The History of Birtley Estate & Birtley House
Originally ‘Berkeley’ (from the Old English ‘beorc leah’ – a clearing in the birch wood), records of the Birtley estate go back to the 12th century when a rent of 10s was granted from Birtley to the Priory of Amesbury by the lord of the Manor of Bramley.
17th, 18th & 19th Centuries
Birtley was acquired by a Lawrence Street, who came from Worcestershire in the reign of James II (1685-1689), at which time it was a farm of around 800 acres. However, since there are other records from the early 18th century of the property belonging to the Duke of Montagu and his sister Lady Harvey, it may be that the Streets initially rented the property.
By 1843 Birtley House appears as a moderate, compact manor house with a farmyard and out-buildings clustered round its north-east aspect at the end of a drive which corresponds to the line of the current main entrance. Birtley Farm (now redeveloped) was built prior to 1860 (some of the buildings have been dated to the 17th century) and most of the original farm buildings around the main house were demolished to make way for the Coach House and a stable yard.
By 1871 the gardens to the south-west had been extended and a vine house and a conservatory added. (The vine house still exists, but the conservatory was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the construction of the West Wing as accommodation for Dick and June Whalley’s four children.)
19th & Early 20th Centuries
Birtley, despite providing a comfortable ‘seat’ was never very highly regarded as farmland and by the 1870s was so heavily encumbered with charges and annuities (the Streets perhaps living somewhat beyond their means) that it was sold in 1879 to Henry Cubitt MP, later Lord Ashcombe, who was acquisitively buying property in the area.
We believe that the Cubitts owned Birtley House until the end of the war in 1945, though it was let or leased for much of this time. In this period the main house was substantially altered and extended, the Lodge was built and the estate expanded to 1200 acres with ten farms, four substantial houses, fifteen cottages and extended from the western end of Gatestreet right to the east of Shamley Green and from the Cranleigh Road in the south to Hurst Hill and Birtley Road in the north.
1945 to the present day
Birtley House with 48 acres was bought by Eyhurst Court Ltd., a nursing home company run by Dr Lloyd Driver, his wife Joan Winifred Driver and various members of their family. The Home had been located at Loxwood House (now Hall) just over the county border in Sussex during the war years, but was, originally, a mental health home which had been running since the mid 1920s in various locations but had been set up as a Company and first Registered in 1932/3 at Eyhurst Court in Kingswood, Surrey. After moving the Home to Birtley in 1945, the main house here was altered internally to provide, initially, accommodation for just 16 patients.
When Mrs Driver died a few years later, most of the running of the business devolved to the Driver’s youngest daughter, June, and her husband, Dick Whalley. They gradually expanded the number of patients with the reacquisition of the Coach House Annexe in the early 1960s and the first-floor link to the main building was completed in 1989. Dick and June’s eldest son, Simon, together with his wife Caroline and their sons Frank and Tim are now all active Directors in the business which now accommodates 47 residents in the Home plus a further 8 in the Mews supported-living apartments which were completed in 2001.
The gardens and park with its lake and beautiful surroundings have always been an important ingredient in the peaceful setting of the house. With a contribution from the nursing home and some income from events we have been able to maintain its character and provide a resource for the local community – the annual Sculpture Garden Exhibition during May has become one of the highlights of the summer season as is the Surrey Hills Wood Fair held in the parkland each October. The grounds also host many local groups and activities with cider, woodland pork, logs and charcoal among the produce and trout fishing, pole-lathe training, childrens’ parties and beekeeping courses all regularly taking place.
Work is continuing in the gardens to bring some of the neglected areas back into use and in recent years the rose garden has been redeveloped in memory of the Queen Mother with over 300 new roses – many with a ‘royal’ connection in their names and the fruit and vegetable garden provides fresh produce for the Home and the newly established produce shop at weekends.
The ‘family home’ atmosphere has always been a key factor in the popularity of Birtley with residents and their own families and new generations are now moving in who remember parents or even grandparents in the Home! The management company, Eyhurst Court Ltd, will celebrate 85 years of continuous family management in 2017