Bury Hill


Location   Westcott
Year demolished   1949/50  
Reason   Fire, the remains removed later  
See all images: Gallery

Text written by, and copyright of, Nicholas Kingsley - many thanks

The Bury Hill estate near Dorking (Surrey) was formed from 1751 onwards around a small farm called Chardhurst by Edward Walter (1727-80), who in 1753 also inherited Stalbridge Park (Dorset) from his brother. Within a few years he built the mansion house which he called Bury Hill. After his death, the estate passed to his daughter and son-in-law, the 3rd Viscount Grimston, and was let to short-term tenants until 1803, when Robert Barclay (1751-1830), a prosperous Southwark brewer, settled there. He bought the freehold in 1814, and subsequently further expanded the estate until it occupied nearly 1,000 acres.

As first built the house consisted of a seven bay central block with lower two-storey wings to either side, which were further continued by low flanking walls. The entrance front faced north into the rising ground behind the house, and was of two storeys, but the show front was that overlooking a large lake to the south, where the fall of the ground meant that there was an extra storey. A painting of the house in the 18th century was sold at Sothebys on 13 November 1991 but I have not managed to find a reproduction of this (if anyone has ready access to the sale catalogue, please let me know!)

After he acquired the property in 1814, Robert Barclay is recorded as having 'greatly improved' both the house and grounds, and by 1828 the flanking walls had become arcaded colonnades linking the wings to large square pavilions containing new stables and kitchens, with pyramidal roofs and cupolas, which were fronted by three-bay verandahs, possibly initially of trelliswork. Charles Barclay (1780-1855) inherited the estate in 1830 and at once brought in Decimus Burton to make further changes to the house, perhaps including the addition of stucco to the house. In 1847-48 Decimus Burton was back at Bury Hill, designing an observatory for Charles Barclay's son and successor, Arthur Kett Barclay (1806-69), and it was perhaps he who, around this time, added a third storey to the wings of the house to the great detriment of its proportions. The observatory became ruined in the 20th century, but was subsequently restored as a house.

The grounds of the house were of some note and offered fine views both within the park and outwards from it. It seems to have had a number of small ornamental buildings in addition to the observatory tower. On the summit of the hill called The Nower behind the house was a rustic temple with seats, offering several extensive prospects in different directions, of which I have not yet found an illustration. At much the same time as Burton was altering the house, John Perry of Godalming was engaged to design a picturesque bailiff's house and a farm in a similar style, and he may have also have been responsible for the estate lodges and a rather pretty Gothick cottage which were recorded by James Duffield Harding in a series of views of the estate made in 1837-38. (As an aside, both Charles Barclay and his father were patrons of topographical artists - Robert Barclay having paid John Hassall and other artists to make some 700 views of Surrey buildings - now in the Surrey History Centre - with a view to making a Graingerised copy of Manning & Bray's history of Surrey).

Arthur Kett Barclay was succeeded at Bury Hill by his son, Robert Barclay (1837-1913) and grandson, Robert Wyvill Barclay (1880-1951). The house was requisitioned for military use in the Second World War, and the Barclays seem to have decided after the war to convert it into flats. While work was underway in 1949 or 1950, the centre of the house was gutted by fire and subsequently pulled down, leaving the three-storey wings which have been converted into apartments. Robert Edward Barclay (1906-59), who inherited in 1951, sold the house and grounds in 1952 and the estate was dispersed.

The surviving wings have a stuccoed and rusticated ground floor, but are cement-rendered above, perhaps as a result of post-fire patching up. On the south side, the ground floors project with a balustraded parapet over forming a balcony, and there are pediments over the central windows on the first floor. All the windows are in moulded architrave surrounds but they have lost their glazing bars. The surviving wings are linked by corridors with round-headed arches (the ones on the east side glazed) to single-storey garden pavilions in front of the former stables and offices. These pavilions have three Venetian windows across the front with small round windows in the corners, and replace the trelliswork verandas which existed in the same position in the 1820s. The east and west ends of the house have coupled Ionic pilasters rising the whole height of the house with a pediment over containing a circular window in the pediment: frontispieces which look very much like the work of Decimus Burton. The two wings still look down over the large lake, which is now used by Bury Hill Fisheries, and in which the most monstrous carp are sometimes caught.