Woodcote Hall, Epsom
The talk on Woodcote Hall at the Members’ Evening on 6 August 1997, was based on an inspection for repairs to the property undertaken on behalf of the lessees, sale particulars of 1913 and details of the sub-division of the house submitted to the Council from 1927 onwards. Other documentary references are taken from the Residential Copyholds of Epsom by Dr. Lehmann.
Although a house had occupied the site since at least the seventeenth century, the present structure, consisting of a main central block and two forecourt wings attached to the main house by quadrant walls, was probably built during the ownership of William Compton of Caius College, Cambridge. Compton acquired the copyhold messuage in 1755, and two years later enfranchised it. In 1761 Compton, now of Doctors Commons, London, Doctor of Law, sold the property to Charles Foreman of London, merchant. Up to 1927 the house appears to have been in use as a single unit, but the 1913 sale includes the land now occupied by Rosebery Park. Since 1927 the house has been in multiple occupation with an ever-increasing number of units being created by further sub-division.
The plan of the house as originally built had the principal living accommodation in the central block, with the kitchens in the right hand wing, and the stables in the left hand one. Although inconvenient for getting food from the kitchen into the dining room – via perhaps a verandah at the rear of the curved link wall – it kept smells etc. away from the main house and created an impressive forecourt. This layout was featured in Isaac Ware’s Complete Body of Architecture published in 1756 and can also be seen at Woodcote Park on a far grander scale.
Since its erection there have been major extensions to the right of the main block linking up to the original kitchen and there is a smaller (twentieth-century) addition to the left hand side. The stable wing has been rebuilt with detail similar to the original on the courtyard facade. Originally the main block had a central entrance leading into a square hall with a bold circular plasterwork ceiling. To the right is the staircase with a fashionable mahogany hand rail going up to the first floor. In 1720 the French put an embargo on the export of walnut which encouraged the importation of mahogany from the West Indies; in 1733 Walpole repealed the duty on mahogany, which further encouraged its use. To the rear of the stairs was the dining room with a fine decorative plasterwork ceiling of mid eighteenth century date. Beyond the hall lay one of three reception rooms, the other two being on the left side of the property. The rear rooms had box cove cornices to the ceiling, and that on the left has the only remaining eighteenth-century fire surround in the house. On the first floor a passage leads from the stairs over the inner part of the hall, giving access to four main bedrooms and one dressing room. As the second floor plan bears little relationship to the floor below, its access is awkwardly contrived and compositionally the front elevation is unsatisfactory – it has a cornice at cill level of the second floor windows, with a central semi-circular window surmounted by a pediment with a circular window – indicating that this has been added onto the original building.
Probably the first addition to the property was the two-storey bay window to the left of the entrance which breaks the symmetry of the facade. Perhaps contemporary with the addition of the second floor are the pair of three-storey bays on the rear elevation which themselves have been altered in the nineteenth century at ground floor. A lantern on the roof lit the passage at first floor via a light well in the second floor, the second floor rooms leading off a gallery around the well. In the nineteenth century a verandah was erected between the bays on the rear elevation, and the extension to the right included in 1913 a morning room, a billiard room, a dark room and an extended range of domestic offices.
The sale of 1913 was in two lots; Woodcote Hall and Woodcote End House, both being let on lease. Included with Woodcote Hall was the land now forming Rosebery Park, which was described as being ripe for the development of villas for which there was a demand at the time. The lease of Woodcote Hall included 8½ acres and ran until 1927; when it expired a large part of the garden was taken for the construction of Woodcote Close, and the residential parts of the house divided into 7 units. Since then sub-division has created a total of 19 units, with only minor extensions at ground floor level.
Comparison between the auction description and the 1927 plans (kindly provided by the Council) enables the uses of many of the rooms to be established, and alterations to the property prior to 1913 to be discovered, such as the opening up of the original reception rooms to form a large room at the rear and a study at the front. Like so many of the large Epsom houses, it was not owner-occupied for much of its life, and now sub-division into mainly very small units has destroyed much of the character of the property as well as creating a quick turnover of occupants as people move on to more spacious accommodation.