The History of Whitehall
Whitehall was built, in around 1500, Cheam was a rural community of
around 300 people, centred around Park Lane and Park Road. The only
similar building to date from this time is the Old Cottage, which once
stood near the junction of Ewell Road and the Broadway, beside the
village brewery and inn. It is thought that a Tudor inn and brewery were
located on the site of today's Harrow Inn, while the blacksmith's forge
was at the corner of Park Lane and the Broadway. A medieval kiln
producing the distinctive Cheamware pottery was situated on today's High
Street, and there were probably others in the village. East Cheam Manor
stood in Gander Green Lane, whilst the site of West Cheam Manor is now
occupied by Cheam Library. The village church was close to where St.
Dunstan's Church now stands, the only remaining part of the original
building being the Lumley Chapel, which dates from the 12th century, and
contains several Tudor memorials.
coming to modern Cheam for the first time, particularly if they approach
The Broadway with its mixture of mock Tudor and stark modern buildings,
are attracted by the striking appearance of the row of weatherboarded
houses in Malden Road. The first and most imposing of these is
Whitehall. With its projecting upper storey, sloping porch and long
stretch of weatherboarding pierced by lattice windows, Whitehall
is a landmark in Cheam Village Conservation Area. Since it was built in
the early sixteenth century, Whitehall and its residents have played an
important part in local life.
Tradition holds that Whitehall was built as a yeoman farmer’s house and
farmers did live in Whitehall in later years, but some non-domestic use
cannot be ruled out. A previous structure on the site had collapsed or
had been demolished when Whitehall
was built, and would have been served by the fifteenth-century well.
Evidence for this came from the excavation of the rear garden area in
was constructed as a two-storey continuous jetty building with a deep
overhang at the front and back. Alterations made by successive owners
have contributed to its architectural interest. It is listed Grade II by
the Department of the Environment as a building of outstanding
architectural and historic importance and is thus protected from
The fabric of the building with its timbers of local oak and elm, dating
from c. 1500, is revealed inside. The wood was used unseasoned and
untreated, often within a few months of felling. It was later blackened
when the contrast of black and white became fashionable.
The frame of the house would have been prefabricated at a carpenters’
yard. Each timber was jointed, assembled into a frame and marked, before
it was dismantled ready for removal to the building site.
Assembling the frame on site was a comparatively simple procedure, as
the timbers already bore the carpenter’s marks (a form of adapted Roman numerals) and mortice and tenon joints. Such buildings
could also be dismantled fairly easily. It is interesting to note that
the Old Cottage in Cheam, which is of a similar date to
Whitehall, was dismantled and moved to its present site in 1922.
Vertical studs were fixed into the horizontal base timbers. Straight or
curved planks (cut from curved branches) were used to brace the angles.
Wooden pegs, rather than expensive iron nails which would rust in the
fresh, damp wood, were used to hold the timbers together, and many
original pegs are evident, particularly in Whitehall’s roof.
The jetty was formed by the projecting joists of the upper floor, which
were fixed across the horizontal timber at the top of the ground floor
upright studs and posts. The process was repeated for the top storey,
ending in the wall plates, or upper horizontal timbers. Thus the
structure was like two boxes one on top of the other, rather than a
building of full height sub-divided into floors.
A low wall of chalk blocks provided a foundation for Whitehall’s frame
and protected it from rot. The land to the south of Cheam’s cross-roads
is chalk, and the material was at one time used extensively in Cheam.
Remnants may be seen in the walls of Lumley Chapel, and the wall which
runs near it. Some later buildings near Whitehall also have chalk
foundations, but Cheam’s chalk walls have mostly disappeared.
roof is a crown-post construction. It is possible that this roof was
thatched at one time, but a section of early hand-made tiles is visible.
On the ground floor the width of timber to infill is roughly equal,
while on the upper storey the timbers are more meagre and the infill
wider. The spaces between the timbers were filled with split oak lath or
woven wattle covered with daub, or rye-dough, a mixture of straw and
clay. This was coated with lime plaster.
windows consisted of wooden mullions set in a gap between upright
timbers. These were unglazed, although sometimes such windows were
filled in with beaten leather, oiled paper or thin strips of horn from
cows or deer. The windows were covered by simple inside shutters, none
of which remains in this building. The floor would probably have been
made of beaten earth or crushed chalk, covered with straw.
From the time that Whitehall was first investigated as a house of great
architectural interest, there has been conjecture about the arrangements
for heating and cooking within the building. As Whitehall was a
two-storey structure from
the beginning, with no central hearth as in ‘Wealden’ houses, these
arrangements must have been at one or both ends of the building. The
earliest chimney at the north (Hall) end of the house may be a later
Extensive alterations were made during the sixteenth century. The
attractive porch with a room above was added. Attics were created by
inserting a floor in the upper storey. These were reached by means of a
newel staircase housed in a timber staircase tower, which replaced the
earlier internal ladderway.
A three storey extension with a cellar was made to the rear of the house
in the following century. The ground floor of this addition is now
Whitehall’s Refreshment Room. The Rev. George Aldrich, the founder of
Cheam School, is reputed to have lived in Whitehall
at that time.
John Killick leased Whitehall in 1741,and his son, James Killick, bought
the property from Robert, ninth Earl of Petre, of East Cheam Manor, in
1785. On James's death in 1807, Whitehall passed to his son, William,
who had been born in 1775, married Lucy Noakes, and had eight daughters
and three sons, Whitehall passed by entail in 1853 to William's
daughters, Charlotte and Harriet. Three of their sisters had died young,
and Susan and Penelope had married, Harriet was governess to the
children of Cheam's Rector, Charlotte's life was closely connected with
the nearby Cheam School, where she was governess to the daughters of
Robert Tabor, the headmaster, and taught music to some of the pupils
there. Whitehall's size, its proximity and Charlotte's connections with
the school made it an obvious location for boarding out pupils and
staff. Several sons of the headmaster were lodged at Whitehall.
The 1881 census reveals that three masters from the school John Tancock,
Walter Dayman and Montague Grignon, lodged in Whitehall at the time,
with Charlotte and Harriet Killick and their servant, Ann Baker. When
Harriet died in 1914, her great-nieces, Susan Mary and Harriet Maud
Muller, inherited Whitehall. On the death of Harriet Maud Muller in
1959, the house passed to their niece, Doris Mills, until it was bought by the former Borough of Sutton and Cheam in
1963. When the Killick’s acquired Whitehall, it was already over 250
years old and the weatherboarding was added to protect the timber-framed
structure. A nineteenth century kitchen and bathroom wing at the rear of
the building completed the major alterations to Whitehall. The Killick
family had lived in Whitehall for over 200 years.
The name ‘Whitehall’
was in use before the house took on its white weatherboarded appearance
and the origins of its name are uncertain. An unlikely connection with
Nonsuch Palace has sometimes been deduced from the name ‘Maids of Honour
House’, which is thought to have been used for Whitehall at one time.
Another traditional name, ‘The Council House’ links it to a local legend
that Queen Elizabeth I held an impromptu council meeting in the house to
sign important papers when she was on a hunting expedition from Nonsuch
Palace. A much larger building, West Cheam Manor, which was in royal
ownership until 1563, was also close and might have been more suitable
for the purpose if the event took place at all. The ‘Council House’ name
may give strength to the theory that Whitehall was not a private
It is possible that the name ‘Whitehall’ derives from ‘Wight’s Hall’.
The family of Wight is on record in Cheam in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, and the boundary of the old sub-Manor of Wights was
nearby. A connection between the family and Whitehall seems likely,
although so far there is no direct evidence that Whitehall was the manor
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