The project at Whitehall has given us the opportunity to further explore the history of the house, Cheam and the surrounding area. A large part of this has involved re-examining what we have in our own collections and in the Local Studies Centre in Sutton to make sure we have left no leaf unturned. Our quest to find out all we can about our history has also led us further afield to Surrey History Centre and the National Archives, to see what clues or references we can find, especially as to why exactly Whitehall was built around five centuries ago.
We have been lucky to find some very old original documents, for example below is the original probate of John Boevey from 1700, found at the National Archives:
We have had to trawl through some even older documents, like these Wardrobe and Household accounts from the 1580s!
Documents like this are difficult and time consuming to interpret, even for the most experienced historian. Luckily many documents are now digitised even by small archives, meaning you can read and search them on a computer. This is especially useful on a project like ours as it means copies can be easily saved and passed on to the many interested members of the team. For example, we looked at the wills of residents as Cheam from as early as the fifteenth century, looking for clues as to exactly why Whitehall was built, and found that the National Archives had made all of these available digitally!
At Surrey History Centre we looked at very old government records – Calendars of the Patent Rolls, Close Rolls, Charter Rolls and State Papers, amongst others. We were looking for any mention of Cheam which may have offered insight into how people lived at the time, which involved trawling through indexes of these huge volumes:
We found references to Cheam under lots of different names; a few very early names included: ‘Cleiham’, ‘Cheigham’, ‘Ceiham’ and ‘Chayham’. By the eighteenth century it was commonly referred to as ‘Cheme’ or ‘Cheyme’.
It was our own Local Studies Centre in Sutton Library which could tell us the most about Whitehall and Cheam, with rows of books, draws of photographs and reams of press cuttings all about them. One highlight was this beautiful illustration showing a reconstructed view of Whitehall, 1500-50, just after it was built:
It’s a great reminder of how much both the house and its surroundings have changed. Another real highlight and important source unearthed was ‘Notes on an Old Home’. Local archivists discovered that these handwritten notes on the history of Whitehall were the work of Maud Muller, one of the last of the Killick family to live at Whitehall in the early twentieth century. Her work is incredibly useful as she tells us about information contained in old documents owned by her family, as well as stories passed down, which are no longer available.
Our work in the archives has allowed us to confirm some of what we believed about Whitehall, told us some new information and disproven some of what we originally thought. We look forward to sharing what we have learnt with you once the project is complete!