St Anns Hill

Line engraving of the view of St. Ann’s Hill from Egham Hill, by W. Woolnorth after J. Hakewill, published in 1820 by E. Lloyd

St Ann’s Hill has always been a prominent feature on the landscape of Chertsey, and historical evidence shows that it has been used by humans since prehistoric times. There have been little discovered in the way of objects from St. Ann’s Hill, which acquired that name in the 14th century.

The hill fort on St. Ann’s has been the subject of much debate over the years as locals and archaeologist discuss the importance of the earthworks discovered there. In 1814 Shurlock Manwaring suggested that the defensive earthworks dated from a fort from 12,000 to 3,000 BC (Mesolithic). However, due to the continued use of the hill throughout history the ground heavily disturbed and so much of the hill fort is incomplete.

St. Ann’s Hill offers views across the Middle Thames gravel terraces and stands 240 feet high. The hill fort is approximately 16 feet (5 metres) from the top of the hill and most of the site is surrounded by a single wall, enclosing an area of approximately 11 acres. In the south-east section of the fort there are signs that there might have been a second, outer rampart. The best preserve section of the earthworks can be seen in the western area where there would have been a broad rampart approximately 1 metre high. The ditch in front would have been between 1.5 and 3 metres wide and up to half a metre deep. Today, it has been breached by many footpaths. This, combined with the destruction caused by sand and gravel quarrying prior to the 19th century, makes it difficult to say with any certainty, how the hill was used during prehistoric times.

When Chertsey Abbey was founded in 666 AD the Hill was used to grow vines for the monks, and was covered with bee hives which not only provided honey but also wax for church candles. It was in 1334 that the Abbot agreed to the building of a chapel on Hill dedicated to St Ann. However, with the dissolution of the monastery, the Hill became Crown property and was sold off. The Chapel was torn down shortly afterwards.

In 1778 St Ann’s Hill was the property of the Duke of Marlborough, who sold it to a Mrs Elizabeth Cane or Mrs Armstead as she is better known. Mrs. Armstead was a Courtesan and the long term companion of the politician Charles James Fox who lived with her on the Hill until his death in September 1806. Fox and Mrs Armstead married in 1795, but did not have any children. So, on her death in 1842 the Hill was inherited by Fox’s nephew, Henry Edward Fox, Lord Holland.

View of the Old Coach Road, St. Ann’s Hill, Chertsey, 1900 - 1910

View of the Old Coach Road, St. Ann’s Hill, Chertsey, 1900 – 1910

In the 1850s Lord and Lady Holland converted to Catholicism, and became close friends with King Louis Philippe who had been exiled from France in 1848 and lived in Claremont Estate. When Lord Holland died in 1859 his widow had a chapel on the Hill built to his memory, with the Rector of the Catholic Mission in Weybridge becoming her Chaplain, living in a cottage next to chapel which was built for him in 1860.

When Lady Holland died in 1889 she was buried in the Chapel which is no longer open to the public. The property was inherited Lord Ilchester, but in the 1930s the house that Fox lived in was pulled down and replaced in 1937 with concrete house known as St. Ann’s Court. In 1928 St Ann’s Hill was bought by Lord Crambrose who gave it to Chertsey to become a public park. It was officially opened by Neville Chamberlain, the then Minister of Health, and since then the Hill has remained in public ownership.