Most places in Britain have a layered history, and the property known as Pippbrook is no exception. Any modern-day resident of Darking would know Pippbrook House as a grand Gothic Revival pile that formerly housed the County Council offices and public library. But that is not the Pippbrook House of my stories.
The land first appears in the historical record in the fourteenth century, under the ownership of one Walter atte Pyppe and his wife, Alicia. (Presumably the brook that runs along the northern side of Darking was also named for them.) A sizeable house was built there by the fifteenth or sixteenth century, and it lasted until a man named William Page took possession in 1758.
Page tore down the original house and built a new one in the unornamented style known at the time as ‘Palladian’. The illustration by John Hassell captures it very well, though he tactfully deletes from his image all the details of the adjacent town, making it appear to be more of a country estate than was the case. There was a lawn out front separating it by no great distance from the turnpike road; tidy gardens grew at the back; and a prettyish small conservatory was attached to the western side of the building. The Pippbrook flowed behind the gardens.
Page enjoyed his neat little property only until 1764, when it was sold to Mark Baskett. Baskett in his turn was there only till 1770, at which point it went through a rapid succession of owners for decades, making it impossible to determine who lived there in the year 1800—which allowed my fictional character Sir Nugent Lumley-Dacre-Prudhoe to take up residence there and assume the duties of a magistrate. (John Cary’s New Itinerary of 1802 mentions a ‘Webb, Esq.’ as living in that general vicinity, but does not name his house.)
The house would have been situated just past the smithy on the turnpike road as it departed Darking on its way to Leatherhead and London—a little way past Shrub Hill, the house occupied by the Earl of Rothes, and on the same side of the road as the Pippbrook Mill, closer to town. The residents would have enjoyed views from the upper storeys of the south side of Box Hill and The Deepdene’s house and gardens, with Ranmer Common rising behind to the northwest. In the daytime it must have been a somewhat noisy situation, with traffic on the road and the turnpike gate so close by, mingling with the clangour of the hammer and anvil coming from the smithy.
The simple Palladian house lasted for a century, until the larger mansion, built in the Gothic Revival style starting in 1856, replaced it. That house passed into municipal ownership in 1930, becoming a valuable community asset during World War II and beyond, though its fate in the future is uncertain.
8 September 2021
John Cary, Cary’s New Itinerary: or, an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, both Direct and Cross, throughout England and Wales (1802), p. 35.
Dorking Museum Web site, ‘Pippbrook House’.