PITT PLACE EPSOM

A Personal Account by Margaret Robins

A view of Pitt Place from a very faded photograph
A view of Pitt Place from a very faded photograph.
Image Source Epsom and Ewell History Centre

George lV and Mrs Fitzherbert.

lf this connection is a myth, then it is a very elaborate and expensive hoax. The Bow room, if not built for Mrs Fitzherbert was certainly adapted for her. incidentally it was not well constructed, and the bow window was later very unsafe. Their joint monogram was inscribed, I think over the fireplace, and there were a number of items of furniture and ornaments with provenance from that time. Also in the ballroom (earlier the drawing room) there was a trompe d'oeil (deceive the eye) carving over the fireplace. This appeared to be in relief, but was in fact flat, and still to be seen was the mark where George had prodded it with his sword to verify that it was flat. Who else would dare to do that in someone else's house?

The exterior of the Bow Room just prior to demolition
The exterior of the Bow Room just prior to demolition.
Image Source Bourne Hall Museum

Context.

During and immediately after the war, Claude Bagshaw was the owner and occupier of Pitt Place. He was the senior partner of Bagshaw and Co an old and well established firm of chartered accountants in the City - they were one of the last companies to have an account with the Bank of England. He was unmarried with no children. Alan and his wife Chris Worboys originated from Skye. [Alan married Christina J. Mackay in 1926 in the Barnet registration district.] I don't know how they met Mr Bagshaw, but he took Alan into his firm, although he was not fully qualified, and virtually regarded him as his son. Alan and Chris also lived at Pitt Place, and they had two children, Mairi [born 1929 and registered as Mairi C. Warboys] and Alan Claude [born 1936], known as AC. ln those days there were also servants, usually a married couple together with others in the house and grounds.

The Worboys were friends of my parents, and Alan introduced my father, Bernard Franklin, who was a fully qualified chartered accountant, to Mr Bagshaw, who made him a partner in the firm. He then took over as senior partner, although Alan had been in the firm much longer. ln my father's time the offices of Bagshaw & Co were at 3 St Helen's Place in the City. During the war we were living in Leicester, my father working in London during the week and living at Pitt Place. Immediately after the war we moved to Red Cottage, The Grove, which is very close to Pitt Place.

When Mr Bagshaw died, his estate passed to his brother, Major Bagshaw, whose permanent residence was Ruthven Castle in Wales. He spent quite a lot of his time at Pitt Place, but was somewhat more remote than his brother had been. He was also without heirs, and on his death Pitt Place passed to Alan Worboys, in accordance with his brother's wishes. All this could of course be checked by consulting genealogies and wills.

For many years Pitt Place continued much as usual. However, Mairi and AC married and left, Alan and Chris were getting older, and it became increasingly difficult to find housekeepers or any other staff. The main kitchen and the state rooms were no longer used, and Alan and Chris used the former servants wing and the Bow room. The orchard on the other side of Church Road was sold off, but increasingly the upkeep of the house and grounds became too much for them, especially as Alan's health was not good. Hence inevitably the sale, and the subsequent disaster.

Thus far is factual - The following is more impressionistic, and I know there are gaps in my memory, and memory is notoriously unreliable. I have, however done my best to describe the house and grounds during the post war years, and give some idea of everyday life in Pitt Place. My psychic experiences were really written for another purpose, but are, I suppose, very much part of the ambience of Pitt Place.

My Time at Pitt Place.

I first stayed at Pitt Place with my parents in 1943 when I was four years old - I suspect this was when my father was buying Red Cottage. I can't remember who slept in the main bedroom - otherwise known as the ghost room - but the legend of a ghost appearing to announce a death only applied to the owners of the house. For Christmas of that year Mr Bagshaw gave me an illustrated copy of the Stories and Tales of Hans Anderson - which I still have. There is a dedication to him from Mrs Perks for Christmas 1878, followed by his dedication to me.

We moved to Red Cottage shortly after the war, and Pitt Place was only a short walk away - in those days with little traffic children were perfectly safe. The Worboys were known as Uncle Alan and Aunty Chris and were close friends of my parents. I can't put dates to any of this, but can only give an impression of how the building was then used and lived in.

When I was younger the big main kitchen was the centre of the house as there were still staff. I remember the housekeeper had a daughter much the same age as me and we would explore the house together. The one room which was forbidden to us was the library. When Major Bagshaw was in residence he was usually in the library, and we were warned not to make a lot of noise and disturb him. The Worboys children were older, and already away at boarding school. I remember children's tea parties in the dining room and when I was older formal dances in the ballroom. I was shown the exotic plants in the orangery - I believe they once succeeded in growing a pineapple there. Uncle Alan would take me round the garden - into the greenhouse where there were grapes, and across the road into the orchard. The south facing wall was heated from the greenhouse, and grew the best apricots and peaches I have ever tasted. Apples were stored in the loft above the coach house/garage. I had also been shown around the rest of the grounds (see description below). When I was older I used to walk round on my own, and we would then have tea in the Bow room. To me, Pitt Place was like a second home and very much part of my childhood, right up to the time it was sold.

Funnily enough, I don't remember much about the Worboys children, Mairi and AC. Of course they were much older than me and my younger brother and were also at boarding school. I never questioned where they slept or what parts of the house they used when at home. I was a bridesmaid at Mairi's wedding, and I think my brother was a page at AC's. Mairi, I think, moved back to Scotland at some point - if still alive she would be well into her eighties - and I can't remember the surname of her husband, Adrian. [Mairi married John R. A. Wright in 1952.] AC died suddenly at the age of 50, but his widow is still alive and I am in touch with her each Christmas - there are children and grandchildren. However, I doubt if she would remember much about Pitt Place as they never lived there. I am probably the last person to have personal knowledge of Pitt Place, and I am only sorry it has taken me so long to do some research and write down what I remember. Both the house and grounds were historically important - besides the haunted bits - and it is a tragedy that they have been lost.

Description of Pitt Place post 1945.


External

The Pitt Place Gates
The Pitt Place Gates.
Image Source Bourne Hall Museum

Coming up Church Street from the town, you arrived at St Martin's Church, with the car park in front, on your left. The boundary of Pitt Place started immediately on the far side of the car park. There were two massive gates set in the wall, with lions couchant on top of each gatepost. These lions were subsequently stolen in broad daylight by two men with a lorry and a crane. When questioned they said they were taking them away for cleaning - a perfect example of barefaced robbery! The high wall continued for the whole circumference of the property. A little further along, and just before the wall of the house itself was a small door which was the main pedestrian entrance. Towards the far end of the house was the main front door - which, to my knowledge, was never used even on formal occasions. The wall then continued round the corner into Church Road, which sloped upwards and curved round to the left. Towards the far north east corner of the property there was a gate in the wall, and another on the opposite side of the road leading into the orchard. This orchard grew the usual apple, pear and plum trees, but also quinces. I remember Alan telling me he had once caught a local boy 'scrumping' what he thought was a pear, but was in fact a quince. To teach him a lesson Alan made him eat it - have you ever tried to eat a raw quince? The wall then continued to form the southern boundary of St Martin's graveyard and on to our starting point.

The House

The Drawing Room, Pitt Place 1959
The Drawing Room, Pitt Place 1959

The small door led you down a flight of steps into the drive. To the left was the drive from the main gates, and the coach house. This was used as a garage, and the hay loft above for storing apples. I don't remember the stables or other outbuildings being there, but I may be wrong.

To the right was the house itself. ln my time there was a roofed in glass corridor running along the side of the house as far as the inner hall. Entering this corridor if you turned to the right you went up some steps into the main kitchen on the road side of the house. Behind this large room there was a maze of smaller rooms - pantries, staff sitting rooms etc - and my memory of the layout here is non-existent. I do know that there was a subsidiary staircase leading up to the corridor of what used to be the servants' quarters. These rooms were at least partly used as residential quarters for the married couple who lived in - the wife as housekeeper, and the husband as groundsman.

Turning left you walked down the corridor with the end wall of the library on your right, and came into the inner hall of the main two story block. This hall was double height with the staircase on the right. ln front of you was the dining room. This was a long dark panelled room with a massive table and chairs running almost the full length, and with pictures on the walls and windows on the north side. Next to this was the drawing room - which in my day was always known as the ballroom. The photo dated 1959 shows this fully furnished, but I don't remember it like this. I wonder if the furniture and ornaments were put in store - possibly because there were children around, and possibly because it was indeed used for dances etc. The panel above the fireplace was always a talking point as it appeared to be in relief, but was in fact flat. The sword mark supposedly made by George lV to test this was also evident. This room had long windows opening to the south, and was light and welcoming as opposed to the rather heavy and dark dining room. To the east was a massive orangery containing all sorts of tropical plants - at one time they succeeded in growing a pineapple.

Turning right from the hall past the stairs you went round the corner into the main entrance hall, with the front door up some steps to the right. The floor was tiled, I think in black and white, and the opposite side was fully glazed with doors opening into the garden. On the extreme left was the library, running behind the stairs the full length of the inner hall. This was one room we were never allowed to enter, so I can't describe it. On the left was a corridor, which turned at a right angle to the right . On the left was firstly a room for cutting and preparing flowers, and then the gun room, and at the end was the door into the garden, coming out under the bow room, which was the door which was always used - never the doors from the entrance hall. This was unfortunate for me, as that short corridor always felt very strange.

Returning to the hall and going up the stairs, the main bedrooms and a large victorian bathroom were to the left, over the dining and ball rooms I think there were three rooms, including the 'master' which was where a spectre was supposed to appear giving warning of the imminent death of the owner. ln front at the top of the stairs was the entrance to the Bow room. This was a small (in comparison the the rooms downstairs) sitting room, with a fireplace with the monogram of George lV and Mrs Fitzherbert, comfortable chairs and occasional tables, and lots of ornaments. The walls were floral patterned - I'm not sure if this was paper or fabric. lt was a charming, intimate room and was always used as the everyday sitting room. To the right at the top of the stairs was a long corridor ending in the secondary staircase from the kitchen quarters. ln later years the Worboys installed a kitchen, and probably updated the bathroom, and used this as their living accommodation, as it was easier to heat and maintain for them in the absence of staff.

This is as much as I remember, but comparing it with the photographs there is obviously a lot more to the building, and it is difficult to put the whole together from the parts - ie I could not draw a ground plan. Thinking about who was living in the building, I think I would make one correction. I notice that the part of the building housing the corridor linking the Bow room to the kitchen quarters has three stories. lt is more than possible that the corridor on the first floor always housed additional bedrooms - ie for the Worboys family - and that it was the top floor which was the servants' rooms or staff accommodation - certainly if I do not remember a third floor, it is because it was out of bounds.

The grounds.

The Greenhouse Pitt Place
The Greenhouse Pitt Place.
The conservatory is shown on the left with the glasshouse behind.
Image Source Bourne Hall Museum

I am quite surprised that in the material I have there is not more mention of the grounds, considering the features which, as far as I know, were important historically.

Pitt Place was obviously built in an old chalk pit, which meant that the house and grounds were in fact set in an inverted bowl. Because of the high walls, trees, etc it was very sheltered and so ideal for both fruit and vegetables as well as lawns and flowers. lf instead of entering the house, you walked past the building you would find yourself in front of a wide flat lawned area, interspersed with ornamental shrubs and flower beds. lt may once have been a bowling green and I am sure we used it for croquet. On the left the garden sloped up with rose beds, and a little further up culminated in a wall. This was heated with pipes running from the greenhouse at the north east end. Grapes were grown in the greenhouse, and on the wall were espaliered (trained to grow flat against a wall) peach and apricot trees, which produced excellent fruit - of course it was also south facing. Beyond the greenhouse was the kitchen garden, as the slope flattened out at this end. At the far end of the lawn was the ice house - not a well house as described. Ice was a very important commodity for Victorian desserts before the days of refrigeration, and this was built deep into the slope of the eastern bank. Further along was the entrance to the tunnel which formerly linked to the farm. This was always closed, and dangerous. The farm had long gone, with the exception of the orchard as described above.

It was, however the southern slope which was the most interesting, and the most spooky as described below. The usual way to approach this would be to come out of the door under the Bow room, and across the lawn. This slope was more extensive in area than that on the opposite side and was thickly wooded. Opposite the house a path sloped steeply up, and then divided into two.

On the lower path was a ruin which is clearly shown on the map, but however hard I try I cannot remember what this was. Certainly it was more 'benign' than that which greeted you on the top path. I cannot remember in which order they came, but there were two deep pits, stone or brick lined and quite large - probably 12-15 feet wide by 20-30 long. One was a cock fighting pit, and the other a badger baiting pit. Of course they were long out of use, fairly ruinous, and in the middle of thick dark woods - and all of this path was, to me, very scary. Once past these, you continued on and eventually went down the slope to emerge at the far end of the lawn quite near the old tunnel. The paths as shown on the map do not exactly correspond to this, but of course over the years things change, especially in wooded areas which are no longer tended as they would have been in an earlier century.

Margaret Robins, France © August 2016


Pitt Place and psychic phenomena.


I stayed at Pitt Place with my parents when I was four years old. I am sure that Alan Worboys or Mr Bagshaw would have kept me occupied by showing me round the house and the grounds (see description above). I might have been told the legend of the so-called ghost room, which was the master bedroom, where a spirit is reported to appear to the owner of the property warning him of his imminent death. All I know is that on our return to Leicester I had two recurring nightmares set in Pitt Place. These are still after more than seventy years fresh in my memory.

The first was that I was on the edge of the inner hall where there was a gathering of ghosts. I was not so much frightened of them as of the fact that they would not let me join them. The second was that I was standing with someone else at a gate which led into the wooded area on the south side of the grounds - although the woods seemed to extend much further than they actually did. I was being told that there was danger from a fox - not, as you would expect, a wolf - and the gate had to be kept closed. Then I knew that there was a woman in a yellow dress buried under a pile of stones. Next I was in a tunnel - not the old tunnel which had once led from the grounds to the farm, but a tunnel which sloped down from the wood to the main entrance hall of the house. The tunnel was broad and clean and not dark, but something was following me and I knew I had to get to the house quickly, but couldn't run - at which point I would wake up.

Much later, when I was old enough to wander around the grounds on my own, there were certain places which made me very scared. I don't think I ever told anyone about this, and remember that I used to tell myself not to be silly - there were other people in the house and there was a road on the other side of the wall in the grounds. There was an L shaped corridor leading from the entrance hall to the door under the Bow room giving access to the garden. There was a room for cutting and arranging flowers and a gun room - and this corridor was very creepy. You emerged onto a lawn and crossing this to a path sloping up into the woods on the south side. As soon as I turned my back on the house, I had to force myself to go on, and follow the path past the badger baiting pit, the cock fighting pit, and something else which was less scary, but which I cannot remember, until you came out onto the far end of the lawn. I have no idea if this feeling was due to the echo of the cruelty of the blood sports that had taken place - or indeed if there was really a woman in a yellow dress buried there, maybe from many years or even centuries before.

Funnily enough I never felt anything in other parts of the house, except perhaps in the main entrance hall - the front door there was never used. Certainly not around the ghost room, although of course that was only supposed to apply to the owners. Also I never saw anything - it was just an atmosphere. I find it interesting that at 4 years old the place should have made such a strong impression, and that even after many years of familiarity with the house and grounds the feelings never went away.

Margaret Robins, France © August 2016



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