Whitehall Historic House is an impressive feature at the heart of the picturesque village of Cheam. A landmark in the Cheam Village Conservation Area, with the distinct white weatherboarding, projecting upper storey, and sloping porch the building stands out as something special. Whitehall is Grade II* listed by Historic England, recognising its importance as a rare survivor of domestic architecture in the top 5% of significant buildings in the country.
The timber framed structure at the core of Whitehall was built around 1500, at about the time that Henry VIII came to the throne. Set near the centre of a grid of streets that make up the focal point of old Cheam, opinion is divided about the building’s origins. It may have originally been intended as a meeting or ‘council’ house, alternatively it may always have been a house and home. Over the years the original Tudor structure was added to with extensions dating to the time of the Stuarts and the Victorians. Each addition built upon the unique character and story of the building which now offers a glimpse of life in Cheam over the past 500 years.
The occupants also lend themselves to the unique heritage available at Whitehall. It is thought to have been the site where Cheam School originated, lodging its local schoolmasters, as well as the one-time home of James Boevey, the 17th-century merchant and philosopher. While new discoveries about the building’s original purpose and early occupants continue to be made, the past 275 years offer a more detailed account of life in Whitehall. Remarkably, between 1741 and 1963 Whitehall was the home of one family, the Killicks. The house, and its history, passed down the female line of the family until it was purchased by Sutton Council in the 1960s.
Supported by the Friends of Whitehall, the Council was able to open the house to the public in 1978 as a museum of local history. The museum was accredited by Arts Council England. With free admissions, Whitehall has since served as a key location for the local community, offering displays about the history of the house and the local area, a peaceful rear garden, and an exciting programme of activities, not to mention a tea room voted to be one of the best in Surrey!
In June 2015 Whitehall was awarded funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the project Know Our Place: Sharing and Saving Whitehall. With additional support from the London Borough of Sutton and the Friends of Whitehall, the project allows for essential conservation and repair works as well as the addition of a lift extension and other features to improve access for all visitors. The extent of the repairs means the building is currently closed, but will re-open in the summer of 2017 with new exhibitions telling the story of the local area and some of the people who have lived nearby along with the story of Whitehall and its owners. While the museum is closed, an exciting events and activities programme ensures that the public can still get involved and engage with local heritage and the story of Whitehall Historic House.