T. R. Hooper, founder of Fengates Road

Chapter Two - T. R. Hooper and his Links with Fengates Road

Thomas Rowland Hooper (known as Rowland) was born in 1845 in Bermondsey, London and was the eldest of nine sons of Ebenezer Hooper. As indicated in chapter one, Mr. Hooper senior purchased the tannery in Linkfield Street in 1854 and moved his growing family from the ‘smoke’ of south London to Lorne House - the dwelling-place attached to the tannery.

Baptist Chapel

Sketch of the Baptist Chapel in Station Road 1858
T. R. Hooper

At this time the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company’s line from London to the south coast had been established for thirteen years and the junction with the line to Dover (opened three years later in 1844 and operated by South Eastern Railway Company) had formed the nucleus around which the new town of Redhill was rapidly developing. Ebenezer Hooper soon played a part in the town’s growth by being closely involved in the establishment in 1858 of the Baptist Chapel in Station Road which still stands today. An early sketch of the building reveals not just the limited extent to which the town had developed by that time, but also the draughtsman skills of the young artist, T.R. Hooper.

With an artistic eye for detail, and an enquiring mind, the move to Linkfield Street made a large impression on the young lad. Later he recounted his first memories of this ancient hamlet, already feeling the forces of change.

The journey was slow and long, and we walked most of the way. It was a fresh experience to us, almost like the entrance into a new life and a new world. Late in the afternoon the van drew up at an old fashioned house, and before we boys had time to see much, darkness came on, unrelieved by the gas lamps we had been used to. The next day was full of excitement and novelty. The strange house just renovated; the large old fashioned garden, nuttery, meadow and pond; the tanyard and barns, the people different in look and speech to Londoners.

What was Linkfield Street like in 1854? It was a hamlet, the largest group of houses in the parish except the town of Reigate. Opposite our house was the Fengates Estate with its residence, then old, still standing, and close by its little farmyard with cottage, barn and sheds. The cottage was occupied by the bailiff, Mr Edward Vigar. His good wife managed the dairy, which supplied milk to the district. They were faithful, worthy folk, who looked after their employer’s interests.

19thC cottage

19th century cottage on Linkfield Street

South of the tanyard was an old wooden cottage and above it the village shop kept by Mr Gillham, a newcomer; above that was The White Lion, whose landlord, Stephen Brown, did carting and also kept a little latticed butcher’s shop, where a small supply of meat was for sale on Fridays and Saturdays. Adjoining the inn yard were three cottages. Opposite the inn at the corner of Elms Road was a quaint pair of cottages built on a high bank. They were approached by rustic steps and outside was a draw well. Beneath the cottages was a curious tenement level with the road below. Its internal arrangement seemed to be dark and cavernous, and rather aroused our boyish curiosity, but the old dame who lived there did not encourage archaeological researches.

At the south of these, on the ascent of Redhill, the common began and facing it was the large cottage with steps, still standing, then some smaller dwellings. In the rear were others facing the common, west. The first off Elms Road, Rose Cottage occupied by Mr Moffat who was the architect for the new Earlswood Asylum for idiots; the second house was occupied by Mr Shelley, a surveyor with antiquarian interests. Above these were several ancient cottages, one, then adapted for an inn called The Rising Sun, kept by Mr Legg. Higher up and on the common a larger residence (now part of Whitepost House) was occupied by Mr Comber, builder and undertaker. This was the post office and sometimes in the darkness of a winter’s evening I have gone fearfully to post my father’s letters, stumbling over the mounds and holes on the common and glad when I had groped my way home again. Most of these cottages were occupied by natives, whose families had for generations lived in the district.

At the opposite or north end of our street, where it joined Linkfield Lane, crossed by the then new Station Road, were six or seven old cottages, one The Red Lion; also a recently erected inn, the Somers Arms, with a brewery behind. In the meadow between Station Road and Linkfield Street was a small group of farm buildings.

Facing Linkfield Lane, opposite The Red Lion, was a fine old Jacobean or Queen Anne residence, at one time the home of a local family of some note, then let off in tenements and called The Barracks, a name given, it is said, because it was used in 1807 as one of several hospitals for sick and wounded soldiers brought back from the Walcheren Expedition, or some such stupid war that our then rulers indulged in. Even in its neglected state it was a beautiful specimen of fine old work. Oak floors and staircase, hand turned balusters and carved moulding. The nails used in the building were hand-made by some local blacksmith. The architectural charm of the old mansion comes before me now, and it might have remained, a choice antiquity, but in 1861 the then owner had it pulled down. Some of the materials were re-used in Donyngs Place, built nearly opposite in what had been a walled garden. This little hamlet I have thus described, though so humble and obscure, was the chief town of the ‘Borough of Linkfield’ and yearly chose a Constable and a Surveyor.

The Globe Hotel

The Globe Hotel in 1915

Note that the fine old Jacobean residence described above was the Linkfield Manor House. It was replaced by the Globe Temperance Hotel, a building described as a “blatant example of the Victorian state and stucco style then in vogue” and typical of many of the mid-Victorian buildings and residences of early Redhill. Only a relatively few buildings of this period survive today, their detailed plaster stuccowork suffering from the combined effects of settlement and weather. The hotel can still be seen in photographs up to the mid-1970s but was then demolished and replaced with the roundabout that stands today at Linkfield Corner. Donyngs Place has now been supplanted by the Donyngs Leisure Centre, although remains of the wall surrounding the garden (constructed from traditional Reigate stone) are still visible on Linkfield Lane.

After leaving school aged 13, T. R. Hooper took up an apprenticeship in the tanyard. The outdoor work was hard and monotonous and after eighteen months he resolved to run away to sea. Upon hearing of this his father arranged for his son to undertake a trial voyage from London docks to Cardiff. Unfortunately, it was not a success and over the next five years a number of different apprentice careers were started: carpenter and joiner, builder, and farm worker - none successfully. Finally in 1863, aged 18, he became apprentice to Mr Chas. Burkill, a builder and contractor of Wolverhampton.

His apprenticeship as workshop assistant took him to Birmingham, London and Paris and he also travelled through France, Belgium and Holland. By the early 1870s however he had returned to Redhill, married, and had started a family with the birth of his daughter, Miriam Mabel in 1872. By 1875 he had founded an independent architectural and surveying practice in Redhill, based for many years in Station Road and from 1914 in the Market Hall Buildings - a site now occupied by the Harlequin Centre.

Redhill 1860

1860 map of Red Hill and Warwick Town

This must have been a busy and rewarding period. The town of Redhill (initially called Warwick Town) was continuing to expand westwards from the station, fuelling a ready demand for the laying out of new estates of architect-designed houses. After the incorporation of the municipal borough in 1863, certain civil amenities were developed too, most notably mains water (1867) and sewerage (1868) for which T.R. Hooper was appointed Clerk of Works during the latter part of its construction. The Reigate and Redhill Cottage Hospital which was later to become the original East Surrey Hospital was built in Elm Road in 1866.

High Trees

High Trees, located at the top of Redhill Common

The developments following the arrival of the railways presented a serious threat to the common. The lord of the manor, Lord Somers, had the power to excavate sand and also granted licences for others to do so. Soon a vast sandpit was opened on the eastern side of the common and by 1882 the rate of its encroachment threatened the existence of the remainder of the hill. At this stage Samuel Barrow, who owned the tannery, took out an injunction to stop the practice claiming that his rights of pasture were being seriously curtailed. The case was settled by payment of £3,000 to Lord Somers, put up in equal shares by the Borough Council, Mr Barrow and Mr W B Waterlow, another public spirited landowner and owner of the High Trees estate bordering the western side of the common. The settlement required the lord to relinquish his excavation rights and the care and maintenance of both Redhill and Earlswood Commons were placed in the hands of eleven conservators. T.R. Hooper was appointed as surveyor and directed various improvements including laying out of the sandpits as a pleasure ground and constructing the upper pond on Earlswood Common.

Toward the close of the century he was also a member of the executive committee responsible for tree planting on the main thoroughfares of Redhill, an early attempt to improve the town’s appearance.

His contribution to the age was however not confined to his professional achievements. He produced two volumes of verse which showed his poetical ability and several books and articles of a religious character. However his best known work as an author was his volume of local history and topography which appeared in the year 1885 with the title “A Geological, Historical, and Topographical Description of the Borough of Reigate and Surrounding District”. This book, though long since out of print, contains much valuable and interesting information and is still useful as a work of reference. This was an interest taken up by his son Wilfrid who in 1935 published another well-known reference work “Reigate, its Story through the Ages.”

T R Hooper

Thomas Rowland Hooper

T.R. Hooper was devoted to children and little children especially took to him instinctively and found his manner irresistible. For many years he acted as a Sunday school superintendent and teacher and served for some time as Honorary Secretary of the South Surrey Sunday School Union. He was also an assiduous temperance advocate and Band of Hope worker. But probably the greatest interest of his religious life was expressed in his work as local lay preacher. Until his physical powers failed him his Sundays were for many years generally occupied in conducting services at places of worship of almost every non-conformist denomination in the Borough and a wide area outside stretching into Sussex and Kent. Long before the days of motor transport he journeyed long distances on foot to keep his engagements at churches often remote from a railway.

Although T.R. Hooper never actually lived in Fengates Road himself, his various residences in Redhill were all within half a mile of it. Besides growing up in Lorne House on Linkfield Street, the census of 1881 lists him as living on Ranelagh Road, married to Elizabeth and already having four (ultimately five) children and a servant. This house, ‘Glinton’, was at the very top end of Ranelagh Road and by the 1895 edition of Kelly’s Directory the same house had been reclassified as standing on Elm Road. Glinton was purchased by the adjoining East Surrey Hospital for use as nurses’ accommodation in 1923 and was demolished to make way for new wards in 1925. As a result, T.R. Hooper designed and built a large family residence, ‘Loxwood’, at 16 Ridgeway Road, which remained in the Hooper family after his death in 1938 and which still stands today.

His main link with our history however came in 1892, almost 40 years after first coming to Linkfield Street, with the development of Fengates Road itself.