A History of West End

A story of agricultural villeins, highwaymen, secret tunnels, murder and Royalty!


As long ago as 975 a large part of Esher was in the hands of the church. Bishop Erkenwald granted five mansas of land in Esher to Chertsey Abbey.

Confirmed in 1062 by King Edward, the village of West End would only have been a few cottages and huts belonging to the agricultural villeins bound to the land.

The first mention of a farm was in 1526, when Garsons Farm was referred to as “Gastunfeld,” it was farmed in 1780 by William Nightingale, together with Walton Farm known as Winterhouse Farm, which dates back to Tudor times; in 1548 it was known as “Wynterhous”. It was much larger in the 17th Century when it was farmed by Thos. Awbrooke. It stretched as far as Stoney Hills, one field was known as Highfield which is the name of a house where a Mrs. Butler and her husband lived.

When Clive of India rebuilt Claremont he altered part of the Portsmouth Road. The grounds reconstructed by Capability Brown, were not large enough so the Portsmouth Road was altered from its former position through Claremont to its present position. Horseshoe Clump Hill was cut through and the mound of earth from the excavations is the present Horseshoe Clump. It was known at the time as the “New Cut Hill”.

From a small hamlet of labourers’ cottages over the years, the village of West End slowly emerged. Lord Tyrconnel, one of the former owners of Claremont, built West End Cottage for his mistress Sarah Thompson, (a nice lady, the villagers said).

The house, later called The Cedars, stood where West End Gardens is now situated. It was a gracious house, with large glass windows to catch all the sun. Later in 1836-1839 William and Mary Howitt the Quaker writers, lived there and described the villagers as “ignorant and improvident, but affluent in owning a cottage, a pig, a garden, and a large flock of geese which they graze under common rights on the common. Most have a cow and often a pony, they are all employed and ask a great price for mushrooms, fruit, geese, whatever they sell.”

She also mentions that you could walk for miles through pinewoods and heath and not meet a soul. Charles Dickens visited the Howitts at West End and their pony, owned by Lord Tyrconnel, appears as “Peg” in Master Humphries Clock.

The Howitts later moved to “The Orchard” which belonged to Florence Nightingale. The Cedars, which had a ghost of a grey lady, was demolished in the 1930s for modern houses. Opposite lies West End Lodge, where Mr. Nat. Petree lived. When he died he left (in 1879), £850 to the rector for support of the Sunday School and a library of religious books and £1,000, the interest to be paid to the schoolmaster to act as librarian.

Another interesting house, once Hodgsons Inn, the Chequers, was the haunt of Jerry Abershaw, a young Highwayman who robbed (very courteously) mail coaches in Surrey. There is said to be a tunnel from the inn under the common to the Portsmouth Road, any hint of the law arriving and Jerry and his chestnut mare were away down the tunnel. The landlord was in on the nefarious goings on and used to offer the coach drivers a pinch of snuff with an opiate in it, so that sleep overcame them further on and Jerry was waiting.

Later, stage folk rented The Cottage—Carl Brisson, Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney.

Claremont Cottage is another interesting house. A Mrs. Brough—wife of a Claremont Bailiff—went off her head and chopped up her children, and then waved the bloodied sheets out of the window, screaming madly until she was removed. She is said to haunt and wave the sheets, but the present owners have not seen her yet.

In 1857 a Mr. Turner, who stopped at The Brown Bear in Esher, walked down to West End and did not think much of it, as he described it as “a nasty, stinking and choleric locality, compelling me to be constantly sniffing at my camphor, to get a view of a house where a terrible murder had been committed a few months previously.”

Two small cottages known as Alder’s Cottages (now Clover Cottage) have been converted into one, they were built by Thos. Alder, a popular butcher in the 19th Century. He was a friend of George Meredith and a regular follower of the Duc D’Aumerles hounds. The French Royal family lived at Claremont at this time.

Opposite Alder’s Cottage was a similar wooden boarded cottage, now demolished for modern houses. By the 19th Century the village had grown considerably. There was a Post Office on the corner, later run by a Mr. and Mrs. Webb. This has been demolished for a modern house.

Albany Lodge, which still has the Royal Arms on the front, was the home of Dr. and Mrs. Royle, he was a physician to the Duchess of Albany, his daughter Mrs. Haughton and her family lived in it in the ‘30s.

Glenhurst later called Talbot Lodge, now demolished, was the home of Col. and Lady Emma Talbot. She was Lord Derby’s daughter, and she had been bridesmaid to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. Col the Hon. Sir W.P. Talbot had been for 40 years Sgt. at Arms of the House of Lords. They were very well liked in Esher.

During the 19th Century, the Prince of Wales public house was built. It used to be a quiet village inn which we used to visit when we were skating on the pond. It has been enlarged. Next to it is the tall tower of the old Hodgson’s Brewery, later used by Mr. Plowman as a boot repairer’s and saddler’s shop.

Both the ponds and the ditches on the common have been wrongly used. The larger pond (Prince of Wales) used to be twice the size, it was used for drinking by the cows at Chamber’s Farm, now a close of houses. The pond nearly reached the road and has now been suburbanised into a smaller edition. The Chequers Pond was a very large pond on which we used to skate. It was allowed to become overgrown and silted up, although efforts have been made to clear it. The large ditch with a pipe in it has been filled in and the ditches each side of the main path on the common have also silted up. These were dug by the Canadians in the First World War to allow them passage to the gun emplacement, which are still on the common under the brambles etc., and Horseshoe Clump is still full of spent bullets where the rifle range was situated. It is not surprising that West End was so badly flooded some years ago as all the natural outlets for flood water were blocked up or altered.

The infants’ school was built in 1879 by Mrs. Bailey of Highfield, Stoney Hills, in memory of her husband. The little church St. George’s, West End, was always known as the “Tin Chapel”, but was really a Chapel of Ease.