Michael and Francesca Evans who bought Chobham Park House in 1996 commissioned a study of the history of the house and its former inhabitants. They have kindly allowed inclusion on this web site:
CHOBHAM PARK HOUSE
A HISTORY by Peter Bushel & Sara Van Loock
THE HISTORY OF the names applied to this site is very confusing. On the first edition of the ordnance survey map of 1870, for example, it appears as Chobham Park. On a map of 1914 it is Chobham Park Farm. It also appears in records as Chobham Farm and as Park Farm. This has been simplified somewhat in that the current owners, Michael and Francesca Evans bought Chobham Park House in 1996 and Chobham Park Farm, Chobham Park Farm Riding stables and Chobham Park Cottage in 2001, thereby bringing the whole Estate into the same ownership. When the buildings’ inspectors attached to the Department of the Environment examined the fabric with a view to confirming its listing as a building of ‘architectural and/or historic interest’ Grade II, they submitted the following report:
House. Circa 1700, re-using older materials, with extensions of 1908 to rear in similar style. Brown and red brick with plain tiled roof including bands of fish-scale tiling. Two storeys on rendered plinth, plat band over ground floor with wooden moulded eaves board; end [chimney] stacks to right, square stack to rear with oversailing top. Symmetrical five-bay front with C20 glazing bar sash windows in moulded boxes; those on ground floor under gauged brick heads. Central glazed door to centre in recessed porch and heavy paneled strip surround under projecting hood. Left hand return front; angle bay to left. Parallel range to rear. C20 extensions set back to right.
Interior: old ceiling beams, deep fireplace. House stands on old moated site.
In ancient times the lands and site of Chobham Park House were owned by the Abbot and monks of Chertsey. Chobham was granted to Chertsey Abbey before 675 by Frithwald, who was subregulus of Surrey and the founder of the Abbey. The grant was confirmed in 967 by King Edgar. The first sign of habitation dates from the end of the 13th century, perhaps as a place for the Abbot to rest on his rounds, staff in hand, as he toured the Abbey’s possessions. The site probably developed in the manner it did because it was situated further away from the mother-house than the Abbey’s three other demesne manors. As the Victoria County History of Surrey points out :
John de Rutherwyck, who was Abbot from 1307 to 1346 and who was noted for the many improvements he carried out in his domain, surrounded the manor house of Chobham with running water in the first year of his rule as Abbot.
The old double-moated manor-house on the site of the present Chobham Park House remained with the Abbey until in 1537 Abbott John Cordrey, ‘granted’ it to Henry VIII. Perhaps because the hunting hereabouts was so fine, the King kept the Manor of Chobham for his own use. We know that he visited it in 1538 and again in 1542. He may well have stayed in the old manor house on this site. More certainly we know that Henry’s daughter, Queen Mary, sold it in July 1558 to her chancellor, Nicholas Heath [1501c-1578], Archbishop of York, for £3,000. The five-hundred-acre parcel of land was enclosed by a pale, thus earning the right to call itself a park. It is marked as a deer park on Norden and Speed’s map of 1610.
Nicholas Heath was descended from the Heaths of Apsley, Tamworth. He was born in London about 1501. He received his early instruction at St. Anthony's School, London, and is also said to have been ‘educated for a time’ at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, founded in 1516. Wood affirms that Heath was nominated to Cardinal Wolsey's College, Oxford, before graduating B.A. in 1519; but the Cardinal had not begun to select students for his College at so early a period.
Heath afterwards migrated to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he proceeded B.A. in 1519-20, was elected Fellow in 1521, commenced M.A. in 1522, and was elected Fellow of Clare Hall on 9 April 1524. On 17 February 1531-2 he became Vicar of Hever in the Deanery of Shoreham. In 1534 Heath was appointed Archdeacon of Stafford, and in 1535 took the degree of Doctor of Divinity at Cambridge. In the latter year, together with Edward Fox, he was sent to negotiate with the Princes who formed the Smalcaldic League in Germany with a view to Henry VIII joining the League, and accepting the Confession of Augsburg. In this negotiation Heath is said by Burnet to have won the good opinion of Philip Melanchthon. On his return to England, Heath was appointed Almoner to the King, and on 6 September 1537 was instituted to the Rectory of Bishopsbourne and the Deanery of South Malling.
In 1539 Heath was elected Bishop of Rochester. An edition of the English translation of the Bible, known as ‘the Great Bible,’ which was published by both E. Whitchurch and Richard Grafton in November 1541, is described on the title-page as ‘overseen and perused’ at Henry VIII's command by Heath and Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham. On 22 December 1543 Heath was elected to the see of Worcester, then vacant by the resignation of Hugh Latimer. Burnet says that Heath's fear that Latimer would be reinstated under Edward VI induced him outwardly to acquiesce in the Protestant reforms then gripping the country, although, from papers discovered later, it appears that he was in constant communication with Reginald Pole and the Princess Mary as to schemes for ‘bringing back the Romish influence’.
Heath's real views were brought to a test by his being appointed in 1550 as one of the Bishops to prepare a form for ordination, which had not been provided in the first prayer-book. A form already arranged by Cranmer was accepted by the other Commissioners, but Heath refused to sign it, though acknowledging that it was ‘good and godly’ and professing himself ready to use it. For this opposition Heath was brought before the Council, and, ‘refusing obstinately’ to yield, was committed to the Fleet Prison on 4 March 1551. In September 1551 he was again before the Council. In spite of much pressure he still refused to yield, and informed the Council that he would never consent to ‘take down altars and to set up tables’ in churches. Heath was thereupon deprived of his see by a mixed commission of divines and laymen, but was allowed to live in the house of Ridley, Bishop of London, whom he always called ‘the best learned of the party.’
Immediately on the accession of Queen Mary, who was obsessively Catholic, Heath was restored to his see of Worcester. On 19 February 1555 congé d'élire was issued to the Chapter of York to elect Heath as their Archbishop in succession to Archbishop Holgate, who was thus deprived. The election was made and confirmed by a Bull of Pope Paul IV on 21 June 1555. The Archbishop had previously been appointed President of Wales. He used his influence with Queen Mary to procure considerable benefactions for the see of York. His Protestant predecessor had denuded the see of many manors. Of these Heath procured the restitution of Ripon and seven other manors in Yorkshire, and the church of Southwell and five other manors in Nottinghamshire. It is said that the present see of York owes Queen Mary and Archbishop Heath more than a third of its possessions.
These changes were no doubt facilitated by Heath's legal position, as, at the beginning of 1556, he received the Great Seal as Chancellor of England in succession to Sir Nicholas Hare. Heath's occupancy of the see of York was marked by the building of York House in the Strand.
Immediately on the death of Queen Mary, Archbishop Heath rendered an extremely valuable service to Elizabeth by at once proclaiming her accession in the House of Lords. Queen Elizabeth never forgot this service. The Archbishop continued to hold the office of Chancellor for a short time after Elizabeth's accession. Although as a Catholic he had ultimately to resign this office, he continued as a member of the Council.
In the first year of the new Queen’s reign, Heath rendered another service to the government in the dispute which had arisen between the reformed and the unreformed divines in Parliament. The preliminaries for the discussion were all arranged by Heath in concert with Sir Nicholas Bacon; and when, in the dispute that ensued, Heath’s fellow Catholic divines refused to abide by the preliminaries that had been agreed upon, he refused to uphold them in their objections, and condemned their disorderly conduct.
In the debate in the House of Lords on the bill for establishing the Queen's supremacy, Heath made a long speech, dwelling especially on the danger of forsaking the see of Rome and on the nature of the supremacy claimed, which he held to be against the word of God. When the Bishops were called upon to take the oath enjoined by the Supremacy Act, and were summoned before the Queen, Heath naturally became their leader and spokesman. He showed great boldness on this occasion, calling upon Elizabeth to fulfill Mary's covenant with the Holy see for the suppression of heresy. The Archbishop suffered no ill-consequences from his bold words; but on his ultimate refusal to take the Oath of Allegiance, Heath, together with the other Bishops, was deprived of his see. It is said that the Bishops were taken completely by surprise at thus being deprived, there being no others to take their places.
Heath's deprivation took place on 5 July 1559 at the Lord Treasurer's house in Broad Street. He was committed to the Tower, together with some of the other recusants. They were treated mildly and allowed to dine together. In a short time Heath was set at liberty and allowed to retire to his estate at Chobham, on giving an undertaking ‘not to interrupt the laws of church and state or to meddle with affairs of the realm.’ This undertaking he appears to have religiously observed. Queen Elizabeth - says his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography - ‘more than once paid him a visit at his house at Chobham and was loyally welcomed’. He was allowed to dispose of his property at will, and died of old age, respected by all, at the end of 1578. He was buried in the chancel of Chobham Church, a plain black stone marking his grave. His moderate tone was of much service to Elizabeth. As the leading surviving prelate of the Marian days he was a great influence in determining the attitude of the Roman Catholic old guard towards her.
With the death of Archbishop Heath, his Chobham manor house and estate passed to his nephew, Thomas, who forfeited both, probably for religious dissent, but ultimately had them restored to him. In 1606 he conveyed them to Francis Leigh [d.1653] afterwards 1st Earl of Chichester. Leigh was born at his father's seat at Newnham Regis, Warwickshire, before 1600. His father was knighted at the coronation of James I on 25 July 1603, sat in the Parliaments of 1601, 1604, and 1621 respectively, and was a member of the Derby House Society of Antiquaries. The son was created a baronet by James I on 24 December 1618, at which time he was also a trustee of Rugby School. He was elected M.P. for Warwick in 1625. For rendering good service and consistent support to the Court, he was rewarded by being raised to the peerage as Lord Dunsmore by letters patent dated 31 July 1628. He was made Captain of the Band of Gentlemen Pensioners and sworn a Privy Councillor in 1641. On 15 March in the following year he signed a protest with five other lords against the ordinance of the Commons with regard to the militia.
On the outbreak of Charles I’s war with Parliament, Leigh subscribed money to levy forty horse ‘to assist His Majesty in defence of his Royal person, the two houses of Parliament, and the Protestant religion’. In August 1642 his park at Newnham was despoiled of its venison by the Parliamentary soldiers quartered under Lord Brooke at Coventry. On 3 July 1644 the King fortified his loyalty by creating him Earl of Chichester. In May 1645 he was on the commission appointed to govern Oxford during the King's absence. He was, however, more of a courtier than a soldier, and was several times employed as Commissioner on the part of the Crown during the troubles, notably to meet the Scottish Commissioners at Ripon in the autumn of 1640 and those of the Parliament at Uxbridge in 1645. Lord Clarendon had no high opinion of his qualities as a statesman, describing him as of a forward and violent disposition, deficient in judgment and temper, whose ‘greatest reputation was that the Earl of Southampton married his daughter, who was a beautiful and worthy lady’. Lloyd, on the other hand, in his Memoires, writes of him as ‘a stout, honest man in his council,’ with ‘a shrewd way of expressing and naming’ his views. He died 21 December 1653, and was buried in the chancel of Newnham Church.
Leigh kept his estates at Chobham only about a year before selling on to Anthony Cope. In 1614, the eleventh year of the reign of James I, Cope disposed of his interest to William Hale. In the course of time, the old manor house was inherited by Hale’s son, John Hale, who conveyed it in 1654 to Henry Henn, whose descendants were still in possession in 1681.
For much of the Henn family’s ownership the house was sub-let. One of these sub-lessees, James Martin, was a prosperous East India merchant. His son, John, also an East India merchant, afterwards purchased the estate.
This was an era when the world anticipated making a financial killing in Asia - from the Court of Directors of the East India Company sitting in their ornate offices in Leadenhall Street, to the company’s network of military and civil servants out East. One might add to this every member of the army [regardless of rank] the numerous independent merchants living in the three British Presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay - and the whole array of native Indian rulers ranging from Moslem sultans and Hindu rajas, to hordes of freebooters scouring the villages. All alike expected to make their fortunes quickly and easily out of India.
We do not know why, or even exactly when, the old manor house on this site was pulled down and the park broken up, no documents surviving. It was probably at the end of the seventeenth century or at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It will be remembered that the buildings’ inspectors attached to the Department of the Environment put the date of the present house at 1700, although this is no more than an approximation. It could have been constructed twenty or even thirty years either side of this date. Although at this remove it is impossible to be certain, the writers of this report suspect that the house dates at its core from about 1710, the eighth year of the reign of Queen Anne. It is said that materials from the old mansion were re-used for the construction of the present one.
James Martin’s son, John, who may have been responsible for this rebuilding, was in possession of the Chobham Park estate in 1720, the year he conveyed it to John Crawley, ‘late of Doctors’ Commons’, the colloquial name for the College of Advocates and Doctors of Law situated near St. Paul’s Cathedral. These advocates - a wholly separate body from the barristers of the time - enjoyed a monopoly of practice and were required to hold doctorates in the civil [i.e. Roman] law before being admitted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to practise in the Court of Arches, which sat originally in the crypt of the church of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside. A description both of the premises and the court at work is given by Dickens - who worked for a time as a shorthand reporter in this court as a young man - in Chapter 23 of David Copperfield. The court ceased to function in 1857.
Between 1734 and 1752 Chobham Park House is said to have been owned by Mr Revel MP. In 1777, Revel’s granddaughter married the 7th Viscount Bulkeley of Cashel [1752-1822]. Curiously, although Lord Bulkeley still owned the Chobham Park House Estate at the time of his death in 1822, the land tax returns for 1798 show the ‘owner’ as Sir William Abdy bt., and the tenant farmer as James Collyer, who paid annual land tax for it of £19 13s 0d. Although this anomaly cannot be resolved, it is quite possible that the Abdy family held a sub interest in the property and estate.
Between 1810 and 1822 the owner was Lord Bulkeley and the tenant farmer Maurice Burchet. When Lord Bulkeley died in 1822 he bequeathed Chobham Park House to his nephew, Sir Richard Williams Bulkeley [1801-1874c] M.P. for Anglesey and Lord Lieutenant of Carnarvon. However, the usage and benefits continued with the 7th Viscount’s widow, Elizabeth, until her death at Englefield Green on 23 February 1826 aged sixty-six. At this date the tenant farmer in physical occupation of Chobham Park House was John Daborn.
In 1838 Sir Richard Williams Bulkeley sold the Chobham Place Estate, including Chobham Park House, to the politician, Sir Denis Le Marchant [1795-1874] the second and eldest surviving son of the ten children born to Major-General John Gaspard Le Marchant [1766-1812] by his wife, Mary, the eldest daughter of John Carey. We know that Denis Le Marchant was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 3 July 1795. His father was killed at the battle of Salamanca, 22 July 1812, during the height of the Peninsular War. Major-General Le Marchant’s brigade, consisting of the 5th Dragoon Guards and the 3rd Dragoons was posted at the right centre of the allies. In the famous charge of the brigade, with Anson's Light Dragoons and Bull's troop of horse artillery in support, a French infantry division was utterly routed and fifteen hundred prisoners taken. Many cavalry writers are of the opinion that Napier, in his vivid description of the episode, has underrated the effect of the charge on the success of the day. Le Marchant, who cut down six of the enemy with his own hand, was mortally wounded by a musket-ball in the groin. He lived just long enough to see the success of the manoeuvre. He was buried hastily in an olive-grove hard by, and a hideous monument was put up to his memory in St. Paul's Cathedral. Wellington spoke of Le Marchant publicly and privately as ‘a very able officer,’ and of his death as a great loss to the army. He was a widely read man, an accomplished draughtsman, and something of a musician. In politics he was a moderate Whig. When living at High Wycombe he supported a school for poor children at his own cost, at a time when opinions respecting popular education were much divided. He wrote on military subjects, but few of his writings have been published. Besides his Cavalry Sword Exercise  he drew up A Plan for Preventing Peculation in the Foraging of Cavalry.
By the death of his father, Denis’s mother was left in straitened circumstances, and he was brought up by his maternal aunt and her husband, Peter Mourant of Candie, Guernsey. He was educated at Eton, where his name occurs in the school lists for 1805 and 1808, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, but seems to have taken no degree. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1823. In 1828 he published the Proceedings of the House of Lords in the Gardner Peerage Claim, in which case he had appeared for the petitioner. When his old college friend, William Brougham, Lord Brougham, became Lord Chancellor in 1830, he appointed Le Marchant to be his Principal Secretary. During the debates on the Reform Bill he attended nightly in the House of Commons, and greatly distinguished himself by the reports which he prepared for the use of ministers. He was appointed Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in 1834, and in that year edited a highly successful pamphlet, The Reform Ministry and the Reform Parliament, to which his intimate friend Lord Althorp, and also Lords Stanley, Palmerston, and Graham were contributors. It ran through nine editions.
From 1836 to 1841 Le Marchant was Secretary to the Board of Trade, and during the last few months was also Joint Secretary to the Treasury. Lord Melbourne created him a baronet in August 1841, before leaving office. He entered the House of Commons as M.P. for Worcester, 8 July 1846, but retired in the following year. In the Russell administration of 1847 he became Under-Secretary for the Home Department, and in 1848 returned as Secretary to the Board of Trade. In 1850 he was appointed Chief Clerk to the House of Commons, which office he held until he retired with the thanks of the House in 1871. He died 30 October 1874 at Belgrave Road, London. He published privately in 1841 a memoir of his father; and in 1845 edited Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III.
As was then very typical of such transactions, the purchase of the estate by Sir Denis Le Marchant had little repercussion on the tenantry, most of the farms continuing with the same families. By the time the census came to be taken in 1841, John Daborn had been replaced here by his 48-year-old son, also called John, who was still residing here a decade later in April 1851. At that date, Chobham Park House, still known as ‘Park Farm’. Daborn gave his age as fifty-eight, his place of birth as ‘Chobham’ and his occupation as ‘farmer of two hundred and twenty-five acres employing nine men’. He shared Chobham Park House with his wife, Anne 48, and with their seven children: Frances 22, Ann 18, Elizabeth 17, George 16, Frederick 14, Caroline 11 and Sarah 9. In April 1851 Daborn was also accommodating three of his family-less farm labourers: James Smithers 29, Frederick Turner 19 and the widowed James Waller 40.
What was life like for the Daborns of Chobham Park House in the early years of the Victorian era? How did they live, what was their routine - and how was their house disposed? The farming community of Victorian England was very diverse. It ranged from gentlemen farmers such as the Prince Consort at one end of the spectrum, to smallholders scraping a living from as little as five acres at the other. John Daborn, with two hundred and twenty-five acres had an average landholding for that period and therefore sat somewhere in between. The total number of farmers remained more or less static at 250,000 throughout the reign of Queen Victoria - from 1837 to 1901.
For John Daborn, farming would have been less an occupation, more a way of life - a family enterprise which inextricably bound work with the home. In 1838 William Howitt had likened farmers such as Daborn to ‘little kings’, enjoying a healthier environment and exercising greater control over their surroundings than the tradesmen cramped in the towns and cities. Their home life was also much praised.
Before it was transformed in the twentieth century into the gentlemen’s residence we see today, Chobham Park House would have been a relatively modest dwelling by modern standards - although not by the standards then existing. It is unlikely to have been short on creature comforts, but one suspects there was no false show. William Cobbett summed it up in 1830: - ‘Plain manners and plentiful living’. If he was typical of the breed, John Daborn would probably have been slow to adopt new ideas. His life was in some respects traditional and unchanging. But due to the second agricultural revolution, which followed in the wake of large-scale mechanisation and the greater use of scientific methods - allied to the spread of the railways and of newspapers - Chobham Park House would not have escaped the need to change entirely.
We know that John Daborn was solidly based - both in the community and within the freemasonry of agriculture. Evidence suggests that he was probably a gentleman farmer - hardly distinguishable from the local gentry and sharing with them the pleasures of the hunt. Given that he employed nine agricultural labourers, a relatively large workforce, one suspects that he was not the kind of farmer who worked alongside his labourers in the fields, in his smock coat. Nor did he share their problems: ‘going on’ - in the words of Fowler - ‘from cherry time to cherry time and getting no forwarder’.
Because it was built to no architectural rules but had evolved according to requirement and vernacular tradition, Chobham Park House would have been a rambling, somewhat inconvenient, but essentially comfortable place. Daborn and his family lived cheek-by-jowl with the sights, sounds and smells of the farmyard.
Like all farmhouses, Chobham Park House would have been divided into two areas - one for service, one for living. The former would have included rooms for brewing, dairying and laundering. At the very least, the latter would have been represented by a parlour - used on high days and holidays, and for funerals. Bridging the two and serving as the chief focus for the house would have been the kitchen where, sooner or later, all occupants met. The furniture here would have embodied the spirit of Cobbett’s ‘plain manners’ - simple and functional, the product of the village joiner, working to local traditions. Styles scarcely changed. Only the increased use of imported deal in place of native oak, ash and elm distinguished newer articles.
Certain items were basic to all farmhouse kitchens: a robust long table, for example, large enough to seat all the household. Chairs of ladderback or spindle back were common, as were Windsor chairs. Alternative seating was provided by the settle, which was invariably placed beside the kitchen fire, where its back served as a screen against the scything draughts drawn up the chimney. Another essential item was the kitchen dresser, loaded with earthenware such as Staffordshire, which by the Daborns’ day had replaced the pewter of an earlier age.
If you had asked John Daborn for a glass of water in the middle years of the 19th century he would have drawn it for you from the well. It would have been good fresh sparkling water, but there was of course no mains supply and no taps to turn on.
At night the farmhouse would have been lit by candles, and from about 1850 by paraffin lamps. The candle provided a beautiful mellow light, soft and golden, but not by modern standards a very bright one. Consequently the Daborns would have tended to go to bed soon after it got dark. This practice probably accounted for the large number of children they produced. ‘Early to bed’ was the accepted rule of our village forefathers. By eight o’clock on a winter’s night it would have been unusual to find anyone astir. This was natural in a place where the only means of lighting at night was tallow ‘dips’ or rushlights. Latterly, candles and oil-lamps were employed to ‘make darkness visible’. To sit by the dying embers of the fire, without light enough to see, might be good enough to talk by, and that was when old tales were related and memories of the past recalled, but when work beckoned at first light, it was more comfortable - and more sensible - to get to bed. The old oil lamps were, in fact, steadily improved, but when electricity finally came in the 1930s, the village quite literally passed out of the ‘dark ages’.
Ann Daborn was responsible for the making of butter, cheese and clotted cream, and for the smoking and curing of meats. In what little spare time he enjoyed, her husband and his young sons would have set their rabbit traps or gone after duck, partridge or pheasant - anything for the pot.
John Daborn’s life was a busy one. We know that he employed a carter, who was responsible for looking after the horses, and a cowman to tend the cattle. The cowman took the animals to pasture, brought them in for milking at 5.30 a.m. and again at 2 p.m., milking them by hand. According to Richard Jefferies, writing in 1872, ‘the commonday labourer receives 10-12 shillings a week [about £25] and if he milks a shilling more’.
Daborn’s life at Chobham Park House was ruled by the seasons - the measured procession from one harvest to the next which determined the farm’s routine. Once the autumn harvest was gathered in - later then than now - ploughing would begin. By the middle of October, Daborn would have sown his winter corn. In January his men would have spread manure on the unploughed fields, and the corn of the autumn harvest would have been threshed - a great event. February was a quiet month, known as ‘February Fill-Dyke’ on account of the high rainfall. It was also the month for hedging and ditching, when the men were kept busy trimming, cutting and burning. In March grain was sown, and in April root crops for cattle-food.
With the coming of the warmer weather, and the luscious grass of May and June, the happy and fragrant days of haymaking began, the most evocative of the year. During hay-time the fields smelled delicious and the village children who were sent out to deliver their fathers’ ‘fourses’ - or tea - would stay to play in the hay, hiding in it, tossing it about and enjoying its warmth and smell. In June, when the hedges began to sprout new, tall green growth, the men were put on hedge-trimming again; and in July John Daborn’s mind would have turned once more to the corn harvest and the likely success of his crops. Soon August came and all hands were in the fields. There was extra money then both for Daborn’s regular workers and those he borrowed from other farmers, all of whom worked until the daylight faded. The corn harvest would have been cut by scythe or perhaps with the aid of a horse-drawn machine. Labour was cheap and three good men using scythes could cut ten acres of wheat if they worked from dawn to dusk. The days of harvest were in some respects the most memorable of the year. The work was hard and had to be done quickly; but there were rest times at ‘elevenses’ and at ‘fourses’, when the men would lie in the shade of the trees and quench great thirsts with cold tea or beer, and eat heartily to ‘stoke up’ for the next spell of work.
John Daborn was not only a farmer. He had also to be his own salesman. Most of what he produced - wheat, barley, beans and oats - found its way to the local markets. He would have taken a sample of his grain in a small cloth bag to show the dealers and the factors of the Corn Exchange - the middle-men of the agricultural world. On the strength of that sample the factors would have offered a price for the entire crop lying in sacks back at the farm. The first price was never accepted and some hard bargaining would have ensued. Corn was sold on to the miller, barley to the brewers, oats to the porridge-makers and manufacturers of cattle-feed. Livestock went to market on a separate day.
When all was gathered in, John Daborn would have provided his workers with a harvest supper by way of thanks. The Harvest Home was the crown of the year, but there were other farm feasts also: the pancake supper for the shepherd and his helpers after lambing; the plum-pudding supper for the carter and his boys to celebrate the end of spring-sowing; and the Whitsuntide Supper, attended by every one. Additionally, the women and the girls had a hay-tea at the end of hay-making each year.
John Daborn would have rendered up his thanks for his harvest to God in the church - the church which he served many years as a churchwarden. He was prominent in the conduct of vestry meetings, which until 1894 had final authority in all parish matters, including the election of constables, overseers and surveyors. As a churchwarden he retained the ancient power of arrest.
John Daborn was also an Overseer of the Poor, another important village office. One aspect of this was to enforce the Settlement Act of 1697, whereby strangers were allowed to enter a parish only if they held a certificate to show that in the event of their becoming destitute they would be taken back by their own parish. As a punishment for disobeying this instruction, paupers and their families were forced to wear a capital ‘P’ on their clothing. Mild offences against the Poor Law were purged by a spell in the village stocks. Serious offenders were liable to imprisonment with hard labour.
Daborn’s other function was the collection of the Poor Rate. This was levied on the property owners of a parish by two men appointed each year to be Overseers of the Poor at the vestry meeting. The money raised in this way was used to assist the elderly, the infirm and the unfortunate - when poor harvests sent up the price of grain or epidemics caused much illness. It was there to assist those thrown out of work by the increased use of farm machinery or by soldiers rendered redundant by the return of peace. By and large it was an efficient and humane system run by overseers such as John Daborn with care and competence. It suited the smaller communities nestling in the countryside. It could not cope with the vast numbers of poor in the newly industrialised towns, for whose benefit the workhouses were introduced after 1834.
John Daborn died about 1869, at which date he would have been about seventy-six years of age. In 1871 his widow, Ann, was running the farm of two hundred and twenty acres with her son, Frederick, and with the assistance of ten men and six boys. She seems to have sat at the head of a very labour-intensive operation because in an era which saw the increased use of mechanisation, she employed a workforce almost twice that previously employed by her husband in order to farm five acres less.
The county directories for 1877 show Chobham Park House, then known as Park Farm, in the occupation of William Tice, who was employed as farm bailiff and land steward to Sir Henry Denis Le Marchant bt., of Chobham Place. Tice, whose family was also associated with nearby Gracious Pond Farm, was still residing here in April 1881 when he gave his age as thirty-three and his place of birth as ‘Puttenham, Surrey’, a village about ten miles south of Chobham, situated in that fork formed by the junction of the A31 with the A3. Tice’s wife, Lucy, who was also thirty-three, hailed from Wonersh. Their three children: Percy 5, Henry 4 and Mabel 2, were all born at Chobham, a circumstance which tells us that their parents must have moved into the parish prior to 1876. In an era of very cheap labour, the Tices were able to employ two resident maids-of-all-work, Annie Hane 18 and her sister, Anny 15. We should spare a thought for the little Miss Hanes down the tunnel of the years. As the only general domestics kept they would have been responsible for all the chores outside the kitchen - and a good many within it - including the carrying of coals and bath-water to the top of the house and the lighting of all the fires. [A thrifty and dextrous servant was expected to light a fire with six pieces of kindling.]
Their employer, William Tice, was to a large degree his own boss. It fell to his lot to take control of the agricultural side of estate life, formulating his programme and policy through a series of meetings with his employer direct - and to whom he was directly responsible. Although he was a man of relatively exalted position, he was an ordinary working chap. Because of this, his work inevitably brought him into day-to-day contact with other ordinary working folk, some of whom would have been disinclined to grant him respect. Consequently, he almost certainly carried with him a written testimonial from Sir Henry Le Marchant emphasizing the need to obey his orders.
Up betimes each day to superintend the work on the estate, the life of William Tice was only a little less exacting than that of the agricultural labourers over whom he held sway, even though he took no part in the manual operations. It was up to him to see that the land was cultivated by orthodox, yet the most up-to-date, methods. He had also to be something of an accountant, keeping a tally of the oxen, cows and horses in the stalls, the sheep in the meadows, the poultry in the yards, the swans on the lakes and the bees in the skeps. He had to ensure that all the animals were in sound condition and that they were well-treated by those whose job it was to tend them.
To complicate his life, William Tice had also the task of deploying the labour available to him in the most cost-effective manner. He had to calculate how much of the farming programme could be completed with the aid of his own men, and how many extra labourers would need to be brought in to supplement the permanent labour force. This was no easy matter to decide upon because he had always to remember those auditors who would be round when the season was over. If more money had been spent than was strictly necessary, Sir Henry, up at Chobham Place, would have had some harsh words to impart.
From end to end of the village, William Tice’s responsibilities went with him. He it was who supervised the crops and saw to the ploughing, marling, carting and seeding. He it was who issued the foodstuffs - doling it out by tally - for baking and brewing. He also superintended the allocation of the fodder for the livestock. The trimness of the hedges and the cleanliness of the ditches both came under his charge, as did the condition of the craftsmen’s tools, the many implements of husbandry, and the looms and spinning-wheels of the women. Poor, harassed William Tice. One suspects he could hardly move a yard without being accosted with some new question or problem. On the credit side, he enjoyed a rent-free house of very considerable standing in the community, and a large parcel of land for his own cultivation. If he sometimes employed Sir Henry’s men on his own land, nothing would have been said provided he discharged his duties satisfactorily.
William Tice continued at Chobham Park House until about 1908, the year in which he is thought to have died. He was then only about sixty years of age, but had exceeded his anticipated lifespan. At this date the life expectancy of men was forty-eight and of women fifty-two.
The Le Marchants found a new tenant for the property in the person of William Laurence, the last of the old-style tenant farmers to occupy Chobham Park House. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that William Laurence belonged to that generation which witnessed the end of a thousand years of village life - an end brought about by the dervish-like progress through the leafy byways of rural England of the internal combustion engine. He was born into a world of comparative silence, a world of hard work and necessary patience, of backs bent to the ground, hands massaging the crops, of waiting on weather and growth; of villages like ships in the empty landscapes and the long walking distances between them; of white narrow roads, rutted by hooves and cartwheels, innocent of oil or petrol or tarmac, down which people passed rarely, and almost never for pleasure. The horse was the fastest thing moving. His eight miles an hour was the limit of country people’s movements, as it had been since the days of the Romans.
In 1908 Chobham Park House was greatly altered and extended to convert it into a residence suitable for an Edwardian gentleman. It was purchased by Aynesely E. Greenwell, a gentleman of private means, who moved here from Stanner’s Hill Manor. About 1920 Greenwell sold the house to a widow-lady named Ryland-Smith, who in turn sold it before 1930 to G. du Vallon, of whom nothing is known other than that he may have been of French extraction.
By 1934 Chobham Park House had been purchased by Captain [afterwards Major-General] Ririd Myddleton [1902-1988] who was probably responsible for the improvements, alterations and extensions carried out to the property two years later. Myddleton was born at Chirk Castle, North Wales, 25 February 1902, the eldest son of Colonel Robert Edward Myddleton. His mother was Lady Violet, a daughter of the 1st Marquess of Abergavenny.
Educated at Eton, then at Sandhurst, Ririd Myddleton made his career with the Coldstream Guards. During the second World War he commanded the 1st [Armoured] Battalion in Normandy from 1942 to 1944. He retired from the army in 1946 after almost a quarter of a century of service. Thereafter he devoted himself to his two passions: hunting and fishing.
Myddleton also enjoyed a long and distinguished record of service with the Royal Family, being Deputy Master of the Household to King George VI from 1937 to 1939 and an Extra Equerry to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II from 1952 until his death thirty-six years later. He shared Chobham Park House with his wife, Margaret, whom he had married in 1931. After 1946, when she was granted the rank of a daughter of a Marquess in her own right, she was known as Lady Margaret. The couple had two sons and a daughter.
In 1997, some eight years after a major fire had destroyed most of the roof of the house, a number of love letters, between Robert Edward Myddleton and a lady, resident in Albany, Piccadilly, London and dated between 1915 and 1917, were discovered, tucked away in the loft. They were undamaged by the fire of 1989 and recorded a long and intimate relationship between the Myddleton and the lady, during which time Colonel (then Captain) Myddleton was an army officer, during the First World War, fighting in the trenches in France. According to the Army List for 1914 he was a Captain in the Nottinghamshire Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery Territorial Force and had been since 1908. At this time Colonel Myddleton was widowed, as his wife Violet, Countess Cowley (Ririd’s mother) had died in 1910. Copies of the love letters are attached in the Appendices to this history and are believed to have been brought to the house by Colonel Myddleton’s son Ririd..
About 1947 Chobham Park House was acquired from Major Myddleton by his friend and fellow Guards officer, Sir Coles John Child [1906-1971] 2nd bt. Child was a Major in the Coldstreams. He and his wife, Lady Sheila, occupied the house until the mid-1960s. Sir Coles, was ADC to the Governor General of Canada from 1931 to 1933. While serving in that country, he won the Canadian Amateur Rackets Singles and Doubles Championships in 1932 and 1933. He again won the Canadian Doubles Championship in 1934.
As a young man, Chobham Park House was also the home of the Childs’ son, the actor, Jeremy Childs [b.1944] now the third baronet. Jeremy Childs is one of those actors whose faces are immediately recognizable, but whose names elude. His theatre credits span more than thirty years and include Conduct Unbecoming [Queen’s Theatre, 1970]; Oh Kay [Westminster Theatre, 1974]; and Hay Fever [Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, 1980]. He has appeared in many films including Oh What a Lovely War! ; Young Winston ; The Stud ; Quadrophenia ; and A Fish Called Wanda . His television credits include; Father, Dear Father; Edward and Mrs Simpson; The Jewel in the Crown; Bergerac; First Among Equals; Lovejoy; and Sharpe’s Enemy.
From 1971 to 1977 the electoral registers for Chobham Park House feature Cranley [now Sir Cranley] Onslow [b.1926] and his wife, Lady June, the younger daughter of the 13th Earl of Kinnoull. The Onslows shared the house with their son, Richard, and two of their three grown-up daughters: Sandra and Caroline. Sir Cranley, who has been Conservative Member of Parliament for Woking since 1964, was born 8 June 1926, the son of F. R. D. Onslow and Mrs M. Onslow of Effingham House, Bexhill. He was educated at Harrow School, then at Oriel College, Oxford, and the University of Geneva. His subsequent career as recorded in Who’s Who reads:
Served in RAC, Lieut 7th QO Hussars, 1944–48, and 3rd/4th Co. of London Yeo. (Sharpshooters) (TA) as Captain, 1948–52. Joined HM Foreign Service, 1951; Third Sec. Br. Embassy, Rangoon, 1953–55; Consul at Maymyo, N Burma, 1955–56; resigned, 1960. Served on Dartford RDC, 1960–62, and Kent CC, 1961–64. Parly Under-Sec. of State, Aerospace and Shipping, DTI, 1972–74; an Opposition spokesman on health and social security, 1974–75, on defence, 1975–76; Minister of State, FCO, 1982–83. Chairman: Select Cttee on Defence, 1981–82; Cons. Aviation Cttee, 1970–72, 1979–82; Mem., Select Cttee on Trade and Industry, 1992–. Mem. Exec., 1922 Cttee, 1968–72, 1981–82, 1983–92, Chm., 1984–92. Mem., UK delegn to Council of Europe and WEU, 1977–81. Director: Argyll Group PLC, 1983–93; Redifon Ltd (formerly Rediffusion), 1985– (Chm., 1988–). Chm., Nautical Museums Trust, 1983–. Council Member: Nat. Rifle Assoc.; Salmon & Trout Assoc.; Anglers’ Co-operative Assoc.; British Field Sports Soc. MRAeS. Liveryman, Fishmongers’ Co., 1991–.
Asian Economic Development (ed), 1965.
Fishing, shooting, watching cricket.
By 1985 the Onslows had departed and the electoral registers were showing Brian Ledson, of the Period Property Register, his wife, Judy and their son, Ben as the voters recorded for Chobham Park House. The Ledsons sold on about 1986 to the entrepreneur, Anthony Tiarks. In 1989 a fire damaged the roof of the house.
In 1996 Anthony and Lesley Tiarks sold Chobham Park House to Michael and Francesca Evans, who at the time of writing, in August 2001, own it yet. In mid 2001 Michael and Francesca bought Chobham Park Farm and Chobham Park Cottage as well as the associated riding stables and some fifty acres of land. This brings Chobham Park back to its original form prior to it being broken up in the early part of the twentieth century.
Michael is an investment banker, specialising in international corporate finance and Francesca is an Interior Designer. They have two daughters, Lauren, aged twenty, who is at University in Oxford, studying History of Art and Publishing and Carina, aged seventeen, who is at Prior’s Field School in Godalming, Surrey studying for her A Levels. They are thus the latest in a long line of owners and occupiers of this distinguished old house and site spanning some seven hundred years - from the days at the end of the 13th century when this was a place for the Abbot of Chertsey to rest on his rounds, ‘staff in hand’, as he toured the Abbey’s possessions.
* * *
If it is true, as it is sometimes said, that no sound is ever entirely lost one wonders whether the images of the past ever reassert themselves at Chobham Park House? Is that scratching one hears the sound of something small behind the wainscot, or the pen of the long-dead William Tice, land steward and farm bailiff to the Le Marchants, casting up his farm ledgers - rendering to his employer a tally of the oxen, cows and horses in the stalls, the sheep in the meadows, the poultry in the yards, the swans on the lakes and the bees in the skeps? Could that soft murmuring be a television set left on low in another room, or the seven children of the Victorian farmer, John Daborn - Frances, Ann, Elizabeth and George, Frederick, Caroline and Sarah - heard through a rent in the curtain of time as they chant some long-forgotten nursery rhyme?
No doubt it couldn’t be and it isn’t. But it would be a brave person who dismissed such ideas entirely out of hand. Houses are more than bricks and mortar, timber and thatch. They are a palimpsest on which every occupant has left an imprint, no matter how slight. To that degree the past, and those who inhabited it, still exist … still walk with us unseen. As Samuel Butler wrote:
To die completely, a person must not only forget but be forgotten. And he who is not forgotten is not dead.
Sara Van Loock can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org