Whitehall was built around 1500, possibly as a farmer’s house. The building is special because it has two storeys across the whole building, which was very unusual during this period,and because the upper storey is jettied (projecting) at both front and back. In each of the following five centuries additions and alterations have been made which reflect the changing lifestyles, fashions and the fortunes of the owners. It is remarkable that from 1741 until 1963 Whitehall was the home of one family – the Killicks. It was then bought by the former Borough of Sutton and Cheam. Restored and opened to the public as a historic building in 1978, it is now run by the London Borough of Sutton with the support of the Friends of Whitehall.
In the original house the hall would have been the all-purpose living room. The focal point was the fireplace and chimney, which are probably original, although they may have been greatly altered over the centuries. The room would originally have been furnished with a table and benches to sit on.
One of the original Tudor windows can still be seen, the glass in it is a modern addition; initially there was none. There are traces of shutter fittings and it is not known how it was originally covered. The window at the front is an ‘improvement’ dating from the late 16th or early 17th century. Some of the original ironwork survives, but the window was heavily restored around 1800 when the wooden sash shutter was installed.
Leading off from the Hall is a short corridor giving access to the stairs and out through the Georgian back door into the rear garden of Whitehall
The use of this room has changed over the centuries. In 1908 this was the dining room but originally it was probably the kitchen. At first smoke from the fire passed up through a plaster-lined partition known as a smoke bay, which ran across the full width of the building and extended up to the roof. At some point in the 16th century the existing brick chimney was inserted in the smoke bay. The heavily-restored oven dates from the 18th century. Around 1800 an extension was added to the back of the house and a new kitchen was made there, allowing this space to become a living room. The front window sash shutters may have been installed at this time. In the Parlour, which has easy access from the front Hall, visitors are able to take a virtual tour of the rest of the House.
The Lower Kitchen
This room is the ground floor of an extension added to the house around 1800. Entry to this room is through the original back exterior wall of the house. There is an original window to the right of the door. Below this, at floor level, it is possible to see the chalk footing on which the timber frame rests. The timber-framed wall would have run across the back of the oven to the corner of the building, so you would not have been able to see the oven from this side. This room now exhibits our Nonsuch Palace collection, including a miniature model of the palace and fragments from the original building discovered during the 1959 archaeological dig.
The Roy Smith Gallery
This room is an extension to the original house which probably served as a scullery or wash house. The wall is made of a mixture of brick, chalk, flint and possibly other stone. The age of this wall is unknown although the thick bricks by the door cannot be earlier than the 18th century.
Harriet Killick’s Dressing Room
This room gives a spectacular view of the external back wall of the original house. The projecting beams are the ends of the joists of the first floor and form the base of the construction of the upper part of the house. This type of construction is known as jettying and was fashionable about 1600. This room was used as a bathroom in the Victorian period, but not as we know it today as there was no running water here and the bath would probably be nearer the kitchen. The room would have looked more like a dressing room. Read about Harriet Killick, who lived at Whitehall from 1824 to 1914.
The Porch Corridor and Porch Room
These contain a display about the Killick family, who lived in Whitehall for over two centuries from 1741.
We do not know the first use of this room. The original staircase came up in the position marked by the white line on the floor. This was probably removed when the present stair-tower was added – perhaps around 1550. From that time onwards this was probably a bedroom. The chimney side of the room was originally partitioned off to make a smoke bay. This was a tall narrow compartment through which the smoke rose from the fire in the kitchen to a hole in the roof. The brick chimney was inserted during the 16th century. The timbers in the left hand corner of the room are still smoke-blackened. The cast-iron fireplace dates from the early 19th century.
The Graffiti Door
The Graffiti door was originally located in the north attic, ‘Remember’ was the last word that Charles I uttered before his execution in 1649. ‘DOM’ in the white lozenge is an abbreviation of Deo optimo maximo (to God, most great, most high). The graffiti therefore has Catholic and Royalist associations. It dates from the mid 17th century – the time of the English Civil War.
The attics were inserted into the house some time around 1600. Until then, the rooms below were open to the roof without any ceiling. When the attic was made, the underside of the roof was plastered to make the room a little warmer by cutting out the draught that blew between the roof tiles. The metal window fittings date from about 1600 although the woodwork and glass are replacements. The attic contains a display on Cheam School.
Much of the ceiling plaster has been removed so the roof timbers can be seen. The roof is of the crown post type, which was the normal method of construction in this area in the late middle ages. The crown post is the vertical timber at the far end of the room. It supported the collar purlin, which runs across the ceiling along the centre of the roof. There were wooden braces between the crown post and a purlin to stop the building collapsing sideways. These were cut through when the attic floor was inserted, but the joints for them can still be seen. Crown post roofs went out of use about 1550 because they did not work well with attics, which were then becoming fashionable.
According to the census, in 1881 three masters from Cheam School, Walter W Dayman, Montague F Grignon and John K Tancock, were living in Whitehall as lodgers. This room is furnished as a schoolmaster’s study bedroom of the period.
The Refreshment Room
This is the ground floor of an extension added to the back of the house in the middle of the 17th century. It was probably the parlour – the best living room in the house. The wooden panelling around the fireplace is thought to date from the 17th century. In the 19th century there was panelling around the lower part of the rest of the walls, with tapestry above showing sporting subject and a ‘quaint elopement’ . The marble fireplace and the white wooden surround date from about 1740. In the latter part of the 19th century it was used as a drawing room.
Historic Surrey Homes; Whitehall, Cheam
Published in the magazine Surrey County Journal for Summer 1949 there was a very interesting article by someone called Lilian M. Eason, entitled ‘Historic Surrey Homes: Whitehall, Cheam’ illustrated with photographs by professional Sutton photographer Mr.A.L. Bawtree. This was an account which gives a glimpse of the time when Whitehall was still very much a private home, with furniture both ancient and modern, and lived in by descendants of the Killick family.
The following is the original article by Lilian M. Eason.
Remote from the roar of traffic which passes the beautiful Tudor entrance porch, dreaming beneath the trees that enfold and protect it from the modern world of hustle and bustle, stands Whitehall, Cheam; one of the loveliest old houses in Surrey.
Rich in simple architectural beauty, it presents an air of dignified defiance at the passage of time, and indeed, the mellowed loveliness of antique furniture vies with the beauty of old elm beams in gracing the house with an imperishable antiquity.
Whitehall was built circa 1485-1520 in the style of medieval half-timbered craftsmanship, based on the old barn tradition, long and narrow, the spaces between each beam being fill3ed in with rye dough. There is an overhang of eighteen inches at both the back and front of the house. Originally there was no interior staircase, and the only access to the solar room was gained by an outside stairway at the north side of the house. About 1540 a porch with a room above was added to the front of the house, and the outside stairway was replaced by an interior spiral staircase which is built into the newel.
This fine old staircase is unique in possessing its own gabled roof, and there are probably only about three such staircases remaining in the country. The porch has a beautiful depressed Tudor arch, and forms a proud and fitting entrance to Whitehall.
At the same time as these features were added, an attic floor was built in, with gabled windows. The catchment of one of these is fitted in exactly the same style as one belonging to such a window in the Wolsey rooms at Hampton Court Palace.
About 1665, or a little later, another wing was added to Whitehall, and consists of three rooms, and cellars; the walls of the cellars being built of chalk blocks and flints. There are also two vaults adjacent to the house, the first being approached by a broad descent of twenty-three steps, and having a bricklined, barrel-shaped roof. This vault, twenty-five feet long, fourteen feet broad, and eleven feet in height, leads into a smaller one which is cut out of sand. From here underground passages are reputed to have led to Nonsuch Palace, and one may conjecture at length the romantic possibilities attached to such an exciting underground channel of communication. And it is said that Dr. Hackett, who was Rector of Cheam during the Civil War, took refuge from the Roundheads in these vaults. He was, however, discovered and arrested, but was later released.
In the year 1720 a smaller wing consisting of two rooms was added to Whitehall. And it is refreshingly noticeable that the character of the architecture has been maintained throughout these alterations and additions. The weather boarding was added circa 1790; probably to exclude draughts.
Whitehall was part of East Cheam Manor Estate until 1785, when the owner, Lady Sturton, died. Her heir and grandson, Lord Petre, broke up the estate, selling the manor house to one Philip Antrobus, who pulled it down and built another house which was known as Lower Cheam House. This, too, was pulled down in recent years. During these changes Whitehall was sold to James Killick, who had lived there since 1740, and whose descendants live there to-day…
To enter Whitehall to-day is to step over the threshold of centuries. The old house is pervaded by a sense of tradition which is reflected in the wonderful collection of antique furniture which has been handed down for two hundred years. Particularly fine are the two richly carved and turned Tester beds in the main bedrooms. While many desks, tables, chests and cupboards of Queen Anne and Georgian periods display the beauty of furniture belonging to the age of craftsmanship.
Hung on the wall of the dining room is an exquisitely-worked Jacobean needlework curtain, and in the long drawing room are delicate silk embroideries mounted in period frames. Family portraits further enrich this lovely old house with the mellowness of their personal history. And as my gracious hostess conducted me to a Raeburn portrait of Captain John Manley Carr, whose ancestor’s travelling chest – dated 1678 – in old metal studs I had seen on an upper landing. I was caught in the magic of time past. For in one of the bedrooms was the wardrobe of Anne Carr, and in the long drawing room I saw the portrait of her mother, Catherine Killick, who married the brother of Captain John Manley Carr.
The few pieces of modern furniture in the house do not, as one might anticipate, obtrude themselves. Rather do they merge gently into the tapestry of the heirlooms; almost as if awed by their proximity to such treasures of the past.
Looking on to the garden of Whitehall one is spared any hint or view of modern buildings; only timbered cottages are visible, and the garden like the house, belongs to a bygone age…
Whitehall, perhaps more so than many old houses, breaths the spirit of remembrance. And although to modern ears the name of Whitehall may convey a picture of officialdom, no trace or semblance of it remains in this old house which holds the loveliness of unbroken inheritance.