Meeching Road, built c1869

By Carol Walton

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'SAXONHOLME' page

Photo by kind permission of Bill Kocher

A Mr George Stone, brewer and coin dealer, was the first occupant of Saxonholme, which was initially called Dacre Villa, he was listed living there with his wife Barbara and their eight children in the 1871 census, having moved from a cottage in South Lane. According to the 1891 census the house was lived in by Mr Thomas Cann, a practicing surgeon.  The house was at some time home to Lt-Col. John Orlando Summerhayes who was registered as Licentiate, Royal College of Physicians, London (L.R.C.P.) and also as a Member, Royal College of Surgeons (M.R.C.S.).  He was also decorated with the award of Companion, Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) and gained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the service of the Royal Army Medical Corps. 

During the winter of 1918-19 King George V arranged for two Colonels, one of which was John Orlando Summerhayes, to give support to the exiled Habsburg royal family when Austria-Hungary collapsed after the First World War.  Colonel Summerhayes was appointed as Ehrenkavalier (Honorary Cavalier) and in February 1919, arrived at Eckartsau, a town in Lower Austria, to protect the imperial family. Being a doctor, John Summerhayes was elected to accompany the sick three year old Felix Habsburg to Switzerland for medical treatment, a decision which probably saved his life.

Saxonholme was noted for its fine display of trees and the extensive garden at the rear was frequently used for fund raising for deserving causes.  The house was demolished in 2011 and work starts soon to build a new fire station on the site.


This page was added by Carol Walton on 08/09/2013.
Comments about this page

A friend of mine says that before the building was demolished he had been given permission to explore a short tunnel about 9 or 10 metres long, which led westwards from the ground floor/basement of Saxonholme. At the end, was a brick face which seemed to indicate that the tunnel had been blocked off and that it might actually have gone further. In the floor at that point was a slab, and he was told that this covered a well. In the roof of the tunnel immediately above this there was another stone slab which would have been in the original back garden of Saxonholme. Is there anyone who worked in any of the offices (Opticians, Insurance agent, Social Services etc) which occupied the building just before it was evacuated prior to demolition, who can verify that there was such a tunnel please? (Although he took no photographs at the time, I have a sketch drawing which my friend produced showing the details he observed at the time.)

By Richard Beckett
On 29/09/2013

Hi Richard, I worked for Oxley & Bennett thro the 1960's up to 1972 and I can verify that there was a blocked off tunnel accessed in the basement. It was believed that it went to the convent in Church Hill ??? There was also signs that there was a well, but I don't remember it being in the actual tunnel. I was allowed to "explore" this lovely old building. The last time I saw it, it was just a demolition site, left to the ravishes of nature. So much for a listed building.

By Colin Brandon
On 30/09/2013

Hi Colin, glad that someone is able to verify the facts. I have been trying for over 18 months to get permission from the owners to enter the site and ascertain if the tunnel is still in existence. When viewed from the road, there is definitely an arched brick entrance in the low retaining wall still in existence which at present appears to be inaccessible due to earth having been piled in. Perhaps someone from the Historical Society might have the "clout" to rouse enough interest so that the facts about the tunnel can be ascertained and recorded before it disappears in a cloud of dust as the site is flattened.

By Richard Beckett
On 01/10/2013

Hi Richard, the entrance of that tunnel was through an arched opening and at the time I went in there, it had a padlocked old wooden door. This tunnel, beyond that extended to about 10 metres in the direction from the rear of the property under the back garden and that was where it was blocked off with very old bricks. It needs the " Time Team " to do a dig there before it's redeveloped. They may find some interesting "bits".

By Colin Brandon
On 01/10/2013

I contacted the Secretary of the Historical Society and received this response.

 "I am informed that the Historical Society has looked into this story in the past and despite exploring the basement passage, probably used as a cold store, found no evidence to support the tunnel theory."

My response to the Historical Society is this:- Be that as it may, it would be interesting to know whether any photographs were taken of the interior when it was investigated and also whether if at any time, anyone has ever attempted to break through the wall across the end and ascertain whether it goes any further. Until such an action has been carried out and made public, the possibility that it goes further cannot ever be ruled out. As the site is to be re-developed anyway, it would be a good opportunity for someone to investigate whether or not there is anything beyond that brick wall and therefore show whether or not "There is light at the end of the tunnel"

By Richard Beckett
On 03/10/2013

Today Wed 9th Oct, work appears to have started on site clearance at last. Perhaps we shall now know for sure if the tunnel DOES extend any further.

By Richard Beckett
On 09/10/2013

By Colin Brandon on 03/10/2013 at 23:26

Google, " Saxonholme Newhaven", See on page one the planning application for the new library and multi use development.

Planning application numbered LW/09/021. Look at the "subject to conditions" written in red, Note condition number 10. Hope this remained in other applications.

LW/09/021 - PAC – 03/06/2009 Page 13. para 7.  RECOMMENDATION

The application is subject to the following conditions:

10 . No development shall take place until the applicant, or their agents or successors in title, has secured the implementation of a programme of archaeological work in accordance with a written scheme of investigation,

Somebody in planning must have known about the tunnel and its possible historical importance.

By Richard Beckett
On 18/10/2013

I wonder was the afore mentioned 'archaeological work' ever carried out before the new building commenced? What was originally on the site before D'Acre Villa/Saxonholme, does anyone know?

By Rob Patten
On 17/03/2015

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.