“Surbiton used to be the butt of jokes, as a symbol of dowdy suburbia.   That was silly.  To anyone with half an eye it was – and still is – an interesting place, in which the original plan and later accretions can be discerned, much as they can in a medieval town like Boston or Carlisle.  And Surbiton may fairly claim its place in history: for it is the oldest suburb in Europe, perhaps in the world, that was called into being by a railway.”

Jack Simmons, 1986, The railway in town and country, p.64, Newton Abbott, David & Charles.

This article challenges most of Wikipedia’s current entry for Thomas Pooley []. Thomas Pooley [also spelled Poolly], Jane, his wife, and Alexander Gopsell Pooley, their son, all were born in Maidstone, Kent.  Thomas Pooley lived in Kent until 1820 and was variously a baker, miller and maltster.

In 1827, Thomas Pooley, then a bankrupt, was found in Norwich, Norfolk, and remained there until 1834-1835. He was variously a corn merchant, coal merchant, and maltster and was associated with ships trading from Norwich to Lowestoft and Newcastle. Between 1834 and 1835, he moved to London.

In 1836-1839, Thomas and Alexander Gopsell Pooley lived in West by Thames, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey. During their time there, Thomas Pooley was a maltster and his son was a maltster and a brewer. In August 1838, Thomas Pooley acquired an estate adjacent to the newly installed London and Southhampton Railway station in Surbiton, then a hamlet near Kingston. This station was not suitable for mass transport. By the middle of 1839, by the instigation of Thomas Pooley, the railway company had installed a new station. This became the entrance to a new town that was laid out under his direction.

In 1841, Thomas Pooley, Jane Pooley, and Alexander Gopsell Pooley all lived in Kingston New Town [Surbiton]. Thomas Pooley financed the development by short-term loans from bankers, including Coutts. The basic houses on the estate soon were occupied mainly by building tradesmen. The grander houses, aimed at people who wanted the advantage of a convenient and fashionable home in the country, while still being able to stay and work in London, failed to attract many tenants. Commuting, as it is understood today, was not possible in Thomas Pooley’s time. Thomas Pooley mortgaged plots of land to builders, some of whom were insolvent, and failed to generate sufficient income to pay back the loans. He was in prison for debt and  fled to France to escape his creditors.

On 13 January 1843, to avoid bankruptcy, he assigned the Surbiton estate to Coutts, which continued its development. Thereafter, Thomas Pooley engaged in lawsuits in the Court of Chancery, including an unsuccessful attempt to recover the Surbiton estate. He moved to Shropshire where, in 1851, he was an iron master. By 1855, a Chancery Order was made for liquidation of Thomas Pooley’s assets and in 1856 he committed suicide.

Alexander Gopsell Pooley led a complicated commercial life after the loss of the Surbiton estate. Among other occupations, he was variously an iron merchant, agricultural chemist, metal miner, manufacturing chemist, East Indies merchant, quarry owner & banker, merchant, financial agent, merchant & bill discounter, owner of the Alhambra Music Hall and owner of the Jersey Railway.  In 1852, with his father, and Joseph Pooley, he was tried at the Old Bailey for fraud and conspiracy to defraud. The case, which concerned a consignment of allegedly over valued bar iron, was terminated for want of evidence. He was at times a bankrupt and fled to Scotland and France to avoid his creditors. He was extradited from Paris, and detained first in Newgate Prison, then in Holloway Prison. Between 1844 and 1875, he was involved in about 30 cases in the Court of Chancery. He died in 1886 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, along with his father and mother.

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The Author

David A. Kennedy, PhD

About 20 years ago, I accompanied my late wife to some talks on the use of computers in historical research and began to help her with her genealogical studies. Later, I took part in a project, organised by the Centre for Local History Studies at Kingston University, to digitise the Enumerators’ Books for the Kingston Census of 1851-1891. This rekindled my interest in history, especially that of Kingston upon Thames, where I live. This website has been set up so that I can share my research findings, some based on digitised material, with others who may be interested in them.

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