Hall Place Farm.

The Swayne Family Occupancy of Hall Place Farm

Three generations of the Swayne family lived and worked at Hall Place Farm (now The Old Farmhouse) continuously from 1766 until 1897. Documents relating to the farm are deposited at the Surrey Record Centre in Woking. These documents include counterleases deposited by the Hospital of the Blessed Trinity (Abbots Hospital) in Guildford, and Account Books covering the period up until 1851 deposited by a relative, Mr Bob Swayne.

The Lease of the farm was originally purchased from the Hospital by my great great great great great great grandfather, John Swayne, in 1766. He was a doctor in Dorking and, being 62 years of age at that time, presumably bought the Lease as an investment for his son William. William was at that time working for his future father-in-law, Thomas Greathurst, on his farm at Effingham. John never lived at the farm, but continued to live in Dorking until his death in 1773. He is buried in Ockley churchyard, where most of his generation of the family are buried.

William Swayne ran the farm. He married Anne Greathurst at Effingham in 1769. They had six children although only two of them, William and Thomas, survived to adulthood. Sadly Anne herself died in 1783, shortly after giving birth to twin girls. She and the twins were the first Swaynes to have been buried in Merrow churchyard. William later married Rachel Humphreys at Merrow in 1787.

One of William’s friends in Merrow was William Luck who farmed Coxhall Farm in Merrow Street. This was a friendship which lasted three generations and culminated in the two families running their farms together. William Swayne and William Luck were joint Land Tax Assessors for Merrow for a number of years from 1781.

In 1802 there was a dispute between the Parish and William Swayne about the repair of the fences between the Churchyard and the Farm. This dispute calumniated in the Parish impounding all William Swayne’s pigs, which had got out and were running around the churchyard. Although it would appear that William Swayne was responsible for all repairs to the property, the Hospital told him that it was the Parish’s responsibility and backed him up by paying for the resulting Court case. They lost the case and paid William Smallpiece, the solicitor, for all the expenses incurred. This must have been quite embarrassing for William since he was a Churchwarden and a very active member of the Church. He was, in fact, a Churchwarden at St John’s from 1773 until his death in 1803.

Upon William’s death the Lease passed jointly to his only surviving son’s William and Thomas. Sadly, the eldest son, William, died aged 30 in 1806 and Thomas ran the farm for the next 50 years.

Thomas married Frances Elliott, a farmer’s daughter from Loxwood (Wisborough Green), in about 1804. Frances was the younger sister of Anne Elliott, who was married to Edmund Luck, William Luck’s son. Their eldest sons, William Swayne and Edmund Luck, were born within a few days of each other.

The Tithe map of 1839 shows the land owned or rented by both Thomas Swayne and Edward Luck. Unlike today, when the land belonging to a farm is normally contained within a boundary, this shows individual fields within the area farmed by the various farmers within the area. The 1851 census return shows Thomas Swayne as a farmer of 184 acres employing 7 labourers and Edward Luck as a farmer of 210 acres employing 8 labourers.

Thomas and Frances had 11 children – six sons and seven daughters. They were all born at Hall Place Farm and they all survived to maturity, which was quite unusual in those days. Most of these children are buried in Merrow Churchyard. In fact there are over fifty Swayne graves in the Churchyard counting both those who were born Swayne and those who married Swaynes. Most of these are to the north of the Church near the corner of Trodds Lane and the Epsom Road. Others are to the east and the south of the Church. The Merrow Women’s Institute conducted a survey of the Churchyard in 1984.

Thomas and Frances’ eldest son William founded a building firm, based in Stoke Fields, Guildford. He appears to have started his building activities in about 1829, when loads of building materials were delivered and recorded in the farm accounts. Edward Luck had a kiln and William used this for firing his bricks. He built St John’s Church of England School in Merrow Street in 1853 and the Stoke Hill National School in 1872. He appears also to have specialised in churches. He renovated St Martha’s in at the 1840’s, built Burpham Church in 1859 and Christ Church Guildford in 1873. Upon his death in 1877 the firm was split into two, each part run by one of his son’s William and Thomas. William later became mayor of Guildford in 1887, 1888, and 1893. His firm was in business until the 1930s. Thomas Swayne’s building company was in business, albeit after amalgamations, until the 1980’s.

Thomas and Frances’ next son Thomas was a grocer in Merrow. He lived in Mayor House on the site, which is now “La Boulangerie”. This was next door to The Old Forge (now the Garage and Safeway), which was run by his son-in-law, William Gould, and later his grandson John Gould, who wrote “Merrow from Ancient Times”. Upon Thomas’ death in 1876, the Grocers shop passed to his son William, who sold out to Mr Kimber in about 1912. Thomas’ great grand-daughters, Irene and Zoë Tunnel, continued to live in Merrow until 1997, when they moved to Lime Grove in East Horsley.

The only other children of Thomas and Frances who stayed in the Merrow and Guildford areas were John and Richard. They took over the Lease of the farm on Thomas’s death in 1860 and continued to run it until John’s death in 1897. The 1861 census return shows John as a farmer of 176 acres employing 7 men and 2 boys. By 1881 this had fallen to 80 acres employing 4 men and one boy. After John’s death his widow, Jane, and brother, Richard, moved out of the farmhouse, but continued to live in Merrow until they died within a month of each other in 1910.

There are various entries in the account books of interest to Merrow residents. In 1829 Thomas Swayne sold Mr Connisbee 10 sheep and 1 lamb for £11-15s-0d. Conisbee’s butchers had a shop in Merrow until about 1992, when, sadly, they closed down. They do still, however, have shops in East Horsley and Ripley. Thomas also supplied his son Thomas’ grocery business in Merrow as well as other members of the family.

The Leases of the farm were each for 21 years, although they were normally renewed before they expired. The original lease of 1766 was renewed in 1785, 1805, 1821, and 1844, and the counterleases are deposited at the Surrey Record Centre. There should presumably also be Leases dated about 1864 and 1884 but unfortunately these have probably been lost. The 1844 counterlease was signed jointly by Thomas Swayne and his nephew, Edward Luck. Sadly Edward was the last of the Luck line and the Coxhall Estate was sold in 1878, the year following his death.

The name of the farm was changed to “The Old Farmhouse” in 1929. This was presumably when it ceased to be a farm. St John’s Church Hall was built on the site of the old farmyard and those who remember the old safety curtain at the Village Hall will have seen a picture of the farmyard before the Hall was built.

John Swayne
June 1999