Some history of Chilworth Manor
Chilworth was a monastery in the 11th Century and is so recorded in the Domesday Book. The Book records that Chilworth was held by one Alwin in the reign of Edward the Confessor, and after 1066 by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and brother of William the Conqueror. In the early days St Martha’s Church was served by monks of the Order of Augustinian Canons, resident at the Manor but answerable to the Prior of Newark Abbey, near Ripley. A stew pond, which supplied the monks with fish on Thursdays, still exists.
John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, who lived in Guildford, is said to have derived the idea of “The Hill of Difficulty” from the path leading from the Manor to the Church.
The monastery, like so many others, was destroyed in the reign of King Henry VIII and by 1580 Chilworth was in the hands of one William Morgan. His son John, a great sailor, was knighted at Cadiz in 1596, and John’s daughter married Sir Ernest Randyll, whose family held Chilworth for over 100 years. Vincent Randyll began to work the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills which continued to operate until 1920, and his son, Morgan represented Guildford in Parliament between 1680 and 1712. During the Randyll period the South front, the only recognisable part of the early Chilworth, was built by an unknown architect, but Morgan “had to spend so much money on Elections” that he was forced to sell the property to Richard Houlditch, who in his turn met disaster as a director of the South Sea Bubble Company.
Chilworth passed in 1725 to Sarah, a widow of the great Duke of Marlborough, who left Blenheim Palace upon his death. She added the rectangular Marlborough Wing in brick and plaster, and also developed the old three-tiered walled garden, carved out of the side of the hill, which is still known as the “Duchess’ Garden”. The Duchess left Chilworth to her grandson, John Spencer, from whom it passed to Henry Drummond of Albury, and so to the Duke of Northumberland who held it until the 1930s.
After the war the property was bought by Sir Lionel and Lady Heald and they lived here with their family for over 60 years. Sir Lionel was Attorney General in Churchill’s government, and Lady Heald was a pillar of Surrey society and devoted her life to many charitable causes, including the National Garden Scheme of which she was National Chairwoman. Sadly, Lady Heald died in 2004, three months short of a hundred years though she lived at Chilworth Manor until the end of her remarkable life.
It is in Lady Heald’s spirit the Picnics and Pimm’s charity events have evolved under the current owners, starting with a Jazz concert in 2009 in aid of Surrey Mobile Physio, the charity which Lady Heald created during her first years at Chilworth Manor.