Botley's Park

Engraving of “Botleys”, the seat of Robert Gosling from “Bayley’s History of Surrey”, original work by T.Allom, engraved by J.H.Kernot
c.1839
On loan from the Oliver Trust.

The early history of Botleys Park is sketchy and confused. In 1319 the manor belonged to John de Butteley, son of Gilbert de Butteley. Later sources state that it was later owned by John Manory of Chertsey, and his son, Thomas, transferred ownership to Richard Merland, Thomas Purvoche and Henry Wykes in 1505. Richard Murland and Thomas Purvoche released it to Henry Wykes, and by this time it was known as Botlese Park in Chertsey.

In 1541 King Henry VIII purchased the manor from Sir Roger Cholmeley, Knight and Chief Baron of the Exchequer. Up until the mid 18th century the manor changed hands many times until, in 1763, Mrs Pleasance Hall transferred it to Joseph Mawbey Esq. Sir Joseph Mawbey, High Sheriff of the County in 1757, was created a Baronet on the 30th July 1765 and was elected Member of Parliament for the Borough of Southwark in 1761 and 1768.

Mawbey had the old house demolished and the present mansion which replaced it was completed in 1765. The mansion is an impressive building, situated on a hill and designed in the late Palladian style by Kenton Couse. To increase the feeling of grandeur, large folding iron gates were built at the end of the mile long carriage road from Chertsey, with “a stone screen or imitation lodge” (E.W. Brayley’s ‘Topographical History of Surrey’, 1842). The landscaped park, which was approximately two miles in circumference, was attractively laid out with specimen trees and a large lake.

After Sir Joseph Mawbey’s death in 1778 the mansion passed to his son, Joseph, who died in 1817, leaving one daughter, Anna Marie, who married John Ivatt Briscoe, the local Member of Parliament. The estate of Botleys, comprising Botleys Park and mansion, Foxhills and France Farms, was sold by order of trustees in July. Foxhills and France farms were sold to John Ivatt Briscoe. Botleys Park and mansion were sold to David Hall.

Once again Botleys Park changed hands frequently until it was purchased by Robert Gosling in 1839. In 1851 there were eight members of the Gosling family living at Botleys Park, including Robert Gosling and his wife Georgina Vere Gosling, four unmarried daughters and two youngest sons. The Goslings employed over twenty members of staff in the house alone, most of whom were not native to the district.

The 1844 tithe map shows that, in addition to owning Botleys Park, mansion and offices, Robert Gosling owned several cottages at Botleys and the surrounding area as well as arable, grass and woodland. The Gosling family remained at Botleys until 1931 when it was sold to London County Council, reputedly for £30,000.

By 1934 it was listed in Kelly’s Directory as having been purchased by Surrey County Council as a “colony for mental defectives”, and a group of ‘villas’ were built to house patients. However, by 1939, the government was preparing for the threat of war, and ordered that all hospitals should prepare for war casualties, particularly those situated only a reasonable distance from London. The entire site was selected as an Emergency War Hospital as an annex to St. Thomas’s Hospital in London. Botleys was charged with receiving casualties from air-raids in London, and also to treat sick and wounded Service personnel from other military hospitals.

‘Botleys Park War Hospital’ consisted of 20 huts, grouped around a central corridor, outlying buildings for nurse’s homes and stores, and with Botleys Park Mansion accommodating the doctors and nursing staff. In total there were 864 beds made available to the War Hospital Emergency Service.

Several London hospitals were evacuated here, including St Thomas’s, St James’s Hospital, Balham, The Bolingbroke, The Belgrave and The Evelina. All staff retained the uniforms of their own hospitals, so there was much variety in colour and style. Every Monday, during the early part of the war, it was obligatory for all staff to wear their gas masks to and from lunch in order to grow accustomed to moving around in them, which must have been an unnerving sight.

In addition to evacuated London hospitals, convoys of sick and wounded were admitted from France. In fact, the first wounded soldier from the War was admitted to Botleys. At this time there were 1,400 war hospital beds and 1,050 beds for other patients.

Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) with Miss. Cecelia Morris, Matron of Botleys Park War Emergency Hospital in 1940

Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) with Miss. Cecelia Morris, Matron of Botleys Park War Emergency Hospital in 1940

In 1940 there were four instances of bombs falling in the grounds, but apart from windows breaking, no serious damage was done. On the 28th May 1940 Her Majesty the Queen visited the War Hospital to see the wounded soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk.

The Recreation Hall at the hospital was used frequently for weekly dances for patients and fortnightly shows. Celebrities such as Lupino Lane, Kenneth Horne, Richard Murdoch and Claude Dampier and others played at Botleys. Apart from the hockey field, all playing fields and recreation grounds were given over to cultivation. The reduced garden staff were joined by Land Army Girls who lived at Murray House.

The hospital itself was never bombed, but one night in February 1944 ammunition dumps in the woods close to the edge of the estate were hit by incendiaries and blew up. The blast shook the area for many miles around and broke every pane of glass at Botleys. Blast damage to the mansion, though not obvious, was considerable. For some years it was supported with beams extending from the basement through to the roof. Flying bombs or ‘Doodle Bugs’ frequently passed overhead on their way to London. They often failed to make their target and fell in the local area.

Just before D-Day the hospital was visited by the Minister for Health to ensure that all arrangements for the reception of battle casualties had been made. The hospital was converted from a ‘base’ to a Transit Hospital and from the 8th June to the 1st November 1944 convoys of casualties were admitted direct from the battlefields of Normandy. During this period 14,000 wounded were received. Immediate treatment was given, and all who could travel were transferred further north the day after admission.

By 1947 the hospital was split from Botleys Park Colony and became St. Peter’s Hospital, its name derived from Chertsey’s Church. Botleys continued to function as a hospital for the mentally ill until it was eventually amalgamated into the main St. Peter’s complex. The mansion is now in private hands and has been converted into offices.

References:

Brayley, E.W. ‘Topographical History of Surrey’, 1842
Cannon, Sarah B. ‘The Church District of Botleys and Lyne between 1848 and 1918’
Clarke, M.F.A., ‘Botleys Park War Hospital, later St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey’
Grislis, G., ‘The Seat of David Hall Esq’