The Argos Hill estate

At the time the Westons were millers, Argos Hill had its own small estate. It was a rather splendid Victorian mansion with stables, barns, large glass houses, a walled garden for exotic plants and 70 acres of grazing land. It was built in 1846 on the south side of what is now called Argos Hill Road and it extended to the infant river Rother which rises at Rotherhurst, a large house situated at Cottage Hill to the north of Argos Hill.

This small estate was sometimes called Woodleigh and at other times Argos Hill Farm or even just Argos Hill. The cottages nearby were built at various times for the farm workers, and a rather splendid carriage drive planted with pine trees was cut through from the Bicycle Arms road to the main gates of the house.

Of interest to this account is the fact that the mill and farm now known as The Mill House was built in the 1600s, together with several acres of land was also part of the Argos Hill Estate, and was later sold to the Bailiff/ Farm manager Joseph Fuller. A small granary barn and cattle shelter and 3 section piggery was also on the lane opposite the Bakehouse, attached to the main house and now a separate property. Hence all the necessary arrangements for bread production were close together. Grain was brought up the Windmill Hill, and also along Red Lane which led from Pages Farm to the mill. This very muddy lane was constantly laid with broken brick to make it passable. Today it is a bridle way.

The Bakehouse was an integral part of the windmill site and maps clearly indicate it was there in 1831. The Bakehouse was run on a commercial basis in 1878, by a baker called William Hicks (who was more than likely a relative of Henry Hicks, Aaron Weston junior's father-in-law). In 1899, it was run as a bakery by Eliza Weston, widow of Aaron senior, and she remained there until 1913. From 1927 - 1937 the West and Ford Bakers of Mayfield owned it, and delivered bread by van to the surrounding villages. William Monkford ran the shop until his death in 1936, His widow Ruth remained there until 1940 and she later ran the shop at Chequers, mentioned later. There was still a shop at the Bakehouse in 1948 when Edwin Roberts was the shopkeeper.

A well known academic, the Rev. Canon John Gylby Lonsdale lived quietly at Woodleigh for some years in his later life. He was born in January 1818, the son of John Lonsdale Bishop of Lichfield, and his wife Sophia. Following his education at Eton College he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. He made an English translation of Virgil, and many other classical texts. Later he followed his father into the church, becoming Canon of Lichfield. He was married to Amy, 26 years his junior, and they had a son and a daughter when they moved to Woodleigh, 'seeking a quiet and restful life'. He had been unwell and felt that the country air would help him to regain his strength. He tutored 3 pupils and his own children. The 1881 census lists 3 visitors aged 17, 19 and 20 who may well have been his pupils. The household included 3 live in staff.

By November 1884 he felt much better and they decided to leave Woodleigh at the end of their 7 year lease. From time to time a Balliol living fell vacant and was offered to him. The Marquis of Abergavenny offered him the living of Eridge, and his cousin Arthur Lonsdale offered him the living of Ightfield in Shropshire. Because of his delicate health and old age he declined these offers. Finally he made his choice and South Luttenham and Huntspill were the parishes to have him as Rector. He died in April 1907, aged 89.

Argos Hill (Woodleigh)
Argos Hill (Woodleigh), photograph taken about 1938

In 1919 a gentleman from Nottingham, Mr Charles Hardy with financial interest in coal mines and breweries in that area, married a Miss Rhoda Peskett whom he had met during the first world war when they were both serving in Malta, she as a Q. A. nurse and he as a King's Messenger, bought the Argos Hill Estate with all the ancillary buildings and cottages. This was the hey day of the Argos Hill Estate. Cattle were grazing, the Mill was working and bread was baked and delivered. Pigs were living in the piggery and fruit trees and the garden flourished. Chickens were raised in abundance at Mill house and at Woodleigh. A reminder of those days is the row of old apple, damson, crab apple and seldom seen cherry plum trees, prunus cerasifera or Myrobalan plum, which still bear small yellow and bright red plums and are covered with beautiful white blossom in the early spring.

In 1923 Charles Hardy built a lodge at the Bicycle Arms end of the Long Drive for his head gardener Harry Finch who had been with him for many years after serving in the 1914 - 1918 war in which miraculously he and his 4 brothers all survived. The Hardy family drove around in their chauffeur driven Rolls and were true Lords of the Manor.

Mr Hardy died in 1934 and his widow ran the estate with the help of Harry Finch and the farm bailiff Joseph Fuller, who lived at Mill House. Other staff lived in the cottages below the house. At this time it would appear that Joseph Fuller bought Mill House and the surrounding land of several acres. Although the mill ceased to operate commercially in 1927, Fuller still used it for small amounts of milling which was useful for the local farmers.

The second world war brought many hardships and changes. A family of 8 evacuees from the East end of London took over the servant's quarters, causing not a little amusement for the country folk ensconced in the house. 3 land army girls also helped as under gardeners.

In 1938 a family of Austrian refugees arrived from Vienna, escaping Nazi horrors. Mrs Hauser helped in the house as a cook. Her younger brother and sister went to school. The boy, Peter, who arrived with a violin under his arm was 16. His talent was such that he was given a place at the Blondell School of music in Devon. However when war broke out he was placed in an internment camp as were many of his fellow refugees from Austria and Germany. He was later moved to the Isle of Man, where Peter Schidlof (as he was) met 3 other musicians and they later formed the world famous Amadeus Quartet. Peter died in 1987, and the Quartet disbanded as the 3 surviving members regarded him as irreplaceable.

During the later part of the war the soldiers of the Canadian army were stationed around Argos Hill, mainly for Civil Defence purposes. The officers stayed in the main house and the men camped in the Long Drive near the house. Doodle bugs, Battle of Britain dog fights overhead with planes diving into the ground and just missing the sails of the mill, were all witnessed by those who lived in the house. A German pilot who was shot down nearby came through the grounds to the front door. The butler informed Mrs Hardy, who instructed the butler to take him to the servants hall and to tell cook to give him a cup of tea until the police arrived.

In 1946 Argos Hill Estate/Woodleigh was sold at auction with 47 acres. 23 acres had previously been sold by Mrs Hardy to the owners of Pages Farm in the valley below. The estate was sold again in 1954 with 46 acres. One acre went with the derelict Granary Barn in 1947. This last sold for the grand sum of for £450 to a young architect and his bride.

The Granary Barn
The Granary Barn, after conversion to a house (photograph c1960)

The Granary Barn
The same view in 2005.

In 1955 - 1956 Argos Hill (or Woodleigh) was demolished, together with most of the out buildings although the beautiful old garden wall remains to this day. A large mock Georgian house was built in its stead and this again was sold at auction in 1965 and again in 1977. The current owners (a family from London) have lived there ever since.

Other notable properties in the area

The Mill House was bought in 1955 by Dr Innes Scott Williamson, and it became her home for 25 years until her death on Christmas Day 1978. Dr Scott Williamson nee Pearse was a remarkable and fascinating person, remembered with great affection. Together with her husband, Dr George Scott Williamson, they set up the very important Peckham Experiment in 1926, an account of which follows at the end of this piece.

At the eastern end of Argos Hill Road joining what is now the A267 Tunbridge Wells to Mayfield, is an interesting old house called Chequers. This was built in the 1750s as a forge at the back and a beer house to the front. The forge was in operation until the early 20th century when horse drawn wagons took grain up the hill to the mill passed Chequers. There was apparently a great deal of traffic and consequently much work for the smithy as shoes were frequently cast on the muddy lane. A cut through lane then existed past the rear of the forge where the shoeing took place, to join the road to Tunbridge Wells.

A view of Chequers at the junction of Windmill Hill and the Tunbridge Wells road. The cut through lane is just visible.

The beer house also dates from the late 1700s, this was the local "pub" and gathering place. The cellar under the house has a vaulted roof, to house the large oaken beer barrels. The front of the house has later Victorian/Edwardian additions, this area facing the road became a tea room in the 1950s. There is an account of it also being run as a general store by a stern widow, Mrs Ruth Monkford, who sold everything imaginable including ice cream.

The name 'Chequers' which is often the name of a beer or public house, is derived from the spotted or chequered fruit of the Wild Service tree, Sorbus Torminalis. These were often planted in the garden of such establishments as the fruit, very sharp tasting, was used to flavour beer before the introduction of hops. The very beautiful Liquid Amber tree now in the triangle in front of Chequers possibly took the place of the old Wild Service Tree.

Near the drive to Argos Hill Farm/Woodleigh, a single storey house was built in the late 1860s, called The Bungalow (now called Gimbles). It resembles the guest houses erected at the time of the Raj in India. This was reputed to be a hideaway or hunting lodge for the owner of the main house and at one time in the 1940s was the bolthole for a Mr Hooper who worked in China as a Customs Official.

Argates House and Argates Cottage, now known as Post Mill House and Post Mill Cottage were built about 1835. The cottage was the combined cow shed, stable and tack room. Several acres of land adjoined the house which became part of the estate of Charles Hardy at Argos Hill.

In 1925 Charles Hardy sold Argates to Miss Olive Mary White for £1250. She then started to convert the stable block which became Argates Cottage when completed in 1927. This then housed her housekeeper Mrs Weston and her husband and children, including one daughter who now lives in Rotherfield. Various refugees from London came to live there during the second world war, including a young German/Jewish refugee who had escaped the Nazis and came alone aged 16 to live in the house with 'Aunty Olive'. Sasha and the English children all played 'soldiers' together.

During the war soldiers from the Royal Signals were stationed on Argos Hill, and lived in tents close to the Mill. They set up an ack-ack gun in the field behind Argates, facing up hill and when the London Docks were bombed and on fire the bright red glow in the sky was seen from the garden.

Miss White died in 1971 and bequeathed Argates to her nephew Patrick White and Carl Goldsmith. They sold the house and cottage in November 1971 and both properties have had various owners and many additions and improvements since then.

Salters Green Farm

The oldest reference to this attractive Sussex style farm is found in E. M. Bell-Irving's 1903 account of Mayfield, in that Ralph Saltere of Salter's Green Farm was taxed 15 3/4 pence to contribute to the cost of the "Scotch Wars" of Edward 1st reign

The current house was built in 1680 and called New House Farm, as shown on a map of 1725. Early in the 19th Century the name reverted to Salters Green Farm when Thomas Overden advertised it for sale in 1847 with 21 acres. This included stables and cattle sheds together with an oast house said to be the smallest in Sussex.

In 1919 Mr Charles Hardy of Argos Hill bought the farm for £2500 with 59 acres, including Brook Cottage near the river, to add to his Argos Hill Estate. He then sold it in 1923 to Muriel Rose of the adjoining property of Holme Park. This was a valuable acreage with hop gardens and abundant south facing slopes for the grazing of cattle.

After various owners and additions in the 1960s the current landowner bought the farm in 1979 with 62 acres, and grew barley and raised beef cattle.

The outbuildings suffered badly in the great storm of 1987, which wrecked havoc to the whole Argos Hill area (not only the windmill) and the land reverted solely to cattle grazing, which continues today.

The Peckham Experiment

On 26th March 2009 a blue plaque was unveiled at 142, Queens Road, Peckham to commemorate the pioneering Peckham Health Centre founded in 1926 by Dr George Scott Williamson and his future wife Dr Innes Pearse.

Dr George Scott Williamson was born in Scotland and qualified at the University of Edinburgh. He went on to serve in France during the first world war and spent nine months as a prisoner of war in Germany. After the war he worked at a number of London hospitals. Dr Innes Pearse was born in Croydon and studied medicine at the London Hospital for Women, becoming House Surgeon at the Great Northern Hospital in 1918, the first woman to hold such a post. The pair met whilst working at the Royal Free Hospital in North London between 1920 - 1925.

The 'Peckham Experiment' was based at a clinic dedicated to family health and was set up in 1926. It quickly outgrew the house on Queens road and moved to St Mary's Road in 1935 when the purpose built Pioneer Health Centre opened. It was constructed to designs by Owen Williams, and contained a swimming pool, a gym, a creche, library and a roof-top playground, dance hall and a cafeteria.

The Peckham Experiment began at a time when there were other clinics focused on child care, but these two doctors believed that the physical and mental well-being of the family was hugely important. The Centre was run as a club for families, members paying a small annual fee (1 shilling a week - ie 5 pence) although there was help available for those unable to afford it. Agreement to attend an annual health check and consultation as a family was required, and in all 950 local families were involved. They all had access to the Centre's advanced facilities and also to its medically trained staff.

This was a special study of health problems relating to the working and lower-middle classes, and Dr Pearse's work on the link between health and nutrition - particularly for children and pregnant women - has been widely recognised. She felt that it was possible to promote positive health if people had the opportunity and the knowledge to manage their environment. The Centre's theory was that individuals needed to act together, to socialise and decide their own activities and organise their groups and their own lives. Dr George Scott Williamson had been impressed by the results of nutrition experiments. In India Sir Robert McCarrison had reared rats on a typical British working class diet of bread, margarine and sweet tea. This had resulted in rats with stunted growth which were sickly and aggressive. There is an account of Dr Innes Scott Williamson when very elderly making trips to London to follow further research on poor diet.

To improve the diet for the centre, a 125 acre home farm, Oakley Farm, was set up in near-by Bromley Common to supply good quality milk, vegetables and fruit to be purchased at current local prices. Back in Peckham, exercise was encouraged for all, as well as general socialising. The next step saw the setting up of child welfare clinics, a family planning clinic, a nursery school and youth club, an adult education centre, citizens advice bureau, marriage guidance council and a child guidance facility.

The concept was a great success. During the war the centre became a munitions factory. Post war the members organized themselves into teams to renovate the Centre so that it was able to open again. It eventually closed after 1950. Funds from various private sources dried up, and the Government felt that the newly set up NHS made the facilities unnecessary so no longer supported it.

Drs Williamson and Pearse firmly believed that positive health was something that should be fostered, prevention being better than cure. That a doctor's responsibility extended beyond diagnosis of illness and administration of drugs, to the active encouragement of a healthy way of life. Much of the work carried out by these doctors is pertinent to current health issues in British society, with the holistic principles used as a model both for modern health centres and for preventative healthcare.

This work was truly ahead of its time and the principles advocated by Drs Williamson and Pearse are now widely accepted. The influence of the Centre continues to be felt in the UK's Healthy Living Centres and also in the work of the World Health Organisation.

It was written up as The PECKHAM EXPERIMENT and first published in 1943 for the Sir Halley Stewart Trust by George Allen and Unwin Ltd, of 40, Museum Street London. It was then republished in 1985. This unique study into the health of individuals, families and community has never been repeated.

After the war Drs George and Innes Scott Williamson, together with their secretary Mary Langman, were tenants at Oakley Farm and continued their work on nutrition. Following the publication of Lady Eve Balfour's book 'the Living Soil' in 1943 all three became firm friends with her and later were founder members of The Soil Association.

The archives of the Peckham Pioneer Health Centre and the Peckham Experiment are held in the Wellcome Library.