Friday, 12 December 2014

Beneath a Surrey Lake

Lea Park and the adjoining South Park Farm were purchased in 1890 from the Earl of Derby. The new owner, J. Whittaker Wright had made and lost a fortune in the United States through mining. Returning home to England, he used his knowledge of mining to promote colonial prospects on the London market. He was soon a wealthy man again and developed his new property at great expense. The original mock tudor house was rebuilt as a large mansion amidst landscaped grounds and ornamental lakes. The enlarged house with 32 bedrooms was on an extravagant scale and contained a ballroom, observatory, theatre and even a hospital.

One of the lakes concealed an underwater folly which, often referred to as a ballroom, was used as a smoking and billiard room and for observation of the lake fish. A statue of neptune, breaking the surface of the water surmounted the dome beneath.

The folly cost nearly half a million pounds to build but soon after completion, Wright was in trouble. His company collapsed, leaving many investors bankrupt. Wright was charged with fraud and in 1904 was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. He had, however, smuggled a cyanide into court and committed suicide in the presence of his solicitor.
The estate was sold to Lord Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff, builders of the Titanic. Adjacent common land passed the The National Trust. The Leigh family were later owners and changed the name to Witley Park. The house burned down in 1952 and a modern replacement was built on a new site. The follies remain although there is no current access to the underwater passages and rooms.

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