Image: Wedding of Frank Derry and Kate Fry, 1894. With acknowledgement to Caroline Hayward.

Frank Derry (born Islington 7 Mar 1869, died Eastbourne 10 Dec 1951) made his fortune by inventing magnetic corsets which claimed to ward off arthritis and rheumatism. He also took over a mail order business which became the biggest in the world and its successor company still trades today as Ambrose Wilson.

Frank Derry married Kate Fry In Brixton in 1894 and is first noted in Woking in 1901. With their three children they moved several times, Frank being in business as the Woking Autocar Company, in Chertsey Road for a few years after the end of World War 1. By 1915 he was living at Carn Brea, Ashwood Road, and in 1929 moved to a new house, Ashwood, in the same road. The house replaced an earlier house on the site and was a large Arts and Crafts mansion built in 1929 in eight acres of grounds designed by M H Baillie Scott, one of his largest and last commissions. The house cost £40,000 to build. He lived there with his family until disrupted by war in 1939, see below.

Derry family. Frank, Kate and their son Cyril and daughters Kathleen and Gladys. With acknowledgement to Caroline Hayward.

Mr Derry was very involved in Woking life and was the President of the Woking YMCA holding the sunset service there in 1939.  He was a County Councillor for Woking South Division from about 1919 until 1922, on Woking Education Committee from 1921-32 and Chairman of governors of Woking Boys’ Grammar School, 1928-31. He was also active in the Methodist Circuit of the area, being circuit steward  for 23½ years of the years from 1909 until 1941.  He conceived the idea of a new Wesleyan Methodist Church in Commercial Road (now Commercial Way) in 1906 and paid for its organ, also paying most of the building costs of the Methodist churches at Byfleet and Knaphill, and giving to the churches at Selsey and Felpham when he moved to Sussex.  A window at Byfleet Methodist Church was unveiled in 1941 as a tribute to him and his wife. He also financed a Methodist church in Vancouver, British Columbia, where his brother-in-law was minister.

Window in tribute to Frank Derry and his wife at Byfleet Methodist Church, unveiled 1941. With acknowledgement to Byfleet Methodist Church.

In 1937 Derry bought land in White Rose Lane, part of Hoe Place estate and three other pieces of land, with benefit of covenants.  In 1941 he offered its 31 acres to Woking Urban District Council who considered it a possibility for a sports field for the YMCA, but it became the popular Derry’s Field Allotments, with 117 plots.

By 1936 he also had a house in Sussex, to which he moved when Ashwood was requisitioned in World War II. The Surrey Advertiser for 27 July 1940 mentions that 26 wounded soldiers were entertained by members of the Rotary Club and their ladies at Ashwood, the home of Mr Frank Derry. In place of the planned garden entertainment, the men were given tea and were entertained by games and a conjuror. However, the same paper for Sept 28th 1940 says that the house is to be sold by auction on 9th October 1940 by the direction of Mr Derry, and on the two following days the furnishings were sold by auction.

Ashwood had become a maternity home for St Thomas’s Hospital by 1941, and the British Newspaper Archive records many births there until 1945. In March 1941 there is an advertisement for employment for a handyman to be paid £3 per week with a war bonus of 4/- per week. Frank Derry had to retreat to his other house near Bognor when Ashwood was requisitioned, and later that house was also requisitioned and he had to move again.  He never returned to Ashwood and the house was sold by its then owners by auction on 19 November 1946.

Ashwood as a National Children’s Home from 1947

Ashwood, Frank Derry’s last house in Woking

The National Children’s Homes were started by Dr Thomas Bowman Stephenson, a Methodist minister with the first home opening in Lambeth in 1869 after Dr Stephenson had been moved by the plight of orphaned, homeless and abandoned children he saw in London.

Ashwood in Woking was ideal as a children’s home with its spacious house and grounds containing a bamboo forest, a summerhouse, a playground and a paddock with two donkeys, Toffee and Carrot. Ashwood was established as a National Children’s Home for thirty-eight babies and toddlers in 1947, later taking older children as well. Local organisations raided funds for the home, e.g in 1972 a WI raised money for a record player for the family unit.

It became the regional Headquarters for the National Children’s Home, which is now called Action for Children. While the organisation no longer has children’s homes, but continues to help children and young people.

With the changing patterns of child care and to provide a treatment centre for a wider range of children, changes were made to provide a small nursery unit and additional accommodation receiving two groups of children of all ages.

The home closed in 1996 and the house is now converted into separate dwellings known as Ashwood Place.