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Henley Park
The Meet, Henley Park, Normandy
The Meet, Henley Park, Normandy c1905

Henley Park is very old. The name is Saxon, meaning 'high clearing' and it was established well before the Norman invasion. The earliest reference was in 727 AD when the manor had five farmsteads. Originally 'Henley' referred to the manor, which included all of modern Ash and Normandy.

By the time of Domesday it was owned by Chertsey Abbey and for over 300 years it was just a normal medieval manor like many others, going through the annual cycle of ploughing and harvesting. Then the highly contagious plague known as the Black Death spread along trade routes from Asia to Europe killing a third of the population, leaving farmsteads unoccupied and land vacant. King Edward III took a fancy to Henley and bought it for £550, moved out the survivors (giving them other lands nearby in exchange) and turned it into a royal hunting park. He built a large residential complex fit for a king, with chapels, halls, chambers, kitchens, larders, cellars, chambers of the chief butler and treasurer, a watch tower, gardens and a drawbridge. The royal entourage often stayed there in the 14th century. Historians have long debated the whereabouts of this medieval royal complex but archaeological investigations were inconclusive, until local historians John Squier and Pat Ashworth reopened the case, and now their research has pinpointed the most likely location for this important historical site. Unfortunately the foundations of Vokes' factory have almost certainly destroyed any physical remains.

For nearly 300 years Henley remained a royal deer park and stud farm until Charles I, short of money, sold it for £850 to a gentleman called Arthur Squibb in the 1630s. Squibb had very grand aspirations and built himself a fine new mansion on the site of the royal complex but unfortunately he managed to bankrupt himself in the process. A hundred years later Solomon Dayrolle decided that Squibb's mansion was too ostentatious and built the more restrained Georgian-style mansion that we know today.

Throughout the 19th century the Halsey family owned Henley Park and more than doubled the size of its estates to over 2,000 acres, becoming by far the largest landowners in Pirbright in the process. They and subsequent owners and occupiers enjoyed the sporting lifestyle, hosting foxhunting meets, shooting parties, etc. A game book records that one day in 1910 Sir Owen Roberts, Gerald Balfour (probably brother of the Prime Minister) and five others dispatched 290 pheasants, five rabbits, three woodcock, a hare and 65 'wild fowl'. They laid on lavish entertainments for their guests and Lord and Lady Pirbright in particular entertained royalty many times at Henley Park. At the same time Henley Park was a much-loved family home and members of the Moodie family who grew up there in the 1930s remember it fondly.

The First World War caused a temporary disruption to this leisured lifestyle when Henley Park became an Auxiliary Military Hospital, and soldiers recuperating there sent messages on postcards produced by local shopkeepers to their family and friends. But the Second World War changed everything, and Henley Park became a factory manufacturing filters for military vehicles, ships and planes.

After the war there was a lot of opposition to Vokes' factory remaining at Henley Park, and Sir Philip Henriques of Normandy Park complained that he could not find gardeners because Vokes were paying such high wages and his plum trees were in danger! Nevertheless Vokes remained and in the 1950s their 'new factory' was built which remained a familiar landmark until it was demolished early in 2012. However, in the 1970s and 1980s it all went horribly wrong, and as Vokes suffered like all British industry, the mansion deteriorated and finally fell into ruin as the planning authorities wrangled with developers about what to do with the site. As the mansion teetered on the brink of collapse it was saved at the last minute, and redeveloped into the luxury apartments and houses that we see today.

A comprehensive history of the Henley Park written by John Squier was published in 2012 under the Title "Henley Park in Surrey, The History of a Royal Manor" ISBN 0957382200, and is now Available Click Here

Also see
Auxiliary Military Hospital at Henley Park
Vokes of Normandy

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