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Statue of Neptune with Attached Underwater Tunnel, Stairs, Circular and Rectangular Chambers and Artificial Island, Witley Park

A Grade II* Listed Building in Godalming, Surrey

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Latitude: 51.1478 / 51°8'52"N

Longitude: -0.6837 / 0°41'1"W

OS Eastings: 492170

OS Northings: 139554

OS Grid: SU921395

Mapcode National: GBR FDC.VB3

Mapcode Global: VHFVZ.3DFX

Plus Code: 9C3X48X8+4G

Entry Name: Statue of Neptune with Attached Underwater Tunnel, Stairs, Circular and Rectangular Chambers and Artificial Island, Witley Park

Listing Date: 28 October 1986

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1096871

English Heritage Legacy ID: 439899

Location: Witley, Waverley, Surrey, GU8

County: Surrey

Civil Parish: Witley

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Surrey

Church of England Parish: Witley

Church of England Diocese: Guildford

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Listing Text


1801/8/328 WITLEY PARK

Statue connected to underwater tunnel, two chambers and an artificial island. Constructed circa 1900.

DATE: Constructed c 1900.

MATERIALS: Mainly concrete and cast iron with some glass and stone.

PLAN: A landward circular entrance leads to a c 120m long corridor off which are a circular domed smoking room and a rectangular billiard room with steps leading onto a cruciform-shaped artificial island in Thursley Lake.

EXTERIOR: A low circular stone structure with a flat glazed fanlight and stone spiral staircase leads to a further stone spiral staircase leading to a curved wooden panelled door with three trefoil ventilation holes in the upper panel. A c 4.5m stone Mannerist-style statue of Neptune appears to rise from the lake but is attached to the dome of an underwater tunnel, which is connected to a cruciform-shaped stone faced island with a landing stage projecting above water level. This has a stepped parapet with scroll decoration.

INTERIOR: Behind the landward door a stone spiral staircase with mahogany handrail and iron stick balusters leads to a concrete-arched subway c 120m long. A domed chamber leads off this corridor, which is constructed of cast iron ribs and three inch wide panes of glass and has a mosaic floor. At the apex of the dome is attached the statue of Neptune. The underground passage leads at the north-west end to a rectangular subterranean chamber with concrete walls and ribbed concrete curved ceiling, supported on cast iron columns. This may have been designed as a billiard room. At the further end of this room is a cast iron mechanism for regulating the water level of the lake. Also in the end wall a dogleg flight of cast iron stairs leads up to the artificial island.

HISTORY: The statue of Neptune and attached underwater tunnel, stairs, circular and rectagular chambers and artificial island is one of a series of estate buildings built for the speculator James Whitaker Wright (1846-1904) at Lea Park, later renamed Witley Park. The old house was pulled down by Whitaker Wright and a new house built for him circa 1890 by H Paxton Watson in the neo-Tudor style. Many of the estate buildings were also designed by Paxton Watson, although Lutyens built a bathing pavilion and a boathouse here in 1897. Wright was a keen amateur landscape gardener and in the course of six or seven years two existing smaller lakes were transformed into three larger artificial lakes. Of these, a square lake, a bathing lake and the big lake (enlarged before 1916 to create Thursley Lake) with many statues and fountains were constructed here by the efforts of 400 workmen. Unfortunately in 1900 Wright's company, London and Globe, which promoted the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway, announced its insolvency, ruining many investors. In March 1903 a warrant was issued for Whitaker Wright's arrest and he was pursued to New York where he was arrested.

The notoriety led to great interest in Whitaker Wright's building works and the structures at Lea Park were described in The Royal Magazine for 1903. The 'submerged fairy room with appendages' (the domed chamber) cost £20,000. An illustration of 1903 shows the circular room with a palm tree in the middle, a button-upholstered bench and electric lights.

At Whitaker Wright's trial in 1904 he was convicted and sentenced to seven years penal servitude. However he handed his watch to his solicitor saying 'I will not need this where I am going', swallowed a cyanide capsule and expired within a few minutes. He inspired the character of Mr Ponderevo in the novel Tono-Bungay by H G Wells (1909). After Whitaker Wright's death the estate was split up into lots and sold off. Some of the land, such as the Devil's Punchbowl and Hindhead Common, now belongs to the National Trust. The main house was gutted in 1952 and has since been demolished but many remaining estate buildings are currently part of a conference centre.

This structure is shown for the first time on the 1898 1:10560 Surrey Ordnance Survey map.

Article in The Royal Magazine (1903).
Jones, B, Follies and Grottoes (1974) 199-201.
Oxford DNB, article on James Whitaker Wright by Richard Davenport Hines.
Beckett, M, Witley Park. http://lh.matthewbeckett.com/houses/lh-surrey-witleypark.html Accessed 23/02/2011.

The Statue of Neptune with attached underwater tunnel, stairs, chambers and artificial island at Witley Park are designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Technological interest: the creation of a large artificial island in the lake with connected underwater tunnel and rooms is an impressive engineering feat.
* Rarity: possibly the only underwater estate building in the country.
* Intactness: unaltered.
* Artistic merit: giant Mannerist style statue of Neptune.

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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