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Although technically in the parish of Wonersh, most people perceive Barnett hill to be in Blackheath. It sits on the border of the two villages, but has been a big influence on the lives of both communities.
Barnett Hill was nothing more than a wooded hilltop when Frank Cook, the grandson of Thomas Cook, the travel agent, bought the site in 1905. He built the Queen Anne-Style house in 26 acres of land for the princely sum of £35,000.
The architect, Arnold Mitchell, who specialised in parish halls and schools was commissioned to design there house.
Frank built the house for his American wife Beatrice, who came from New England. She ensured that the new idea of central heating, popular in the States, was installed in her new house. Frank died on Christmas Day 1931 but Beatrice Cook remained at the house until 1940.
Sitting in spectacular grounds that are 360ft above sea level it commands magnificent views over the Surrey hills. From the Camellia bank, Charterhouse School can be seen, and Guildford Cathedral can be viewed from the Woodland Walk. The estate employed 14 gardeners (mostly from Blackheath village) in the grand days of the Cooks.
Many villagers worked at the house, housemaids, chauffeurs, cooks and pantry maids, all made their way along Blackheath Lane to work. One such man was Fred Monk, father of current Blackheath resident Brian Monk, he had an amazing array or jobs including house services, vehicle and apparatus maintenance, ambulance driver and fireman!.
In 1940, Mrs Cook loaned the house as a convalescent home to the Joint War Organisation of the British Red Cross and the Order of St.John. In 1944 she made an outright gift of the house to the British Red Cross, including much of the antique furniture. There was a special service in June of that year in Wonersh church followed by a ceremony at Barnett Hill when the deeds and the key to Barnett Hill were handed over by Beatrice Cook to the patron of the British Red Cross, Queen Elizabeth (now the late Queen Mother). Beatrice continued to live in Wonersh village until her death in 1953.
During the war years the house had many injured servicemen staying there to convalesce. These men were know as the ‘blue boys’ in the village on the account of their blue uniforms. Fred Monk would drive up to London or go to Guildford Station in the ambulance to collect them.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), made a special trip to Barnett Hill to accept Mrs. Cooks generous offer of the house for the Red Cross. 11-year-old Eileen Talman (Monk) was chosen to present her with a bouquet of flowers.
Due to high maintenance costs in the mid-1970s, the Red Cross decided to open the doors of Barnett Hill to the business world. It became a conference and training centre in around 1976.
In 1996, the British Red Cross leased the property to the Chudley family, who, at the time, had been operating Highgate House Hotel in Northamptonshire for over 30 years. In 2005 the Sundial Group purchased the property from the Red Cross. In 2016, Alexander Hotels purchased the property and have since upgraded the facilities.
Today the gardens are continually evolving and improving - many projects are taking place on the estate but the overall ambience is kept and many of the original features can still be seen in the grounds. The summerhouse, teahouse and greenhouse are all in original condition and the yew hedges, Lilly pond and many mature trees show how the estate looked in the days of the Cooks.
Eileen Talman’s (nee Monk) recollections of the people who worked at Barnett Hill during WW2
Matron - Miss White
Assistant - Miss Girador
Quarter Master Secretary - Mr. Evans
P.T.Instructor - Mr. Kinnear
House Services/vehicle and apparatus maintenance, ambulance driver and auxiliary fire serve– Fred Monk
In charge of house staff- Cyril Mace
Head gardener- Mr. Dale
Gardeners - Ted Pettit, Arthur Atfield, Walter Garrick, Charlie Tavenor, along with several Balchins and Edwards.
Needle workers - Elsie and Hilda Talbot