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Moor Park, Farnham

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Title: Moor Park, Farnham  
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Subject: Jonathan Swift, Farnham, List of caves, Esther Johnson, List of caves in the United Kingdom, William Fairbairn, Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet, Tilford, Charles Darwin's health, Moor Park
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Moor Park, Farnham

Moor Park, Farnham, Surrey, England is a Grade II listed house set in some 60 acres (240,000 m2) of grounds. It was formerly known as Compton Hall. The present house dates from 1630 but has been substantially altered, particularly in 1750 and 1800.

Approaches to Moor Park

Access is possible by road, but walking is a more attractive way of reaching the house. A public footpath through the grounds passes the front of the house and leads to the nearby Moor Park Nature Reserve, Mother Ludlam's Cave and Waverley Abbey, whilst Moor Park Lane, a bridleway along the former carriage drive, links the house to the A31 road at the Shepherd and Flock pub, Farnham. From Moor Park Lane can be seen High Mill, one of several historic mills along this part of the river, and the partially hidden (and dry) remains of an artificial waterfall which featured on picture postcards in Victorian times.

Moor Park under the Westbroke family

A house has stood on the site, next to the River Wey at the hamlet of Compton, one mile (1.6 km) east of the centre of Farnham, since 1307. At that time it was called Compton Hall and was owned by Richard de Westbroke. The house remained in the Westbroke family, being owned by William Westbroke from 1516 to 1537 on whose death it passed to his nephew John Scarlett.

Sir William Temple and Jonathan Swift

The house was bought by its most notable owner, Sir William Temple from Sir Francis Clarke's family in the 1680s and it was he who renamed it Moor Park after the Hertfordshire mansion of that name which also influenced the magnificent 5 acres (20,000 m2) of formal gardens he laid out between the house and the river.

It was while at Moor Park that Temple employed Jonathan Swift as his secretary, and it was here that Swift wrote "A Tale of a Tub" and "The Battle of the Books". Here also Swift met Esther Johnson, daughter of an impoverished widow who acted as companion to Temple's sister. Swift acted as her tutor and mentor, giving her the nickname "Stella", and the two maintained a close relationship for the rest of Esther's life: some believed that they secretly married in 1716.[1] Swift met many of Temple's distinguished guests during his time here: King William III, John Dryden, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and others. Following Temple's death in 1699 the house remained in his family until the mid-1930s.

Victorian times

Little is written of Moor Park in the intervening years but, by the mid-nineteenth century, whilst still under the ownership of Temple's relations, the house became a hydrotherapy centre for some time. Here, Charles Darwin received hydropathic treatment in 1859 for his illness from Doctor Edward Wickstead Lane. He wrote that he played billiards here and said "I really think I shall make a point of coming here for a fortnight occasionally, as the country is very pleasant for walking". He wrote that "it is really quite astonishing & utterly unaccountable the good this one week has done me", but later became more ill and told his son that he was unable to climb more than halfway up the nearby Crooksbury Hill.

The Battle of Moor Park

One of Temple's descendents, Sir William Rose,[2] informed Farnham Urban District Council in 1897 that he intended to close the lodge gates of Moor Park and "not allow any person to enter without written authority". The council informed Rose's solicitor that "they had no doubt as to the rights of way over Moor Park and were resolved at whatever cost to use all proper means to preserve such rights". Matters escalated quickly. Rose determined that he would go ahead with the closure and the council prepared to reopen the gates, by force if necessary. Rose employed former Metropolitan Policemen and others to secure the gates by force. The events of Sunday, 17 January 1897 were not in keeping with the traditional view of a Victorian gentleman's estate on the Sabbath - Rose's men closed the gates and secured them with chains. A crowd of some four to five hundred local men (and a few women) gathered outside, armed with sticks, crowbars, sledgehammers and other tools or weapons. The council's men were cheered by the crowd as they forced open the gates using crowbars. The defenders were no match for the mob and the event is now recalled as the Moor Park Riot or the Battle of Moor Park.

Moor Park in the 20th century

The estate was purchased by (William) Aldwin Soames (1850-1916), a Russian merchant whose father had founded Brighton College in 1845, in the late 19th century, and his family occupied the house until about 1937. For a short period, it became a country club, "Swift's Club". During World War II the house was requisitioned by the army who used it as a billet for Canadian troops. Moor Park became seriously dilapidated during this period and, in 1948, was bought by a developer for demolition. In the summer of that year Sir Harry Brittain wrote to The Times, appealing for the historic mansion to be saved. A Canon R. E. Parsons responded by using the house to set up a Christian Adult Education centre, Moor Park College. At the end of 1949 Canon Parsons, his wife Hester, and their family came to live in the adjoining cottage. They devoted their energies, supported by financial gifts, volunteer help, and grants from Surrey County Council, to the venture of restoring the house and setting up the college. In 1953 funds were exhausted and an emergency meeting was called but the Hesters, supported by a group, the Friends of Moor Park, survived the crisis and, the following year, a milestone was reached when an Educational Trust was established to run the college.

The top floor was used by "Oversea Service" as their headquarters and college from 1955 to 1959. This organisation, set up by Durham.

In 1966 Canon Parsons handed-over ownership of the house and grounds to the college but, during the latter part of the 20th century the college vacated the premises which have since been used as a cookery school and a finishing school.

Recent developments

In 2007 the present owners, claiming that the building can only be financially viable by residential development, applied for planning and listed building consent from Waverley Borough Council for demolition of listed stables, addition of extensions, internal and external changes to the main house, and construction on the site of the formal gardens to provide 24 dwellings.

Moor Park Nature Reserve

The footpath through the grounds leads to a 19 acres (7.69 ha) Nature Reserve on the north bank of the River Wey.

The reserve has been managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust since 1974. This area of wet woodland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). A nationally rare habitat, it is the only example of deep-water alder swamp in Surrey and is mostly deep and inaccessible. A boardwalk and path runs around the reserve. In winter redpoll, siskins and mixed flocks of tits feed on the alder cones. Waterfowl seen here includes mallard, teal and tufted duck, and in the spring, nesting mute swans. A variety of reeds and sedges can be found, together with marsh violets, opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, hemlock and water dropwort. Warblers nest here and water rail may be heard. Kingfishers and grey herons are frequent visitors.

This reserve is one of the last places that an otter was seen in Surrey in the 1970s when their population was at a low ebb. Active conservation measures have seen otters return to the River Wey at Godalming, a few miles away, recently, so there is optimism that they may soon inhabit this stretch of river again.

  • Surrey Wildlife Trust - Moor Park

The GHQ Line through Moor Park

The GHQ Line (General Headquarters Line) was a defence line built in the United Kingdom during World War II to contain an expected German invasion. Part of the GHQ Stop Line B runs through the area south and east of Farnham though the valley of the River Wey and was designed to prevent a German invasion force from using the Wey Valley to reach London. Many defences from this era - gun emplacements, pillboxes, "dragons' teeth" and other anti-tank defences can be seen from the path leading through Moor Park from the house towards the caves and abbey or towards Farnham.



  • The Moor Park Story published by Moor Park College (undated)
  • Park and garden at Moor Park, with reference to MS notes of Rachel Gosling, nee Soames
  • Victorian Farnham by Ewbank Smith published by Phillimore, 1971
  • The River Wey North Branch, Farnham to Tilford
  • Surrey Wildlife Trust finds evidence of otters in Godalming
  • Moor Park, Farnham - Surrey History Centre article
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