CONTRIBUTIONS from three News & Mail readers give a further insight into Rupert Guinness, 2nd Earl of Iveagh, his Pyrford Court Estate and Hoe Bridge Farm that produced milk for the Guinness Dairy.

As reported in Peeps on 11 March 2021, the earl was not only the head of the famous Irish brewing dynasty but a businessman and for 19 years a politician, while also a key figure in applying science to improve agriculture and farming methods.

In response to the previous story, Nigel Searle sent an account of a visit by pupils from the Woking County School for Boys (later Woking Boys’ Grammar School), to the Pyrford Court Estate to see a gas plant in operation. One of the pupils wrote the article, which was published in the school magazine in 1928.

Part of it is reproduced here. “Twenty members of the school’s scientific society visited Pyrford Court travelling by bus or cycle,” the pupil recorded. “The object of the visit was to inspect the plant for making gas from stable refuse.”

They were given a tour by a Mr Auton, who, the pupil, noted: “Explained the best material was ordinary farm-manure, brought in carts from the farm and left for a few days to allow the decomposition to begin.

“It is then placed in a trolley and drawn up a steep incline which forms part of a structure built round three retorts, each having a capacity of 1,000 cubic feet.

“The refuse is next shovelled through a 15-inch man-hole in the top of the boiler and mixed with half its volume of water; the boiler is half filled and kept at blood-heat (98ºF) by means of a water-jacket, as this is the most suitable temperature for the production of the gas, as a result of decomposition through the work of micro-organisms.

“The mixture gives off appreciable quantities of gas for six weeks, and it is then led into trucks to be used on the land. The methane can be obtained at any pressure by means of weights on the gasometer, and is used for both heating and lighting.

“Having thoroughly examined the plant the party was shown over the beautiful and extensive grounds, finally passing through the greenhouses in which fertilising experiments are being carried out.”

Lee Burnham’s father, William, but always known as John, worked at Hoe Bridge Farm from 1945 to 1977, first as a tractor driver. Lee used to go with him to the farm in the 1960s and remembers his father driving a combine harvester. The farm manager was John Cable.

His father’s other duties included driving a potato lorry, maintenance work, being a stand-in milkman when required and night watchman when the earl and his wife were away from Pyrford Court.

Lord Iveagh died in 1967 and his funeral and burial was at his other large estate, Elveden, near Thetford, in Norfolk. Lee recalls that a coach was laid on to take staff from Pyrford Court to pay their last respects.

Another fact, supplied by Nigel Searle, is that during the First World War and in the development of tanks, initial training of soldiers to operate them took place at the National Rifle Association’s ranges at Bisley, which the military had taken over.

However, to ensure secrecy, none of the new-fangled tanks were ever sent to Bisley. Lord Iveagh’s estate at Elveden was chosen as a training ground that was called The Elveden Explosives Area.

The troops who were moved there from Bisley were billeted in the stables at the earl’s mansion and in the then-new almshouses in Elveden village.

Finally, the photos here of Pyrford Court and gardens were taken during an open day in 1986 by Mark Coxhead’s late father.

If  you have some memories or old pictures relating to Woking and it people, call David Rose on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

(red blob) David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls ‘the history within living memory’ of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings, please phone or email him at [email protected]