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W G Tarrant

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'WG Tarrant: Master Builder and Developer' by Mavis Swenarton. First published as Monograph 24 by the Walton and Weybridge Local History Society. Reproduced with the permission of the author and publisher.

W.G. Tarrant was one of the most influential and prolific builders in Surrey in the first third of the 20th century. Today the term 'Tarrant-built' is used widely to describe houses on St. George’s Hill and Wentworth estates and in Pyrford, West Byfleet and Woking, and it is recognised as indicating an exceptionally high standard of material and workmanship.

Walter George Tarrant was born on 8th April 1875 at Brockhurst, a village near Gosport in Hampshire. His father was a police constable who later served in Aldershot and Hook, on the Hampshire/Surrey border. On leaving school, 'WG', as he was known, was apprenticed as a carpenter. In 1895 Tarrant set up his own business in Byfleet, first as a carpenter and later as a builder. In the early 1900s he built extensively in Pyrford, West Byfleet and Woking, commuter areas of Surrey, easily accessible from London by the excellent train service from Waterloo.

W.G. Tarrant was a man of vision and enterprise. He was an imposing figure, over six feet tall, with abundant grey hair and a thick beard, and is said to have borne a striking resemblance to King Edward VII. In 1911 he purchased 964 acres of land on St. George’s Hill from W.F. Egerton and planned the Estate as the ideal place of residence for the wealthy business or professional man, where privacy and quiet could be enjoyed in surroundings of natural beauty, with excellent facilities for sport and exercise.

Early in 1912 a book was published entitled 'IDEAL DESIGNS FOR HOUSES TO BE ERECTED AT ST. GEORGE'S HILL, WEYBRIDGE, BY MR. W.G. TARRANT' edited by Seth-Smith and Monro. The book contained articles describing the attractions of the Estate in glowing terms and designs for twenty houses by a number of architects. A note headed W.G. TARRANT BUILDER BYFLEET states 'To build an ideal house it is necessary for the builder to have ideal facilities and good workmen. These are to be found in Byfleet in connection with the above business. The works are established in one of the most healthy and charming old villages of Surrey, covering five acres of ground and are equipped with the best of necessary machinery. Contained in these works are ideal workshops for joinery, wrought iron, lead lights and iron casement work. The men employed are specialists in their respective crafts. The brickfields connected with this business are situated at Chobham, Surrey, where is found clay similar to that used in the old Surrey farm-houses and still most suitable for producing the hand-made bricks and tiles which have helped to make Surrey the beautiful county it is. The nurseries to provide shrubs and plants for the laying out of gardens are also in Surrey at Pyrford and Addlestone, where acres of charming young trees, shrubs, conifers, etc., can be seen.'

Tarrant's first priority at St. George’s Hill was to develop an 18-hole golf course, designed by the expert H.S. Colt, and work started early in 1912. The first plans, for two houses and an estate office at Weybridge station, were approved by Weybridge Urban District Council on 3rd April 1912; plans for a further three houses and an entrance lodge at Byfleet Road were approved by the Council on 1st June 1912; all the houses were near the main entrance in Byfleet Road, now Brooklands Road. Tarrant's system was to build three houses at the same time, with a gang of about a hundred men under one foreman. The men worked a ten-hour day , 56 and a half hours a week, from 6 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, with half an hour off 8 to 8.30 a.m. and one hour from 1 to 2 p.m., and from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, with half an hour’s break. In 1913 the wages for labourers were 6d an hour, for bricklayers and carpenters 8½d, and for plasterers 9d an hour, plastering being skilled and heavy work; thatchers received one shilling an hour. Tarrant’s workforce is said to have numbered about 5000 in the 1920s, with an administrative staff of around seventy.

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