Oakwood House

Towards the brow of Redstone Hill, above Redhill to the east Victorian Gentlemen cast their eyes upon some good land suitable for building their large Victorian houses. There was plenty of land in which to enclose their estates with gardens, outbuildings and driveways, and splendid views across the weald to the south and towards Reigate in the west. Moreover, just a short distance down the hill was the railway, with the easy access it provided to the City.
John Linnell the artist came here in the 1850s and built his estate, Redstone Wood, on the southern aspect of the hill, with fine views of the weald which often appeared in his landscape paintings. Vincent Nicholl came probably during the early 1860s to build ‘Oakwood’ just across the road from Linnell. He is first mentioned in Kelly's Court Directory of 1867, although the 1871 Census gives the following information: -
Vincent Nicholl Head 57 Master Brewer of Barnet Herts employing 18 men 12 boys
Louisa Nicholl Wife 47 London MDX
Ann Francis Cook 52 Hay Bucks
Emma Taylor housemaid 33 Kent
Jessie Whiteworse housemaid 18 Freshwater I.o.W
William Elcomb butler 32 Farnham Kent
John Nicholes groom 23 Lingfield Sussex
By 1891 the household had grown somewhat as follows-
Vincent Nicholl Head 77 Retired Brewer Barnet Herts
Louisa Nicholl wife 67 London City
Alfred Eperon butler 41 Greenwich
Doreen Winchester cook 42 Hunston
Millicent Beard housemaid 33 Painswick Glos
Amy Alderton housemaid 19 Streatham
Edith Butler kitchenmaid 16 Selbourne
Edward Oliver page 14 Waldron
Leonard House groom 17 Bletchingley
Also included in the estate this time was the lodge, with husband and wife domestics as residents. More of this later.

The Ordnance Survey Map of 1895 shows the estate to consist of the house, lodge. And numerous outbuildings, some of which were certainly stables. And probably garden sheds and greenhouses. The grounds were landscaped, with a wooded area round the perimeter on the east, North and western sides. Paths ran through these woods to encircle the estate, and a driveway was built from the entrance gates on Redstone Hill to the house frontage and stables. The whole estate occupied around 2.8 acres.
We know little of Vincent Nicholl apart from the above. It appears that there were no children, for his estate passed to his nephew when he and his wife died around the turn of the century. One small matter we do know about is that according the the records of St.Matthew’s church, he was responsible for providing the money for the church clock, still in operation today.

'Feb. 11th 1879. Through the kindly liberality of Vincent Nicholl Esq. of Oakwood, Nutfield Road, Redhill, a large and handsome clock has been supplied to the above-named (St.Matthew's) largely attended place of worship, and is in regular working order. It is needless to remark that the gift will be none the less highly appreciated than the boon thus afforded to the public'
Vincent Nicholl made his will in 1898 and probate was granted in 1908. As one might expect, there were considerable legacies to members of his family but the bulk of the estate passed to his nephew, Ernest Vincent Nicholl, son of his brother Canon J.R.Nicholl, Rector of Streatham. Ernest Vincent and his family took up residence at Oakwood, and lived there until he died in 1933. His wife Agnes died the year before in 1932. They are both buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Reigate, where their memorial stone can still be seen.  
Photo Allan Chadwick
Ernest Vincent and Agnes had three children, Margaret Augusta (who survived her parents), Vincent, 1892-1927, and a daughter who lived for three days. Vincent had four children (Ernest Vincent’s grandchildren) who inherited the estate, with a provision for his daughter Margaret Augusta during her lifetime. They were Joy Mary, Michael, David Penny, and John Vincent Nicholl. None of these appear to have taken up residence at Oakwood, as it was during the late 1930s that the house fell into disrepair, and was gutted by fire. During the war, Oakwood remained derelict, and my wife, whose father was in Civil Defence, says that they used to go on exercises in the grounds with the Home Guard during this time.
When we married in 1950, my wife and I were looking for somewhere to live away from my parents. It was a difficult time, with a shortage of houses in the aftermath of the war. We had applied to be put on the Reigate Borough Council’s housing list, and I had also applied for a building licence, necessary before one could find a builder to build a new house. One day in 1952, much to my joy, the licence arrived. I quickly looked round for a local builder who could turn our dreams into reality, and found that Brazier Estates were currently completing a project in Meadvale. When I approached Bill Brazier about the matter he said ‘You don’t need a licence now, old man. The government has just done away with them! I’m just off to Redstone Hill to start an estate up there, why not come and look at the plans?’ So that’s what we did. A number of units had already been taken, but there were plenty left to choose from. We chose a plot on which was built the house in which we live today. What Bill did not explain was that it was on the exact site of the old house, a fact which was to test our patience in the days to come.
Brazier began to build the estate at the bottom of the service road on Redstone Hill, working his way upwards, round the corner into Oakwood Close, and then down the Close to the bottom. Every weekend I rode up the hill on my motor cycle to see how things were progressing, only to find that the foundation raft was exactly as it had been the week before. It was then explained to me that, the foundations being on top of the remains of the old house, extra deep footings had to be inserted, and an extra thick concrete floor put in. I suppose that the building inspector would not allow further building to take place until he was sure that the whole was stable and fit to be build upon. It took over a year before that happened. In the meantime, other houses were going up all round the estate. In retrospect I can say that it was probably worth the wait, as we have a fine view of Boxhill to the west and a good view of many a spectacular sunset.
The map shows the estate as it is today with the old buildings shown on top. Other residents of the Close to the east have told me of finding the remains of the outhouses, stables and greenhouses. I myself found an old horseshoe which now hangs on my garage door! We also found the remains of Victorian railings, several cast iron counter-balances from sash windows, and the remains of the gravel drive in our back garden. Our plot had a very large Cedar tree about fifteen metres from the house. It was left for its amenity value but apart from providing the support for a swing for the children its needles used to fill our gutters which needed to be cleared at intervals. Gradually the tree began to die back, and eventually had to be cut down.
Another reminder of the old house is to be seen in the subsidence of the roadway, which the Council have had from time to time to remedy. This is due to inadequate infilling of the original road, which I seem to remember had bits of timber which over the years have rotted, and given way. There are quite a few pieces of local building stone from the original house which have gone into some of our rock gardens and dry walls on the estate.

On the right of the lodge fronting Redstone Hill were the entrance gates to the estate. One can still see the brick wall, and some steps that led to the front door of the lodge house. A friend of ours, George Kemp, has a photograph of the lodge, with his grandfather Thomas and his wife standing outside. He was head gardener for Ernest Vincent Nicholl, and is mentioned in his will
'I give to my gardener Thomas Kemp and to my second gardener Ernest Mew a legacy of Twenty pounds each dutv free.’
George Kemp writes - ‘My grandfather’s eldest son, Hany, was head gardener in the Castle Grounds before the war, at a time when all the staff wore uniforms and peaked caps. When be remarried after the death of his first wife, permission was given to hold the wedding reception at Oakwood as the Nicholls were not in residence. I can remember being there in 1923 although I was only five years old. I heard that one of the Nicholls was a passenger on the ill-fated Titanic but do not know whether he or she was rescued.’

George has also got a souvenir of Oakwood, the old bell that used to alert the outdoor servants to the time for ‘clocking on and clocking off’.

The Power of the Internet - Originally this article finshed with this final paragraph: -

What became of the Nicholl family? We do not know. Doubtless some survive as descendants of the four grandchildren of Ernest Vincent Nicholl. Maybe they even have some tangible reminders of Oakwood in the form of old photographs. It would be great if we could discover their whereabouts. The parishioner of St. Matthews who provided information about the clock once met a German lady at Gatwick airport who claimed to be married to one of Ernest Victor’s descendants. That is all we know. In the meantime, we residents of the estate enjoy the view, are happy to be conveniently placed for the town, just as the Nicholls and their servants once did. What would they think if they could see what has become of their once-proud possession? We can only guess.

Then the following email was received in late September 2011, just a few weeks after this page was presented on the website: -

Probably like a great number of people I occasionally trawl the internet to find if any new references pop up regarding my family. I was charmed and surprised to read for the first time a very detailed description of Oakwood House on your website and can probably fill in some of the detail and questions raised in the article.

My grand-father was Lt Col Vincent Nicholl (1892 -1927) who resided at Oakwood (amongst other residences) until his death. His father was Ernest Vincent Nicholl the son of the Rev J R Nicholl. The manner of Ernest's inheritance from the "original" Vincent Nicholl was that apparently he met my grandfather as a 3 year old in a traditional navy suit and left the bulk of his fortune to Vincent's family much to the chagrin of many other Nicholls who were siblings to Ernest!

He was a very distinguished aviator in WW1 - was the youngest commander of an air station, served with Egbert Cadbury of chocolate fame, represented Britain in the Schneider Sea Trophy races and was a director of Fairey Aviation where he also test piloted a number of their planes including the Fairey Flycatcher one of the first aircraft to be designed to take off from carriers.

Vincent's 4 children are all deceased within the last 20 years (including my father - David Penry Vincent Nicholl). The German lady referred to was probably my mother! Vincent's widow (Peggy) re-married to Robin Bartlett and they lived a peripatetic life including a year in New Mexico with D H Lawrence's widow Frieda. I have 2 sisters and Michael Vincent Nicholl had one son -
Charles Nicholl the historian and writer.

Going back - The Rev J R Nicholl served at St Leonards in Streatham - was at school in Eaton where he was a close friend of Gladstone. He was Rector for 60 years and had some 12 or 13 children - family legend had that he built a "daughter" church or chapel in Streatham for each and every child as the village grew to a fair size suberb following the introduction of railway communication. The rectory at Streatham was demolished after the death of his wife but it was in that house that Lord Russell drew up the Reform Bill in the 1830s.

My aunt Joy who died in 2005 aged 89 recalled Oakwood with affection - particularly the gardeners (some 14 she claimed). My sister Caroline lives in the States and currently has the family albums - I have seen an external view of Oakwood in better days in one of the pictures. I do not believe that any of the Nicholl family died or
survived the Titanic!

After the WW2 my Uncle Michael inherited Oakwood - until I saw the pictures in your article I never understood why he sold it off but evidently such property was all too common at that time and not worth the sort of value it might attract even today!

I hope this is of some interest to you.
Yours sincerely,
Dr Tony Nicholl

Dr Nicholl's email is indeed of great interest, many thanks to him for the information. He has been put in touch with Don Burgess, the author of this page.

The End
A Short History of the Oakwood Estate appears here by kind permission of its author, Mr Don Burgess.
This is a page on Alan Moore's website (retired 2014)
12 August 2011

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