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Henry Woodyer
(1816 - 1896)

The eminent Victorian architect, Henry Woodyer, had strong family and professional links with the village of Normandy. He was born in 1816 at Allen House, Guildford, the son of Caleb Woodyer a surgeon of Guildford and his wife Mary Anne Eleanor - a daughter of Henry Halsey the owner of Henley Park, Normandy. Henry had two sisters; Mary Ann who married Lannoy Arthur Coussmaker of Westwood, Normandy and Elizabeth who married her first cousin, the Reverend William Elliott, Rector of Cresting, Suffolk - a grandson of Henry Halsey.

Henry was educated at Eton and later at Merton College, Oxford where he matriculated in 1835 receiving his BA degree in 1838. Apparently, at that stage he was still undecided as to what career to take up and even considered entering the Church. However, from Oxford, he entered the office of William Butterfield, one of the leading architects of the Gothic Revival. An early commission for Henry was the restoration of St Nicholas Church Compton in 1843.

He began to practise independently in 1846, working mainly in Surrey and Berkshire, operating from 108 High Street, Guildford, the same address as his father's surgery, but continuing to reside at Allen House until his marriage in 1851 to Frances Martha Bowles. In 1846 he designed the National Schools at Ripley and in 1847 he carried out his first complete church commission for his brother-in-law Lannoy Arthur Coussmaker of Westwood, when he designed St. Mark's Church, Wyke, in the parish of Ash. In 1955 Wyke became part of the parish of Normandy.

St. Mark's Church, Wyke from the East
St. Mark's Church,
Wyke from the East

Henry's father died in 1849 leaving him properties in Stoke and Guildford, enabling him to be financially independent to continue his chosen career. Sadly, his wife Frances died in 1852, (the year following their marriage) and so soon after giving birth to their only child, Hester Fanny, born that year.

Frances was buried at Milton in Berkshire, where Henry was restoring the parish church. He returned to Surrey with Hester to pick up the threads of his life and in 1854 bought Grafham Farm, Grafham a few miles south of Guildford, just off what is now the A281 Horsham Road. Later, he turned the original farmhouse into a substantial Country House and renamed it Grafham Grange.

In 1864 he designed and built as a memorial to his late wife and at his own expense, the church of St. Andrew, Grafham. Henry was determined to have a screen in his church but the Bishop Henry Sumner of Winchester detested screens in churches, considering them to be a sign of Popery. Henry had designed his screen as an integral part of the structure and claimed that the church would fall down if it was removed. Needless to say; Henry got his way.

St Andrew Grafham From the southeast
St Andrew Grafham From the southeast
St Andrew Grafham From the west
St Andrew Grafham From the west

He continued to design and restore churches (at no great expense to his clients), for the rest of his career, also designing and altering private houses and schools. Among many such commissions, he rebuilt the East Wing of Wotton House near Dorking for the Evelyn family and in 1860, designed Cranleigh School, which today is a renowned academically famous Public School. In addition, he designed church furniture, ironwork and fittings and his builders were almost exclusively Wheeler Brothers of Reading although commissioned ironwork was generally from a Guildford firm.

At Meads, Eastbourne, East Sussex can be found the magnificent All Saints Convalescent Hospital (the foundation stone for which was laid in 1867), and close by its equally spectacular chapel, both buildings designed by him, in his typical version of the Gothic Revival style - built primarily of brick with Bath-stone dressings and Forest of Dean stone for the steps of staircases and window shafts. The hospital was declared open on the 19th July, 1869, followed a little later with the chapel.

Probably, his greatest achievement and grandest church is that of St. Martin, Dorking (completed in 1873), that still dominates the old town in the Mole Valley and serves as a fine example of Victorian Gothic workmanship to this day.

His daughter Hester, who had been his constant companion for some 39 years, married in 1891 Lieutenant General Sir Percy Lake and shortly afterwards she and Sir Percy emigrated for Canada.

Henry never re-married after the death of his wife. He sold Grafham Grange and moved to the village of Padworth in Berkshire where he died in 1896. In accordance with his wishes his body was brought back to Grafham and was buried in the churchyard of his beloved St Andrews church.

Woodyer's luxuries in life were his lovely garden at Grafham and his steam yacht, "Queen Mab", in which he cruised in the Mediterranean. He was not particularly skilled as a draughtsman and his handwriting was almost indecipherable. He kept a small staff of elderly assistants at Grafham. Part of the range of buildings enclosing a courtyard included offices where his assistants worked.

No portrait of Henry Woodyer has been found, but he is remembered as a tall, distinguished-looking man with a full beard and moustache. He wore a wide-brimmed hat and donned a long dark Inverness cloak in bad weather. His appearance would have resembled that of the outdoor portraits of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Jack Kinder

References:
A Breath of Heaven , All Saints Convalescent Hospital, Eastbourne 1869-1959 by Kay Syrad, 2002.
A lecture on Henry Woodyer at Guildford Civic Hall on 6th October 1994.
Famous Surrey Architects No.5, Surrey County Magazine, 1979.
Short Dictionary of British Architects by Dora Ware, Allen and Unwin, 1967
The Story of Grafham Grange by D C Gasney, 1962
The Woodyers, Father and Son from Allen House, Some Notes on its History by D M Stanley, 1963.

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