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The Underwater Boat House and Spiral Ramp Entrance in Witley Park

A Grade II Listed Building in Thursley, Surrey

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Latitude: 51.1473 / 51°8'50"N

Longitude: -0.6854 / 0°41'7"W

OS Eastings: 492049

OS Northings: 139492

OS Grid: SU920394

Mapcode National: GBR FDC.TTS

Mapcode Global: VHFVZ.2FHB

Plus Code: 9C3X48W7+WR

Entry Name: The Underwater Boat House and Spiral Ramp Entrance in Witley Park

Listing Date: 22 March 2011

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1242952

English Heritage Legacy ID: 507128

Location: Thursley, Waverley, Surrey, GU8

County: Surrey

Civil Parish: Thursley

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Surrey

Church of England Parish: Thursley

Church of England Diocese: Guildford

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1801/0/10053 The Underwater Boat House and spiral r
22-MAR-11 amp entrance in Witley Park

Boathouse. Circa 1900 built for James Whitaker Wright. Possibly incorporates a pre-existing tunnel.

MATERIALS: Shuttered concrete. Some wood and glass.

PLAN: Circular spiral ramp with stairs at the bottom reaching to a depth of 15m below ground with three chambers including boathouse.

EXTERIOR: Single storey concrete structure above ground with an adjoining circular light well and a projecting round-headed arched entrance with a wooden door.

INTERIOR: The entrance leads to a spiralling ramp which is transformed into stairs for the last quarter of its depth. There is a glass-panelled ceiling lighting the first room, which is 4.5m down, and the spiralling ramp. Below this is a semi-circular room with elliptical-arched alcoves. Adjoining is the main chamber which is rectangular in shape,with three rectangular alcoves and a high vaulted roof. This chamber is lit by a glazed roof cover at the eastern end and there is an air shaft towards the west. At the extreme west is an elliptical-headed entrance leading to a flat-roofed chamber with double wooden gates opening directly onto Thursley Lake.

HISTORY: This is one of a series of estate buildings built for the financier and speculator, James Whitaker Wright (1846-1904) at Lea Park, later renamed Witley Park. The old house was pulled down and a new one 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 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. 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.

The Underwater Boat House housed a boat which Whitaker Wright used for rowing out to the artificial island he had created in the middle of the big lake where there was an underground smoking room and billiard chamber. A tunnel in this position is shown on the 1874 Ordnance Survey map.

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. At his trial in 1904 he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years penal servitude but he committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule.

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 and replaced by a 1960-1 house by Patrick Gwynne, but many remaining buildings on the estate are currently part of a conference centre.

Article in The Royal Magazine (1903).
Jones, B, Follies and Grottoes (1974) 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 23/02/11

The Underwater Boat House and spiral ramp entrance in Witley Park are designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural quality: spatially impressive interior with ingenious plan.
* Technological interest: unusual use of shuttered concrete to create a 15m deep structure.
* Intactness: little altered.
* Group value: one of a series of contemporary structures in and around the lakes at Witley Park built for James Whitaker Wright.

Reasons for Listing

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