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Englefield Green History  

Sunningdale local history

Situated between Windsor Great Park on the one hand and Chobham Common on the other there are few more delightful villages in such a location as Sunningdale. The whole of the civil parish of Sunningdale is in the county of Berkshire, and until 1895 formed part of Old Windsor, some six or seven miles away, but the ecclesiatical parish, which was formed in 1840, includes portions of the parishes of Egham, Chobham and Windlesham in Surrey, and perhaps that part of Sunningdale is better known to visitors than Sunningdale itself, as it is there that the well known and extensive golf links stretch for miles over land that a few years ago was open common covered with heather; the undisturbed home of the fox, the badger, the rabbit, the hare, and the innumerable wild birds.

Much of Sunningdale, with the exception of Coworth, originally formed part of Windsor Forest, which formerly extended for many more miles than it does now - in fact from Windsor right down to Basingstoke. The term 'forest' in those days did not necessarily imply an area covered with trees, as we now understand it, but was also used to denote waste land covered with heather or other undergrowth. In fact, this district was almost treeless, except perhaps for a few sturdy oaks which had managed to grow up in spite of innumerable deer, wild pigs and other animals, which browsed off the young shoots as soon as they appeared above the ground. So rare were trees and shrubs that where they did exist, the places where they grew were named after them.

Before 1887 there were few houses. The church was small, and consisted of a nave and a square tower about forty feet high, the base of which formed an entrance porch above which there was a small gallery. A small chancel and side chapel had been added to the original byt he Rev. W.C. Raffles Flint in 1860, as a memorial to his uncle, Sir Stamford Raffles, a former governor of the Straits Settlements, and one of the founders of the Zoological Gardens at Regent's Park. The nave was plastered inside and painted a deep cream colour, with one or two mural tablets on the walls. The outside was thickly covered with ivy.

By 1887, the population had so increased that it was pulled down and the present church was erected.

email the editor@sunningdale.org.uk for a list of the occupiers of the larger houses of this time.

Sloping down the hill above the station were a couple of fields belonging to Broomhall Farm, but all beyond the brow of the first slope was open common, thick with heather and a few stunted pine trees; beyond that, towards Bagshot, was a great expanse of heather and gorse, with a small clearing and farm house, officially designated "Broomhall Waste" but perhaps more graphically described by its local name of "Starveall Farm."

Near the station the only houses were the Station Hotel and Oak Lodge, the residence of the curate, the Rev. J. Wreford, and the old thatched cottage at the corner, now pulled down, which had formerly served as a residence for he turnpike gate keeper. On the other side of Broomhall Lane were the Chequers Inn (now the Broomhall Hutt), another old thatched cottage, and also a cottage near to Dagwell House.

Passing up Chobham Road we came to Dagwell House, occupied by Mr. Joseph Norris, and his builder's yard and workshops adjoining, then three or four cottages and the brickfields, with a brick kiln and a few more cottages connected with the brick works and then the open common, with Titlark's Farm cut out of it. One could go for miles over the heath without meeting a soul, unless the common had troops encamped upon it or carrying out manoeuvres, as frequently happened in the summer months.

Turning to another part of the district, the Rise, consisting of over eighty houses, is built on what was at that time a rather swampy field. Wilbury, Littleridge, and Ferndale occupy what was the site of a thick belt of pines, Sunningdale School, Charters Road, and the surrounding houses are on what was rough heath land with some belts of pine trees, and the playing fields at Sunningdale School have replaced brick yards. A part of Kings Beech Hill Road was absorbed into Sunningdale Park, and another portion into the grounds of Sunningdale School over 100 years ago.

The once great Broomfield Hall and its beautiful grounds were pulled down in the early part of the last century for the estate of houses now known as Broomfield Park.

To the casual observer it may appear strange that we have little or no evidence of Palaeolithic or Neolithic man in Sunningdale, for on the face of it it would seem that the conditions here would have been ideal from the point of view of prehistoric man.The country generally was open heather, teeming with game such as he coveted. Dangerous wild beasts, with which his primative stone and bone weapons were inadequate to cope, confined themselves almost entirely to the distant woods and forests, and if they did venture into the open heathlands during the day, could be clearly detected from such a distance as made it easily possible to avoid them. But in spite of this the only Stone Age implement known to be discovered in the immediate neighbourhood, is a stone hammer head which was found at Sunninghill.

Here are a few reasons as to why the area was unpopulated. Flint weapons were delicate instruments and very easily broken, consequently they had they had constantly to be replaced. In our sandy soil there is little or no flint - certainly none of any size such as would be required for spears and knives. Such flints are almost always found in layers more or less thick in the chalk deposits, and so primitive man would not be likely to venture very far from where the materials for such fragile instruments could be found and his brokend weapons easily replaced, unless driven by starvation or some equally powerful incentive.

But with the coming of the Bronze Age conditions were entirely altered. Man had now a material which did not easily break, and his weapons, by means of a piece of sandstone which he could always carry about with him, could easily be sharpened when the edge became dull. He could, therefore, wander much further afield without fear of being stranded without the means of defence from wild beasts, or of attacking the game which he so much desired, so this neighbourhood became more or less populated, and judging from the evidence afforded by the number of barrows which have been located in the district, the hunting grounds round here must have been popular.

Most of the barrows were on high ground, with one being sited near to Sunningdale station. In 1901 this barrow was excavated. Nearly all the interments found were on the south and south west side, which would seem to indicate that the deceased were sun worshippers. There are two other smaller tumuli sited on the golf course and hence could not be opened.

One of the most interesting relics of the past here in Sunningdale is the Roman Road. A wonderful piece of engineering of so stupendous a character that when the Saxons saw it they could not believe it was the work of men and so christened it "The Devil's Highway." Perhaps that was the reason they did not make use of it and allowed it to lie derelict, so it eventually became overgrown and all trace of it lost for centuries.

Perhaps the reason that one of the earliest known symbols of Christianity in this area was a monument thought to be located on "Foxhill Clump" on Chobham Common which is located on the right hand side of the road leading to Chobham and plainly visible from the railway; a prominent position for such a monument would naturally have been selected and that it was on this hill that the boundary of the Chertsey Abbey lands was shown. St. Augustine first preached at Canterbury in A.D. 587, and sixty-nine years after that the Abbey of Chertsey was founded. In the grant to Frithwald dated 666, the monument is sopken of as the "Menechine Rude" (Monk's Cross). The Cross probably stood at its location for centuries actins as a landmark reminding passers by on the heath both of the Great Sacrifice and of the bounds of the Abbey lands, plainly to be seen for miles due to the country round herein those days was open and so much less wooded than it is today that were there were trees or shrubs the localities were named after them, as in Shrubbs Hill. The existence of the Cross has given the name to two roads, Mincing Lane and Mincing Ride, bothof which are derived from the "Menechine Rude" of Saxon days.

Coworth was first traced under the name "Herdies" in the grant to Chertsey Abbey. Probably a family or tribe of Angles settled at Englefield Green, and cultivated it, thus it became the "Anglefield," and casting their eyes on the beautiful grassy slope from Shrubbs Hil, then called "Thornihull," saw that it would be good for grazing, and turned out their cattle there, They, in turn, were displaced by Saxons, who made it their Cow Garth, hence the present name.

There is little documentary evidence of the early days of Cowarth, but we get a note of it in the Inquisition Post Mortem of Galfrid de Bagsete in the rein of Henry III, where it is stated that "he held of the King in capite certain lands towards 'Cowurth' in serjeanty in connection with the lands at Sunninghull, " for which he paid to the King 60s. annually.

Probably by this time Coworth was developing into a hamlet of small dwellings about Blacknest, for in the 29th year of Edward III (1356), a fine was collected in relation to a house at Coworth on its transfer from Johes Fraure and his wife to Johnes le Neve.

It could not have been very long after this that Coworth, which then covered a very much larger area than now, came into the possession of the Darenfords, afterwards called "Danford," for in the forty-fifth year of Edward III (1372) "William Darenford of Coworthe and Johanna his wife, conveyed to Wm. Podenhale, citizen of London, one messuage and forty acres of land and four acres of marsh in Coworth and Sunninghill." And in the same year Wm. Podenhale also had a conveyance from "Laur," the son of William Darenforde, of certain lands. These conveyances were, in all probability, in relation to the land now known as Titness Park.

The Derenfords were at Coworth for many generations, for in 1667 John, the son of Richard Darenford, was baptized at Sunninghill, and in 1688 a John Danford of Coworth was buried there, indicating an uninterrupted occupation of over 300 years. In Norden's Survey in the reign of James I, is mentioned "Dornford" a ford across the brook, somewhere about the place where the bridge at Blacknest now stands; this was evidently named from the family owning it.

But during a portion at least of this time, Coworth appears to have been shared by the Lanes. The forst authentic information we get of occupation by the Lanes is in 1571, when a son of Henry Lane of Coworth was baptized in Sunninghill Church. This Henry Lane probably attained affluence by marrying into one of the great Forest families, for doubtless it was he who "attended Henry III as a voluntier at the taking of Bulloigne" and married "Anne Norris, descended of ye noble family of Norris, and near kinsman unto Sir John Norris, General of ye forces in Ireland."

On Lane's return from this glorious expedition he probably settled at Coworth, and some years later he purchased from Lord Norris the Manor of Sunninghill, which he did not keep long, for in 1583 he disposed of it to William Day of Eton.

The Lanes seem to have been a tough race, for in 1573 Henry Lane, probably the eldest son of the Henry Lane mentioned above, was married at Sunninghill to Amis Stoke. He died at Coworth in 1641, sixty-eight years after his marriage! His secong brother, George, served under his great kinsman, Sir John Norris, in Ireland, where he married the daughter and sole heiress Cormack O'Farrell of Killiecroobagh. Their son, Richard Lane of Fulske, was made a baronet and married the only daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald of Clonbolg and Rathaman, one of the most noted of the old native patriots, and so became connected with the "fair Geraldine" of Surrey's dream.

Richard, son of Sir George Lane of Fulske, was Charles II's principal Secretary of State for Ireland and was created Viscount Lanesborough.

The Lanes were at Coworth for over two hundred years, for in January, 1783, some members of a gang of ruffians who had been carrying out a series of depredations on the surrounding heaths, were tracked to the Wells Inn at Sunninghill, where young Edward Lane, son of Edward Lane of Coworth, was shot to death in endeavouring to arrest them, as shown by the Register of Sunninghill Church, where he was buried.

The Lanes seem to have occupied what is now the Farmhouse (above) at Coworth, which they probably built for themselves when they first came there. This house, although it has undoubtedly been altered from time to time, is an exellent example of a Tudor farmhouse. It faces to the west and is built of oak, brick and plasterwork, with picturesque gable wings. From the high roof rises a good chimney stack. The rooms are low pitched, with the usual heavy beams across the ceilings, and are approached by narrow pasages at different elevations. The massive rough-hewn oak beams show how plentiful that material must have been in this neighbourhood in those days.

Here lived, and was probably born, in 1616, the Edward Lane, who, living until 1714, accomplished what could not have been possible in any other period since the Conquest, for he witnessed the reigns of ten sovereigns, or rather sovereign rulers, James I, Charles I, the Commonwealth, the Protectorates of Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard, Charles II, James II, William and Mary, Anne and George I.

In the list of the Feet of Fines for Berkshire there is an entry in the Easter Term of 31 George II (1758) as follows:

"Robert Tunstall and Samuel Baldwin and Robert Harlans, Esq., and Susannah, wife : House, etc., and lands in the hamlet of Coworth in the parish of Old Windsor."

There is no definite information as to what part of Coworth this relates, but it is possible it was in connection with the transfer of the land on which the Nursery is built, and probably extended from Kiln Lane, the boundary of the Tittenhurst property, down to the corner at Holly Cottage. All this land was, for many years, in the eighteenth century, nursery gardens.

In 1796 Coworth was purchased by James Barwell, Esq. (son of William Barwell, Esq., formerly Governor of Bengal and a staunch friend of Warren Hastings) who built the present mansion by adding wings to an older house. It has, however, been much added to since his time. He, or his brother, also built Buckhurst (now Ribblesdale).

While the new house was building, Mr. Barwell probably resided at the old Tudor Farm, for some years ago, when some old oak panelling was being removed, a curious old Indian native coin was found behind it.

Mr. Barwell died in 1811, when Coworth passed to James Smith Baber, Esq., of Sunninghil Park, who let it to Mr. Nettleship.

In 1840, just about the time Sunningdale Church was being built, Coworth again changed hands, the purchaser being John Alves Artbuthnot, Esq.

Although very nearly the the whole of Coworth was in Old Windsor Parish, and only one small corner of it in Sunninghill, Old Windsor was so far away that the owners more or less considered themselves as parishoners of Sunninghill and were benefactors to the church there, but now there was a church at Sunningdale, conditions were altered, and from the time he came to Coworth until his death in 1873, Mr. Arbuthnot took great interest in Sunningdale's church and schools. In addition to being a liberal subscriber to both these institutions, he gave the first organ to the church, which was used until the installation of the present instrument, when it was sold to the Congregational Church, where it did duty for some years, and then was sold to a church in the north of England. It is thought that he also gave the bell which has recently been replaced by a larger one given by Mrs. Sanday.

Mr. Arbuthnot was succeeded by his son, Mr. William Arbuthnot, who, in 1884, disposed of the estate to Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Farmer, who was also very much interested in Sunningdale church, and it was largely through his influence that while he was church warden, the nave was rebuilt, a costly and substantial work, for which he found more than half the funds. He also replaced the organ.

Sir William Farmer would very much have liked to close the little-used road through Coworth from Shrubbs Hill to Blacknest, and had he done so without saying anything to anybody, it is possible that no one would have interfered with his so doing, but not considering this a fair thing, he called a meeting of parishioners and made very handsome offers of compensation for the road. His thus opening up the question caused many people to oppose his offer.

Lord Stanley, later the Right Hon. the Earl of Derby, K.G., K.C.V.O., etc. purchased Coworth around 1900. He was also a benefactor to the church and schools and other institutions. One of his acts was to unveil the War Memorial some years ago.

It has been imagined that, in the time of the Norman Conquest, Sunningdale was a vast, undulating healthy waste in the forest, almost treeless except at Shrubbs Hill, and perhaps with one or two large oaks in the neighbourhood of Windlesham and at Coworth, where they were more or less protected from deer or swine. Here and there were patches of grass where the heather had been burned off, or where the grass was stronger than the heath. No houses with the exception of the great hall at Coworth, and perhaps here and there a rude hut constructed of turf, inhabited by swineherds and gooseherds from the great abbeys of Chertsey and Windsor.

Much of the ground must have been marsh, and to the west was a vast lake, the shallows of which probably dried up in summer. From this lake ran two streams, one of which has completely disappeared with the gradual drying up of the greater portion of the lake, although it must have been of some importance, as evidenced by finding of the remains of a landing stage some fifty years ago in the gardens of St. Bruno, and the traces showing the width of its former bed.

This stream probably led doen through what is now the Rise, through Sunningdale Park, and most likely all that now remains of it is the small stream running down the grounds of Dale Lodge by the side of Kiln Lane, where traces of its former bed are clearly visible. The other is the Brook, which was also very much larger centuries ago, as shown by the nature of its surroundings.

The district teamed with red and fallow deer, wild boars and various kinds of wildfowl, and no doubt it was owing to this that the neighbourhood was so open and treeless, for the deer browsed on the young plants and the boars rooted them up.

The views from the higher ground must have been extensive, had there been people to enjoy them, for even now, surrounded by woods and houses, one can see for many miles from the hill above the Golf Links, generally known as the "Black Hill". Both from there and from the brow of the hill at Portnall Park one could see the Crystal Palaace and Epsom Downs on a clear day. Looking to the south east from these hills in those days, one would most likely be able to see not far off the stately pile of Chertsey Abbey, which had been founded some four hundred years before the Conquest, and whose extensive lands ran very nearly to the place where Sunningdale Station now stands. The monks of Chertsey must have been very fond of the delicious heather honey - probably it was the only means they had of sweetening food, for traces of a large apiary can, it is believed, can still be seen on Chobham Common.

The sunny slopes by Sunningdale station were then known as "Hertley's," most probably from their being the favourite haunt of the wild deer, and under this name are mentioned in the grant of land to the Abbey.

It is widely thought that our Norman rulers were hard, ruthless men, cruel, stern warriors, caring for nothing but their own advancement and their hunting, but there is plenty of evidence to show that, stern and hard though they were, there were other sides to their character. William the Conqueror had no doubt inherited from his grandfather, the Tanner, strong business instincts. His conquest of England was undertaken as a business proposition. He considered, and probably rightly, that he had a better title to the throne of England than the son of Earl Godwin, and had undoubtedly been recognised by Edward as his rightful successor. Be this as it may, it was his business genius that made England into one united kingdom, and that when this was accomplished provided us with a record in the Domesday Book such as no other country can boast of - a record which has been of inestimable value for nearly nine hundred years.

Then again, our Norman monarchs must have been intensely religious men, carrying the same vigour into their religion as into their war like pursuits. This is shown by the number of churches, monastries and other religious houses that were built. When we remember that the whole population of the country was only about two million, and look round on all the fine buildings we have left, and allow something for natural decay and wilful destruction that must have taken place, and the length of time that even simple operations must have taken to do in the absence of machinery. Many of these churches were of enormous size, out of all proportion to the population of the districts they were intended to serve, but some were quite small.

The reign of Henry I showed special activity in this direction, and it was probably then that the little Norman church at Sunninghill, dedicated to St. Michael and All Angels, was erected.

It is impossible to say when exactly the nunnery at Broomhall was founded, for many of he records seem to have been destroyed in a disasterous fire in 1462. But from what evidence there is, it would appear to have been founded sometime in the twelfth century. Some say that it was founded by a member of the royal family, but the only reliable evidence of this appears to be that in a petition of the sixteenth century it is described as having been "founded by the King's progenitors," a phrase that may have been used with the object of influencing His Majesty. That it was in existence in the twelfth century is shown by the gift to it by King John in the first year of his reign (1199) of the church at Sunninghill.

As the church seems to have been in existence for some time, it is probable that the nunnery did not come into being until towards the end of the century, as it seems likely that, had it been of earlier foundation, the gift would have been made before. This is assumed because of the fact that most such houses were either built in connection with an existing church, or had one addded to them very soon after their foundation. But, it was certainly in existence from 1199, and it seems for many centuries to have been under the patrionage of the monarchs and their queens, probably owing to the fact that Sunninghill Church was in the Manor of Cookham, which was always considered possession of the queen for the time being.

As tot he nunnery having been founded by a member of the royal family, there is little evidence of this, it is quite as likely to have been founded by the De Warrene family, for although it was built in Windsor Forest, it was on land occupied by Earl De Warrene.

The De Warrenes were closely allied to the royal family, were great benefactors of the Benedictine Order, and were founders of the Priory of Lewes, the chief Cluniac house in England. The first Earl, William, had married Gunreda, the half sister of Henry I ; and Matilda' nephew, son of David I of Scotland, in 1139 married Ada, daughter of Earl Warrene.

But whether the nunnery was founded by royalty or not, there is plenty of evidence to show that it was under royal patronage from the first. At the beginning of its career it probably possessed little more than its actual site and was most likely dependent on the Abbey of Chertsey for its support, but the nuns soon increased their possessions, mainly by the piety and benefactors, but also by clearances and encroachments on the forest. King John not only gave them the church at Sunninghill, but also granted them a virgate of land in (Old) Windsor, probably the land now known as Broomhall Farm and the strip on which the school stands, including the land now used as allotments. On this a rent of forty pence was reserved, which was released in the reign of Henry III. The Farm of Windsor was charged in favour of the Sisterhood with a payment of 8s. 2and a half d., and the halfpenny a day which they also had was raised to 68 twopence. By 1227 their possessions had increased to; Fifty acres of marsh of the Manor of

Hartley, thirty acres of marshland in Hurley under Chabeham (Chobham).

Twenty acres of marsh of the manor of Tottenhurst in the parish of Sunninghill, assarted. In the 23rd Henry III the quantity was increased to thirty acres, and the names is then written as "Tetenhurst."

In 1231 Henry III granted to the Prioress of Broomhall in perpetuity pannage for hogs in the King's forest at Windsor, and also three oak beams and an oak tree to make shingles for the repair of their refectory; but apparently not content with this, encroachments were made by the Prioress on the royal demense and "two hundred oaks and more were torn up, tot he great damage of the crown." The Prioress also held by gift of the King's father 150 acres of the forest at Winkfield, doubtless the manor of Chawbridge, which apparently they had already cultivated.

In the 26th Henry III directions were given to "Pay out of our treasury to Brother John, our alomoner, to feed the poor for the soul of the Empress formerly our sister (Eleanor, the wife of the Emperor Frederick II of Germany) 8 6s. 8d., to feed two thousand poor persons, to wit, one half at Ankerwick and the other half at Broomhall."

An important acquisition in 1285 was the benefaction of Henry de Lacey, Earl of Lincoln, and his wife Margaret, of 100 acres of the waste of Asseridge, between Billingbere and the royal way, which leads from Brackenhale (Old Bracknell) to Reading.

The earliest Egham Charter which relates to Broomhall is undated, but there seems to be indications that it was granted about 1249 or 1250. It records a gift by Gilbert, son of Richard de la Barr of Chertsey, to Juliana, Prioress of Broomhall, of rents arising from land in Egham and a tenement there. Now the name of this Juliana does not appear in any of the exisiting lists of Prioresses, but as the gift was confirmed later on to Agnes, who was Prioress in 1266, Juliana evidently preceded her. The witnesses were all local men who lived in the middle and towards the end of the thirteenth century, and several of them witnessed both the original charter and the confirmation, which is also undated, but contains a reference to proceedings at Guildford in 1271.

Two other undated grants of Agnes bear then names of some of the same witnesses : The first grants to Agnes from Richard de Thorpe lands and tenements in the parish of Egham, near the bridge of Staines in the Huche (the modern Hythe) : the second is a gift by Robert de Scothe of a tenement at "Le Knolle."

In 1308 the Church of Aldworth and its Vicarage was given to the Nunnery, together with certain crofts and virgates of land and tithes of mills and small tithes, including those on apples, gardens, flax and cheese for the maintenance ofthe Vicar

.

In 1391, in consideration of their poverty, they were allowed to appropriate the advowson of North Stoke on the county of Oxford, but the Priory had to pay on Christmas Day a pension of 3s. 4d. to the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln in recognition of their consent to the appropriation

.