Westcroft Park, by Ken Mepham.

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During my lifetime it (Westcroft Park) was owned by H. O. Serpell Esq., but my father often referred to it as Hotham’s, so presumably the name of the previous owner was Hotham. Whether or not the estate was always known as Westcroft Park, I just do not know. It was during the early 1920’s that Mr. Serpell had the place renovated, landscaped, and had the clock tower built out in the park. It was only recently that I discovered that he built the clock tower in memory of his son, who lost his life in the First World War. We were led to believe that it was to celebrate H. O.’s appointment as High Sheriff of Surrey, a position which he held for some years. (I never did know just what his duties were, except that he went to Kingston-on-Thames once or twice per week. I concluded that he was some sort of senior magistrate.)

He had a biscuit factory at Reading and was, I suppose, in direct competition with Huntley and Palmers who owned much of that town. Serpells biscuits were usually a bit cheaper, and at one time they supplied Marks & Spencer with biscuits.

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Entrance to Westcroft Park.

When the clock and bell tower was first built, it carried a full carillon of bells which at first were played from the tower, by striking the keys with the fist and pedals, but I understand that later on it was possible to play by keyboard from the house. Sunday afternoons were picked for hymn recitals which usually lasted for about one hour. One person who played the bells was Percy Rolfe who was head gardener – cum- bailiff, and I believe that Gwen, his daughter also played them. And so, especially while the whole thing was a novelty, folks would walk down from around the district to listen to the bells.

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The bell tower at Westcroft Park. (Image courtesy Surrey Heath Museum).

At that time another attraction was the sight of about half a dozen highland cattle wandering the park. These great beasts with shaggy coats and enormous horns looked formidable, but I understand were very placid. Mr. Rolfe was a well-known gardener, and in the conservatory attached to the house many types of exotic plants were grown, including melons, oranges, lemons and even bananas. Quite a few men were employed in the gardens and farms… If I remember correctly the cars, resplendent in shining red paint and brass, included two Rolls-Royces, one open, one closed, and a very ancient open Wolseley.

As H.O. was one of the governors of Valley End School, and was rather haughty, he demanded during his term of office, that we schoolboys should salute him as he passed us on the way to Sunningdale station, and that the girls would curtsey. Needless to say, if we didn’t have time to dive through the nearest hedge, we were busy re-tying a shoelace, or examining something in the top of a tree!

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The bell tower today.

Dinner was served at 8 o’clock each evening and a short tune was played on the bells, by way of saying grace, and I can recall that simple little tune which we could hear easily from Windlesham Park and even in the village on a still evening. The clock struck each of the quarter hours, but was different from the Westminster Chimes. Although I can remember how it went on the hour, quarter past, half past and quarter to now escape me. During World War II many of the bells went towards the war effort, which seems a shame, but enough were left to provide the Westminster Chimes which were still ringing out when I last remember.

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The Victorian postbox at the junction of Woodcock Drive and Windlesham Road.

The Rolfe family lived in the cottage on the corner of Woodcock Drive, which houses the Post Box in the wall. This Post Box is interesting for the fact that it is old enough to have cast in the metal V.R. (Victoria Regina.)

Just off Woodcock Drive a small pond, (now filled in of course) held a few very large carp, and a very old H. O. Serpell would amuse himself by letting the fish take bread from his fingers.

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The memorial to Fanny Serpell, nee Oliver, in St. Saviour’s churchyard.

Henry Oberlin Serpell was a biscuit manufacturer, who moved his factory from Plymouth to Reading. He lived at Westcroft Park, and  was High Sheriff of Surrey in 1924.  He lived for many years with Fanny Oliver, but was unable to marry her as his mentally ill wife was still alive. In 1938, when he was 85, the law changed, and he was able to divorce his wife on the grounds of her incurable insanity.  They had been married for 61 years. The marriage was dissolved on Wednesday 6th July 1938, and he married Fanny 4 days later.  He died at the age of 90.

(A neighbour has recently heard a bell from the tower, and so at least one survives. 9/11/2017)

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First published in the Windlesham Magazine, May 1987. Reproduced by kind permission of the Windlesham Magazine.

I have been unable to trace Ken Mepham, but if anyone knows anything about him I would be very interested to hear from them.

Shields Daily News, 9th July 1938.

 

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