Frimley Park mansion
A rather impressive white building stands to the south-west of what is now the grounds of Frimley Park hospital at the Frimley end of the Frimley Road. It is now a Cadet Training Centre but it was in its heyday one of the principal buildings in the area.
The current mansion was built in 1699 by James and Mary Tichborne, the sixth generation of Tichborne’s to live on the estate, to replace what was considered to be an unpretentious hunting lodge. Originally the land formed part of the estates of Chertsey Abbey but following the dissolution Henry VIII gave it to his daughter, Mary, who in turn granted it to Sir John White of Aldershot, for services rendered as Lord Mayor of London in 1553. Sir Walter Tichborne married White’s granddaughter in 1602 and as part of the marriage settlement acquired the land.
The house was sold in 1790 to James Laurell for the princely sum of £20,000. Laurell was well connected – the then Prince of Wales, later to become George IV – was a regular visitor but as was often the way his son, John, was a bit of a rake. It is said that the prodigal son staked and lost the house and the 1,457 acre estate ,which by then encompassed Barossa Common, most of what are now Camberley and Tekel’s Park, on a game of cards. The lucky recipient was one John Tekel.
Once Tekel died in 1860, his widow parcelled up the estate, selling Barossa Common to the new Royal Military College at Sandhurst as an additional training ground. The house changed ownership a number of times – the next known owner was Colonel Malcolm Fox of the Black Watch who lived there from 1890 to 1898 – until it was bought in 1920 by a Liverpool cotton broker, Thomas Ralli. Ralli set about making a number of improvements to the property including developing a sunken garden, a formal garden and erecting a pergola in the grounds.
But the main improvements made by Ralli were internal. He had transported some oak panelling from his house in Liverpool – they originated from Chillingham Castle near Alnwick – and placed them in the dining room. Three bedrooms were built over the stately drawing room to provide a nursery suite for his children.
Although Ralli retained ownership of the property until 1947, the house was commandeered during the Second World War and used as a maternity hospital. Ironically, the drawing room rather than one of the rooms in the nursery suite was used for delivering the sprogs – an impressive place to start your life, for sure. From 1947 to 1950 it was used by the Officers’ Association and then was used as a staff college for the Women’s Royal Army Corps until 1957.
In 1959, after considerable renovations to house and grounds, it opened its doors as a training centre for the Army Cadet Force which is what it remains until this day. From 1966, though, the size of the grounds has been much reduced, a large portion of the estate being given over to the construction of the present day hospital which was formally opened in 1974.
It is tempting to speculate what would have happened if Laurell’s cards had fallen more kindly for him!