In 1656 a train of events was started culminating in the creation of the present building. The manor of Westbroke had been in existence for many years and had had a somewhat chequered history. It was owned at the time by a certain Thomas Hull and he had come under the suspicions of the authorities for it is recorded in 1655 and 1656 that Thomas Hull of Westbrooke and John Monger of Godalming, Gentlemen, being suspected of Royalist tendencies by Cromwell's Major Generals were required to give an account of their movements whenever they travelled abroad, to London and, in factor anywhere away from their local environment.
In 1656, the said Thomas Hull Esq., of Godalming, conveyed "in consideration of the sum of 3653. 1 .4d., the Manors of Westbrooke and Binscomb, with their rights, etc., and the capital messuage in the Parish of Godalming, called Westbrooke, occupied by the said Thomas Hull, and all houses, etc., to the said messuage belonging also the pewes, seats, Isle and Chancell, in the Parish Church of Godalming, to the said messuage belonging", and a wealth of other property and detail - "to John Platt, of West Horsley, Clerk". (Woods MSS. Vol.6.)
This John Platt was formerly Rector of West Horsley, but like Nicholas Andrewes, Vicar of Godalming, he had been ejected from his living It appears that Platt succeeded Bishop Howel in the living on Howells ejectment in 1643 (this was the same time as Andrewes), but was himself ejected in 1662 for nonconformity following the passing of the Act of Uniformity; it was then that he retired to his property at Westbrooke. In 1669 Platt is reported as a nonconformist ministers the head of a weekly conventicle held every Sunday in the time of Divine Service at his house, attended by 700 to 800 persons.
Platt must have been a man of considerable wealth for he added to his property the estates of the Sand Farm, Godalming (1661), the Northbrook property near Godalming (166?), and two-thirds of the Oxenford Grange property (1666). on the other handle his affairs seem to have been in some Confusion for he appears to have borrowed large sums of money from time to time. The various properties with all their complicated tenancies assets and debts came to his son, also John, in the year 1669/70 when the young man was only twenty. John Platt the younger, married Rebecca, daughter of Sir Thomas Stringers and together they pulled down the old buildings at Westbrooke and erected the present house, during this period John seems to have acquired a knighthood but for what service to the Crown is not readily apparent.
It would appear that Sir John Platt was no more long-sighted or business-like than his fathers and the properties were soon financially embarrassed and, because of the clamouring of creditors, had to be sold to meet the debts. In July 1688, the Manors of Westbroke and Binscombe and the house known as Westbrooke Place were purchased by Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe.
Theophilus the son of Sutton Oglethorpe, came of an old Yorkshire family from Bramham, who had loyally supported King Charles I against the Cromwellian forces and in consequence suffered severely at the hands of the Puritans his home and lands being confiscated. With the Restoration of the Monarchy, the Oglethorpes, as good Royalists came back into favour, and young Theophilus, soon a dashing major of Dragoons lodged Adjacent to Whitehall, fell in love with Eleanor Wll, 'sempstriss' to the King and lodged at the Palaces they were married and continued in Royal favour, becoming particularly attached to the Duke of York, afterwards James II. Theophilus played a prominent part in the defeat of James, Duke of Monmouth at Sedgemoor being hailed as something of a hero. His fortunes changed however with those of the King, and when James II was forced to abdicate, Oglethorpe accompanied his King to France. His retirement from the Army, following the Glorious Revolutions? and from all other offices, officially burying himself in his new home at Westbrook, served as a cloak for the continued plotting of himself and his wife Eleanor Wall Oglethorpe on behalf of the 'king over the water' with the result that Theophilus was soon the subject of a warrant as a Jacobite conspirator.
Following various alarms and adventures he was finally captured on 30th May 1691, but received light punishment being required to pay a fine of forty shillings far failing to take the Oaths of Allegiance to William and Mary. In and out of the country he continued hiding up at Westbrook from time to timers plotting and counterplotting until after the death of Queen Mary II. Throughout the whole of this Time, although loyally devoting himself to the Stuart causes Theophilus had remained a Protestant as his father had been, and when James II finally rid his court at Saint-Germain of all non-Catholics in response to the pressure of his French hosts Theophilus after twenty years of service to the Stuarts, ruefully returned to Godalming and, in the late autumn of 1696, took the oath of loyalty to William III.
This year was also marked for Eleanor and Theophilus, by the birth of James Edward Oglethorpe, their ninth and last child, on December 22nd 1696i He was born in London, and christened the following day at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields Church. Because of confusion concerning his date of birth and the length of his years, which has arisen in various chronicles it might be as well to mention here that he was the second child of the marriage to be christened James. A. A. Ettinger in his biography of the General ("James Edward Oglethorpe Imperial Idealist" by Amos Aschbach Ettinger, 1936) has examined all the evidence with great care and finds that an elder brother born in 1689 was apparently christened James, and this brother is understood to have died in the following years 1690. The circumstances of this older James' birth and disappearance is hound up with a strong rumour that he was in fact substituted for a still-born child of the King James II, and so became the 'Old Pretender'.
The young Prince was, in fact, born in 1688, and it is therefore unlikely that the tale of the substitution of the Oglethorpe baby purported to have been Smuggled into the Royal bedchamber in a warming-pan has any authenticity but the known physical condition of both the King and the Queen, and the fact that all their earlier children had died at birth, lent weight to the theory, and the fact that the incident is retailed in an extraordinary narrative by a Mrs. Frances Shaftoe, employed as a seamstress at Westbrook at the time, has given rise to its repetition. ("An Account of her being Eleven Months in Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe's Family", by Frances Shaftoe, 1707: and "More Memoirs: or, the Pretender, what he really pretends to be", by Frances Shaftoe, 1713.)
James Edward, like his father and brothers, grew up to be both a soldier and a politician. As a young man he served in Germany and Hungary under Prince Eugene? to whom he was secretary and aide-de-camp. His father had been Member of Parliament for the Haslemere Division of Surreys and in this office he was succeeded first by his son Lewis and then his second Sons Theophilus Junior.
Sir Theophilus died in 1702; Lewes, who was a keen and devoted follower of Marlborough, gave up politics for the Army but died of a wound in the Hague in 1704; Theophilus junior became an even more ardent Jacobite than his fathers and soon relinquished his parliamentary duties his office of Squire of Westbrook, and indeed his native lands and spent the rest of his life abroad involved in all the intrigues and plans that continuously surrounded the Stuart case. Thus, the remaining Sons James, came into his inheritance at Westbrook in 17l8 at the age of 22, and he became in every sense of the word, Squire of Westbrook, endearing himself to the local people and taking a keen interest in local affairs; his brother Theophilus, owing to local disagreements even with the clergy, had been unpopular, but James quickly remedied this situation. The architect and historian Ralph Nevill records the fact that, in l729, Mr. James Oglethorpe of Westbrook, a prominent citizen, gave one guinea towards repairing the market-house and in 1749, General Oglethorpe again subscribed a guinea this time towards the fund for repairing the communal fire engines and purchasing leather buckets James took no further part in the ebb and flow of Jacobite fortunes, and at the age of 25, in 1722 he became in his turn a candidate far Parliament.
When James became Member of Parliaments he soon became aware of things which badly needed correction - one special cause was the condition and management of our English prisons this was particularly brought to his notice by the treatment meted out to one of his friends Robert Castell, an architect of some skill who had published a handsome and outstanding book entitled "Villas of the Ancients"; unhappily this lost him money and he fell into debt. James had visited his friend and, seeing both the conditions and the brutality of the warders, resolved to try and get a bill through Parliament to deal with the abuses, and effect reforms in the prisons. He gathered together a band of like-minded Parliamentarians, and pressed for the formation of a special committee to draw up Suitable legislation - the committee was formed and Oglethorpe became its Chairman. The group held many meetings most of which took place at Westbrook, and the house became noted for social and political gatherings. A measure was duly introduced into Parliament which resulted in an improvement in prison conditions, the release of many short-time debtors and the removal of some of the worst warders and overseers.
Although a clever and wise young Parliamentarian, James was neither mild nor gentle but had a ready temper like his brothers - and his father! When he decided to become the "Member for Haslemere" his electioneering campaign was fraught with arguments and even blood-letting. His opponent was a certain Captain Onslow, ancestor of the Guildford Onslows of today, they met one day in Haslemere, when Onslow was accompanied by a Mr. Sharp - arguments led to the drawing of swords - James wounded Mr. Sharp whilst Captain Onslow, grasping James' Sword-blade cut his own hand quite badly.
Whilst Westbrook was thus at its height of political and Social elegance and importance, James built a massive wall up the terraced hill on his property and planted a great vineyard along it. Some authorities are quoted as affirming that this was probably the largest vineyard of its kind that England had even seen. In an interesting article on climatic conditions in British history H. H Lamb ("Britain's changing climate" by H. H. Lamb, in "Geographical Journal" December 1967) drew particular attention to the appearance of vineyards in this country at the times of the warmest spells; the most sustained warm period was in the early Middle Ages, between 1150 and 1300, but briefer cycles have come round at approximately 200 years intervals, in the 1350's, 1530's, l730's and 1920's. The last but one of these coincides with the installation of the vineyard at Westbrook, and it is on record that the vineyard flourished for some years, yielding a plentiful supply of grapes, Sufficient for wine-making. Dr. Richard Pococke noted in his travel diary ('The Travels through England of Dr. Richard Pococke, successively Bishop of Meath and Ossory, during 1750, 1751 and Later Years") a visit to Godalming in Surrey, where was 'General Oglethorpe's where there is a Vineyard, out of which they make a wine like Rhenish'. This was in November 1754, so the wine-making had continued over a period of years. Along with his vines James also introduced lizards and edible Snails with which he regaled his friends. The edible snail, known as the 'Roman' or 'Apple' snail was always and still is, a popular delicacy in Frances where the Oglethorpes lived for some time; it is not native to this country, but occurs in various places where it has become settled; I have not found specimens in the neighbourhood of Godalming, but have come across live specimens in the Caterham area and in other parts of the chalk downs.
James early conceived the idea of founding a colony in America as a refuge for poverty-stricken Britons, including many from the London prisons and for persecuted German Protestants. The area which he had in mind, and which he did eventually colonise under the name of ''Georgia'.'. remains very proud of its founder, and has in recent years shown a keen interest in the town of Godalming, where their founder lived and prepared for his particular likes work.
Oglethorpe ascertained that the mulberry tree flourished in the area where he contemplated setting up the new colony and so he trained many of his prospective settlers in the care of the silkworm the winding preparation and use of the Silken etc. For this purpose he brought over a number of experts from Italy to train his workers these workers of courses included many Surrey people from Godalming and district, some of whom were already trained in the woollen industry on which the prosperity of the town depended. The first 120 settlers who sailed with Oglethorpe in November 1732, accordingly gave many Godalming names to the new Colony fir example, it is on record that in 1737, the "village of Westbrook" numbered four in population (this probably means four families), again, one of Oglethorpe's friends Sir Joseph Jekyll, member of an old Godalming family had donated £500 towards the Settlement and the founder commemorated this gift by naming one of the coastal islands after him. Jekyll Island today is a national park and holiday/study centre. Oglethorpe's own name is perpetuated in numerous places in the State.
Oglethorpe's first stay in Georgia lasted just on two years and during that time James's sisters in England had been involving Westbrook once again in the Jacobite plottings. Anne, created Countess of Oglethorpe in the Jacobite Honours Lists had returned to Westbrook in 1722 to make a home for her brother James, and she kept contact with sister Eleanor, Marquise de Mezieres who was her link with the Jacobite Court in France. Another sister Fanny (so cruelly maligned by Thackeray in Henry Esmond" ) married Jean Francois de Belgrade, Marquis des Marches de Piedmont whilst the fourth sister Molly eventually married the Marquis de Bersompierre and, after her husband's death, carried on her career in a minor post at the Court of Spain. These last two sisters, so far as we know, did not return to Godalming, but Eleanor made several visits ostensibly to see Anne, and we shall need to look at these in due course.
When James returned to England the first time? he brought hack with him ten American lndians, members of the Yamacraw tribe - an outlawed tribe of the Creeks - including the Yamacraw Chief, Tomochichi, his wife Scanauki and his nephew Toonahowi. After taking them to Whitehall and Eton and many other places where they caused quite a Stirs James installed them at Westbrook for the period of their stay of about four months. When the Indians were presented to the King and Queen at Kensington Palaces the Queen called the boy to her and stroked his face. Toonahowi then responded by reciting the Lord's Prayer (the only English he knew) afterwards repeating it in his native tongue. On one occasion, Oglethorpe caused a sensation in Godalming, by bringing all his Indians in to dine at the White Hart. Unfortunately during their Stay one of the Indians contracted smallpox and died, and the remainder incarcerated themselves at Westbrook for a long period of mourning
As well as enlisting fresh settlers for the new colony James had returned to England to raise farther funds for extending his work in Georgia - he appealed to the Government for assistance but the sum granted was pitifully inadequate? so in order to raise the money required he was forced to mortgage his Westbrook properties very heavily; the money was eventually repaid, but it is well-nigh certain that if it hadn't been her West brook,? one of the most ambitious colonising ventures of the 18th Century might well have failed far lack of funds.
It was at this time that James was joined by some other notable visitors to Westbrook, the Wesley brothers. Their fatherly the Rev. Samuel Wesley, had been a good friend of James, and in 1734, About six months before he died, had asked James to find a place in the colony for his widower Son-in-law the Rev . John Whitelamb . Samuel Wesley junior, the poet, was also a good friend to James, and the mother of the Wesley boys had been a staunch Jacobite so there was a firm foundation of friendship and interest. John Wesley's hesitation to accept the challenge of going to Georgia was overcome by his mother's ardent approval of the idea, so John and Charles Wesley and their dirndl Benjamin Ingham, all agreed to accompany Oglethorpe to Georgia in order to minister both to colonists and Indians. Only the objections of his relatives prevented the sailing of a fourth missionary, Matthew Salmons a close friend of Ingham.
In October 1735, Oglethorpe with Ingham and the two Wesleys, left Gravesend in the 'Simmonds' Charles Wesley also becoming Oglethorpe's Secretary for Indian Affairs. James remained in Georgia for the next nine years and the story of his gradual build-up of the colony and the ups and downs of those years must be read elsewhere.
At home in Westbrook, the next few years covered the period of all the elaborate Jacobite plotting which led up to the time of the '45 Rebellion; Westbrook earned a reputation as a regular meeting-place and hideout for Jacobite messengers. Eleanor de Mezieres herself came to Godalming several times and she and Anne prepared Westbrook as a stronghold in the event of a Siege should the country be plunged again info civil war. Fortifications were built all along the vineyard wall, and two stout forts were built of bargate stone. One of theses now Called "The Little Fort", is in use as a private residences it was well constructed and so placed to command the valley of the Ock and the Portsmouth Road approaches to the towns rumour has it that underground passages and a cave formed part of the communications system devised by Anne and Eleanor. As always many stories of secret meetings including the actual sheltering of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Westbrook, have grown up in connection with these preparations hut it is unlikely that anyone will be able to prove (or disprove) their accuracy.
James Oglethorpe finally left Georgia on 23rd July, 1743, returning to England to face various charges laid against him by disaffected colonists and others; he cleared himself of much of the calumny attached to his name and secured at last the repayment of his own monies (some £66,000) which he had used in establishing the colony. Then, in September, 1744, he married an heiress, Elizabeth Wright, of Cranham in Essex; they spent their honeymoon at Westbrook, attended by a Chickasaw Indian Chief who had accompanied James to England.
In due course the Oglethorpes settled at Elizabeth's home in Essex, and Westbrook saw little more of the Squire. However the Jacobite situation which had begun to assume alarming proportions in 1744, developed into the famous or infamous, '45 Rebellion. In March 1744, Oglethorpe had received a commission to raise a regiment of hussars to defend the coasts and was ordered to Gravesend and the southern district, so he found himself called upon to defend England against one who (according to Mrs. Shaftoe's narrative was possibly his own nephew an invader in whose troops was actually serving another nephew the son of Eleanor Oglethorpe de Mezieres. On March 30th, 1745, James was created Major-General, to Serve under the Duke of Cumberland . The subsequent manoeuvres and excursions are too numerous and involved to set down in detailed, but the long and the short of his story is that James was eventually court-martialled for "lingering on the road". Much to everyone's surprise, he was acquitted for it was widely known that his sister Eleanor had actually Sailed to Scotland with Prince Charles. Furthermore Cumberland, whom he had failed to help, was regarded as a national hero.
After his acquittal James retired more and more from public affairs and turned his interest to becoming a patron of the arts; it was largely at his instigation that the Government purchased the Sloane Collection which became the nucleus of the British Museum, he enjoyed the society of the literary and artistic giants of his age: Doctor Johnson, James Boswell, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmiths David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Hannah More, the poetess: an old cartoon shows the aged General at the sale of Dr. Johnson's Library.
Whether Prince Charles Edward took refuge at Westbrooke at the time of the '45 or not, the place was not yet finished with Jacobite plotting, for in 1752 Alexander Murray of the Elibank family took up the Jacobite cause and hatched a complicated plot for putting prince Charles to the thrones a body of some 400 Highlanders under young Glengarry were to break into St. James's Palace and carry off King George himself. At the time when the Elibank Plot was evolved, Eleanor de Mezieres was to be found at Westbrook, having arrived secretly to a house which continued to appear deserted with shuttered windows and empty stables - it was to be here that the Prince was to hide until the right moment for his appearance in London. Agents of the Duke of Newcastle, however, tracked Eleanor to her hideout at Westbrook, and were suitably disappointed to find no Prince Charles. Eleanor escaped arrest on the plea that she had come to England to visit her sister Anne, who was reported to be desperately ill and unlikely to last the winter, incredibly she was believed although the statement was quite untrue? and Anne was, in facts staying with Jacobite friends in Kent at the time. Nobody really knows if Bonnie Prince Charlie did, in fact, ever visit Westbrook, but far well over a century local people said that the grounds were haunted by his ghost seen walking along the avenues in the early morning and again in the twilit evening, wearing a large brown cloak flung around him.
James Oglethorpe himself died on 3Oth June, 1785, in his 89th year - some accounts give his age as 97, but this is obviously due to the confusion with his older brother. General James Oglethorpe did indeed live to a great age with a very fine and full record of service to Westbrook, to the state of Georgia which he founded and to his native country. He is buried in the Chancel of Cranham Churches Near Upminster, Essex.
Samuel Welman, architect and historian, writing of him in 19007 says "He was not only a famous hut a worthy man", and merited the couplet of Pope, who with reference to his labours on behalf of humanity, alludes to him in the lines:
'Impelled by strong benevolence of soul
To flee like Oglethorpe from Pole to Pole'
(Imitation of Horace. ep.ii)
On Oglethorpe's death the estate was sold to one, Nathaniel Godbold, a quack physician; his memorial tablet in the Parish Church tells us that he was the "inventor of the famous balsam" the story goes that he was originally a horse-doctor, but finding he was unable to get a connection selling a special horse-pill, he turned to human beings, reshaped his pills, and made a fortune! Godbold's widow and descendants lived at Westbrook for many years and then for a period the estate was held in Chancery. In the 1830s it became the home of a Mrs. Kale and her daughters, it was later purchased by Mr. Kelly the publishers who made it habitable again. Then it was sold to Mr. George Hull who divided it into three residences using one for himself, many of the bills of sale, for the estates following the death of Oglethorpe are preserved in Vol. 6 of the "Godalming Hundred MSS" compiled by Percy Woods.
Finally, in 1892, the Countess of Meath bought the house and grounds, and had it converted to its present purpose. The newly decked-out Meath Home was officially opened by the Duchess of Albany, daughter of Queen Victoria, on 4th August, 1892, the occasion being made one of great festivity by the townsfolk.
The above was compiled by Stanley C. Dedmann formerly Borough Librarian and Curator in Godalming, was responsible for collecting and cataloguing many records now kept in the Museum.