SUICIDE AT THE OLD BAILEY
Whitaker Wright 1846 - 1904
Whitaker Wright (1846 - 1904), a wealthy mining company owner, in 1890 bought Lea Park Estate on the outskirts of Haslemere and the adjacent South Park Farm and combined the two into a huge single estate he called Witley Park in a development that cost an incredible £1.85m (appx £114m in today's money) and was one of the most lavish private residences in the world at the time. South Park Farm was bought from the Earl of Derby who used it to entertain his weekend guests on shooting parties. Title to the land brought with it manorial rights for the Manor of Witley, which included Hindhead Common and the Devil's Punchbowl. South Park Farm itself was established when in 1599 Queen Elizabeth I sold Witley Park to the Mores of Loseley who broke the land up into separate farms one of which was bought by the Earl's family.
The extensively landscaped grounds of 450 acres included a series of three interconnected lakes and an underwater domed glass and steel constructed billiards room. Lea Park House was converted into a sumptious mansion with 32 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a private theatre and observatory. It is said locally that Wright had over 500 labourers working on his project which included digging the three lakes by hand.
The work was never finished for in 1904 Wright committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule after his business empire ran into financial difficulties and he had been sentenced to seven years imprisonment for fraud. His financial downfall appears to have been due to his involvement with the building of the new London Underground. His London and Globe Finance Corporation, which was particularly investing in the Bakerloo Line, went bust in 1900 and he was accused of misusing invested funds.
The story goes that Wright hid himself away in the ice house at Witley Park for a week to avoid his pursuers who had a warrant for his arrest, before fleeing to New York by sea. Unfortunately for him the warrant was waiting for him when he landed in America and despite his use of false identity he was apprehended. After extradition he faced a particularly unsympathetic judge and jury at his trial at the Old Bailey and in 1904 was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. It was at this point Wright decided he couldn't face prison or his creditors and committed suicide. He had smuggled a cyanide tablet into court and having asked his solicitor for a glass of whiskey and a cigar, upon his proclamation 'I will not need this where I am going' in handing his watch over, he swallowed the tablet and collapsed. Wright had obviously been desperate to find a way out if the trial went against him for later the police found he'd also hidden a revolver in his clothes.
Wright is buried in the graveyard of All Saints in Witley, his grave marked by an imposing marble slab.