The Evolution of Cooper’s Hill

The site of the former Brunel University Runnymede campus has a long and colourful history, with links to Henry VIII and the Statue of Eros now at the centre of London’s Piccadilly Circus. Now, work has begun to transform the Victorian Gothic building from student accommodation into a luxury retirement village.

During its long history, the site has passed through the hands of many notable owners. It was once owned by Andrew, Lord Windsor in 1539, having been granted it by King Henry VIII, and passed on to the Harcourt family in the 18th Century. They remained in the old manor house until the start of the 19th Century when they built a new house on the current site, and the property became known as ‘Coopershill’.

The Royal Engineering College, Cooper's Hill SHC ref: 8511/56/36 c.1905

The Royal Engineering College, Cooper’s Hill SHC ref: 8511/56/36 c.1905

Sold off and passed through the hands of two other families, its student history began when it was purchased in 1870 by Indian Engineering College, which trained engineers for the Engineering Service of the Government of India. The house was converted and a new block was created to include a dining hall, library, four classrooms, a lecture theatre and laboratory as well as individual rooms for the students. The College is mentioned in A Study of Trees at Cooper’s Hill by Thomas H E Harvey (1956), a student at Shoreditch Training College, which was moved to Cooper’s Hill, Englefield Green from Pitfield Street in east London after World War II.

When the college moved to Oxford University in 1905, the estate was purchased by Baron and Baroness Cheylesmore for use as a family home. Baron Cheylesmore was a British Army Officer who presided over courts martial during the First World War, but he was killed in a motor accident in 1925. The estate being used as a refuge for Belgian refugees, nuns and children and as a convalescence home for wounded soldiers. Surrey History Centre holds papers relating to Baroness Cheylesmore and Cooper’s Hill Estate (312/2/13 and 312/2/14). There are also references to Lord Cheylesmore and a concert in aid of wounded soldiers at Coopershill in Surrey newspapers during the First World War.

In 1938, the site was bought by the London County Council. During the war, administrative staff were transferred over and the Statue of Eros was removed from Piccadilly Circus to spend the period protected at the site. After the war, the Cooper’s Hill Emergency Training College was founded to address an urgent need for teachers, and later merged with Brunel University to specialise in design and technology courses.

In 2004, the Department of Design was moved to the main Brunel University Campus at Uxbridge and the Runnymede Campus became purely residential, providing accommodation for students from Royal Holloway College. Now, in its next stage of evolution, the site is set to become home to Audley’s retirement village which will, when finished, become Audley Cooper’s Hill – 78 apartments for the over 55s located within the 66 acres of the Magna Carta Park.

Effort will be made to preserve and celebrate the history of the area, and the first owners will move in in autumn 2019 following the completion of the first phase of development.

More information on what it will look like can be found on the Audley Retirement website.

Text supplied by Audley Retirement.