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Sound of the (digging) underground
By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
BBC Surrey

Cheryl and Ashley Cole
The sound of the underground fell on deaf ears at Guildford Borough Council

It may be back to the architect's drawing board for Cheryl and Ashley Cole, who have had their plans for an underground swimming pool rejected.

But if the Coles had lived in the late 1800's, their plans to escape press intrusion would have met no objections.

Both their original application and the appeal, for a pool and gym were turned down by Guildford Borough Council.

The planning office said the plans were "disproportionate" to the size of the house.

The celebrity couple had argued that their status made a difference and that they had a right to privacy in their Guildford home.

Speaking on their behalf, their planning consultant, Jonathan Phillips, said they could not go to public gyms and swimming pools.

And that apparently is why they wanted to burrow away under their Surrey mansion, like Kenneth Grahame's Mole and Ratty, in order to escape the prying eyes of the Weasels.

But had they moved to Surrey in 1890 they could have happily tunnelled underground with gay abandon.

And without asking the local council planners first!

After all, an Anglo American businessman called J.Whitaker Wright did just that.

Devil's Punchbowl by John Miller: Surrey Hills
The Devil's Punchbowl; just a small part of Whitaker's back garden!

He bought a 500 acre estate which included a "modest" country mansion, just outside Godalming. The sale of which, meant Whitaker acquired the entire Manor of Witley which included Hindhead Common and the Devil's Punchbowl.

He renamed the whole estate Witley Park and promptly embarked on a building project so large that even Grand Design's Kevin McCloud would be rendered speechless.

In a scheme that today would leave Guildford Borough Council's planning department reeling in shock, he redeveloped his new house to include 32 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, landscaped gardens, a private theatre and an observatory.

Last but not least, he had a domed glass and steel room complete with billiard table constructed underneath his newly dug artificial lakes!

Rumour had it that more than 500 men worked on the project, which only started worrying the District and Parish Council nine years after it started.

Nowadays, as the camera-shy Coles have found out to their cost, there are rules in place to ensure people obtain the necessary permits before carrying out any building work.

But in Whitaker's day, he could just plough on regardless, quite literally in fact, as an article in the local paper reported.

Many residents of Hindhead are not a little annoyed, and certainly very much grieved, at the poor respect which the new lord of the manor is apparently showing for the natural beauty and adornments of Hindhead Common and the Punch Bowl
The Surrey Times 13th May 1899

It told of local residents who had seen gangs of workmen using an "infernal machine" to dig up and remove holly bushes along with surrounding earth.

However, the project came to an abrupt halt five years later, when Whitaker was convicted of dodgy financial dealings and sensationally committed suicide by cyanide pill, in the dock.

Witley Park was put up for sale in an auction of fifty lots at Godalming, the most important of these being lot 47.

This consisted of the "manorial rights over Hindhead commons, including Devil's Punch Bowl and Gibbet Hill" including 750 acres of woodland.

A local committee raised the funds to purchase it and the land passed on to the newly formed National Trust in 1906.

In 1909, the famous SS Titanic designer and builder Lord Pirrie, bought Whitaker's mansion at Witley Park for $1m.

Sadly, the house burned down in 1952 and the buildings were demolished.

Unsurprisingly, Whittaker carried on his underground theme by opting for burial after death.

He lies beneath an imposing marble slab in the graveyard of All Saints Church, Witley.

Cole's swim pool plan turned down
28 Oct 09 |  Surrey



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