Gatton Hall

Location   Reigate   Gatton Hall
Gallery
County   Surrey  
Year demolished   1934  
Reason   Fire  

Though there is a newer Gatton Hall (now a school) only the portico survived the fire in 1934 which destroyed the rest of the house, the beautiful Marble Hall and much of the famous collection of works of art.

The manor of Gatton is recorded in the Doomsday book of 1086 as belonging to Bishop Odo of Bayeux. It passed through various owners, including the Duke of Norfolk who owned it sometime between 1415-1446. At some point between 1449 - 1537 it passed to Roger Copley who passed it to his son on his death in 1538. The Copley family were determined recusants (the family baronetcy came during an unauthorised visit to Spain when the King of Spain made Thomas Copley, Baron Copley of Gatton) which meant that although they remained in residence at Gatton, ownership occasionally passed to others as the estate was sequestered and awarded to new owners. William Copley finally sold the estate (having regained it 1632 on a 21-year lease) in 1534. It then passed through the Newland family until sold to the Colebrookes.

The Gatton estate has long been known for it's beautiful setting. Sir James Colebrooke (created baronet in 1759) owned the estate from 1751–61. Following his father's death, Sir George Colebrook in 1761 commissioned Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (b.1716 - d.1783), the foremost garden designer of the day, to create one of his trademark landscapes. As one of his largest projects his work continued until 1774, and it's recorded that in 1768 Brown was paid £3,055 (approx. £340,000 - 2007 value) for his work which included the creation of three lakes, the largest of which is 23 acres, and a Serpentine, and extensive tree planting - including his characteristic 'random' groups. Lord Monson also paid for the very high-quality restoration of St Andrew's Church in Gatton which is still in use and now Grade-I listed. Due to Lord Monson's ill-health he also had constructed a covered walkway from the Hall to the churst to protect him from the weather as he went to and from services.

The original building was an important manor house in 1220 and was also recorded as having a deer park in 1278. Known as Gatton Place, John Aubrey, writing in the 'History and Antiquities of Surrey' (Volume iv, pg 217), remarked that there was fine manor house there. After Sir George Colebrooke was declared bankrupt (largely as a result of his spending on the estate) the house and estate was sold in 1774 to Sir William Mayne (later to become Baron Newhaven of Ireland). There then passed a period of short-term owners; Mayne sold it to a Mr Percy and Mr Graham, the latter of whom sold it to Robert Ladbrooke in 1789, who sold it John Petrie in February 1796. By this time the manor house would probably have been in a poor condition and so Petrie had part of the house demolished. In 1808, the estate was then bought by Mark Wood, who had recently retired from service in India on grounds of ill-health and who was later created a baronet. In that same year, Sir Mark completed the demolition of the old house and began to build a new large Italianate-style mansion.

Following Sir Mark's death it was bought by the trustees of the fifth Baron Monson (b.1809 – d.1841). On his coming of age at 21 in 1830, Lord Monson engaged the little known architect Sextus Dyball to make alterations to the house - work which was to last until 1841. The house was partially rebuilt - though not to enlarge it but to reduce it "...for what are known as Sir Mark Wood's cellars are outside the wall of the present house."1. The house was was now to become famous for the magnificent Marble Hall which had been originally designed for Charles IV of Spain which had been purchased by the fifth Baron on a trip to Rome in 1830 for the huge sum of £10,000 (approx. £620,000). The Marble Hall was a near replica of the Corsini Chapel in Leterano at Rome and built using the finest Italian marble and was renowned for its beauty. Unfortunately the fifth Lord Monson died before the work was completed and it was finished by his son, the sixth Baron Monson (b.1796 – d.1862) who filled the house with "...every conceivable type of trophy: pictures, mirrors, fine furniture and carpets mostly obtained on the continent."2. Gatton was sold in 1888 by the seventh Baron Monson (b.1829 – d.1898) to Sir Jeremiah Colman (b.1859 - d.1942) of mustard fame.

The portico was added to the north side of the house in 1891 by Sir Jeremiah, as part of a vast extension which Pevsner described as "...sensitive 19c[entury] handling of strictly classical forms.". The portico was large, with a dentilled pediment and six Corinthian columns which embraced the projecting centre bay of the house with two further columns on each side linking back to the adjoining wings.

On 5 February 1934, Sir Jeremiah's secretary awoke at about 5am to discover her room filled with smoke. She ran to the village to get help but a lack of available water frustrated attempts to fight the fire. The villagers tried to save as much of the collection as they could but were only partially successful and many precious works of art including paintings, books, gold and silver and furniture were lost. Sir Jeremiah was out of the country at the time and was told of the devastation via a letter as it was feared that hearing the news over the phone may adversely affect his health.

The Hall was re-built in a neo-Georgian style by Sir Edwin Cooper in 1936 and incorporated the superb portico - the only original part to remain. The Colmans sold the house in 1952 but retained half the estate, donating the other half to the National Trust, who were able to purchase the remaining half three years later. The house became the home of the Royal Alexandra & Albert School, a voluntary aided boarding and day school, which has sensitively preserved the views of the house and the immediate grounds whilst providing all the facilities of a modern school.

Further information: 'When Gattons Treasures Were Lost to Fire' - Redhill and Reigate Life


Sources

1 - 'A History of the County of Surrey Volume 3: Parishes - Gatton' - H.E. Malden (editor) (pg. 196-200, published 1911)
2 - 'Visitation of the Seats...of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain' - Burke (pub. 1852-55)