Recent archaeological finds in Lower Kingswood have revealed that early Stone Age man was active in our area as long as 350,000 years ago.
The first specific reference to a settlement in Kingswood, however, is to be found in the Domesday Book, where a passage in the entry for Ewell states that ‘2 hides and 1 virgate were removed from this manor; they were there before 1066, but reeves lent them to their friends; and 1 woodland pasture and 1 croft’. Historians agree that this refers to Kingswood, which had gone missing from the Manor of Ewell in somewhat mysterious circumstances. The prime culprit who springs to mind for this landgrab is Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, William the Conqueror’s greedy half-brother, who had already accumulated land elsewhere in rather dubious circumstances. All we know for sure is that that tract of land had been returned to its rightful owner, the Crown, some time before 1158, when Henry II gave Ewell and its Sub-Manors of Batailles, Ruxley and Kingswood to the Canons of Merton Priory.
A wooded area like Kingswood would have been subjected to what was known as ‘forest law’. While the right to hunt the various sorts of deer, the boar and the wolf were a royal prerogative, the King could grant his tenants the right of ‘free warren’, i.e. the right to take smaller game on their estates. Thus it was that on 22nd May 1252 Henry III granted the Prior and Convent of Merton the right of free warren ‘in all their domains and lands’ and on 26th June 1291 Edward I granted the Prior the right ‘to enclose his wood called Northwood and Le Frith at Kingswood’. This effectively gave the Prior the right to turn the said wood into a game park or ‘warren’, which may well be where the name Kingswood Warren originated.
At the dissolution of the monasteries Kingswood reverted once more to the Crown and became part of the Honour of Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s vast hunting domain.
Absentee Lords of the Manor
In 1564 Elizabeth I granted the Manor of Kingswood to William Howard of Effingham, the Lord Chamberlain of her Household. William was succeeded as Lord of the Manor of Kingswood by his son Charles, the future Lord High Admiral of England, who successfully led the English fleet against the Spanish Armada.
The Howard line became extinct with the death of Charles’s son in 1642 and for the next 200 years or so Kingswood passed through the hands of a succession of absentee Lords of the Manor. The most notable among them was undoubtedly Sir Thomas Bludworth, who took over the Manor of Kingswood in 1660 and was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1665. Samuel Pepys, who had taken an intense dislike to the man, reviled him on several occasions in his diary for his inept handling of the Great Fire of London, which took place during Sir Thomas’s term of office.
Sir Thomas Bludworth died in May 1682 and was succeeded as Lord of the Manor of Kingswood first by his elder son, then by his younger son. The title then passed to various members of the Harris and Hughes families of Banstead.
In 1791 William Jolliffe, M.P. for Petersfield, who already owned the Lordship of the Manors of Merstham and Chipstead, became the new Lord of the Manor of Kingswood. He died in February 1802, following a tragic accident, and was succeeded by his son, Hylton. The latter, however, somewhat lost interest in his country estates after the death, in 1809, of his young wife and returned to live in London.
In October 1809 John Alcock, of Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, took a lease on the Old Warren Farm and some 500 acres of land, which he soon afterwards decided to purchase from the then owner, Thomas Jeudwine, of Ewell.
However, negotiations dragged on for several years and became increasingly acrimonious. In the meantime, John Alcock decided to build himself a house in the heart of the Warren. This became known as Kingswood House.
The sale of the Warren estate had still not been completed by the time John Alcock died in May 1814 and Thomas Jeudwine decided to take Joseph Alcock, John Alcock’s brother and heir, to court. The dispute was finally resolved some five years after Thomas Jeudwine’s own death in 1819. By then the heir to the Alcock estate was John’s nephew, Thomas, who, as a result of the settlement of the court case, became the owner of Kingswood Warren.
Thomas Alcock was born on 23rd July 1801 and was the son of John Alcock’s elder brother, Joseph, who was a clerk in the Treasury and lived at Roehampton.
Thomas Alcock was educated at Harrow and later served in the 1st Dragoons.
From an early age he had shown an interest in politics and in 1826 he entered Parliament, sitting as a Tory for Newton, in Lancashire. He lost that seat in 1830 and stayed out of active politics until 1837, when he contested Ludlow, this time as a Whig. He was defeated on that occasion, but was returned for that same borough, by a majority of only 4 votes, in June 1839. He was, however, unseated on petition in April of the following year, when the election was declared void amidst accusations on both sides of bribery and treating. In February 1841, he contested Surrey East unsuccessfully, but was finally returned for that constituency in July 1847 and retained his seat until his retirement in 1865. He was also a Magistrate for Surrey.
It is not quite clear exactly when Thomas Alcock took up residence in Kingswood, but he was certainly living there in December 1827, when he is described in a legal document as being ‘of Kingswood Warren near Epsom in the County of Surrey’.
By the middle of 1828 Thomas Alcock set off on an 18-month trip to Russia, Persia, Turkey and Greece. In a book he wrote subsequently, Thomas Alcock gives a detailed account of his travels and comes across as a highly informed, articulate, perceptive, and at times pretty brave, man with remarkably liberal and progressive views.
In July 1831 he married Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of Rear-Admiral Henry Stuart, and in March 1835 he acquired the Kingswood manorial estate from Col. Hylton Jolliffe. He thus became the first Lord of the Manor to live in Kingswood and to take an active interest in the welfare of its residents.
He set himself two main tasks: the first was to extend and bring up to date the house in the Warren, to turn it into a country seat worthy of his new position. The second of these tasks was to provide the inhabitants of Kingswood, who still had to walk some 6 miles to Ewell to attend church, with their own place of worship.
A chapel was built by subscription and consecrated in 1836. In 1838 Kingswood finally cut its century-old ties with the parish of Ewell to become an independent ecclesiastical district. The chapel soon proved to be too small and Thomas Alcock decided to erect a new church, this time completely at his own expense. The Church of St. Andrew, designed by the architect Benjamin Ferrey and modelled on the 14th century Church of St. John the Baptist at Shottesbrooke, in Berkshire, took four years to build and was consecrated in September 1852.
Thomas Alcock carried on buying up land in the area, thus considerably increasing the size of his estate. Between 1845 and 1865 he was also Lord of the Manor of Sutton and contributed greatly towards the development of that place. Furthermore, in 1853 he acquired the Lordship of the Manor of Banstead from the heirs of the recently deceased Lady of the Manor.
Thomas Alcock died suddenly on 22nd August 1866 while staying at Great Malvern. He was buried four days later in St. Andrew’s churchyard.
Cosmo Bonsor and the arrival of the railway
After the death of Thomas Alcock, the Kingswood Warren estate, together with the Lordship of the Manors of Kingswood and Banstead, were sold by his executors to Sir John Cradock-Hartopp. The latter was soon to become embroiled in a bitter legal battle with neighbouring landowners and local residents over his attempt to enclose a part of Banstead Commons. The dispute finally bankrupted him and forced him to sell the Kingswood Warren estate, which was bought in 1885 by Henry Cosmo Orme Bonsor.
The new owner of the Kingswood Warren estate was born at Polesden Lacey in 1848, the son of Joseph Bonsor and Eliza Denne Orme. He was educated at Eton, where he played in the football Eleven and rowed for the school team.
In 1867 he joined the brewery firm of Combe & Co., in which he became a partner in 1869. He was involved in a number of City institutions and in 1885 he became a Director of the Bank of England. In that same year he was returned as a Conservative M.P. for Wimbledon, which he continued to represent until 1900.
In 1872 Cosmo Bonsor married Emily Fellowes, of Dorset, who bore him four sons and two daughters. Emily died in 1882 and in 1886 he married his second wife, Mabel Brand, of Sanderstead, Surrey, by whom he had two more daughters.
When Combe & Co. merged with Reid’s Brewery Co. and Watney’s in 1898, Cosmo Bonsor became the first Chairman of the newly formed company, Whatney Combe Reid & Co., a position he held until his retirement in 1928.
In 1894 he joined the South Eastern Railway Board, of which he became Vice-Chairman in 1898. He became the first Chairman of the Managing Committee of the newly amalgamated South Eastern and Chatham Railway Companies in 1899.
Cosmo Bonsor was the prime mover behind the construction of the Chipstead Valley Railway line, which officially opened as far as Kingswood in November 1897.
It would be wrong to remember Cosmo Bonsor as just a shrewd financier and businessman. He also used his considerable skills to further a number of good causes which were close to his heart, such as Reedham Orphanage and Guy’s Hospital. He helped to reorganize the latter and put it on a sounder financial footing.
A portly 6ft 4in. tall, he was a man of imposing physical appearance and of most jovial disposition. He was much loved by everybody who knew him and tales of his generosity towards local people abound.
In 1906 as a result of rising maintenance costs Cosmo Bonsor decided to put the Kingswood Warren estate on the market. The estate failed to sell in one lot at auction and was later broken up and disposed of in smaller lots. In 1911 the Walton Heath Land Company, set up by Cosmo Bonsor, acquired the mansion and some 640 acres of land. In 1912 the mansion together with 102 acres were sold to the mill owner Joseph Rank while the Walton Heath Land Company retained the rest of the land for development purposes.
After the sale of the Kingswood Warren estate, the Bonsor family moved to the Red House, along the Brighton Road, and remained there until the death of Lady Bonsor in 1944.
Cosmo Bonsor was made a baronet in 1925. He died in Nice in December 1929 and is buried in St. Andrew’s churchyard.
During the Edwardian era, some substantial houses were built along Waterhouse Lane and neighbouring lanes, but this construction phase came to en end with the outbreak of the First World War.
Costains and the modern development of Kingswood
In 1923 a Liverpool-based building firm by the name of Richard Costain and Sons was looking for opportunities to expand its business activities down in the South.
Its choice fell on our area quite by chance when Richard Costain, one of the three brothers running the company at that time, spotted an advertisement offering land for sale in Kingswood.
The Walton Heath Land Company was subsequently acquired by one of Costains’ business partners and building was set to start in earnest.
Another of the Costain brothers, William, was sent south to take charge of the new venture.
The area between Waterhouse Lane and Copthill Lane, which had been one of William’s early land purchases, was developed first and a shopping parade was built to attract new residents.
In July 1925 Kingswood Tennis Club was officially set up and tennis courts were built on a plot of land specially set aside by Costains in the Glade.
In 1926 William Costain commissioned the apprentices in his firm to build a hall for the Tadorne Masonic Lodge, of which he was a master. This later became the Kingswood Village Hall and passed into the ownership of Banstead District Council just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Meanwhile the mansion in the Warren briefly had an American owner, but was back on the market by the middle of 1928. It was subsequently bought by the Walton Heath Land Company and conveyed to Richard Costain Ltd.
In 1933 the mansion, with yet further reduced grounds, was sold to a Mademoiselle Rossignon, who transferred her girls’ finishing school from Switzerland to its premises. This venture, however, was short-lived and by 1935 Mademoiselle Rossignon had decided to convert the mansion into a hotel. The outbreak of the war in the end sealed the fate of an enterprise which had never been financially viable. The hotel closed its doors in 1940 and the mansion briefly became an evacuation centre before being purchased by the Legal & General Assurance Society to provide accommodation and office space for some of its central London staff.
After the war, L. & G., who also owned the former St. Monica’s School buildings, decided to transfer all its operations to that site. The building in the Warren stood empty for a year and was acquired in 1948 by the British Broadcasting Corporation to house its engineering research department. There it remained for over 60 years until February 2010, when the site was sold on for re-development.