The grant at the beginning of November of planning consent by Guildford Borough Council, after many months of concentrated work, for all the changes of use necessary to achieve our future plans at West Horsley Place was a seminal moment. It has enabled us to press forward with renewed confidence and belief with work on many fronts to prepare the house, buildings at Place Farm and the surrounding areas for their new uses under the planning consent, and to work towards fulfilling its many conditions. The past several months have been devoted to an intensive programme of project planning, design work and attempts to balance our aspirations with the available budget – never an easy task! Inevitably, the quart will usually not fit into the pint pot.
Meanwhile, in the house, repairs which commenced during 2017 came to completion before Christmas to stabilise the big Venetian window in Lady Crewe’s bedroom on the South front facing out over the park. This was achieved by Dan, Phil and John from our builder Martin Smith’s team, enabling the scaffolding to be removed as planned just in time for filming to start of a major new ITV drama which is programmed for screening in seven episodes later this year. The house and garden were transformed through December and January to another age with bewigged and frock coated ladies and gentlemen parading to and fro, and became the temporary home of a number of well-known actors.
In the planning of repairs and improvements throughout our buildings, we have followed a simple strategy. With so much to be done and inadequate funds to tackle more than the essentials, we have had to prioritise. Consequently, our two priorities are firstly the most urgent repairs which simply cannot wait, and secondly getting activities started to bring West Horsley Place back to life. To that end, we have decided to commit as much as we can afford to get the house and great brick and timber South Barn at Place Farm up and running so that activities in them can start as quickly as possible in 2019. We have reluctantly had to defer work on the 17th century brick stableblock until more is known about the repairs needed to its fragile roof structure, and until we have been able to raise the necessary funds for its repair and conversion ready for the teaching of arts and crafts. A newly erected internal birdcage scaffold erected in January and February is enabling us for the first time to inspect the structure and the news is not good. As with everything at West Horsley Place, there has been little or no significant repair for almost half a century.
Much of the work we are undertaking now and through this year could be described as “boring but necessary”. With historic buildings, most of the expense is usually out of sight. That is certainly the case at West Horsley Place. New foul and surface water drainage will be installed, together with new runs of pipework to connect them. New boilers, heating pipes and radiators, water supply, electrical wiring, fire detection system and other fire prevention measures will be installed in the house and in the South Barn. New lavatories to provide for visitors and guests are currently being built in the previously derelict north-west ground floor corner of the house. The Barn will also be repaired and intensively soundproofed to serve as a venue for weddings and similar parties, group bookings, conferences and seminars, community uses and performing arts such as concerts and recitals. In the adjoining coach house, new lavatories will be installed to serve both these uses and the stable block. A landscaped car park will be provided on adjoining land where the previous waste paper company sheds once stood.
So, all this work going on through the course of this year will be but the next stage of a long but rewarding journey, and this is an ambitious target with so much yet to do, and to fund. We are starting our fundraising campaign to support and augment this initial and enabling programme of works so that we can finish the job, and are delighted to welcome Catherine Day to our small team as our new Head of Development.
In the house, the clearance of derelict mid 20th century partitions of what were previously service rooms in the north-west corner beyond the library has been a revelation. The full glory of the house’s 1425 oak frame has come back into view for the first time in many decades. The lattice of huge ceiling timbers will be left open for visitors to admire in this, the oldest wing of the house as the space below is converted into modern lavatories to serve guests and visitors. The ceiling and walls will be left as nearly as possible exactly how they were found, complemented of course by modern fittings.
Secrets continue to be revealed; a long-rumoured but now filled in cellar has just been found below the floor of this corner of the house. There has however as yet been no sign of Sir Walter Raleigh’s head! Elsewhere a historic Indian Katar, or punching knife, turned up in a remote corner of the house.
After over 30 years at West Horsley Place, supporting and caring for the Duchess of Roxburghe and latterly helping to look after the house for the Mary Roxburghe Trust, our housekeeper Pat Liasides has finally decided the moment has come to retire. We are however delighted that she and her husband Chris will continue to live in the Lodge and thus continue their link with West Horsley Place. We wish them both a long and happy retirement and gratefully acknowledge Pat’s long and distinguished service both to the Duchess and the Trust.