Thomas Pooley

Last updated

Thomas Pooley (c. 1788 – 1846 or later) was a Cornishman who moved to London to seek his fortune. Having amassed sufficient wealth, he settled in Kingston-upon-Thames, [1] where he operated several malthouses.

Kingston upon Thames principal settlement of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in southwest London

Kingston upon Thames, frequently known as Kingston, is an area of southwest London, England, 10 miles (16.1 km) southwest of Charing Cross. It is the administrative centre of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, and identified as a major metropolitan centre in the London Plan.


After the arrival of the London and Southampton Railway, soon renamed London and South Western Railway, a little way to the south of Kingston, he conceived the idea of building a new town adjacent to the railway. He built houses for relatively wealthy people who worked in London, but wished to live in the more salubrious air of the countryside. Pooley was thus one of the early developers of the concept of commuting.

London and South Western Railway British pre-grouping railway company

The London and South Western Railway (LSWR) was a railway company in England from 1838 to 1922. Starting as the London and Southampton Railway, its network extended from London to Plymouth via Salisbury and Exeter, with branches to Ilfracombe and Padstow and via Southampton to Bournemouth and Weymouth. It also had many routes connecting towns in Hampshire and Berkshire, including Portsmouth and Reading. In the grouping of railways in 1923 the LSWR amalgamated with other railways to create the Southern Railway.

Commuting periodically recurring travel between ones place of residence and place of work, or study

Commuting is periodically recurring travel between one's place of residence and place of work, or study, and in doing so exceed the boundary of their residential community. It sometimes refers to any regular or often repeated traveling between locations, even when not work-related. A distinction is also often made between commuters who commute daily or weekly between their residence to work place, often being suburbs to cities, and are therefore considered respectively local or long-distance commuters.

His project established the nucleus of what became the modern town of Surbiton, but opposition from competing interests forced him into bankruptcy and he disappeared from history in his late 50s.

Surbiton suburban area of south-west London within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, England

Surbiton is a suburban neighbourhood of south-west London within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RBK) It is situated next to the River Thames, 11 miles (18 km) south west of Charing Cross and is part of the traditional county of Surrey. For administrative purposes, Surbiton has been part of Greater London since 1965, following the passing of the London Government Act 1963. Surbiton comprises four of the RBK's wards: Alexandra, Berrylands, St. Mark's, and Surbiton Hill.

Before Kingston

It is clear from surviving records that Thomas Pooley and his wife Jane came originally from Cornwall. [2] However, Thomas was not sure when he was born, stating in 1844 that he was "54, 56 or 58, I cannot say which". [3]

Cornwall County of England

Cornwall is a county in South West England in the United Kingdom. The county is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar which forms most of the border between them. Cornwall forms the westernmost part of the South West Peninsula of the island of Great Britain. The furthest southwestern point of Great Britain is Land's End; the southernmost point is Lizard Point. Cornwall has a population of 563,600 and covers an area of 3,563 km2 (1,376 sq mi). The county has been administered since 2009 by the unitary authority, Cornwall Council. The ceremonial county of Cornwall also includes the Isles of Scilly, which are administered separately. The administrative centre of Cornwall, and its only city, is Truro.

Some time in the early 19th century the Pooleys moved to London. They settled in Old Street in Finsbury and Thomas earned sufficient to allow him to amass considerable wealth. [4]

Finsbury district of inner north London, England

Finsbury is a district of Central London, England and is in the London Borough of Islington

Life in Kingston

By 1838 the Pooleys were living in the more pleasant surroundings of Kingston-upon-Thames, [5] also known at that time as Kingston-on-Thames. [6] Thomas ran three malthouses and his son Alexander ran another. In addition to his malting operations, Thomas owned three cargo vessels, the Agnes, the Elizabeth and the Mahon Castle. [7]

Despite his success in business, Pooley was seen by the business community of Kingston as being of the lower orders and not quite respectable. However, Alexander married into a local family. His wife Jane was the daughter of William Wadbrook, also a successful maltster, who came from a line of Kingston watermen. [8]

The coming of the railway

The builders of the London and Southampton Railway had hoped to take the line north of Surbiton Hill and put a station somewhere to the south of Kingston. However, the men who ran Kingston saw the railway as a threat to the town's coaching and inn-keeping trades and refused to allow the line to pass through their territory. It therefore proved necessary for a cutting to be dug through Surbiton Hill. A station was built in the cutting, close to the Ewell road. In theory, this station served Kingston, but it was a long way from the town. [9]

Christopher Terry was a gentleman farmer noted for being a good employer. He owned Maple Farm, just south of the hamlet of Surbiton, and he died there at the age of 93 in 1838, just as the railway was being built nearby. In his will he directed that his estate be sold and the proceeds divided between the beneficiaries. [10]

When the land was auctioned, there was little interest. However, Thomas Pooley realized the potential of this land and bought a large part of it for the modest sum of £10,500. [11] He planned to build a new town, which would be called New Kingston or Kingston-(up)on-Railway, [12] and hoped to attract people who wanted rapid access to London.

Within weeks, a London consortium offered Pooley £120,000 for the land, but he refused the quick profit, because he was keen to see his project through. [13]

The new town

House in The Crescent seen from Claremont Crescent Gardens. [14] Photo: LynwoodF. Surbiton The Crescent-1.jpg
House in The Crescent seen from Claremont Crescent Gardens. [14] Photo: LynwoodF.

The scheme moved ahead rapidly, because Pooley took personal control of it and he threw himself into it with enthusiasm. He drew up plans and engaged an architect, engineers, builders and labourers. He supervised the project closely, moving about the area to ensure that all was progressing well. [15]

More Pooley houses in Claremont Road. Photo: LynwoodF. Surbiton Claremont Road-1.jpg
More Pooley houses in Claremont Road. Photo: LynwoodF.

By the 1841 census Thomas and Jane were living in a new house in Claremont Crescent, now The Crescent, and Alexander, who appears to have given up other employment to assist his father, had moved into a house in Victoria Terrace, now a row of shops in Victoria Road close to the station. [16]

The original station, approached by way of a steep descent into the cutting, soon proved to be wholly inadequate. So in 1839 Pooley gave land for a new station to be built on the present site, which is adjacent to an important road junction. [17]

In August 1840, and again in October, The Times praised Pooley's enterprise in creating this remarkable development. Wide streets and a crescent were lined with handsome houses. [18]

Downfall and disappearance

The newspaper's enthusiasm was not, however, matched by the business community of Kingston, which was becoming apprehensive about Pooley's success. When he proposed the building of a corn market near the station, leading businessmen put forward a proposal to build one in Kingston and persuaded the Council to block Pooley's scheme. In the end neither scheme was realized. [19]

This was but one episode in a campaign to bring Pooley down. There is no evidence that anything illegal was done, but there seems to have been a concerted effort to get rid of this 'upstart'. [20]

Pooley had needed to borrow heavily to finance the project and this was his Achilles' heel. In January 1842 Coutts Bank refused to lend him any more and creditors closed in on him. Unpaid seamen were after his blood. It appears that Pooley's own solicitors had been part of the plot to bring him down, warning Coutts of the growing antagonism of the Kingston establishment. [21]

Things became increasingly difficult for Pooley. After building work had been suspended because of lack of funds, partly completed houses were vandalized. This seems to have been an attempt by unidentified parties to reduce the value of his assets and hasten his capitulation. [22]

Coutts refused Pooley's offer to hand over his holdings in exchange for a life annuity of £1,000. Eventually, in June 1842 Pooley was forced to hand over his holdings in the new town to his creditors' trustees. Apparently there was a gentlemen's agreement to pay him £5 a week. He fled to Boulogne and lived in poverty. [23]

This was not the end of Pooley's misery. His £5 a week allowance was withdrawn and Alexander, his son, was taken dangerously ill. In January 1844 Thomas returned to England, landing at Greenwich and staying in Surrey, where there was no writ against him. [24]

Attempts were made to persuade Pooley to sign away his claims on the new town. There were violent altercations in a solicitor's office and at one point Thomas was about to be taken to prison. Despite his illness, Alexander was arrested for one of his father's debts. Eventually, Thomas was plied with drink and prevailed upon to sign. [25]

The next day Pooley changed his mind. He filed complaints in the Chancery Court and these were still unsettled two years later, when a new tragedy struck. In 1846 Jane, Alexander's wife, died at 28, leaving three small children. [26]

In 1846 Pooley disappears from history, his court cases unsettled. No record of his death has been found, so it is possible that he died abroad. [27]


Alexander Pooley continued the legal battles, without success, until the early 1850s, when he, too, disappears from history. It seems that his son, Thomas Alexander, returned to the world of brewing. [29]

The new town soon came to be known as Surbiton. This name had previously referred principally to the hamlet of Kingston parish spread out along what is now Surbiton Road. Streets and buildings were renamed to remove any reference to the Pooleys and their relatives. [30]

There is now a residential block in Surbiton called Thomas Pooley Court, but the real monument to the vision of this man is the group of elegant streets just north of the station, where some of his handsome houses survive.


These include:

References and notes

  1. Now Kingston upon Thames. Hyphens were used until 1965.
  2. Sampson, p.3.
  3. Sampson, p.5.
  4. Sampson, p.3.
  5. Sampson, p.3.
  6. The name did not become fixed until 1965, when the hyphens were removed and 'upon' became standard. (See numerous documents, both official and otherwise, from before 1965.)
  7. Sampson, p.3.
  8. Sampson, p.5.
  9. Sampson, p.3f., Statham, p.22f., Butters, p. 101ff.
  10. Sampson, p.3.
  11. Sampson, p.3, Statham, p.24.
  12. Sampson, pp.2 & 4, Statham, p.25.
  13. Sampson, p.4, Statham, p.25.
  14. The signs currently (2011) displayed in the gardens read Claremont Gardens, but this is the name of a residential road some hundreds of yards away, and so there is room for confusion.
  15. Sampson, p.4, Statham, p.25.
  16. Sampson, p.6.
  17. Sampson, p.33.
  18. Sampson, p.11ff, Statham, p.26.
  19. Sampson, p.7, Statham, p.26.
  20. Sampson, p.8ff, Statham, p.26ff.
  21. Sampson, p.8, Statham, p.26.
  22. Sampson, p.9.
  23. Sampson, p.9.
  24. Sampson, p.9.
  25. Sampson, p.10.
  26. Sampson, p.10.
  27. Sampson, p.11.
  28. Statham, p.26ff.
  29. Sampson, p.11.
  30. Sampson, p.10f.
  31. The lower sections to the sides may be later additions; they do not appear on the early maps.

Related Research Articles

Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames Royal borough in United Kingdom

The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames is a borough in southwest London, England. The main town is Kingston upon Thames and it includes Surbiton, Chessington, Malden Rushett, New Malden, Tolworth and part of Worcester Park. It is the oldest of the four Royal Boroughs in England. The others are Kensington and Chelsea and Greenwich also in London, and Windsor and Maidenhead. The local authority is Kingston upon Thames London Borough Council.

Norbiton area of Kingston upon Thames

Norbiton is an area within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, London. It lies approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Kingston upon Thames town centre, and 11 miles (17.7 km) from Charing Cross. Its main landmarks include Kingston Hospital and Kingsmeadow football stadium, which is currently used for the home matches of both AFC Wimbledon and Chelsea Ladies. St Peter's Church is also located at the other end of the area.

Tolworth suburban area of southwest London in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, London, England

Tolworth is a suburban area of southwest London in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, located 11 miles (17.7 km) south west of Charing Cross. Neighbouring places include Long Ditton, New Malden, Kingston, Surbiton, Berrylands, Hinchley Wood, Chessington, Ewell and Worcester Park. Surbiton is the nearest, about a mile north west. Tolworth is divided in two, with part of it to the east and part of it to the west of the Kingston by-pass.

Norbiton railway station

Norbiton railway station is in Norbiton, a suburb in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, in south west London. It is on the Kingston Loop Line, 11 miles 24 chains (18.2 km) down the line from London Waterloo. The station and all trains serving it are operated by South Western Railway. It is in Travelcard Zone 5 and is a short walk from Kingston Hospital. It is also the most convenient station for the Kingsmeadow football ground.

Long Ditton village in United Kingdom

Long Ditton is a residential suburb in Surrey, England on the boundary with the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, London. In medieval times it was a village, occupying a narrow strip of land. Neighbouring settlements include Hinchley Wood, Thames Ditton and Surbiton.

Thames Ditton village in United Kingdom

Thames Ditton is a suburban village by and on the River Thames, in the Elmbridge borough of Surrey, England. Apart from a large inhabited island in the river, it lies on the southern bank, centred 12.2 miles (19.6 km) southwest of Charing Cross in central London. Thames Ditton is just outside Greater London but within the Greater London Urban Area as defined by the Office for National Statistics. Its clustered village centre and shopping area on a winding High Street is surrounded by housing, schools and sports areas. Its riverside faces the Thames Path and Hampton Court Palace Gardens and golf course in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Its most commercial area is spread throughout its conservation area and contains restaurants, cafés, shops and businesses.

Berrylands human settlement in United Kingdom

Berrylands is a residential neighbourhood originally forming part of the Municipal Borough of Surbiton, and since 1965 part of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. It is a suburban development situated 10.1 miles (16.3 km) south west of Charing Cross. Nearby places include Surbiton, New Malden, Old Malden, Tolworth and Chessington. Berrylands railway station is 24 minutes from London Waterloo by train.

Surbiton railway station

Surbiton railway station is a National Rail station in Surbiton, south-west London, in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. The station is managed and served by South Western Railway, and is in Travelcard Zone 6. It is 12 miles 3 chains (19.4 km) from London Waterloo and is situated between Berrylands and Esher on the main line.

Kingston railway station (England) railway station in Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames of England

Kingston railway station is in Kingston upon Thames in south-west London. It is 12 miles 9 chains (19.5 km) down the line from London Waterloo. The station and all trains serving it are operated by South Western Railway. It is in Travelcard Zone 6.

Seething Wells human settlement in United Kingdom

Seething Wells is a small locality of Surbiton close to the border with the Surrey district of Elmbridge.

Esher railway station

Esher railway station is a mid-priority station on the South Western Main Line operated by South Western Railway in England. The station adjoins the north of Esher with two footpaths skirting Sandown Park Racecourse, the town’s commercial area being 300 metres beyond the racecourse entrance. The station is situated between Surbiton and Hersham and is 14 miles 31 chains (23.2 km) from London Waterloo.

Municipal Borough of Surbiton

Surbiton was a local government district in northeast Surrey, United Kingdom from 1855 to 1965.

A307 road road in England

The A307 road runs 13.2 miles (21.2 km) through SW London and NW Surrey. It is primary at the north-east end; the remainder is non-primary, generally superseded in the mid-twentieth century in two stages by newer alignments of the Portsmouth Road, the Kingston bypass and Esher bypass of the A3 road which runs along a slightly oblique axis.

A240 road

The A240 is a partially primary status A road in Surrey and Greater London that connects the A217 with the A3 and continues beyond through Surbiton to Kingston upon Thames. The road is 8.5 miles (13.7 km) long and is dualled as the Ewell bypass and thereafter to Tolworth Broadway. In conjunction with the A3 it provides an alternative to the congested A24 corridor through Morden and Merton.

A243 road

The A243 road in England is a partially primary status A-road that runs from Leatherhead in Surrey to Surbiton in the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames, Greater London. It is primary for most of its length, from Leatherhead to Hook Junction with the A3 before running as a non-primary A-road through Surbiton to its terminus at the A307. Although comparatively short it is a busy road connecting a number of other A roads with the M25 motorway.

The Hampton Court branch line is a short branch line off the South Western main line. It has a through station at Thames Ditton and a terminus at Hampton Court, both currently in Transport for London's Zone 6. The line is electrified, using 750 V DC third rail.

Malden Rushett human settlement in United Kingdom

Malden Rushett is a small village in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, London. It is located at the southernmost tip of the Royal Borough, surrounded by woodland and farmland, and between the larger suburban villages and towns of Claygate, Chessington, Epsom, Ashtead, Leatherhead and Oxshott.

Surbiton Park

Surbiton Park is an area in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in Greater London, United Kingdom. It was the southernmost part of the pre-1965 Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey and corresponds roughly to the southernmost part of the present-day Kingston upon Thames postal district.