There are full-blown books at one end of the reading spectrum and small articles or blogs, usually on the Internet, at the other end. This potted history sits somewhere in the middle. The sole objective is to give the reader a taste for the subject. Hopefully, there are sufficient links within the text and information in the bibliography section to allow the reader to delve further if he or she is interested.
I have mainly, although not exclusively, limited the content to the civil parish of Sunninghill & Ascot, shown in the map below.
Sunninghill lay in the south west corner of Windsor Forest, an area that was mostly heath land, interspersed with wooded sections. Various disparaging quotes on the poor nature of the soil and the general ugliness of the landscape provide some clues as to why Sunninghill and Ascot was a very sparsely populated area for a large part of its history. “As bleak, as barren and as villainous a heath as man ever set his eyes on”, said William Cobbett in 1822, talking about Windsor Forest in general. Samuel Pepys thought the area gloomy and Daniel Defoe “a black forest”, although Alexander Pope, who lived in Binfield for part of his youth, was much more charitable in his poem Windsor-Forest. The aptly named Sunninghill Bog in South Ascot, which was awarded to the Sunninghill Fuel Allotment Trust as part of the Land Enclosure act of Windsor Forest in 1813, has been described by one writer as useless land. Overall, the soil was, shall we say, very unpromising. It was unlikely to attract many individuals in an agrarian society where people relied on the land for their existence.
Local history during the Middle Ages primarily concerns Sunninghill, as Ascot did not really warrant much of a mention at this early stage. It was simply described as a lawless and desolate place. Sunninghill was populated by the Sunna or Sonna people during Saxon times. The church of St. Michael and All Angels which was founded in the later part of the Saxon period arguably provided the initial foundation for the area.
The appeal of hunting in Windsor Forest attracted royalty, starting with the Saxons, and it was William the Conqueror who commenced the building of Windsor Castle in 1070. The precise area of the forest was subsequently defined and various areas within it were enclosed. Sunninghill Park was one of these areas. Meanwhile, Eastmore was a working farm in Sunninghill which was referred to as a manor from the 14th century onwards. It was eventually converted into a gentleman’s park, Silwood Park, in the late 18th century. The very small population which managed to eke out a living by working on these two estates and in the royal forest was scattered across Sunninghill.
The first major improvements in local fortunes occurred in the late 1600s. The initial attraction was the discovery and subsequent popularity of the Sunninghill Waters. Its geographical position in the south east of England and the poor means of transport meant that it could compete as a spa with the likes of Tunbridge Wells, Bath and Cheltenham, albeit for a very short time. The second string to the area’s bow was the advent of horse racing on Ascot Heath, the first meeting being held in 1711. It is said that Queen Anne, a very keen horsewoman, had identified Ascot as a suitable place for the sport although this appears to be an apocryphal story. Racing was spasmodic after her death in 1714, but it resumed in 1744 under the influence of the Duke of Cumberland and gradually grew into the major event which we know today.
It was the arrival of the railway that heralded a golden age of growth which occurred not only here but across the UK. It arrived in Ascot in 1856, leading to significant residential development in South Ascot, Ascot and Sunninghill, all during the late Victorian era. Around the same time, the success of the British economy, primarily through the Industrial Revolution, led to an explosion in many other areas of life, ranging from the numbers of churches and schools through to the formal establishment of many sports and other leisure activities.
The latest phase in the growth of this area was arguably brought about by the introduction of the motorway network from the mid 1960s through to the early 1980s. The development of businesses along the M3 / M4 corridor and the ability to commute by car inevitably led to increased residential development in Sunninghill and Ascot.
… The Poor Soil
… Up to the late 1600s
… Sunninghill Waters
… Horse Racing at Ascot
… Houses of the Gentry in Sunninghill
… The Sunninghill Fuel Allotment Trust
… The Coming of the Railway
… Late Victorian Development
… Local Government
… Law and Order
… Ascot Fire Brigade
… Ascot Durning Library
… Sunninghill Reading Room
… 19th Century Churches
… Hotels, Inns and Pubs
… Houses for the Gentry in 19th Century Ascot
… The Growth of Leisure Activities in the Victorian Period
….. Ascot Horticultural Society
… Cordes Hall
… Novello Theatre
… The Military and Evacuees
… Post World War II Housing Development
… Trusts and Charities
Prehistory to late 1600s
So, why is the soil in this area so poor?
The most well-known geological formation in the Thames Valley area is London Clay. However, there is a stretch of land, roughly centred on Bagshot, which is approximately 25 miles wide (east to west) and 15 miles from north to south, where the London Clay is covered by layers of sand that were put down between 58 million and 43 million years ago during the Palaeogene era. Three strata are currently identified: Bagshot Formation (the oldest) is dominated by orange and pale yellow fine-grained sand, its depth varying widely with 40 metres in the Bagshot-Chertsey area but only 7 metres in Ascot; Bracklesham Beds containing alternate layers of sand and clay are mainly found in the Chobham, Crowthorne and Farnborough areas; and Barton Beds containing yellowish brown fine-grained sand with an impersistent layer of flint and pebbles at the base are mainly limited to Chobham and Bagshot.
In plain English, apart from the odd piece of land on the northern edges of Sunninghill and Ascot, the soil is sandy in nature, holding little in the way of nutrients. It was definitely not a place where arable crops would naturally thrive, as most of today’s gardeners will know. Hence, it was not going to attract people who needed reasonable land to cultivate in our agrarian society. Nor was there a river close by which would provide other sources of food and a means of transportation.
There are various signs of early human presence in the area. Several flint axes have been found which date from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and there were four round barrows which date from the Bronze Age. A round barrow was a burial ground consisting of a mound, usually surrounded by a ditch. They were located on Bowledge Hill which is now within the grounds of Heatherwood Hospital. Only one barrow remains, tucked behind the physiotherapy wing, and it is no longer the twelve foot high feature that was described by G.M Hughes in his 1890 book.
Around the time of the Romans the Atrebates, a Belgic tribe, populated a large part of Berkshire and North Hampshire. They were followed in the post Roman era by the Sonna or Sunna people who gave Sunninghill its name. Sunninghill, part of Wessex in the Saxon period, was probably on the eastern edge of their territory. Further east, the land, part of Mercia, was subject to frequent Viking raids in the 9th and 10th centuries when wealthy places such as Staines and the Abbey at Chertsey were sacked on their journeys up the Thames.
The church of St. Michael and All Angels is next to come into our historical view. It is thought that it may date back to the 8th or 9th century (Hughes suggests 890), possibly built near the site of a pagan sanctuary. It certainly predates the Normans. It was positioned on a hilltop, surrounded by yew trees, one of which survives today (on the west side of the current church) and is thought to be 1200 years old. The church was rebuilt in stone around 1120 during the reign of Henry I. It was a modest building, accommodating about 50 worshippers.
In 1199 King John granted the advowson (or patronage) of St. Michael’s to the Priory of St. Margaret at Broomhall, an indication that Sunninghill was a relatively unimportant place. Benedictine priests from the Abbey at Chertsey were responsible for the services at St. Michael’s and All Angels up to 1297.
The Priory, which was first mentioned in 1157, was founded by Isabel De Warenne. The De Warennes were Norman earls of Surrey. It was a wooden construction and nothing remains of the building which was thought to be close to the Broomhall Farmhouse in present day Sunningdale. The Priory enjoyed significant royal patronage, particularly during the 13th century, and acquired lands in Egham, Chertsey, Chobham, Winkfield, Sunninghill and Bagshot. However, its fortunes waned and the Priory was closed in 1524 just before Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries got into its stride. All its possessions and advowsons were eventually granted to St. John’s College, Cambridge. Connections with St. John’s College diminished after the 1858 University Estates Act allowed a college to sell off some of its properties. St. John’s disposed of the northern part of the Broomhall estate, including Titness and Coworth.
Sunninghill’s relatively close proximity to Windsor was obviously important in its eventual development. Windsor had some, albeit scant, royal connections dating back to the 8th century. It was William the Conqueror who built a castle around 1070, the main attraction of the place arguably being Windsor Forest which was good for sport and hunting. According to Hughes, in the time of Edward II (1307-1327) Sunninghill was held by Queen Isabella as her own private estate, and for several reigns it appears to have formed part of the “peculiar appanage” of the Queens of England. Appanage was normally a provision for the maintenance of a king’s children, typically a gift of land, an official position or money.
Unsurprisingly, Sunninghill was not mentioned in the Domesday Book. The parish was treated as part of Cookham Manor for administration purposes except for those parts which came under Broomhall Priory or nearby Sunninghill Park. This connection continued right through to 1922 when the old manorial rights disappeared by Act of Parliament. Cookham itself was actually part of the Hundred of Beynhurst at the time of the Domesday book.
Sunninghill was dominated by two estates in the following centuries, Sunninghill Manor and Sunninghill Park.
Land transactions involving Sunninghill Manor, nowadays effectively the Silwood Park estate, are recorded from 1197. While its boundaries have altered over time the core of the estate can be said to be bounded by today’s Cheapside Road, Buckhurst Road, and the London Road. The presence of a manor house is first mentioned in the 14th century, although it did not appear on any map until 1770. It was originally known as Eastmore and was initially in the hands of John de Sunninghill. It was known for venison and timber although it was never a prosperous manor. Indeed, it was arguably the poorest in Cookham’s portfolio. Christine Weightman’s book on Cheapside details property owners in the manor over time, leading to the Aldridge family who dominated local affairs from the 1670s for over 100 years.
The king “emparked” – we would say enclosed – various areas of Windsor Forest to improve his access to deer and other game. Sunninghill Park was one of the later parks to be created in 1377 during the tenure of Sir Simon de Burley, the Chief Forester of Windsor Forest. Only a small area in the south west of the park lay within the parish of Sunninghill, the greater part being within the parish of Winkfield. The Crown sold Sunninghill Park in 1630 but repurchased it three hundred years later in 1945.
The poor eked out an existence by finding work on these two estates or in the royal forest and other parks as woodsmen, gatekeepers and labourers. They relied on the forest for fuel and to supplement their food supplies.
By Elizabeth I’s death in 1603, Sunninghill only consisted of a small number of relatively isolated dwellings, in Cheapside where there were about a dozen families, Upper Village Road and Wells Lane. The Survey of Sunninghill under the Great Seal in 1613 provides details of the early property owners within the parish.
John Pitt, Surveyor General of His Majesty’s Woods and Forests, who was involved in the creation of Virginia Water Lake, bought Eastmore and the manorial estates from 1764 onwards. He converted it into a gentleman’s residence and park, consisting of 184 acres at the time of his death in 1787. Eventually, it passed to James Sibbald who built Sunning Hill Park House (later known as Silwood Park). The lake at Silwood was created in the 1790s.
What about Ascot, which has not been mentioned so far? References can be found to Estcota (east cottage) in the 12th century (1177), Ascote and Archecote in the 13th century and Astcote or Askote in the 14th century. It was part of the Ripplesmere Hundred and was described as a desolate place that attracted robbers. There is one story of a highwayman being shot and killed there by his would-be victim. The royal buckhounds used in hunting were kenneled in Ascot by the time that horse racing arrived at the beginning of the 18th century. Hence Kennel Ride.
Late 1600s to 1855
Sunninghill Water (Chalybeate) in Wells Lane initially came to public attention in the second half of the seventeenth century, and Queen Anne took the waters there in the early 1700s. Chalybeate water is mineral spring water that contains iron which colours the water. This is possibly how the brown water which can be seen at Percy Bay in the extreme south western corner of Virginia Water Lake gets its colour. The Wells Inn predates this period of fame. The building was originally a farmhouse with a fireplace that was dated 1557. Taking the waters there became very popular, helped by the fact that Queen Anne had used it and its general location near to London. The inn naturally expanded as a result of this success, having a long ballroom and breakfast room by the 1750s.
Unfortunately, its popularity did not last. It waned in the 19th century although the inn continued for some time as a staging post. There was a daily coach to Slough and one to Holborn in London. Both left in the morning and returned to the area in the early evening. The Wells Inn was demolished in 1885. The replacement is now a restaurant. The springs were eventually closed off, as they came to be considered a hazard to the public.
Queen Anne, who spent a lot of time at Windsor, was a keen horsewoman and follower of the hunt. It is said that she identified the unpromising heath as a course for horse racing. This is not strictly accurate. Travellers sold horses to the military and Ascot Heath was used to race horses as part of their sales process. The cost to clear the heath and prepare the course was not inconsiderable – just under £600 (circa. £130K today?). The first meeting was held in August 1711. Racing initially proved to be popular but it lapsed after Queen Anne’s death in 1714 as neither George I or George II was particularly keen. Nor did it bring any significant development to the area initially, apart from Ascot Heath House and the Stag and Hounds.
Racing resumed in 1744 due to the influence of the Duke of Cumberland, of Culloden fame (or infamy if you are Scottish). He was the Ranger of Windsor Forest. In that role he was responsible for creating Virginia Water Lake, work beginning in 1746. Cumberland was the breeder of the famous Eclipse, a horse that was unbeaten in 18 races.
A number of today’s celebrated races at Royal Ascot were inaugurated in the early part of the 19th century: the Gold Cup (1807), the Wokingham Stakes (1813) and the St James Palace Stakes (1834).
It was around 1807 that the meeting became the event that we would recognise today. In 1813 an Act of Parliament ensured that it would remain a public racecourse, while driving in state to Ascot by the monarch was started by George IV in 1825.
Stands have been built / replaced periodically over time: the first permanent stand appeared in the 1790s and remained in use until 1838; a two storey royal stand in 1822; another grandstand in 1839; the erection of a clock tower above the grandstand in 1896; a new Royal Enclosure in 1902; a new Tote Building in 1931; the QEII stand in 1961; a modern Royal Enclosure in 1964; and most recently, a major redevelopment (2004-2006).
The Royal Ascot Hotel was built in 1859-1860 on what is now the site of the Grand Regency Heights, overlooking the Heatherwood roundabout. It had stables for 150 horses and remained in business for 100 years until it was demolished in 1961.
While attendances during race week were already high by the early 19th century, the arrival of the railway in 1856 saw a marked increase in racegoers.
From the late 17th century onwards the gentry started to build large properties in the area, possibly attracted in part by the proximity of Windsor. It was cynically described later by William Cobbett in 1822, “Sunninghill is a spot all made into grounds and gardens by tax-eaters”. Apart from Sunninghill Park and Silwood Park which have already been mentioned, the properties included: Harewood Park, Buckhurst Park, Titness Park, Tetworth Hall, The Cedars, Brook Lodge, Beechgrove and Kingswick.
Most of the properties were originally named after their owners; they were not known by their modern names. For example, William Buckle probably built the first large house on the site of The Cedars in 1677. Brook Lodge, now called Heronsbrook House, was probably built by Robert Russell and Elizabeth Gale. Many of the gentry would only live here during the summer months, returning to their London homes for the rest of the year.
The trust recently changed its name to the Sunninghill Trust, as the term “Fuel Allotment” confused many people, its meaning lost in the mists of time. Well, let us start with some background in an attempt to demystify fuel allotments.
The vast majority of rural folk in our agrarian society suffered from the privatisation of land through land enclosure acts, many of which occurred between 1700 and 1860 when over five million acres were enclosed. The poverty which resulted from the loss of land that villagers could use ultimately led to the creation of allotments, albeit extremely slowly.
A token amount of land was set aside for the poor as part of these overall land enclosures, and Parliamentary Commissioners were instructed to decide which parcels of land would be used. It has been estimated that a derisory figure of less than 0.5% of the total land enclosed was ultimately set aside for this purpose. It was often poor or waste land.
Apart from the land necessary for cultivation, villagers had also lost their access to common land which they used for grazing animals and for the collection of fuel items such as peat and turves. It was the provision of fuel that was to be the main use for these parcels of land, hence the title of Fuel Allotments (or sometimes Poor’s Land). However, some of the land was occasionally let as allotment gardens.
While some individuals did indeed forage for their own fuel under the new regime, the more usual system involved the land being rented out, usually to farmers. The resultant income was used to purchase fuel, typically coal, for the poor. The gradual reduction in the use of coal eventually saw a move to more general financial assistance to the poor and needy. Over time, some of the land has been sold for development with the proceeds being added to the funds of the trust. The current objective of these trusts (all registered charities) is to maximise their income wherever possible, and therefore they will invest funds to help provide further income. The histories of some of these charities can be found on the Internet. Hampton Fuel Allotment Charity and Tilehurst Poor’s Land Charity are both well worth reading.
Back to local matters. The South East was enclosed later than most other parts of the country. The Windsor Forest Enclosure Act came into law in 1813. However, it took until 1817 to sort out all the claims and counter-claims to various parcels of land, and to identify unauthorised uses of waste land. 60,000 acres were enclosed, of which 36,000 acres went to the Crown and major landowners. See this page on the Berkshire enclosures website for details of the enclosures in Sunninghill and Ascot. 112 acres of land in the Sunninghill Bog (South Ascot) was set aside for the Sunninghill Fuel Allotment Trust. A small part of this land was used for allotment gardens. One author has described it as “useless land”. The Bog was gradually drained over time, making it slightly less useless! The Trust has subsequently played an important role in the development and life of Ascot.
The post of Bog Warden was created by the Trust in 1844. His primary role was to stop individuals cutting peat / turf for fuel. Other responsibilities included the day to day management of the allotment gardens, ditch management and tree surveys. The role still exists today.
It was not legal for fuel allotment trusts to sell land for building development until 1939. However, there were various land disposals and “swaps”. The first sale of land was to the Staines, Wokingham and Woking Railway Company in 1853. It consisted of 5 acres 3 rods and 27 perch for £297 19s. Further parcels of land followed periodically for the rest of the century, all to the railway company. Allens Field (25 acres) was an example of a swap, obtained by exchanging 10 acres of trust land. Allens Field is currently designated a local wildlife site. It has been managed jointly by RBWM and Sunninghill & Ascot Parish Council since 2009.
1856 to the End of the Victorian Era
The railway line from Staines to Wokingham reached Ascot in 1856. There were two stations: the present day station which was known as “Ascot and Sunninghill” from 1857 to 1921; and Ascot West in King’s Ride which accommodated race day traffic. The latter was closed in 1968.
Ascot became a junction in 1878 when the branch line to Bagshot and Ash Vale was opened, leading to the building of two engine houses and a small wooden locomotive shed which was eventually demolished in 1969. Electrification of the lines through Ascot occurred in 1939.
The Great Western Railway (GWR), which had reached Windsor in 1849, was also interested in running a line to Ascot, primarily for the racing traffic. One plan proposed to terminate the line just west of the Royal Ascot Hotel, the present day Grand Regency Heights. However, the plan was never realised and GWR eventually gave up the idea in 1914.
A Terrace was built in South Ascot to house railway staff – called Railway Terrace unsurprisingly. It was situated at the junction of Church Road and Oliver Road and was eventually demolished in 1960. There was a Railway Arms in Railway Terrace, which was an off-licence (shown in one of the pictures below). The Railway Arms public house in Victoria Road was built soon afterwards, which was subsequently renamed the Swinley. Housing development in Victoria Road, South Ascot started in the 1870s and in Church Road (originally Church Lane) around the turn of the century. Further development took place south of the London Road around the end of the 19th century, creating modern day South Ascot and Sunninghill.
The Church Vestry had gradually evolved by the late 17th century into the face of local government in England and Wales, such as it was. It was a committee for the secular and ecclesiastical government of a parish which met in the vestry of a parish church, hence the name. Locally, its responsibilities included: law and order, administration of the Poor Law and the policing of the wastes (poor common land) to prevent unauthorised use.
On the subject of the Poor Law, Sunninghill Parish was supporting 29 paupers by 1797, each receiving between 1s and 3/6d per week. A Parish workhouse was built in 1799 which catered for 25 individuals. It was situated for many years near the old Sunninghill school. Poverty often led to poaching. It is perhaps instructive to realise some of the punishments that were meted out for this offence: 1800 – 1 year in prison; 1807 – death for armed resistance when poaching; 1817 – transportation for 7 years.
Soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars significantly increased the pressure on the existing poor relief system. This state of affairs led to the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) which introduced poor law unions that were run by appointed boards of guardians who were responsible for the administration and funding of Poor Law Relief. Sunninghill was an example of a parish that was too small to justify its own union. So, when the Sunninghill workhouse was closed in 1840 its paupers went to the Windsor workhouse where the Windsor Poor Union had been formed. These unions subsequently took on other duties such as civil registration (births, deaths, marriages, et cetera).
They also provided the geographical basis for Rural Sanitary Districts that were set up in 1875, principally to improve public health. County Councils came into being in 1888, and they were followed by Urban and Rural Districts which replaced Sanitary Districts in the Local Government Act (1894). It was this 1894 act which saw the creation of Sunninghill Parish Council in the same year. The name was changed to Sunninghill & Ascot Parish Council in 2004 to better reflect the area that was represented.
Poor Law Unions were finally abolished in 1930 when the responsibility for public assistance was passed to county councils and county borough councils.
The Berkshire Constabulary was formed in 1856. Before that time the Church Vestry was responsible for law and order with each parish having a constable. Christine Weightman’s booklet “The Bobby’s Notebook” shows the information recorded by an unknown local constable in 1841. He refers to the Sunninghill Bog as a den of iniquity, housing at least 20 dishonest people.
In the 1840s there were many affrays on Ascot Heath during race week when additional police resources were obviously needed. The Old Court House, just east of Ascot High Street, was opened in 1851 and a police court was in session there during race week. This building is now used for office accommodation.
The current police station in Ascot was built in mid-1970s. It is only open to the public for selected hours on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. The front desk is manned by volunteers who form part of the Neighbourhood Engagement team.
A meeting was held in 1890 to discuss the feasibility of setting up a local fire brigade. £800 was subscribed to purchase a steam engine, and the Royal Ascot Hotel offered to house the engine and plant free of charge. A building on the High Street was subsequently purchased in 1902 which provided a home through to the early 1980s when the fire station moved to its present location on Station Hill. The original building is currently occupied by the Hyperion Tile shop although it is owned by the Ascot Fire Brigade Trust which provides funds to local charities and worthy causes.
Miss Jemina Durning Smith, the daughter of wealthy parents, lived in London and King’s Ride House in Ascot. She became a philanthropist after the death of her parents, donating large sums to medical charities. She also became interested in libraries, possibly because her brother-in-law, Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence, was the Library Commissioner for Lambeth. She contributed 10,000 guineas to the building of the Lambeth Durning Library, which was opened in 1889 and still exists today.
Ascot Durning Library opened in 1890 in a building in Winkfield Road, close to the junction with Ascot High Street and London Road, which Jemina bought for £700 in 1889. It had previously been a china shop cum Ascot Post and Telegraph Office. She also owned various adjoining properties. The rent from them provided an income for the library, which was run by a trust and a management committee of local worthies.
Books could be borrowed for between 1d and 3d per week. In its early days various classes were held in the library – cooking, bent iron work and sketching – while there was a smoking room where chess, dominoes and draughts were available.
In 1959 Berkshire County Council took over the management of the library, which subsequently moved to its present home in the Ascot Racecourse buildings in 2006.
The sixth form library at Charters School in Ascot is also named after Jemina, as it received a grant from the Ascot Durning Trust.
Admiral Sir Frederick William Grey (1805 – 1878) was the third son of the second Earl Grey who was a Whig (Liberal) Prime Minister in the early 1830s. It was his father who received a gift of tea, flavoured with bergamot oil, which subsequently became known as Earl Grey.
The Admiral was the first owner-occupier of Lynwood, an estate which straddled the parishes of Sunninghill and Sunningdale. Searle states that he was responsible for setting up the Sunninghill Reading Room around the middle of the 19th century. After his death The Honorable Barbarina Grey, his widow, set up a trust in 1885 in memory of her late husband. This consisted of the Reading Room and Cottage, both located in School Road, Sunninghill. The Reading Room was to be “for the use of the inhabitants of Sunninghill and especially for meetings of the Mothers, the Girl’s Friendly Society, the Medical Club and during the evenings for holding Penny Readings and Concerts therein”. The trust was to be managed by the then Vicar and Churchwardens of St. Michael’s Church.
The library building has been used for a variety of purposes over the years. Apart from a local lending library which was established by Robert Bird, other uses have included billiards, bagatelle and even a rifle range! During World War II, it was used as a dining room for the children of St. Michael’s school. Due to the large numbers of evacuees from London to this area, attendance numbers soared and the existing facilities at the school were unable to cope.
A petition from 20 households requested better library facilities. The existing library was only open on Monday evenings from 6pm to 7pm and the stock of books was very limited. In November 1958 Berkshire County Council took over the management of the library. It had 2,000 books and was open four days a week. The latest changes, in 2002, were carried out by the Royal Borough who completely refurbished the reading room and provided the current access path and doorway.
Legislation in the 1820s, most notably the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, removed some of the barriers that had excluded Christians outside the Church of England from many public offices. This ultimately led to a period when there was much competition between faiths to build churches, as they fought to attract worshippers. Churches which were built in the 19th century in Sunninghill and Ascot included:
- The Cheapside Methodist Chapel foundation stone was laid in 1862
- All Saints’ Church (C of E) in Ascot near the Heatherwood Roundabout was consecrated in 1864. Further building work took place in 1870 and 1890, while murals and paintings were added at various times
- The first sod was cut for St. Saviour’s (C of E) in South Ascot in 1884 with the first service being held in the following year. The building was relatively small and was mostly constructed of tin
- The building of All Souls (C of E) in South Ascot was largely paid for by the 1st Baron Stanmore. It was consecrated in 1897, and unsurprisingly it soon attracted the congregation from St. Saviours’ which was eventually demolished
- The Stoner family and other wealthy Catholic neighbours originally travelled to Binfield Park to hear Mass and take the sacraments. It was the Stoner family who contributed a significant sum towards the building of St. Francis of Assisi Church in South Ascot. The foundation stone was laid in 1888 and the consecration took place in the following year
- A second Methodist Chapel appeared in 1881 in the Mission Hall which was situated in the Terrace, Sunninghill.
The church of St. Michael and All Angels also underwent considerable rebuilding work during the course of the 19th century. A number of enlargements in 1807-1808 was followed by major reconstruction work in 1827-1828. These changes allowed the church to accommodate a congregation of around 450, whereas it could previously only hold 50. Finally, a new chancel, side chapel and organ chamber were added in 1888.
A National school was a school founded in 19th century England and Wales by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education. These schools provided elementary education for the poor in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England. St. Michael’s was established as a National school in 1818 on Sunninghill Common, close to the site of the present day school in School Road, Sunninghill which was built in 1883.
A small school was opened in the vestry room at the Methodist Chapel in Cheapside in 1865. Cheapside subsequently got its own National school. Planning for it started in 1866 but it was not built until 1874.
St. Francis Catholic Primary in South Ascot was opened in 1892. It had 34 children initially, who were taught by the nuns of St. Mary’s Convent in Ascot. Mother Bonaventure was the headmistress for 40 years (1899-1939). The school was hit by a stray German bomb in 1940. Until the school was rebuilt in 1953 it was in temporary accommodation in The Manual Workshop and Women’s Institute Hall, an old building in Upper Village Road, Sunninghill. This is now the small car park area near the corner of School Road and Upper Village Road.
A number of independent schools sprang up in the area, mostly during the late Victorian era:
- St. Mary’s School, Ascot is an independent day and boarding school for girls. It was founded in 1885 by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM)
- St. George’s School, Ascot is an independent day and boarding school for girls. It was founded in 1877 as a boy’s preparatory school, becoming a girl’s school in 1904
- The Marist Schools in Sunninghill are independent schools for girls. They were originally founded in London in 1870 by the Marist Sisters. Bombing damage during World War II eventually led the schools to move to Sunninghill in 1947
- Papplewick, Ascot is a boy’s preparatory school which was established in 1947.
The Royal Victoria Cottage Hospital and Nursing Home (founded 1898) was in South Ascot, close to All Souls Church. It was eventually subsumed into the National Health Service, serving for a time as accommodation for staff. It was sold off for development in 1980.
Heatherwood Hospital was opened in 1922 for the United Services Fund. It was an advanced hospital for its day, treating soldiers and their families who were suffering from tuberculosis. It was later taken over by London County Council, giving priority to the children of ex-servicemen from London. After the formation of the National Health Service in 1948 it became a general hospital.
The Congregation of Religious of the Society of the Most Holy Trinity, an amalgamation of the Sisterhood of the Holy Cross and the Devonport Society, was formed in 1856. The building of Ascot Priory to house the new order began in 1860. In addition to an orphanage, the house supported London hospitals by providing convalescent care in healthy surroundings.
Much of the information in this section was taken from the Pubs History website. The dates on that site refer to the date of the first known landlord. Some of the initial data was derived from the 1851 census. Therefore, where a pub is dated 1851 in the following list, it almost certainly existed before that date.
- Royal Ascot Hotel (established in 1860). It included stables for 150 horses. It was demolished in 1961
- Berystede Hotel (1907). The original house was built in the early 1870s by the Standish family. It was destroyed by fire in 1886. After remaining derelict for a number of years, the hotel was built on the site
- Station Hotel (1871), known as the Railway Hotel prior to 1925
- Royal Berkshire Hotel (1971). The original house, built in 1705, was The Oaks. It served as a school for the blind in the 20th century up to the late 1960s, after which it was converted into a hotel
- Thatched Tavern in Cheapside (1780s?) although the building dates back to the early 1600s
- Wells Inn (late 1600s?) although part of the original building dates back to 1557
- The One Tun Inn in Cheapside dates back to the 17th century (Weightman favours the early 1600s). It closed for business in 1909
- Stag in Ascot High Street (1861)
- Horse and Groom in Ascot High Street (1851). It is now known as Bar One.
- Swinley (1880s), previously the Railway Arms
- Dukes Head in Upper Village Road (1851)
- Dog and Partridge in Upper Village Road (1854)
- Carpenters Arms in Upper Village Road (1871)
- New Inn in Bagshot Road (1851). Subsequently called the Three Jays. It no longer exists.
Larger properties for the wealthy were generally to be found on the southern and western sides of the racecourse. They included: The Hermitage (hence today’s Hermitage Parade of shops), the Red House, Holmwood Lodge, Ascot Heath House (18th century), Heatherwood, Englemere and King’s Ride House (formerly a hunting lodge of Prince Albert).
The Industrial Revolution, the arrival of the railway and the success of the Victorian economy all helped to provide the foundation for an ever expanding range of sports and leisure activities in England. The laws of many pastimes and games, some of which had previously been played with a variety of unofficial rules for several centuries, were officially codified in the early and middle years of the 19th century. This was generally followed by the formation of local clubs and societies towards the end of the 19th century.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) started life as the Horticultural Society of London in 1804. The initial chairman was John Wedgwood, son of Josiah Wedgwood, while the botanist Sir Joseph Banks was also present at the initial meeting to discuss the idea of a society. It subsequently acquired its present name by royal charter in 1861.
Societies were springing up elsewhere across the country during the 19th century. The concept of affiliated societies goes back to at least 1858 when the idea of “unions” between London and provincial societies was first mooted. However, it was 1865 before the first tentative unions came into existence.
The Ascot, Sunninghill & District Horticultural Society was founded in 1884, holding its first show at the racecourse in the same year. This show was primarily aimed at professional gardeners with sections for amateurs and cottagers. Sunningdale was included in the title in 1889. After early enthusiasm there were periods from 1900 through to 1919 when the society verged on extinction. Happily, it “re-started” in 1919 when Dr. Herbert Crouch led preparations for a summer show, featuring vegetables, fruit and flowers, and it became affiliated to the RHS in the following year.
Sunningdale eventually formed its own society in 1936 although close relations between the two societies continues to this day, an example being the annual quiz between them for the Alistair Fosdick cup.
Ascot Horticultural Society played a pivotal role in the North Ascot Produce Association during and after the Second World War. The Ministry of Agriculture had realised early in the conflict that there may well be food shortages. It therefore encouraged crop cultivation by individuals. The number of allotments across the nation grew significantly at this time, peaking at 1.75 million. In addition, people were encouraged to dig up their lawns and grow fruit and vegetables. Village Produce Associations were formed. By clubbing together, it was possible to purchase seeds, fertiliser et cetera in bulk at better rates. They could also regulate what they grew, to ensure that there were no gluts of individual crops. Onions were in short supply, and onion clubs were formed to address the problem.
The Ascot Horticultural Society currently holds monthly meetings and stages four shows each year (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Christmas).
As mentioned earlier, a small part of the land that was owned by the Sunninghill Fuel Allotment Trust was used for allotment gardens in South Ascot. The actual location of these sites has varied over time, mainly around Victoria Road and Lower Village Road. The Trust currently has 45 plots which are spread across three allotment sites. Dump Road (west of Victoria Road) is the main site, while the smaller sites are off Lower Village Road and on Victoria Road.
The Parish Council has been responsible for providing allotments in other parts of Sunninghill & Ascot. Three sites appeared around 1917 and 1918: near Kennel Ride in North Ascot, Cheapside Allotments off Watersplash Lane and Bagshot Road in Sunninghill. Except for Cheapside Allotments, which still exist today, it has been a tale of renting land to provide plots which ultimately proved to be temporary. None has survived.
The council had made several unsuccessful attempts to rent an area of land near Kennel Ride in North Ascot, starting in 1895. Eventually, agreement was reached with the Crown in 1917 at a rent of 4d per pole. The lease was renewed through to 1961 (mostly via short 3 year leases), although there were many plots which were uncultivated, most notably after World War II, a common problem around the country as people lost their enthusiasm for allotments in the 1950s. Around 1960 the Crown wanted to build on part of the site and it proposed to move the plots. Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to agree on the length of a new lease and the site subsequently disappeared.
As mentioned above, the council established allotments in Cheapside in 1918. However, it is thought that there were plots in Cheapside in the 19th century before the Parish Council came into existence.
The site in Bagshot Road, Sunninghill opened in 1918. It lasted until 1932 when the landowner wanted to move the plots to allow for some redevelopment. However, the plot holders refused the replacement site. The Vicar of St. Michael’s gave up part of his garden to accommodate 10-12 of the plot holders, although it has not been possible to find out how long this arrangement lasted. Other short term lets have included: St. Michael’s school playing field behind the Ascot Day Centre in Sunninghill which was used as allotments (16 plots @ 10 poles) from 1980 through to 1991; and Blythewood Allotments which existed for a short spell from the late 1970s through to 1983.
As mentioned earlier, the soil in this area is generally poor, making it difficult to grow crops, particularly in the days before fertilisers became available. A Brief History of Cultivation in England describes the problems that our ancestors faced and the gradual progress that was made.
The first definite reference to the game appears in 1597 in a dispute over a plot of common land in Guildford where creckett was played. There is frequent mention of the game during the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was the 19th century that saw the development of county cricket, Sussex being the first team in 1839. The organised amateur game made its first tentative steps around the middle of the century, although it was towards the end of the century before leagues began to appear.
The Royal Ascot Cricket Club obtained permission from Queen Victoria in 1883 to form a cricket club on Ascot Heath. However, it was two years later before the ground was ready to play on. The RAF used the Heath during World War I, and so the club had to be re-established during the 1920s, and a new pavilion was subsequently opened in 1934. Cricket managed to continue during World War II thanks to the generosity of the Racecourse Authority and the help of soldiers who were based in Ascot.
There was also a cricket club at Silwood which lasted for twenty years. Silwood Park Cricket Club was founded in 1894 and was in existence until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
The modern game of golf is generally considered to have Scottish origins, dating back to the 15th century. The first course in England was at Blackheath where Henry, the son of James VI of Scotland and I of England, played with other courtiers in the early 17th century. However, it was 1864 before the next course was built in England at Westward Ho. There were 12 courses in 1880, 50 by 1887 and over 1,000 by 1914.
The Royal Ascot Golf Club was the earliest club in this part of Berkshire, being founded in 1887 by F. J. Patton, a local barrister. It was a nine hole course in the middle of the racecourse. Queen Victoria granted it royal status in the same year. Ascot Ladies soon had their own nine hole course, also on the heath in the middle of the racecourse. The two clubs amalgamated in 1895 and an eighteen hole course was designed. Some of Victoria’s children learned to play golf on the course, and the royal connection continued when the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, was made the club’s patron in 1901.
Other courses began to spring up in the surrounding area and Ascot’s fortunes went into a bit of a decline in the 1920s. The course was requisitioned by the War Office during World War II, but it was re-formed in the early post-war years.
More recently, the major redevelopment of the racecourse in 2004-5 led the club to move to a new course on the other side of Winkfield Road, formerly Ascot Farm. It was formally opened in 2006 by the club’s patron, HRH Prince Andrew.
The word “Tennis” was first heard in the middle of the 13th century. The medieval form of tennis is known as real tennis. Henry VIII was a keen player on a court that he had built at Hampton Court Palace. There were 14 courts in London during the reign of James I.
Lawn tennis was established in the early 1870s with the first Wimbledon championships taking place in 1877. This form of the game quickly spread to the US, France and Australia.
There are several references to lawn tennis being played locally in the 1890s. The Royal Ascot Tennis Club was established in 1906. It was a grass court club on Ascot Heath inside the racecourse. The club eventually moved to Ascot Wood where it currently has four floodlit hard courts and a clubhouse.
The Parish Council built tennis courts at Victory Field for public use in 1951.
Football goes back to medieval times with different rules being employed over the centuries. A somewhat crude, generalised definition might be that it was a game that included both handling and kicking, a mixture of soccer and rugby with a dash of free-for-all thrown in. The codification of the modern game of soccer came with the creation of the Football Association in London in 1863. The (professional) Football League commenced in 1888, while amateur leagues sprang up all over the country in the 1890s and 1900s. The Berks and Bucks Football Association was founded in 1878.
The lifespan of an amateur soccer club tends to be short, in comparison with cricket and golf clubs particularly. This may be because the players are generally younger; they retire earlier; there tends to be less continuity between generations; and they generally lack their own facilities, e.g. clubhouse and pitch. There are of course exceptions, company-run and school old boys teams being the obvious ones.
In this area there are only fleeting references to soccer and to various teams with Sunninghill in the name from the 1890s onwards. This eventually changed when Ascot United was founded in 1965 by a men’s team who played in Sunninghill. Within three seasons the Ascot Racecourse Authority had granted permission for the club to convert the land north of coach park 10 into a football pitch. The club initially grew with the formation of a number of youth teams. It has now become one of the largest Community football clubs in the UK with over 1,000 registered players and over 70 teams playing every weekend embracing all ages and abilities from 5 year olds through to Vets. A new clubhouse opened in September 2010, together with an improved main pitch, floodlights and a stand.
Thomas Cordes of Silwood Park gave the land on which Cordes Hall was to be built in 1901. Margaret Agnes Cordes, his widow, built the hall in 1902 in his memory. It was left in trust to the Vicar of Sunninghill for the use of the community. The trustees have devolved the day to day management of the hall to local people on a voluntary basis.
The hall, at the corner of Sunninghill High Street and King’s Road, has been used as a live performance venue by amateur dramatic and music groups for many years. The Quince Players Amateur Dramatic Society has been using the hall since 1945.
The Picture House opened next door to Cordes Hall in 1921 with seating for 500 people. It was independently operated and continued as a cinema until it closed in 1986. It opened again in 1988, this time as a 160-seater live performance venue for children’s theatre under the name of the Novello Theatre.
The army was camped on Ascot Heath from 1739, before the battle of Culloden (1746). They remained there after Culloden, taking part in several major local projects such as the creation of Virginia Water Lake which was a man-made construction.
Coming forward to the twentieth century, there were 1,200 RAF personnel stationed in Ascot during World War I. It had its main stores on the west side of King’s Ride, near Ascot West station, on a site which had previously been part of one of the various brick works in the Swinley Forest area.
In World War II the Army commandeered the grandstand on the racecourse. It also used the same area as the RAF had in World War I for its stores.
On the east side of King’s Ride just south of Ascot West station there was an area that had been used as the winter quarters for Bertram Mills’ Circus. In 1940 this was turned into a camp for internees. It subsequently became a Prisoner of War camp from 1943 for captured Germans and Italians. After the war Bertram Mills returned for twenty years until the circus performed for the final time in 1967.
Silwood Park and Sunninghill Park were both used during World War II. Silwood Park became an Army Convalescent Depot while the American Ninth Air Force had its headquarters in Sunninghill Park from November 1943 to September 1944.
Finally, Sunninghill and Ascot was home to some of the evacuees from London during World War II; 1,891 came to the district in January 1940. The numbers fluctuated throughout the war, as some returned to London. For example, there were 1,300+ in 1944. Church halls and institute halls were all used to provide space to teach the children. For example, All Souls Church Hall in South Ascot was taken over by Christ Church School of Chelsea who also took in other London evacuees living nearby.
The Bouldish Farm Estate in South Ascot was developed between 1954 and 1956 on what had been private farm land. Street names associated with Lewis Carroll were used. This was followed in the late 1950s by Woodend Drive, also in South Ascot.
The development of the motorway network inevitably led to further building, particularly to the west of the racecourse where the Blythewood Estate was developed in the mid-1970s, followed by properties around Burleigh Road in the early 1980s on what had previously been an arboretum. Other pockets of development around the same period included Dorian Drive (off Watersplash Lane), Cavendish Meads in Sunninghill and continuing growth in South Ascot.
Recent house building has tended to be more piecemeal in nature: large houses with big gardens being demolished and replaced with several houses or blocks of flats is a common theme.
Local trusts and charities go back 300 years and more. There are records in the 18th century of various wealthy parishioners with social consciences who set up trusts or supported local charities that helped the poor either by means of income or housing. Vestry minutes from 1807 mention two almshouses in Cheapside and one in Mill Lane. More almshouses were in existence by the middle of the 19th century.
Sunninghill Parochial Charities was established in 1894, amalgamating various small local charities. It sought to help the poor and needy of both Sunninghill and Ascot. It currently provides five houses in Cheapside and four in South Ascot for people who are 55 or older. They must be able to live independently.
The Sunninghill Fuel Allotment Trust (now simply called the Sunninghill Trust) was set up in 1817 as a result of the Windsor Forest Enclosure Act. Its objectives include: the relief of poverty, the relief of age or sickness, support for recreational activities and support for educational facilities.
The number of local trusts and charities has increased significantly in the post World War II era, including:
- The Ascot Fire Brigade Trust appears to date back to 1965. It applies the funds received from the lease of the old fire station to any purpose that is to the benefit of the residents of Ascot
- The Rotary Club of Ascot Charitable Trust Fund dates back to 1949, It raises funds by organising events. Donations are made to organisations. The Probus Club of Ascot grew out of the Rotary Club in 1987. It is more of a social luncheon club rather than a dedicated fund-raising entity although it does make some donations to organisations
- Ascot Round Table raises funds by organising local events. Donations are made to organisations
- The Inner Wheel Club of Ascot Benevolent Fund organises events in aid of other charities.
- The Ascot District Day Centre was established in 1975 by Dr G Chandler, a local GP, and other like members of the community “with the objective of promoting the welfare of the aged and the other inhabitants as the Trust shall determine, of the parishes of North Ascot, South Ascot, Sunninghill, Sunningdale and Winkfield. Membership is open to anyone without distinction over the age of 50”
- Ascot Volunteer Bureau, established in 1981, primarily provides transport to take the elderly residents of Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale to their medical appointments
- The North Ascot Community Association provides recreation and leisure time activities for the residents of North Ascot
- The Windsor and Ascot Driving Group teaches disabled individuals how to drives ponies in purpose built carriages, and thus enjoy an outdoor activity
- The Ascot Project provides shopping trips for the elderly residents of Ascot
- Talking Newspapers is a national organisation that provides spoken versions of the news for people who are blind or visually impaired. The local Talking Newspapers team, all volunteers, meets on Fridays at the Ascot Day Centre to produce the local week’s news on memory sticks which are subsequently distributed to local residents plus a number of people who have moved away from the area. Over one thousand editions have so far been produced.
In addition, there are many local registered charities which are related to schools, pre-schools, scouts and guides. They can be found on the Charity Commission website. Hint – put Sunninghill and / or Ascot into the charity name search.
Here are some selected local population figures over time:
- 225 in 1705 (estimate)
- 629 to 700 in 1801 (estimate)
- 1350 in 1851
- 4724 in 1901
- 11603 in 2001
- 12744 in 2011.
The standard approach to bibliographies is to list the books in alphabetic order of the author’s name. However, I have listed them according to how much I used the individual works, with my primary source at the top.
The majority of the books can be found in Ascot Durning Library. In addition, Chapman’s in Sunninghill stocks some of the more recently published books, while St. Michael’s parish office has copies of Trevor Lewis’s booklet on the history of the church.
Weightman, C., Cheapside in the Forest of Windsor, Cheapside Publications, Cheapside, 2000
Hughes, G.M., The Forest of Windsor, Sunninghill, Windsor and the Great Park, Ballantyne, Hanson & Co, 1890
Searle, C.W., The Origin and Development of Sunninghill and Ascot, 1937
Hathaway, P., Some Ramblings of an Old Bogonian, P. Hathaway, Bracknell, 2005
Onslow, R., Royal Ascot, The Crowood Press, Marlborough, 1990
Painter, A., Map of Ascot 1910 – Introduction, Alan Godfrey Maps, Consett, 2005
Lewis, T., Some Brief Historical Notes on St Michael and All Angels Church, Sunninghill
Morris, R., Images of England: Around Ascot, The History Press, Stroud, 2013 (reprint)
Weightman, C., The Ascot Durning Library: Founded 1890, Cheapside Publications, Cheapside, 2006
Weightman, C., “The Bobby’s Notebook”: On the Beat in Early Victorian Sunninghill, Cheapside Publications, Cheapside, 2002
Weightman, C., Remembering Wartime: Ascot, Sunningdale and Sunninghill (1939-1945), Cheapside Publications, Cheapside, 2006
Jones A., Stacey G., O’Kill P., Across Three Centuries The Story of Royal Ascot Golf Club, Royal Ascot Golf Club, 2006
Sumbler, M.G., British Geological Survey: London and the Thames Valley (4th edition), HMSO Publication
Here are some additional useful web links:
I would like to thank: Christine Weightman for reading and commenting on my draft; the staff of Ascot Durning library and Berkshire Record Office for their help during my investigations; and various individuals who have answered specific questions that I have posed or who have otherwise helped me – Gordon Anderson, Steve Brine, Liz Comish, Glen Couper, Heather Cummings, Eric Haddon, Thelma Hayworth, Liz Horrocks, Marion Hurdwell, Neal Jeffs, Peter O’Kill and Norman Tetchner.
I was granted permission by the following to include various photographs: Christine Weightman for selected photographs which were originally part of Reg Morris’s collection, many of which are to be found in his Around Ascot book of old photographs; Peter O’ Kill for an old picture from the golf club; and two pictures from Marion Hurdwell. Grateful thanks to all of them. Anybody who considers that I have infringed any copyright should contact me.
Finally, thanks to John Weightman for permission to include his sketch map of early Sunninghill & Ascot which appears in Christine’s Cheapside book.
Any errors are mine.
Version 0.1 – April 10th, 2017 .. very, very drafty!
Version 0.2 – April 20th, 2017 .. a bit less drafty.
Version 1.0 – April 27th, 2017 .. first tentative official version.
Version 1.1 – June 16th, 2017 – minor additions: Wells Inn stage coaches, St. Michael’s in the 19th century, St. Francis Catholic Primary, Ascot Priory and the schooling of evacuees.
Version 1.2 – September 28th, 2017 – information added on the Sunninghill Reading Room (now the Sunninghill Library).
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