In the week that the nation marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day, a significant discovery has been made at West Horsley Place.  Whilst sorting through old papers, a member of our team came across an envelope containing 18 thank you letters from children evacuated to the manor house in 1939, thanking Lord and Lady Crewe for the wonderful Christmas they had been treated to at West Horsley Place.

With descriptions of an enormous Christmas tree decorated with lights, bells and sweets, party games, an indulgent feast, delicious Christmas cake and lavish gifts, the letters are both evocative and important in shedding light on the lives of Lord and Lady Crewe and on the history of West Horsley Place.

"I think we were are very lucky children to be in such a lovely place. We could not have enjoyed ourselves better. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for what you have done for us."
"Not one of us has seen such a beautiful Christmas tree as we did on Sunday. I assure you that none of us will ever forget the Christmas in 1939."
"My present was a sewing machine, and I have always wanted one, now I have got one I am happy. We did not think we would have any presents at all. We will be able to write home and tell our mothers we had such a good time."
"We will never forget your kindness to the London children during the war in 1939."
"We had so many dances and games and we all enjoyed ourselves very much."
"Thank you very much indeed for the lovely present you gave me, It was a watch. I will always keep it with me and never part with it."

Although the West Horsley Place Trust - the charity established to rescue and restore the Grade I listed manor house and its 380 acre estate so that they can become a welcoming space for the community – was aware that the National Stud stabled horses on the estate during WW2, the charity did not know that Lord and Lady Crewe had welcomed evacuees to their home.

These letters help to fill in gaps in the long history of West Horsley Place.  The manor house dates from the 15th century and has passed through the hands of illustrious owners and hosted eminent visitors.  Henry VIII is known to have enjoyed at 35-course banquet in the Stone Hall and Elizabeth I to have stayed on several occasions. 

In more recent times, West Horsley Place has fallen into disrepair and it is currently on the Historic England ‘At Risk’ Register.  The Trust is working hard to raise the funds required to save West Horsley Place and to establish there a welcoming space for the community to share and enjoy with arts, culture, history and nature at its heart.   

WHPT Director Peter Pearce adds, 

“These letters are utterly charming, and help us to understand more about what life was like for London’s young evacuees.  The Christmas they describe is the stuff of dreams, and clearly Lord and Lady Crewe wanted to make it special.

“Throughout history, this house and its estate had an important role to play, and we have so much more to discover.  Our vision for West Horsley Place is that it will serve the needs of diverse communities for the 21st century and beyond.  We are committed to making this happen and are grateful to our volunteers and friends for their on-going support.”

To help the Trust find out more about its recent history and to enable the community to become part of its story, the charity is inviting members of the public to share their own memories of West Horsley Place, and has set up a dedicated page on its website to record these.  Members of the public are invited to contact West Horsley Place – [email protected] – or visit the Memories of WHP page to share recollections.