Herbert Lawrence Wettern (1874-1959) and his wife May Adeline (nee Norton) purchased Oxted Place on 17 December 1915. Herbert was a successful quarry owner and stone merchant and he also, jointly with his brother, tried his hand as a ship owner (SS Dunavon).
Herbert was a passionate and most accomplished grower of roses winning many prizes for his blooms and writing on rose growing regularly for horticultural magazines. On purchasing Oxted Place Herbert had plans for a rose garden drawn up by Robert Whistler Wallace, a noted garden designer and nurseryman. The rose supplier named on the plan, B.R.Cant & Sons, is still in business. The new rose garden extended the gardens to the south although unfortunately nothing much of it survives today except for Wallace’s plans, some of the trees and a number of the iron poles which used to support the climbing roses.
Herbert was so keen on roses that there were some named after his wife. Regrettably we only have this monochrome photo of rose ‘Mrs. H.L. Wettern’ which apparently was a medium pink hybrid tea rose bred in 1922 by Samuel McGredy II in Ireland.
Herbert’s enthusiasm for gardening was shared by his brother, Eric Frank Wettern, whose own garden ‘Roselands’ in Sanderstead is now a public park known as the Wettern Tree Garden.
Herbert was the son of German immigrant Julius Martin Heinrich Wettern and his Norwegian wife Ragnhild Margareth (nee Bliefeldt). May and Herbert had a daughter Margaret (1901- ) and a son Lawrence (1903-1998). When they bought the house it would have been a particularly difficult time, during the first world war, to have had German relatives. As a reminder of those times there is a horse-chestnut tree in the garden grown from a conker brought back from the Somme battlefield by one of the gardeners.
May Wettern died in 1925 at the age of 48 and is buried at St Peter’s Church in Tandridge.
Herbert married Dorothy (‘Dolly’) May Woods in January 1927. Dolly’s father was Robert John Woods (1872-1955) of Newtownards; he was a designer, painter and opera singer. Herbert and Dolly had two sons, Patrick (1928-2017) and Desmond (1934-1991). Desmond Wettern was the Daily Telegraph’s Naval correspondent and wrote a number of books on naval matters including The Lonely Battle (1960) and The Decline of British Seapower (1982).
Herbert and Dolly put Oxted Place on the market in 1928 and while they didn’t sell the whole estate some parcels of land were sold off. Below is the auctioneer’s plan of the estate and the lots that were for sale.
In 1931-32 Herbert carried out further improvements to the house appointing the antiquarian Ivo Clowes from Paris, to provide the designs. As well as French fittings the works also incorporated materials reclaimed from demolished London buildings, including Dorchester House and the Gaiety Theatre. Correspondence shows that his new father-in-law, Robert Woods, provided regular advice on this remodelling and redecoration, going so far as to provide a suggested design for a painting to fit above the salon fireplace (which seems to never have been implemented).
Before the second world war Herbert regularly opened Oxted Place gardens to the public but this practice became problematic after the war as the Surrey Mirror and County Post reported on 8th June 1951.
In the history of fine gardens it is all too often the case that the garden owner gets the credit while the names of the gardeners are forgotten. However today’s garden at Oxted Place owes much of its appeal to Jesse Ingram who started work here in 1924, aged 14, and rose to be the head gardener. Sadly Jesse died young in 1958 but in his 34 years here he planted some of the garden’s most magnificent trees. Following his untimely death Desmond Wettern wrote his obituary for the Surrey Mirror and County Post.
Herbert died in 1959 aged 84 and is buried in St Peter’s churchyard, Tandridge. Following his death Dolly divided the house, selling off the east wing in 1960 to Edith Mary Crossthwaite and her husband the structural engineer Charles Doveton Crossthwaite who was a partner in consulting engineers Freeman Fox & Partners. In common with many professionals working in unlimited liability partnerships ownership of their house was in the wife’s name. As to be expected of a structural engineer C D Crossthwaite was adept at casting concrete and he added some fine precast concrete balustrading to the terrace which he cast in his own moulds.
In 1969 Crossthwaite organised the connection of the house to the main water supply which was achieved at a cost of £1,217 17s 0d.
Dolly Wettern continued to live in the central part of Oxted Place until 1996; she died, aged 100, in 1999.