History of Westbrook

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Early History

The first person we can authenticate who lived specifically on the land now known as Westbrook was someone called John Wheeler, a yeoman farmer. We know this as his will was proved in April 1599 and witnessed by Robert Aursell and John Stovall (Stovold), also yeomen from the village. Interestingly, the Stovold family still live in the area and graze cattle at Westbrook Farm every summer.

The earliest buildings currently in existence at Westbrook are Westbrook Farmhouse and two other yeomen houses on Westbrook Green. The oldest of these date from the early 1600's and all are now sub-divided into cottages. There is also a wooden barn dating from the same time period. Westbrook Farm itself is thought to have been the home of Matilda de Westbrook, who married Richard atte Rigway (Ridgeway) in 1654.

We know that people lived at Westbrook before this period as archaeologists have found evidence of a moated residence that must have long predated John Wheeler. Much of the farmyard is designated a conservation area because of this. The farmland at Westbrook borders the Elstead Mill and there is a strong supposition (not positively proven) that a mill on this site was one of six mills around the Farnham area recorded in The Doomsday Book of the 11th Century. A mill was certainly in existence on the site by the 13th Century as it is mentioned in the rent roles of the Bishopric of Winchester.

Westbrook Farmhouse 1 & 2 Westbrook Green Cottages 3 & 4 Westbrook Green Cottages

Other early buildings on the original estate are known to have been built in the 1700s. One example of this is Tadmoor Cottage in Woolfords Lane, which was built in 1765 - the name possibly meant "Toadmarsh". Tadmoor was once a farm and then became two Labourers cottages, before being converted back to one private dwelling in the late 1940's.

Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The estate entered a grander period in 1820 when a new owner, Thomas Stratford-Andrews, built a new residence on a prominent hill for himself and his wife. Thomas Stratford-Andrews died in 1831 and is buried in the old cemetery in the village. His family however, whose Indo-European Telegraph Company pioneered the spread of the telegraph towards the end of the 19th century, remained associated with Westbrook until Thomas William Stratford Andrews died in 1923.

On one occasion during the First World War, King George V came to the area to visit the troops. He left his car at St James church and rode his horse down Westbrook Hill and on to Hankley Common.

The next owners of the Westbrook House and the estate were the Levy Family. Sir ALbert Levy was the founder of the Ardath Tobacco Company and latterly distributed large quantities of his great wealth to charitable causes. The present Westbrook House was built around 1930. Levy died in 1937 and on his death the Westbrook Estate was offered for sale to Jack Billmeir.

A letter written in June 1938 to Jack Billmeir by John D, Wood, the estate agents handling the sale of Westbrook, confirms his early interest in the property. There was a delay to the exchange however and then the Second World War intervened. During the war Westbrook House was requisitioned for use by the Canadian Military and it was not until 1946 that Jack Billmeir acquired the estate and the elegant William and Mary style house.

Jack Billmeir with his skipper "Webster" - click for larger view Arial photo of Westbrook House circa 1930 - click for larger view Westbrook House in 1994 - click for larger view

Jack Billmeir was an extremely colourful character who made his money in shipping as founder and owner of the Stanhope Shipping Company. His ships achieved renown during the Spanish Civil War and subsequently throughout the Second World War for constantly carrying out audacious journeys in defiance of German and Italian blockades around continental Europe. Billmeir himself often travelled with his ships on the hazardous runs to North Russia and during the war members of his crews were awarded 63 honours including 15 Distinguished Service Crosses. Billmeir himself was made a CBE in 1953 for services to shipping.

Recent History

Jack Billmeir died in 1963 after which ownership of Westbrook went first to his wife Annie and on her death in 1972, having no living children, to Jack's bachelor brother Eric. The Billmeir era at Westbrook ended with Eric's death in 1994, at which point Westbrook House itself and the farmland to the south were sold. The remainder of the estate including the original farmhouse and seventeenth century properties on Westbrook Green along with the land adjacent to the River Wey passed to its current owners, the Whitaker family.

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