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An informal background to Weybridge

I thought I would tell you a little bit about the history of Weybridge and three of its features. Weybridge sits at the mouth of the River Wey as it joins the Thames. We have no bridge over the Thames, but there has been a passenger ferry across to Shepperton for very many years. The Thames Path changes banks at Weybridge, so it is often used by walkers. There is a jetty on the Weybridge side and on every quarter of an hour you ring the bell and a little boat comes across from Shepperton for a fee of a pound or so to pick you up, and the same for the return journey.

As the name implies, Weybridge has historically had a bridge across the Wey, and it was built to enable pilgrims to get to Chertsey Abbey. In 1865 a Victorian brick and iron bridge was built which is still there to this day, but it has been superseded by a modern bridge, built around the time of the last war. It sits on the junction of the Wey Navigation which most of you will know. The Navigation was built in 1653 at a cost of £15,000 to carry trade from Guildford to London, with a number of locks covering the fall of 72 feet.

Originally the local authority was the Walton and Weybridge Urban District Council, but about 40 years ago we amalgamated with Esher under what seems a meaningless name of Elmbridge Borough Council, enabling Esher to build a new civic centre. In parliament, Weybridge joins with Runnymede over the river and has as its MP Philip Hammond the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, while Walton stays with Esher under Dominic Raab.

I’m going to talk about three main features of Weybridge, Oatlands Palace, the Brooklands Race Circuit, and St Georges Hill.

Oatlands Palace was built for Henry VIII in 1537 in a hunting park covering 538 acres. The palace itself covered 14 acres and was where Henry married Catherine Howard. Edward VI and Queen Mary stayed there in 1548, and Elizabeth I used it for relaxation. James I used it to breed pheasants, and Charles I’s third son was born there in 1640. It was demolished under Cromwell but from 1651 the bricks were sold to Sir Richard Weston of Sutton Place to build the locks on the Wey Navigation. Some of the site is now occupied by the Oatlands Park Hotel. In 1649 The Diggers appeared in Weybridge. Under Gerard Winstanley they were the first communists who thought that land should only be owned according to the tillage of land, and they set up camp on what is now St Georges Hill Golf Club, and I remember them parading past the clubhouse on their 350th anniversary. In 1790 the Duke of York purchased Oatlands House on the site of the old palace. His wife Frederica died there and in 1822 a monument was erected by public subscription in appreciation of her good works in Weybridge and the column is still there today on Weybridge Green. It was constructed with material from the old column placed originally at Seven Dials in London’s West End.

The Brooklands Racetrack was built in 1907 by Hugh Locke King who was a New Zealander and survived until 1939. It comprised a banked oval 30 metres wide of 2.75 miles and was the world’s first purpose built motor racing circuit. It also comprised the first airfield in the country and in 1918 became the centre of aircraft manufacture, producing the Sopwith Pup and Vickers Vimy bomber in the first world war. In the middle of the race track was a dotted black line, known as the fifty foot line. In theory the driver could stick to that and not have to use the steering wheel on the banked sections. In 1932 the Art Deco Clubhouse was opened and is still in use today as the Brooklands Museum. During the second world war the Hawker and Vickers factories were producing the Vickers Wellington and Warwick and the Hawker Hurricane. The factories needed protection from enemy bombers and a barrage balloon establishment was set up on St Georges Hill Golf Course. The factories all closed in 1982. Now, as well as the museum, Mercedes Benz world operates two driving circuits as well as car sales and exhibitions very popular with adults and children.

St Georges Hill estate comprising 964 acres was acquired by a local builder WG Tarrant in 1912. His idea was to produce the first leisure estate with large distinctive tile-hung houses and offering both a Golf Club and a Tennis Club for the residents. Both these were built in 1913, the former being laid out by a famous golf architect, Harry Colt, whilst the Tennis Club was opened by Prince Alexander of Teck. The two clubs and the residents’ association celebrated their centenary in 2013. Over the years the estate had been frequented by business people and pop stars, notably John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Cliff Richard, Englebert Humperdinck, Eric Sykes, Dick Emery and Tom Jones. Now, of the 450 residences, some 90 are owned by Russians.

I will now talk about The Arts Society Weybridge, but before doing so, I want to say a little bit about our venue, Whiteley Village.

Whiteley Village was started in 1907 thanks to a bequest from the estate of William Whitely, the owner of Whiteleys Store in Queensway, London. The architect was Reginald Blomfield, who was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was designed for the retirement of needy workers in the retail and agricultural industries. Whiteley himself was a strong character. He was teetotal but enjoyed good food and cigars and especially women. He was eventually, sadly, stabbed to death by one of his illegitimate sons. Now, the estate is run by a trust and comprises cottages, assisted living quarters, and a hospital. There are over 100 listed buildings. Plans are afoot to build a dementia centre, and you may have read that life expectancy is higher than the rest of the country.

And that brings me neatly to The Arts Society Weybridge, which meets in the Village Hall, although it is in fact situated in Walton on Thames. We started in the millennium year 2000 as an offshoot of Mayford, which was an offshoot of Woking, and we subsequently gave birth to Walton and Hersham. We are surrounded by other societies, Cobham, Claremont, Walton and Hersham, Pyrford and Mayford.

The above is taken from a talk given by our Chairman, Richard Stocks, to West Surrey Area Chairmen’s meeting in March 2017