Oliver House, Cranleigh: a potted history

Oliver House

Oliver House (aka 93-97 High Street), Cranleigh is a C16th Grade II listed property with Victorian alterations (although the listing describes it as C17th). My research into the property and its owners and occupiers took me all the way back to within 70 years of it being built!

Cranleigh (or Cranley as it was known until the mid 19th Century) is now said to be the largest village in England. It is located within the Weald valley approximately eight miles south of Guildford in the County of Surrey close to the border with West Sussex.

Saxon settlements in the surrounding villages of Shalford, Chilworth, Albury, Shere, Gomshall, Wotton and Abinger. Cranleigh however does not appear to have been a settlement and was not mentioned in the Doomsday book in 1086.

Cranleigh was part of Blackheath Hundred which in 1086 was held by six manors although only five were enumerated. The parish of Cranleigh fell within three of these manors: Shere Vachery, Bramley and Gomshall. What developed as the central village was part of the Manor of Shere Vachery which as held by the Bray family from 1498 with the Bray estate continuing to exist today mainly in and around the village of Shere. Some key dates in the development of Cranleigh are:

On contacting the local history society I was told “little is known about the owners/occupiers up to the nineteenth century when census and parish records are available…filling in the gaps should prove to be quite a challenge. A challenge I was more than happy to take on!

National Library of Scotland https://www.nls.uk/ Surrey Sheet XXXIX; Surveyed: 1871, Published: 1874

“Oliver house” is said to be so-named following the visit by Oliver Cromwell to the village in 1657 and the belief that some of his men lodged at the property (no records!) The neighbouring cottage to the west is known as Cromwell Cottage.

Whilst paper records do not appear to survive the timbers from the oldest part of the property were dendrochronology dated in 2008. The report found three precise felling dates in the winter of AD 1559/60 and that the timbers were probably sourced relatively locally and describes the property.

“The original floor plan was of three and a half bays with a central smoke bay. It was built of substantial scantling timbers, jowl posts and curved down braces, one of which remains. The entrance into the smoke bay remains today”

It was known from census returns that Oliver House was once the home of the Holden Family – a family of timber merchants whose property included a timber yard and other substantial land and renowned for building bell frames from local oak, exporting them to Australia and Russia.

The man in the top hat is Ebenezer Holden pictured with some of his workmen next to one of the famous bell frames courtesy of Bygone Cranleigh by B Seymour and M Warrington, Phillimore, 1984

Land Tax assessments provided the clue to the earlier owners. 1830 George Holden owner/occupier of house and garden; 1824 first entry for George as owner/occupier; 1821 first entry for George as occupier. Owner was “Hunt” -the only entry for “Hunt” in these assessments. 1820 the owner/occupier was a James Champion. Searching neighbouring parishes found a Richard Hunt and family in Shere who appeared to be significant land holders. The search turned to Surrey History Centre for any possible deeds between for the names Hunt and James Champion.

I found a deed dated 30th September 1820 Conveying the freehold from James Champion to Richard Hunt “of Shere, Timber Merchant”. This in turn enabled me to trace earlier deeds for the property, tracing the ownership back to the early 17th century. The first of those deeds was was a Lease and release dated 1st and 2nd June 1714 Between Arthur Foster of Bramley And James Harmes of Rudgwick. This deed detailed the ownership of Oliver House through four generations of one family spanning the 17th century from which I was able to research the family and prepare this family tree

London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section, Clerkenwell, London, England; Reference Number: DW/PA/5/1631; Will Number: 105

John left a will dated 6th June 1631, proved at the 8th September 1631 at the Commissary court held at Guildford, in which he detailed only one property in Cranley (in which he lived) which bequeathed that property to his son Richard with a proviso that if Richard died without Issue the property should go to his eldest daughter Jane. All his children were in fact under the age of 21 when John died. I haven’t yet found any records for Richard but it can be inferred from the terms of his will and the information in the deed from June 1714, that Richard died leaving no surviving children and the property went to Jane then passing to Arthur Foster (snr & jnr).

The deed dealt with the rightful heir of John Smallpeece, Arthur Foster, agreeing to effect the legal papers to formalise the ownership of James Harmes who had, it appears, been the legal owner for sometime. Perhaps the original paperwork had been lost?

Although the deed of course does not name Oliver House (a name most likely adopted following alterations in the 1870/80’s) by following the trail of deeds and the evolving description in those deeds it is most likely this property is what later became known as Oliver House.

Only three months later in September 1714 James conveys the respective properties to their occupiers John Harbroe and Richard Worsfold. The property this time is described in very similar terms.

Richard Worsfold married twice having five children (four sons and one daughter) to his first wife who sadly died in 1713. It is possible he had a further three children with his second wife but it is not clear from the parish registers whether it is the same family. He died in 1764; Buried 3rd July 1764, Cranleigh; Will dated 20th April 1764; Proved Prerogative Court of Canterbury 23rd July 1764 stated

“I give and devise all that my messuage or tenement and Freehold estate….in Cranley now in my occupation unto my Grandson Richard Worsfold his heirs and assigns”

His Grandson Richard was the son of Richard seniors eldest son Thomas.

No deed or other record was found for Richard the grandson conveying the property but sometime between 1764 and 1777 he must have conveyed it to James Champion because the next deed found was a mortgage dated 18th November 1777 between James Champion of Wisborough Green, Sussex, Carpenter and his son James Champion junior of Cranleigh, Carpenter And Sarah Smith of Loxwood, Sussex, Spinster for the Sum of £100.

From 1780 to 1821 James Champion appears in Land Tax records for Cranleigh (earlier records do no survive). Researching the Champion family produced this family tree – note the dates in BOLD.

There was a Remortgage dated 18th September 1815 Between John Rapson, executor of the estate of Sarah Smith, James Champion of Cranley, Carpenter and Robert Boughton of Wonersh, Miller for the Sum of £200. The deed confirms the death of Sarah Smith and that James Champion senior died intestate in 1813 BUT James Champion (1) described as ‘senior’ in the 1777 deed died in 1798 leaving a will.

So we have three generations of James Champion ownership: James (1) (‘Senior’ in 1777 deed) died in 1798; James (2) (‘junior’ in 1777 deed) buried at Cranleigh on 22nd February 1812 age 88; James (3) party to 1815 deed.

Next was a bargain and sale dated 30th September 1820 between (1) James Champion “of Cranley, Carpenter”, (2) Robert Boughton “of Wonersh, Miller”, (3) Richard Hunt “of Shere, Timber Merchant” (4) George Potter “of Guildford, Gent, a Trustee appointed on behalf of Richard Hunt”. The deed recites the 1777 mortgage and the 1815 remortgage and the description of the property is again virtually the same. freehold was conveyed to Richard Hunt (in trust). Sum stated £250 (including the outstanding mortgage stated to be £210 7s 7p).

Although no deeds survive conveying the property to George Holden, given the name Hunt only appears in the Tax assessments for Cranleigh for one property and the dates coincide with this last deed in 1820, there is little doubt this and the series of deeds concerns Oliver House.

Oliver House early 20th century (date not known) Cranleigh Through Time by Michael Miller (Amberley Publishing) 2013 page 15

The ownership and occupation of the property was brought forward through the 20th century up to date using census returns, electoral registers, wills, newspapers to a name a few of the resoures.

Looking at the history of the property there is a common theme as to the occupations of is owners/occupiers. John Smallpeece was a Taylor and in 1966 No.93 once again became a Taylors shop (although more recently has been a charity shop).

The property remains on the market today being sold as commercial premises and is currently under offer. It will be interesting to see what happens with it.

There is so much more I found out about this property and its owners, but I hope this gives you a flavour of the history that can be uncovered with some forensic genealogy detective work.

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