October 5, 1916: The third route march in as many days for Archie Wills. This one took them from Witley south to Haslemere, a distance of some 5 1/2 miles (nearly 9 kms) — one way. They did a little sight-seeing en route:
“On the way [we] stopped at an estate. We were admitted to it and saw the kennels and fine parks. The game-keeper said that ‘they only had 4,000 acres here.’ It belongs to Lord Perry.” (1)
The estate, called Witley Park, featured an extraordinary house extensively rebuilt and greatly expanded by its previous owner, Whitaker Wright, who had made, lost and regained a fortune in mining by 1890. By the time Wright committed suicide in 1904, having been found guilty of committing fraud, he had spent well over a million pounds on the house and grounds. Though not finished at his death, the original house (Lea Park) had been expanded to include 32 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a theatre, a palm house and an observatory. His landscape projects included building three lakes, under one of which was installed a billiards room. His extensive earthmoving alarmed local residents, since he had also purchased the manor of Witley which included the beauty spots of Hindhead Common and the Devil’s Punchbowl.
On Wright’s death, his Witley Park estate was broken up and sold at auction. The house and immediate grounds were bought by Lord Pirrie (Wills’s Lord Perry), a Canadian-born shipping magnate whose Belfast firm of Harland and Wolff built, inter alia, Titanic. Illness had prevented Pirrie from joining her maiden (and only) voyage.
Wills remembered the gamekeeper saying they “only had 4000 acres”; in Wright’s time, Witley Park encompassed 9000. About a tenth of it, including Hindhead Common and the Devil’s Punch Bowl, was sold to a local committee and turned over to the newly formed National Trust.
(1) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3:54. October 5, 1916. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
Information about Witley Park, Wright, and Pirrie comes from the following sources:
- John Owen Smith, “Hindhead is safe! or, How the National Trust obtained Hindhead Common,” web
- “Whitaker Wright,” BBC Southern Counties
- “William James Pirrie, Viscount Pirrie,” Encyclopedia Britannica
- “Witley (or Lea Park) Estate,” Godalming Museum.
- “Witley Park,” Lost Heritage: England’s Lost Country Houses
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”