Our Chertsey Forest School site is located in the historic grounds of St Ann's Hill in Chertsey, Surrey. As part of my son's homework assignment, we had to find some history about our local town, so what better place to visit!
St Ann's hill is named after St Ann's chapel built here in about 1334 by the monks of Chertsey Abbey. There is a Holy Well known as the Nun's well on the north west flank of the hill which may have prompted the building of the Chapel.
It is possible that the nun’s well name may derive from a legend of a murder of a nun at St Ann’s convent who was buried in a sandpit. The veracity of this story and even the location of a convent is unclear. The well, it is said being the resort of the nun:
“whose deep begging signs can be heard on certain nights…on such a day, this place reeks of remorse, suffering or sorrow.”
On a spring evening with no one around one could quite imagine such ghostly cries. The well is associated with a ruined chapel.
The original name for St Ann's Hill was Eldebury Hill and was home to a ancient hill top fort. A chapel dedicated to St Ann was constructed on the hill in 1334 and the hill renamed St Ann's Hill. The area is very well wooded and contains a wide variety of trees, plants and wild flowers. St. Anne's Hill reaches an elevation of 77m, making it the second highest point in Runnymede.
Little remains of the chapel today. The hill was previously known as Eldebury or Oldbury Hill and has a long history of human usage. Mesolithic flints were found on the summit which was later converted to a hill fort in iron age times, the ramparts of which can still be seen.
Charles James Fox was born on 24th January 1749, the 3rd son of Henry Fox, 1st Lord Holland and Lady Caroline Lennox, eldest daughter of the 2nd Duke of Richmond. As a child he was always very close to his father who over indulged him in everything. In fact the lack of discipline or moral upbringing would greatly influence the man and his politics in later life.
It was Mrs. Armistead that introduced Fox to the joys of Surrey life when she invited Fox and Lord Holland to join her at St. Ann’s Hill, Chertsey, for the spring of 1783. She leased the house from the Duke of Marlborough from 1781 until 1785 when she bought the property for £2,000 – mortgaging it back to the Duke for £2,000 at £100 a year interest, but at this time she still maintained a house in London. The house itself was considered quite modest for the times, and the layout has been described as dark and poky, but it benefited from the charming location. The house sat in c. 90 acres of land of which 2/3 of the pasture and arable slopes were sub-let to a local farmer. The area around the house was maintained as a garden and woodland, although much of the planting was done when the house was inherited by the Hollands.
By 1784 St. Ann’s Hill had become Mrs. Armistead’s primary residence, and she loved to spend the spring and summer months in Chertsey studying the bird life and flowers that grew on the Hill. In time, Charles too came to love these pursuits, and was increasingly annoyed if politics interfered with his time there. He became more and more interested in caring for the land, learning about planting requirements, soil types and even taking on the responsibility of sheep rearing on the Hill. He began to settle into country life, and soon made St. Ann’s Hill his home.
We were lucky enough to come across the final remains of Fox's home. From what we could see we could see a chimney breast, a stair well and a well. This is located at the rear of our site and is not public land, so the boys were thrilled with their findings!
Blog written by Amanda