Worcester Park House

The birth, life and death of a grand estate 1878-1961

Worcester Park House
Worcester Park (1828)
The Seat of William Taylor Esqre
To whom this View is most respectfully inscribed by his obedient & humble Servant, G F Prosser
Image source: Epsom & Ewell Local & Family History Centre


There was an estate here long before 1797, which is covered briefly under the Manor of Nonsuch, but this piece concerns the 'new' Worcester Park House as rebuilt by Mr William Taylor in 1797.

GF Prosser, in his book 'Selected Illustrations of the County of Surrey', published in 1828, gives us a potted history of the estate, as follows.
Worcester Park, the seat of William Taylor, Esq., is situated mid-way between Kingston and Ewell. It formed part of the land which Henry VIII imparked for his celebrated palace of Nonesuch; this portion was afterwards called Worcester Park, but from what circumstances it obtained that name is unknown*. Charles I, in the second year of his reign, settled it, with Nonesuch, on his queen. In the survey of Worcester Park in 1650 it was valued at £550 a year and was bought by Colonel Pride at six years purchase. On the restoration the queen again obtained possession. Charles II granted a lease for 900 years to Sir Robert Long, but it was afterwards included in a grant to the Duchess of Cleveland who, dying 9 October 1709, left this estate to her grandson Charles, then Duke of Grafton, whose son, in 1731, sold it to John Walter, esq. His son and heir, George, was knighted, and left two daughters and co-heirs, one of whom married the Reverend … Clarke; the other died single in 1749. In 1750 this estate was sold in Chancery to William Taylor, esq., who had formed a manufactory for gunpowder here, in 1720, on a part of the property which he held on lease.
*later research says that the original Worcester House was built by the Earl of Worcester, keeper of Nonsuch Park.

The map below shows the extent of the property as it was in 1866.

Worcester Park House on the OS Map 1866
Worcester Park House on the 1866 OS Map
The house is shown in green and the presumed mill buildings in red

The Taylors

There is very little available information about the Taylors, but we do know that William Senior, the gunpowder manufacturer, who died in 1764, was at some point a ship's chandler in Wapping; he had built the Worcester Park Gunpowder Mills (also known as Tolworth Mills, Malden Mills and Long Ditton Mills) on the Hogsmill River in 1720 and an account of its workings, with diagrams, can be found in pages 15-19 of the Gunpowder Mills Study Group's Newsletter 19. William Taylor Junior took over the mills on reaching the age of 21 in 1774. I think that he probably died in the 1830s, or perhaps even earlier, and one of his sons, Frederick, took over. Frederick was born in about 1802 in Long Ditton (most likely at Worcester Park House) and christened at Malden in 1803. His mother was Mary (nee Walker). I am probably digging a hole for myself in attempting to list the children of William and Mary Taylor, as there may well be more, but the names are too common to be certain.

NameBornDetails, where known
Unknown boy  
Charles Died 1817 after falling from a horse
Barringtonc.1802 Ewell/Worcester ParkDied 1882, unmarried. Curate of Ashtead, St Giles for 46 years. Chaplain to Epsom Workhouse 1840-66.
Frederickc.1802 Long DittonLandowner
Frances Laurac.1804 

Grave of the Reverend Barrington Taylor at Ashtead.
Grave of the Reverend Barrington Taylor at Ashtead.
Image courtesy of Gravestone Photographic Resource

Frederick is elusive, but I did find him in 1851, with a son of the same name, who was born in Ewell. Unhelpfully, Mrs Taylor is not at home, but there is an 1832 baptism at Ewell for a Frederick James, so her name would have been Frances Mary (nee War[r]ington, born 1806 Waddon, Croydon), which enables us to find another child, War[r]ington, (born c.1835). Frederick James became an army officer and married a lady called Lucy Mary Catherine Arnold (1851-92) from Wiltshire; he died in 1913. That's as far as I can get with the family, so we'll move on.

Explosion at the mill

It is true to say that gunpowder mills exploded quite often and you can find more about the subject on this website in the article entitled Gunpowder Mills. Ewell had already experienced a troubled history with its facility, which you can read about here, and in 1849 the manufactory at Worcester Park blew up. The following report appeared in The Sussex Advertiser of 21 August 1849.
This quiet village was thrown into a state of consternation, truly terrifying, about twelve o'clock on Tuesday night last, occasioned by the explosion of a gunpowder mill, in the vicinity of Worcester Park, leading into the Ewell Road, the property of Mr Frederick Taylor. The mill at the time was in full work, containing a great quantity of powder. Fortunately, the only individual who was employed had left a few minutes before the explosion or the consequences to him would, no doubt, have been fatal. The noise was heard for some miles off. All the woodwork, of which the mill was composed, was blown to atoms and scattered all round the place into the road. Happily, it occurred at night, or in all probability human life would have been sacrificed.
Apparently the mill returned to production in due course and was leased to the major manufacturer Curtis & Harvey, who had other sites, including one at Hounslow (there is still a Powder Mill Lane in the town today to denote its explosive past).

The Shot Tower in Crane Park, Hounslow
The Shot Tower in Crane Park, Hounslow, all that remains today of the town's gunpowder history, which ended in 1927.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Worcester Park manufactory finally closed its doors in the 1860s and at that point the site was sold.

I am not sure when the Taylors vacated/sold Worcester Park House, but in about 1862 it was bought by Sir James Pennethorne. In the Taylors' time the estate comprised the house, stables and about 100 acres, but a lot of the land had been sold off by the time Pennethorne acquired the property.

Sir James Pennethorne

Pennethorne was born in Worcester in 1801 and became an architect; the people with whom he trained and worked were superstars in that world, such as August Pugin (designer of Alton Towers - not the theme park portion - and the interior of the Palace of Westminster) and John Nash (designer of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, much of Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, plus many more fine buildings and streets).

Pennethorne worked for the government from an early stage in his career and among his more famous designs were New Oxford Street and the New Wing of Somerset House. Many of his buildings have been demolished; he was not as famous as Nash and Pugin, but he is still respected today and was knighted in 1870, when he retired.

1-7 Park Village West, Camden, built in 1832 and designed by Pennethorne whilst working for John Nash.
1-7 Park Village West, Camden, built in 1832 and designed by Pennethorne whilst working for John Nash.
Photo by Jacqueline Banerjee via the Victorian Web

In 1834 he had married Frances Parker in Canterbury and their children were as follows.

NameBornDetails, where known
Deane Parker1835 KensingtonBarrister and HM Inspector of Schools.
Latterly lived at Malling Priory, Lindfield, Sussex. Died 1917.
Gregory Waltonc.1837 KensingtonClergyman, latterly at Heathfield, Sussex.
Died 1915.
Blanche1838 KensingtonMarried Rev Abraham Gooderham.
Lived in Northumberland for many years and died there in 1908.
Rose1841 HighgateDied 1923 Isle of Wight. Unmarried.
Lee Percyc.1842 HighgateCaptain, Royal Artillery, then a prison governor.
Died 1925 Isle of Wight but in 1911 was living at The Pines, The Avenue, Worcester Park.
Lee's wife, Mary Elizabeth, died at Worcester Park House in January 1870.
Annie Stricklandc.1844 BrightonMarried barrister John Liddon.
Died 1925, then living Wimbledon.
Frank Jamesc.1847 HighgateSolicitor.
Died 1913, then living Maidstone.

Frances Pennethorne died at Worcester Park House on 1 November 1866, followed by Sir James on 1 September 1871. The property was put up for sale immediately by the executors, but seems to have been difficult to sell, as it was re-marketed in 1873. I assume, therefore, that it was let for some time. The 1871 advertisement ran as follows.
WORCESTER PARK HOUSE, Surrey, 10 miles from London, a mile from a station. - For SALE by order of the executors of the late Sir James Pennethorne, the above important FREEHOLD RESIDENTIAL ESTATE of about 40 acres. It is situate in an undulating, well wooded and favourite district and includes a commodious family mansion, approached by a carriage drive, and containing 15 bedrooms, two dressing-rooms, bath-room, box-room, four handsome reception-rooms, billiard-room, spacious entrance and inner halls, work-room, servants' hall, butler's pantry and ample offices and extensive cellarage. Stabling for six horses, coach-houses, laundry, with room over, gardener's cottage and two other modern cottages. The grounds are singularly picturesque and include lawn, Italian garden sloping to ornamental running water, croquet lawn surrounded by timber trees and shrubs, secluded walks, rose garden, vinery, orchard-house, two kitchen gardens (one walled), melon ground, cow-house, plantation and undulating park lands, adorned by ornamental timber, and belted on one side by a row of noble old elms.

(Source: The Morning Post of 30 September 1871).
The tenant, or one of them, was Frederick Stephen Steele, who had previously lived at Sutton but died at Worcester Park House on 5 November 1874. The estate was on the market again by then, but this time, if it did not sell intact, it could be sold in three lots. Lot 1 was the mansion and grounds, about 14 acres; Lot 2 was the North Park (18 acres) and Lot 3 comprised a 7 acre paddock with two cottages. In 1877 the house was being advertised for rental (£75 p.a.) or sale (£1450). The lease on the mansion and some land was apparently taken for 14 years at a rental of £550 p.a. by Augustus Wheeler (born 1836 Islington), third son of a wealthy family in Wandsworth Common. His father, Henry, who died in 1873, left personal estate of about £350,000 (roughly £33 million in today's money). By 1878, presumably having now purchased the property, Augustus was trying to sell the mansion and surrounding land of about 22 acres, and about 18 acres of timbered building land fronting Royal Avenue was also on offer. It seems there were no takers for the mansion, since Wheelers remained there virtually until the end of its life, but a large part of the estate was sold for housing.

Worcester Park House
Postcard View of Worcester Park House
Image courtesy of Simon Norman ©2015

In 1881 the head of household was Portia, Henry Wheeler's widow, born in Palermo c.1814. Also in residence were some of her unmarried children (there had apparently been sixteen of them), being Portia (born 1831 Islington), Ellen (c.1835 Islington), the aforementioned Augustus, Francis (1843 Genoa), Alice (1845 Genoa), Nina (1849 Wandsworth Common) and Laura (1850 Wandsworth Common): all of them were described as annuitants. There was a nurse in residence, five servants and a coachman living at the stables.

Portia Senior died at the house in 1889 but Augustus, now a builder, stayed on with his single sisters who have already been mentioned; Francis was not there in 1891 and I have not found him again for certain. By 1901 only the girls were in residence, Augustus having died in 1898. Portia died at Folkestone in 1906, followed by Ellen in 1910. In the 1911 census, Alice, Nina and Laura were still at Worcester Park House, now outnumbered by servants.

Worcester Park House
Worcester Park House
Postcard Views of Worcester Park House
Images courtesy of Simon Norman ©2015

Worcester Park House
Worcester Park House c.1930
Photograph by Charles Brown and held in the Epsom & Ewell Local & Family History Centre

The property undoubtedly went into a decline and, after Alice and Nina died in 1936 and 1937 respectively, Laura abandoned it, dying in 1945, then living at Kingston Hill.

The Worcester Park Blog tells us that one of the wings was hit by a bomb during the Second World War and in 1948 the whole house burnt down.

The ruins of Worcester Park House
The lake at Worcester Park House
The ruins of Worcester Park House and the lake 1961
Photograph by Witkowski and held in the Epsom & Ewell Local & Family History Centre

Today much of the site is wilderness, but Linden Bridge School appears to be in the approximate location of the house, south-east of The Hogsmill Tavern, which occupies the north-western part of the old estate.

The Hogsmill Tavern
The Hogsmill Tavern c.1990
Photograph by Jean Walsh © 2015 and held in the Epsom & Ewell Local & Family History Centre

Linda Jackson © 2015.