The story of William Keswick begins with Jardine Matheson Holdings which still exists today, a company founded by William Jardine and James Matheson in 1832 in Hong Kong trading in opium, cotton, tea, silk and a variety of other goods. William Keswick was born into the William Jardine family in 1834, went on to work in the company and by 1874 he was its Head and a senior Director.
During his time in Hong Kong he was on the Legislative and Executive Councils and had many other interests. He was a director of the Hudson’s Bay Company and also had oil interests in Peru through the Matheson Company and also with railway companies and banks. He was a very rich and influential man.
In 1870 William married Amelie Sophie Dubeux in Hong Kong and they had five children, Henry, Amy, Margaret David and Muriel who were all born in the Far East. When he returned home to England he settled in Bookham and in July 1882 bought Eastwick Park House and Estate and became known as Lord of the Manor of Bookham. A year later he lost his wife Amelie from cancer aged only 36.
After some fifteen years he married again. His new wife was Alice Henrietta Barrington who was 40 years his junior and they had three children, Ivy, Nancy who only lived a month and Helen Kathleen known as Kate. Kate was born in 1903. William seems to have settled into life as a country squire. He loved walking and would often walk to Clandon where another of his daughters lived or from the local railway stations at Bookham or Leatherhead.
He was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Epsom at a by-election in 1899 and held the seat until his resignation in 1912. In his thirteen years as MP he was a back bencher and sat on many committees but rarely spoke in the House. With his background he was an authority on China and although unable to speak chinese could apparently enter into the their way of thinking. He was one of the first Englishmen to do business with the Chinese. He had a flat in London where he would often stay or in a suite of rooms at St Ermyns Hotel.
He was offered a title but on asking his wife if she’d like to become known as Lady Keswick and after much discussion decided not to accept the honour.
Kate Keswick, his daughter who lived to the age of 94 fortunately left us with many interesting stories and details on her father and family life at Eastwick Park in its heyday as a Manor.
She described how he used to sit in his study, a big room with a large desk – he loved sitting there cutting his own quills. His wife had to cope with a household of cook, kitchen maid, scullery maid, head housemaid, second and third housemaid, ladies maid, butler, footman, buttons, the coachman and all the gardeners.
By the time he remarried many changes were needed following such a long time of the Eastwick estate not being closely managed. Meals had got out of hand with separate sittings being served in the dining room, another in the nursery cooked by the scullery maid, another for the cook and another for the head housemaid, butler and the ladies.
There was such a large division between the status of the servants that it caused much feeling when the meals were reorganised to just three, in the dining room, the nursery and the servants hall – for example th cook was forced to eat with the kitchen maid. The senior servants ate their first course in the servants’ hall which was carried out as an operation of pomp and ceremony with a procession of the cook followed by the head housemaid, ladies maid and butler to sit down in state and to be waited on by the footman. It was not restricted to meals, there was a strict division between all the household chores – buttons cleaned to the top of the stairs and the scullery maid cleaned to the bottom but nobody was allotted to clean the foot of the stairs which was consequently not done. The new wife soon changed all this initially to the despair of the staff.
The farm costs were found to be very high and this led to the discovery that cream and butter were given as free hand-outs from the dairy staff to villagers almost as a recognised thing.
The kitchen range was lit at the crack of dawn and produced an almost unbearable heat for the young scullery and kitchen maids. An everyday chore was boiling bones and meat remains to make beef tea from which to be given free to any pregnant women or nursing mothers from the village. Children called at the back door bringing jugs to be filled.
The housemaids did a certain amount of sewing and repaired the linen. The ladies maid mended clothes, changed collars and cuffs and made clothes for William Keswick’s wife using a Sukie, a dressmaker’s dummy. It was a wire figure made to her measurements to fit a dress to size and shape. She was also responsible for polishing the silver on his wife’s dressing table. She was well read and also spent much time writing in very good English. Both she and the head housemaid would sit for hours on end reading the classics and the Bible.
The butler lived locally and would cycle through the allotments. He was always dead on time even if it meant sometimes throwing his bike into the shrubbery and dashing across the lawn and through the large Georgian windows before being standing in position a few moments later behind William Keswick’s chair.
The coachman’s wife had only one arm – it was said that a carriage turned over while she was in it. Some nights he would take the horse drawn brake to fetch William Keswick from Leatherhead station. Everyone knew the coachman drank and when he was sitting on the box of the carriage in the bitter cold he’d take the horses to the local inn. Knowing that he was an MP’s coachman the landlord was only too happy to give him a drink. After the coachman lost his job Kate’s sister took out a carriage but with little control of a horse found that the horse had taken her into the yard of the inn as it was so used to going there!
During Christmas time the Servants’ Ball was held at Eastwick Park. The local trade’s people, the farm hands, the staff and their spouses were all invited. There’d be a separate party for the children of the staff and a tall Christmas tree would stand in the hall decorated with small lighted candles and each child would be given a present before going home.
Once a fortnight the organ grinder would call coming to the front door and playing until it was opened. A monkey sat up by the side of the organ and when the tune was finished it expected a biscuit and leant its head forward for some money to be placed on it. It then went on to The Crown to play for the villagers, collect more money and to get people to dance to the music.
Alan Lewer was the gamekeeper for Eastwick Park. His cottage was by the pond in Eastwick Drive. One story is that one of the Lewer brothers actually sat on the end of the branch of an apple tree while he was sawing it and promptly fell and killed himself. William Keswick never took part in a shoot but regular parties were arranged. The men from the village would act as cover beaters driving pheasants out of the woods. The beaters were provided with a free lunch, the men being given beer and the younger ones soft drinks.
William Keswick died in March 1912 aged 78 while the children of his second marriage were still young and was buried in St Nicolas churchyard. He left personal effects of £500,000 a vast sum in 1912 worth perhaps £50 million today.
He was well regarded by all as a local newspaper obituary describes.
“In Mr Keswick there passes away a fine, old political type. Strong in his own convictions, nevertheless he studiously avoided discourtesy to his opponents, either in word or deed, and on many occasions he has gone out of his way to pay a compliment to one or other Minister of the present administration when he thought it was deserved. His chief political successes lay in committee work, where his sound common sense, especially when applied to the subtle ramifications of commerce, was of inestimable value. In such work he was persona grata. In the broader arena of the House in debate he seldom figured, other than as a close follower of every argument. His temperament in all probability would not have been attuned to the hurly-burly of the floor of the House of Commons, the cut and thrust of a Parliamentary discussion.
He was a lovable character, upon which a steady devotion to duty and an old-world courtesy had set their seal. All shades of political opinion conceded to him transparent honesty of purpose, and however much some might have disagreed with his views none could deny that in him burnt the sacred fire of patriotism. His speeches were always pitched in a patriotic key and although he was perhaps one of the oldest members in the House of Commons he was in the forefront of the modern Imperialist school. As a speaker he was solid rather than brilliant and by his own supporters would undoubtedly be regarded as eminently safe.”
The estate passed on to his eldest son Henry who had no interest in it and was subsequently sold the following year. His wife Alice who was only 38 married again in 1915 and lived in Dorking until her death in 1966.
Following the death of William Keswick, Eastwick Park House was no longer the majestic Manor House it had once been and it began its gradual decline to its eventual demolition and its loss to the housing estate we know today.