History of Stoneleigh

Stoneleigh, as a built-up residential area, dates only from the building boom of the 1920s and 30s. Nevertheless, the place has been here for a very long time, so it might be of interest to take a deeper look at it. Between the wars houses were being built all round London at a quite incredible rate, and within a very few years a great deal of countryside had disappeared forever.

In 1920, Greater London extended as far as Merton, South Wimbledon and Surbiton, with offshoots towards Tolworth. Outside this was farmland, comparatively unspoilt, apart from a certain amount of development in the Worcester Park area dating from the 1870s. The Kingston By-Pass, the first of its kind, was opened in 1925; this led to what was called “ribbon development”.

The Underground was extended to Morden in 1926, and the St. Helier Estate, the first large council estate, built by the LCC in the late 1920s. The building tide reached Stoneleigh in 1930; five years later, practically the whole area was built over, east of the railway first, the other side a year or so later. Stoneleigh Station was opened in July 1932, and the crowning glory, the Stoneleigh Hotel, about Christmas time 1935.

Most of the houses sold at £700-£900, and one could see until the mid-1980s on the end wall of the shop facing the station the outline of an advertisement for houses in River Way at £725, or 17/5d (i.e. 75p) per week; a measure of the debasement of the currency, as of much else, in post-war Britain.

The war years had their fair share of excitement, which I shall leave to others to describe, as I was travelling abroad at the time. Since the war there has been little change; new lamp posts, houses enlarged and modernised, trees cut down and planted, and so on, and, more importantly, a new generation has grown up.

Previously, the area was not called Stoneleigh. It consisted in the main of two farms, divided by the railway; Sparrow Farm to the east, Coldharbour Farm to the west. Both were the usual mixture of fields, woods and hedgerows. Sparrow Farm stood just inside the S. Clair Drive entrance to the Cuddington Recreation Ground, by the end of the house garden to the left Sparrow Farm Road marks the track to it, and part of the hedge and trees were still visible until a few years ago.

There was a wood, Railway Wood, alongside the railway, about 100 yards wide, running northwards from where is now Stoneleigh Station for a quarter of a mile; another Bridge Wood, further north, a quarter of a mile south of the cattle arch and a hundred yards or so from the railway. A third, London Road Wood, covered the site of part of The Glade and the southern parts of Bradstock Road and Woodstone Avenue.

A stream, rising in Nonsuch Park, flowed where now is Briarwood Road, crossing the railway at the cattle arch south of the station, where it is still visible (now a storm sewer under Briarwood Road), going on to join the Hogsmill at Ewell Court.

West of the railway the countryside was much the same. Coldharbour Farm stood at the top of the hill between Amberley and Seaforth Gardens, just to the north of the footpath running between these two, and which was, indeed, the track to the farm. A large wood, Taylor’s Shrubbery, extended, by the 1920s, along the Kingston Road from Worcester Park Road to a point opposite Ruxley Lane, and covered the whole area as far as Cromwell Road, except for a small field in the angle of Cromwell Road and Worcester Park Road, with, on the other side of Cromwell Road, the grounds of Worcester Park House, a mansion built in 1797, of which more anon.

Another wood, Dancer Dick Wood, stood east of Cromwell Road, in the angle with Salisbury Road; remains of it are still visible.

There were one or two large houses standing in their own grounds: Chesterfield House, at the top of what are now Firswood Avenue, and Parkside at the end of Timbercroft, which was the avenue leading to it. Close by the railway, in the area between it and the present Vale Road shops, was a brickworks.

There were already some roads in the area. Worcester Park Road is an ancient boundary road; The Avenue, Royal Avenue, Grafton Road, Salisbury Road and Cromwell Road had been laid down in the 19th Century. The two main roads, London Road and Kingston Road, however, are much older.

London Road is the old Roman Stane Street, constructed in the 1st Century AD, which ran from London to Chichester. The present road is not quite on the line of the Roman road, which ran just inside the park, crossing the marshy ground opposite Briarwood Road on a causeway. When the old Queen Victoria public house was demolished in 1937, the road was found. The metalling was so solid that pneumatic drills were needed to cut through it.

The road leaves the line of the Roman road at the Briarwood Road bend. The second bend, by Nonsuch Park gates, was, until about 1960, considerably sharper than it is today, and the road narrower. On the bend, opposite the gates, was a hedge, with large elm trees. The monument at the gates commemorates the wife of a Victorian owner of the park, a tireless worker in the cause of temperance. A sore trial she must have been to the locals.

The park gate, formerly called Red Gate, had a Gothic Revival gatehouse, demolished about 1960. Further down, where now is a scout hut, was a farm house, and opposite, between Ewell Park Way and Elmwood Drive, a large Victorian mansion, Ewell Park, stood in its own grounds, with a gate and lodge at the corner. This was on the site of a farm, Bowling Green Farm, and the house was formerly called Stoneleigh; hence the name.

The Ewell By-Pass was built about 1931, the Organ Inn being rebuilt at the same time. Next door, the building now occupied by offices, was an alehouse called the Brick Kiln, from the brickworks opposite on the site of the filling station and the houses beyond. C.S. Willis, the local historian, writing in 1930, says:

“In Edward’s map, 1790, London Road is marked Elm Lane; I have heard it called by that name; and when there was a hedge and ditch with elm trees all the way to North Cheam it was a delightful country road, and alive with chaffinches.ˮ

In 1577 it was described as “the green way to London”.

The Kingston Road is at least medieval, and probably dates back to Saxon times.

This again was a pleasant country road, half its present width, the eastern half being the original road and the hedge in the central reservation, I think, the remains of the old hedgerow. Coming from Tolworth, the road stretched, wide and empty, with the wood, Taylor’s Shrubbery, on the left, and cornfield stretching down to Ewell Court on the right. It then ran past Ruxley Lane, which was a country lane, and The Queen Adelaide, a Victorian pub rebuilt in 1932, before reaching fields to the railway, where a few weather-boarded cottages clustered on the old cinema site. The red-tiled roofs of the council houses on Beggar’s Hill were the first buildings in sight.

Both these roads were turnpiked in the 18th Century, London Road in 1737, and Kingston Road in 1755. That is to say, they were administered by turnpike trusts, which undertook the upkeep of the roads, charging tolls for the purpose. There was a tollgate on the London Road, at Woodgate, 100 yards south of the Organ Inn, opposite the Congregational church. The turnpikes finally came to an end with the establishment of county councils in 1888.

This then is the picture of the district as it had been for some 200 years. In that period there had been little change, the chief being the coming of the railway.

This was the LSWR line from Waterloo to Epsom, opened in 1859. In our area there were three crossing places, two cattle arches through the embankment, and a bridge over the cutting. The two former still exist, the one 100 yards south of the Stoneleigh Station, the other half a mile to the north; the bridge, demolished some years ago, stood halfway between, at the top of the hill by the brickworks.

When Henry VIII acquired the manor of Cuddington in 1538 for his new palace of Nonsuch, he turned the whole of the manorial land into a royal park, divided in two by the London Road, the smaller area south and east of the road being the Little Park, that on the north and west the Great Park. Stoneleigh lies largely within the area of this. Its boundary ran from about the Organ, approximately along the line of the by-pass to the railway, then along the line of the back fences of the west side of Walsingham Gardens and the boundary of Auriol Park to Worcester Park Road, which it followed to Worcester Park, along Malden Lane and across to the boundary in London Road. The land to the west of the line, over which ran the Kingston Road, was in Ewell. The park pale consisted of a ditch and bank surrounded by a fence. Parts of the former still existed until recently, and probably still do. There were gates at various points; there is a drawing of one at the boundary on the London Road on a plan of c.1550 and there was probably another at the Organ.

The park was a hunting area for the king, and was kept well stocked with deer. A court official was appointed Keeper of the Great Park, with a house, the Keeper’s House, at the northern end of the park. In 1606 James I appointed the Earl of Worcester Keeper of the Great Park; this led to the park being known as Worcester Park and the house as Worcester House. This was not on the present Worcester Park House site, but at Worcester Court, opposite the junction of The Avenue and Royal Avenue.

After the Civil War and the execution of Charles I, the Great Park was sold to Col. Thomas Pride, of “Pride’s Purge” of parliament, who died at Worcester House in 1658. At the Restoration in 1660 the park reverted to the Crown, and was leased to Sir Robert Long, Chancellor of the Exchequer. By this time it was no longer a park; trees had been felled, the deer disposed of, and the land turned over to agricultural use. In 1671 Charles II gave Nonsuch to Lady Castlemaine, who pulled down the palace and left to the land to her son the Duke of Grafton, who sold the parks in 1731. The land was owned for many years by the Taylor family, who pulled down the old Worcester House and built a new one on the present Worcester Park House site in 1797.

What of the land before Henry VIII cast his eye on it? The Manor of Cuddington, like its neighbours, was long and narrow, more less north and south, the village in the middle, most of the arable land on the better ground to the south, the northern half being mostly common and waste. Some cultivated furlongs can, however, be identified in our area. Alongside the London Road, running down the hill, were three, called the Upper, Middle and Nether Wetlonds; between Briarwood Road and the by-pass was another called Otbreche. Along the boundary, in the Walsingham Gardens area, three more: Stetemede, Stanecrofte and Heghcrofte, with Gubby, Heymede, Tounacre and Trottesworth to the east. Beyond, and stretching into Malden, was the Common of Sparfield, remembered today as Sparrow Farm.

West of the boundary, all the way from the railway, was in the Manor of Ewell, and was party of the Common of Ewell, the East Heath, with the Kingston Road running through it. It remained common land until the Enclosure Act of 1802, when it was turned into fields.

We have traced our story back pretty well as far as domesday. Perhaps we can leave it there. It is the sotry of an ordinary piece of English countryside, not very important, by-passed by the great events of history, slow to change until it was suddenly swamped by progress.

We have houses to live in, all modern conveniences, a better life; but the green and pleasant countryside has gone forever.