Sir Henry William Peek

Sir Henry William Peek, 1st Bt (1825-1898), was MP for Mid Surrey and made his fortune as an importer of spices, tea and other groceries. 

The fact that we can all enjoy the freedom of Wimbledon Common is largely down to Sir Henry. In November 1864, Earl Spencer, Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon, called a meeting of local residents where he put forth a proposal that 700 acres of the common be enclosed (forming a park), that a couple of acres be set aside so that he could build himself a nice big house (near the site of the present day windmill) and that 300 or so acres be built upon. Citing the 'noxious mists and fogs' and nuisance 'gypsies' as the main reason for him wanting to create this bill, he presented it to a largely sympathetic Parliament. However, the proposal was opposed by a Select Committee whose interest it was to investigate green open spaces around urban London. Sir Henry Peek, who established and chaired the Wimbledon Select Committee, went head to head with the Earl, eventually forcing him to come to a compromise and the Wimbledon Common Conservators were born. They maintain and keep the Common open to this day and a memorial to Sir Henry stands at the site of Caesar’s Well.

Sir Henry was also instrumental in the saving of Burnham Beeches when it came on the market in 1879 as land ‘suitable for building superior residences.’ He bought the entire lot and then sold it on to the Corporation of London.

In 1870 Sir Henry purchased the village of Rousdon where he rebuilt the church and village school and commissioned Ernest George to design and build a Mansion that took full advantage of its position some 500 feet above the sea. As it was some distance from the town the house had to be totally self-sufficient and boasted laundry, coach houses, harness rooms, wine cellars, bowling alley, rifle range, china stores, bake houses, larders, museum, observatory, walled garden, tennis courts, farm buildings and numerous cottages to house the Estate population, which at the end of the 19th Century extended to about 600. He built an observatory there in 1884 and his son Cuthbert superintended observations, assisted by Charles Grover who later became the estate’s Astronomer and published his records.

Sir Henry was a philanthropic man with a strong Christian conviction and it is unsurprising that he supported the church of All Saints’ in its infancy.

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