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Charles Peyto Shrubb, the man who built Merrist Wood House


A love of life, and a touch of scandal (written by Steve Cranstone)

We are very grateful to Steve for writing the historical article below, and for allowing us to publish it on this website.  We are also very grateful for the lighter tone it brings to an otherwise fact-heavy site.


Merrist Wood has a long history, thought to have once been royal hunting grounds. The land and farm within it was purchased by John Peyto Shrubb in 1811. The Shrubb family had been weavers and dyers in Godalming. In the heydays of the business they shrewdly put their money into property and educating their children. The wool trade had declined by the end of the 18th century but those investments meant that John Peyto, the surviving male of the line, had a considerable portfolio of property. Houses, shops and farms throughout Surrey, Sussex and even the village of Boldre, in Hampshire, provided a steady income from rents. He had three sons, George James, Charles, and Henry. The two younger sons, Charles and Henry, both went to Oxford University and both were ordained into the Church of England. The family’s ownership of much of Boldre led to Charles Shrubb becoming vicar of the parish. In due course Charles married Charlotte Aubrey Bayliff and they set about filling the vicarage with children. Their third child and first son they called Charles Peyto. The Shrubb family motto was ‘Sub Cruce Simper Viridis’ which translates to, ’ever vigorous under the cross’.  Charles Peyto adhered to the family motto in a rather different way to his forebears.

Charles Peyto Shrubb, the early years

The 1851 census shows Charles Peyto and his younger brother John Lane studying at a private school at Newchurch on the Isle of Wight. Later he went to study under a private tutor in Warwickshire, where, it is reported, he kept horses and devoted his time to hunting rather than acquirement of the classics. At some point he met Henrietta Caroline Wigney, daughter of the late Isaac Newton Wigney, MP for Brighton, magistrate, bank manager, and rogue. The Wigney family had been obliged to leave Brighton in a hurry in 1842 when Wigney’s bank went bust and they moved to London. On the 24th of February 1859 at Trinity Church, Marylebone, in a service conducted by his father, Charles Peyto Shrubb and Henrietta Caroline Wigney were married.

A coincidence of names perhaps

The 1861 census found Charles Peyto and his wife at Boldre living with his parents. Soon after, newspaper reports of local social functions reported on him attending with, ‘a lady’ rather than his wife.  The parish register for All Saints, Rotherhithe, records that in October 1866, Charles Peyto was baptised, son of Charles Peyto Shrubb, gentleman, and Sarah. Sarah was actually Sarah Harnett and the child registered as Charles Peyto S (for Shrubb)  Harnett. Sadly the little lad lived for only six months.  A coincidence of names perhaps, or had Charles Peyto been socialising with ladies too well?  An event in Boldre, just a few years later, suggests the latter.

An extraordinary elopement

July 1871 and newspapers even as far as San Francisco reported on the ‘extra ordinary elopement’ of Charles Peyto Shrubb of Vicars Hill Lodge, Boldre, with a beautiful 19 year old girl. The girl they stated was a ward in chancery and heiress to a fortune. The papers quoted Charles’s annual income as £800, and stated he had settled £300 of that on his wife, so clearly he had parted from Henrietta. The account of the elopement is indeed extraordinary because, we are told, the girl’s father set off in hot pursuit and tracked the couple via Reading, London, Bath and onward to Cork in Ireland. Charles Peyto had tried to effect a disguise by shaving off his whiskers but Robert Desmond Sulivan, the girl’s father, spotted him in Patrick Street and gave him a thumping. Charles was handed over to the police and Robert Sulivan took his daughter, Emily Albinia Fanny, off to a hotel. The next day Charles was in court where he complained of having to eat off the prison’s wooden platter rather than the silver plate he was used to. Released on bail he and the Sulivans returned to England. The girl’s reputation gone, it appears she and Charles Peyto went off to London to live but sadly it was not to last.  On the 27th of June 1873 Emily Albinia Shrubb Sulivan, daughter of Charles Peyto Shrubb and Emily Sulivan was baptised at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, London. Sadly the child’s mother wasn’t present at the christening, she had died on the 21st of June. 

Merrist Wood House is built

John Peyto Shrubb had died in 1843 and son George James just two years later, so all the family property had passed to the two remaining sons, Charles and Henry. In 1875 the Reverend Charles Shrubb died. At probate his effects were valued at £90,000, something like £4 million in today’s values. Charles Peyto’s share of the inheritance was a considerable amount of property in Surrey, including Merrist Wood, his brother John Lane having the rest. With money to spend both boys commissioned architect Norman Percy Shaw to build them large houses, John Lane’s in Boldre and Charles Peyto’s at Merrist Wood. Just four years later the Reverend Henry Shrubb died and left a fortune even greater than his brother’s. The list of property Uncle Henry left to nephew Charles Peyto was impressive, much of it in and around Guildford, including shops and houses in the High Street, and stretching out via Worplesdon and Pirbright as far as Chobham.   Both wills contained a clause that stated the inheritance could only be passed on to the next generation of children, “if lawfully begotten”.  Charles Peyto and Henrietta had not divorced, there were no children “lawfully begotten”, and unlikely to be.  

A fib in the census

Merrist Wood House built with the inheritance from his father was finished around 1877. The first record of its occupants is the 1881 census.  Along with staff the only Shrubb present was 7 year old Emily Albinia, although legally her name was Emily Albinia Shrubb Sulivan. Charles Peyto was at 44 St Charles Square, Chelsea, recorded as living with his wife Emily and two children, Charles and Amelia. The couple could not be married; Charles Peyto was separated but not divorced from Henrietta. The next census in 1891 he was at Merrist Wood with daughter Emily (Sulivan). Possibly the Emily described as his wife in 1881 and the, by now three, children were also present, but tactfully not revealed to the enumerator.

One funeral and a wedding

On the 5th of January 1896 Henrietta Shrubb (nee Wigney) died. She is buried in the tiny Hampton cemetery, Middlesex. The wording on her headstone states, “The Wife of Charles Peyto Shrubb”, but Henrietta’s death released him from that legal bond. On the 15th of January 1896 he married Charlotte Emily Gordon Adams (the Emily of the 1881 census), in Christ Church, Kensington. That marriage meant that three of his four children could be considered “lawfully begotten”, thus overcoming the restriction placed upon him by his father’s and uncle’s wills.  Sadly the happy family had only a short time together at Merrist Wood.

A sad end

Just three years later, on the 4th of February 1899, Charles Peyto Shrubb died. A man who loved life, and the ladies, he had enthusiastically indulged in all things equestrian and was liked and respected by all. The Surrey Advertiser reported that despite the inclement weather there was a long list of mourners and a large attendance of villagers. He is buried in the graveyard at St Mary’s Church Worplesdon, although his formerly impressive memorial is now overgrown and neglected.  Charlotte Emily remarried in 1906, but it seems not happily, and when she died in 1932 her ashes were brought to Worplesdon and interred with the remains of her first husband, Charles Peyto Shrubb.

References elsewhere on this site to Charles Peyto Shrubb:

•    Merristwood Mead
•    Hockford Farm
•    Fox Corner Community Wildlife Area
•    Pirbright Cottages

•    Norton Farm


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