart from the Necropolis Company’s land sales of the mid 1850s) was the sale of 16 acres of land at Heathside Farm in 1882. Local farmers had discovered that the best ‘crop’ they could grow on their fields was ‘bricks and mortar’ and soon all the farms near the new town of Woking were selling their fields for development.
Heathside Road, Heathside Park Road and Ashwood Road were all developed at about this time, with many of the large houses in the area built by local firms such as ‘Tarrant's’ of Byfleet or Drowley’s of Woking. Many of these have survived, although some have been divided into flats and others demolished (or their gardens reduced in size) to make way for new houses, some of these old properties are now listed buildings, such as Ashwood, the former National Children’s Home, in Ashwood Road.
Map showing Ashwood, Ashwood Road, in the mid 1890sThe Mount Hermon district was begun in 1883 when the Fladgate family sold their Cross Lane Farm and 135 acres of land for development, and it was at about this time that the ‘Hillview Estate’ was also laid out with large houses overlooking the meadows that were later to become Woking Park. The area was obviously quite popular with even Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson visiting the area in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story ‘The Naval Treaty’ Doctor Watson describes one of the houses of the Mount Hermon district –
'We were fortunate enough to catch an early train at Waterloo, and in a little under an hour we found ourselves among the fir-woods and the heather of Woking. Briarbrae proved to be a large detached house standing in extensive grounds within a few minutes walk of the station.’
The Mount Hermon district not only included the road of that name, but also Brooklyn Road, Midhope Road and West Hill Road, the latter forming part of the Mount Hermon Conservation Area (set up in April 1992). Another new road on the Cross Lane Estate – Claremont Avenue – contained slightly smaller plots, but here too many fine Victorian and later Edwardian houses were built (and still survive – although many have recently been redeveloped). The road was laid out in 1887 the year that the Duchess of Albany (who lived at Claremont House in Esher) came to lay the foundation stone for the new Christ Church in Woking Town Centre. To the north of Mount Hermon Road the ‘York Estate’ was laid out in 1893 (the year that the Duke and Duchess of York were married – later George V and Queen Mary). Its close proximity to the railway meant that it was less fashionable than Mount Hermon Road, although in the sale documents they point out that the site is ‘in a most advantageous position surrounded by superior residences’.
The Rastrick Family Estate
Having acquired the whole of Woking Common in 1854, the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company almost immediately sought permission to sell their ‘surplus’ land around Woking Station. In 1859 they held the first of their major sales of land around the station, but as the auction plan shows a large amount of land had already been sold privately to a gentleman by the name of John Rastrick. John Rastrick was a railway engineer – responsible for the London and Brighton line – and the records of the Necropolis Company show that in all he bought 39 acres in 1859, adding a further couple of acres the following year.
Land owned by John Rastrick in 1859, from the Necropolis Company’s land sales map
Rastrick had two sons, Henry and George, and it was to the latter (a solicitor) that the property passed. When he died in 1904 his widow sold off much of the land, although Woking Lodge remained her home. After her death the house was demolished and in the 1930s the houses of Oriental Road were built on the site. The site upon which the Police Station now stands was originally part of the land acquired by the Rastrick Family. When George Rastrick died in 1904 the land was bought by W.C. Slocock (a nurseryman in the Goldsworth area of Woking). He was a member of the Woking Education Committee, who acquired the site in 1909 for their new ‘Technical Institute’ (or Boys Grammar School) . The school was built in 1914, closing in 1981 and eventually being converted into the new police station. As a matter of interest the original police station, on the other corner of Heathside Road (now the site of Mountside Place) opened in 1887 with room for just three policemen and four cells!
The idea of a public park in Woking came not from the local council seeking to improve the environment for its ratepayers, but from a developer keen to improve their investment. In 1902 the Suburban Land Company, who were developing the ‘Hillview Estate’ offered to sell 23 acres of land to the council for recreation purposes. Why, you might ask, did the developer not seek to build on this land. The answer is quite simple, it was mainly low-lying, often flooded in winter, and as a park would have greatly improved the asking prices of their properties to the north in Hillview Road. The sale was completed in December 1904 and by 1914 the ‘Mount Hermon Recreational Ground’ as it was then known, was largely complete with formal rose gardens, tennis courts, bowling greens and a children’s play area.
The old outdoor swimming pool (on the site of the present Leisure Lagoon) in Woking Park.
There was also a new swimming pool – in effect a large hole dug into the ground and lined with wooden planks, the water for which was pumped from the nearby Hoe Stream.
The 1950s & 60s
By the 1950s Woking’s population was increasing quite rapidly. In 1958 the first major plan for ‘high density’ housing was put forward in this area and in 1959 a scheme for 92 flats, maisonettes and town houses were approved to replace five large houses on the north side of Hillview Road. Hillview Court actually won a building award when it was built in the early 1960s. A few years later the ‘Mount Hermon High Density Area’ was officially approved allowing blocks of flats to be built up to a maximum height of ten-storeys. In the end only one such development was allowed – Craigmore Towers – although in recent years more such developments have got off the drawing board. By the end of July 1960, Woking Council had received thirty-seven plans for high density schemes – only four of which were actually approved (including Radstone Court and Southview Court in Hillview Road). The original high density area was between White Rose Lane, Woking Park, Brooklyn Road and Heathside Road, but in 1966 this was extended to include all the area south of the railway up to Wych Hill Lane – an area of 125 acres. Not all the development in the 1950s and 60s was high-rise, however, and in places such as White Rose Lane several small ‘closes’ were built such as ‘Barrens Close‘, ‘Bylands’ and Wendela Close. Bracken Close, off Heathside Road was also built at this time, whilst in Guildford Road houses and town houses were constructed at Oak Bank, Moorholme, and Thorsden Close. Brooklyn Road at that time saw the laying out of the Belgrave Manor development and new houses in Brooklyn Close. York Road and Mount Hermon Road also saw some new houses built in the 1960s mainly in the ’gaps’ between the Victorian and Edwardian villas.
Later 20th Century Development
From the above it is clear that the Heathside and Mount Hermon areas have seen a lot of change since they were first developed in the late 19th century. Many of the old Victorian and Edwardian houses have survived, although several have been sub-divided into apartments or flats. Others have seen their gardens sold off for development, whilst unfortunately some fine old buildings have been lost to more modern developments. It is impossible to list every modern development in this area, but some of the more significant ones of the later 20th century include those off Claremont Avenue (in Poplar Grove, Claremont Drive, and Davos Close); Constitution Hill (Effingham Court and Woodlands) and Hillview Road (the ‘Fairview’. ‘Park’ and ‘Ockenden’ estates). In Mount Hermon Road several large Victorian and Edwardian houses were used by Woking Council after the Second World War for their offices. There were plans in the 1950s and 60s to rebuild a new ‘civic centre‘ on this site, but when the council moved to new offices in the town centre in the early 1980s the old site was sold. Most of the site was redeveloped with offices (between York Road, Guildford Road, Mount Hermon Road and the newly constructed Montgomery Road), with apartments on the rest of the site such as The Rowans, The Hollands and Carmel Close.
Many of the new developments in the Heathside and Mount Hermon area were promoted as being suitable for commuters wishing to take advantage of Woking’s fast and efficient train service to the capital, but the close proximity of the town centre has also encouraged many apartments to be built for ‘elderly’ residents, such as Homebeech and Homeworth in Mount Hermon Road, Consort Court in York Road, and Park Gate in Constitution Hill. The 1990s was not all about demolition and reconstruction, however, as two ‘Conservation Areas’ were also formed – the Ashwood Road area and the Mount Hermon area. In ’Ashwood Road’ (actually including all the houses of Heathside Park Road and the houses on the southern side of Heathside Road between White Rose Lane and Heathfield Road) there are nine locally listed buildings as well as the splendid ‘Arts and Crafts’ Ashwood House (now converted into sixteen apartments) built in the late 1920s by Mackay Hugh Ballie Scott. The Mount Hermon Conservation area by contract includes just three locally listed buildings as well as the nationally listed St. Mary of Bethany Church, built in 1906-8.
Into the 21st Century
With all the redevelopment in the later part of the 20th century it would be easy to assume that there was little room for any new development in this century. You would be wrong. More cranes have appeared on the Woking skyline in recent years than at any time in the past and most of the new developments could be described as true ‘landmark’ sites. Indeed one – built on the corner of Constitution Hill and Guildford Road is actually marketed as ‘Landmark’ by its developers Berkeley Homes. The site was formerly a hotel known as the ‘Litten Tree’, but previously called the ‘Cotteridge Hotel’. Another old hotel site (the Northfleet Hotel) was in Claremont Avenue where ‘Claremont Lodge’ was built in 2003, with Bramley and Birtley House’ being constructed at about the same time at the other end of the road. Of course the largest development in recent times is the ‘Centrium’ buildings by Woking Station. Planning permission for 240 apartments, to be built in two blocks up to fifteen storeys high, was granted early in 2003. A further 48 apartments for a ‘second phase’ (actually built at the same time) was also granted on what had once been the old 1960s telephone exchange site on the corner of Oriental Road and Station Approach. Cranes have also soared over Heathside Crescent where Thirlstone Homes constructed their impressive ‘Brackenbrae’ crescent of 72 two-bedroom apartments (with twenty-four additional ‘affordable homes’ on a separate part of the site). They were also found above Heathside Road where Bellway Homes were working on their ‘Lismore Gardens’ scheme – the site taking its name from an old Victorian House called ‘Lismore’ that had been commandeered during the Second World War as a hostel and which after the war was used by Surrey County Council for offices. It is difficult to see where development will be in the future, but with Woking’s fast and efficient train service, its great shopping and entertainment centres and the high value of land in this area – you can be sure that the cranes will not be missing from the Woking skyline for very long – watch this space!