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The history of Bourne Hall, Ewell: IV

1990/4 pp3–4


The history of Bourne Hall, Ewell: IV


The breakup of the Garbrand Hall establishment and the sale of the valuable garden plants, as recalled by gardener James Child, was no doubt related to the marriage in 1882 of Miss Bertha Torr, at the age of twenty-two, to William (later Sir William) James Bell, a barrister. The property remained in the possession of the family until 1896. It then had a variety of owners until 1925, at which date Garbrand Hall was bought by Miss Margaret Glyn. The sale excluded the Turrets, which remained in other hands until its demolition in 1967, and also the old kitchen garden (where the Health Centre now stands), but this was purchased by Miss Glyn in 1931 and added to the main property.


From 1925 the property has always been known by its present name of Bourne Hall, but it is not known why the change was made or how this particular name came to be chosen. No doubt it has reference to the lake, or the Hogsmill, which flows from it.


But for Miss Glyn’s timely intervention the whole estate might well have been sold to developers in the post war building boom. A valuer’s report of 1926, after describing the house and pleasure grounds (said to contain fine specimens of cedar, oak, pine, beech, ash, birch, poplar and other trees) with their formal gardens, lawns, and ‘an ornamental lake which is a very pleasing feature’, goes on to say that ‘this lake could easily be filled in, if building operations were ever contemplated and the spring water carried underneath by a 12-inch pipe emptying into the lake on the side of the road which does not belong to Bourne Hall and which at present takes the overflow’.


Bourne Hall now became a girls’ school, operating under the name of Cairnbrook, (Principal Mrs. Cusack, LLA), but this venture seems to have been shortlived. By 1931 Mr. H. R. Budgell, the owner of Ewell Castle School for boys, had established Bourne Hall as a boarding school ‘for the daughters of gentlemen’. This designation (later altered to ‘the daughters of professional men’) has an old-fashioned sound today, but apparently the restriction was adhered to, and cases are known of admission being refused to the daughters of tradesmen in a very superior way of business. The first headmistress was Sabine Paisley, who left after a few years to set up Greenacres School at Banstead, and she was succeeded by Miss Irwin.


Miss Glyn evidently saw no reason why use as a school should destroy the beauty of the grounds. A lease of 1931 imposed detailed obligations on the lessee. For example, he was to keep the lawns mown, the shrubberies free from weed, yew hedges clipped and to keep ivy from growing on the walls, arches and trees (except for some walls which were already ivy-covered). He was also to clear the lake of weeds and to keep the punt used for that purpose in good repair, and to leave the islands undisturbed for the birds.


Mr. Budgell sold the school in 1952, but the new owner met unexpected difficulties with war damage and the cost of repairs, and in September 1953 the school failed to open for the autumn term. This caused some dismay among the pupils who gathered at the entrance, surrounded by their luggage, until they were rescued by staff from Ewell Castle.


By this time Bourne Hall had been purchased by the Borough Council, partly from Miss Glyn in her lifetime, and the stable block (which had been converted into flats and garages) from her executors in 1951. When the school finally closed the future use of the property had to be considered. It was thought at first that the hall could be used as a library in place of Staneway House, and this entailed lengthy discussions with the County Council which was at that time the Library authority. There would obviously be difficulties in adapting the building and at the same time preserving its historic features. At one time it was thought that the facade could be retained and the rest of the building remodelled. Eventually it became obvious that over the years the building had deteriorated so much that restoration and preservation were no longer possible, and in 1962 it was demolished. The Council was now able to set in motion its plans for a community building to provide space for a library, museum, social rooms and other facilities. The idea of rebuilding Bourne Hall in replica was considered, but rejected. After much deliberation the Council appointed A. G. Sheppard Fidler, ARIBA, as architect, and in due course his innovative and imaginative design was realised. In 1970 the new Bourne Hall opened its doors to the public. The interior, with its large foyer and its ring of high windows, is spacious and welcoming. The outside is unobtrusive rather than imposing. It rests comfortably on its mound above the lake and is at its best when glimpsed through the greenery of the still beautiful grounds, though it will be a long time before all the losses caused by recent storms will be made good.


For many of the residents of Ewell it was a sad day when the mansion was demolished, but with the passage of time the new Bourne Hall has come to be appreciated for the many facilities it has to offer, and to be accepted as a worthy feature of the village scene.


One outcome of the demolition in 1962 was the opportunity it gave to Nonsuch and Ewell Antiquarian Society to carry out excavations in the area of the stables (though not on the main lawn, where it is thought the remains of the Tudor mansion may lie, which is known to have stood thereabouts).


It is hoped that one day it will be possible to trace the history of the site from Roman times or beyond, through the Middle Ages and the Tudor period, and up to the time when in 1770 Philip Rowden built his house there ‘in the modern taste’.


Mabel Dexter

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