An extraordinary amount seems to have happened at West Horsley Place over the past few months. We have welcomed the Grange Park Opera’s first season, hosted the West Horsley village fete and Heritage Open Days, and held the first West Horsley Place Food Festival. We have a wonderful corps of volunteers, helpers and supporters who helped make these happen. All have helped a stellar launch for West Horsley Place as an important new addition to the cultural scene in Surrey for the benefit of everyone who lives here.
It is often the way with major projects that nothing can seem to be happening for a long time as there is no visible work in progress. In fact, at West Horsley Place, scaffolding on the South West wing of the house and the sound of hammering and banging echoing across the Home Paddock and walled garden are clear indications that work has very much started, dealing with the most urgent and pressing repair needs. However, running along in the background, there is also feverish activity to plan for the massive project ahead and find ways to fund it. Our team of heritage professionals is led by David Lloyd Jones as our project manager who (by complete lack of coincidence) has successfully led the opera house project next door. We are lucky to have his experience and enthusiasm, as we are equally with another member of the team, Martin Smith of RJ Smith, a highly experienced and knowledgeable building contractor whose heart lies with historic buildings but who is also responsible for the construction of the Theatre in the Woods. The other key members of our experienced team are Lindsay Cornock of Bristow Johnson as quantity surveyor, structural engineer Clive Dawson and services engineers Martin Thomas Associates, all experts in the specialist field of historic building restoration, as are Martin Ashley and his colleagues who as conservation architects have helped us get started on the right path through our first phase.
Together we are working on a scheme, making the most of our limited funds, with the focused aim of getting the house, stable block and South Barn up and running and equipped for their various activities as soon as possible in order to expedite the Mary Roxburghe Trust’s vision to create here a vibrant new centre for the visual and performing arts and the teaching of crafts. Not only will this accelerate the opportunities for people to enjoy and make the most of this wonderful place, but it will enable us to start earning the income to support its restoration and care through weddings, concerts, private events and similar bookings as well as filming. We are a charity, but we need to live; we have to earn the income to support all the benefits that flow from the restoration and care of West Horsley Place.
To this end, and of course subject to the essential planning consent and listed building consent, we will take a phased approach to the project. By the end of 2018 the house will have heating and power in at least the ground floor state rooms. (It is shockingly cold in the winter; one understands why mediaeval folk plastered themselves with goose grease to help survive it.) So far as we can we will follow the old routes through the house taken by the Marquess of Crewe’s heating and wiring systems and even consider reuse of some remnants such as old radiators from the 1930s, to avoid cutting new holes in the historic fabric. The stable block, similarly, will be given only the essential repairs which cannot wait – we cannot afford more for now – and power, light and water on the ground floor to enable art and craft courses to start, we hope next year. The South Barn will become an atmospheric venue for cultural and entertainment events including private and wedding bookings. Toilets for these two buildings will be created in the old Coach House in the angle between the two, and more for visitors to the house will be created in its currently derelict North West Wing, beyond the library. There is more “dull but necessary” work to be done to make all this happen; a new sewage treatment plant jointly with the theatre together with all the connections, better surface water drainage and improved and landscaped car parking tucked away behind Place Farm to serve it and the house.
This is only a first phase. We would do more, but money as always is the limiting factor. It means that we have to defer much essential work, where it can wait a bit, to repair the fabric of the house until we have raised the money. This is a project which could take several years and like the Forth Bridge, there will always be something to be done.
Everyone who visits West Horsley Place comments on the faded charm of its lovely rooms. It would be easy to make the mistake of redecorating everything and creating what would feel like a hotel; but we will not do this. Much of the beauty of the house lies in its patina. Even though many of the decorations and finishes are to a professional decorator’s eye in a desperate state, we will keep them wherever practicable. If that means not chasing in channels for new wires and cables, we will put the electrics in discreet surface mounted trunking instead. The faded red silk 18th-century damask in the red drawing room and Lord Crewe’s study will receive only minimum intervention. Decorations will be cleaned rather than replaced. We will not overpolish the house.
The grand old house has awoken from its long slumber. Watch this space…
Help the Mary Roxburghe Trust restore West Horsley Place by donating HERE