Local Historic Landmark – Esher Place House – Under Serious Threat
Esher Place House is being sold by Unite The Union to developer Birchwood Homes who have lodged planning proposals for the conversion of this historically significant house into twenty-two, two bedroom apartments, with an extension block providing eight additional apartments and a further seven (possibly sixteen) houses to be built in the grounds.
The house was listed Grade II in 1975 but, as was invariably the case in the 1970s, no interior descriptions were included and neither were the grounds which include a grass amphitheatre and sunken garden by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a statue of Crouching Venus, the Pelham Urn (which is the only other listing for this property) and a majestic 335 year old Tulip Tree, reputedly the oldest specimen in Europe.
In 1805, the estate of Esher Place was bought by John Spicer, a London stockbroker – a sign of things to come! At that time, the existing house was located on the banks of the River Mole and having already outlived years of architectural vicissitudes, most recently providing a place of retreat for the Prime Minister, Henry Pelham, was again drastically refashioned. Spicer unceremoniously stripped away all the additions that William Kent had made for Pelham, leaving Wayneflete Tower to stand alone. However, the materials and interiors were salvaged and used for the new building of Esher Place House to the Grecian design of Edward Lapidge. In 1895, Sir Edgar and Lady Helen Vincent bought the property and commissioned Achille Duchene and George Thomas Robinson to design a country estate residence in the French chateau style. 18th century interiors were even brought from Paris. The surviving 19th century interior architecture is easily comparable to Waddesdon Manor and also perhaps to some of the interiors of Mentmore Towers, which both coincidentally belong to the Rothschilds family who were good friends of the Vincents and visited Esher on numerous occasions. There are also striking similarities with Esher Place House at The Ritz.
It would seem that the developer has made the inaccurate assumption that the existing Esher Place House is simply a late Victorian refurbished and extended version of the original 1805 Spicer residence, dismissive, not only of the works carried out in the intervening years, but also of its earlier significant past. The commanding site is of enormous historic interest, as from this very spot, Henry VIII observed the grandiose building works on the opposite banks of the River Thames at Hampton Court, which “compelled the ambitious architect (Cardinal Wolsey) to couch his premeditated presumption, under the finesse that it was intended to be a humble offering from a poor but grateful servant, to his most august liege lord the King.” The offering was accepted, but how little of the intention was believed we will never know, although from this point on Cardinal Wolsey only visited Hampton Court from Esher on three occasions and then as a refugee.
Unquestionably, the renowned architects responsible for the evolution of Esher Place House determine its ﬁne credentials and national historic interest. However, the endless catalogue of eminent visitors that include royalty, aristocracy, diplomats, prime ministers, cabinet ministers, business leaders, authors, actors and even a Russian ballerina make it an equally remarkable part of English social history too. To name but a few – the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII (Duke of Windsor), King George VI, the Duchess of Albany, Lionel de Rothschild, Herbert Henry Asquith, Arthur Balfour, Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill, Austen Chamberlain, Cecil Rhodes, John Morley, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, Jane Austen, Henry James, George Curzon, Edith Wharton and Anna Pavlova are included in this impressive procession of guests.
Esher Place Residents Limited have commissioned a Heritage Consultant to assess and fully document the property and grounds in their entirety so that Birchwood’s plans are hopefully thwarted and any future proposed development will be sympathetic to the house, which should continue to be understood and appreciated as a country estate residence with its enormous historical interest being fully acknowledged and indeed highlighted. With such an impressive quantity of historical rooms, panelling, ceiling features, fireplaces, the stone balustraded staircase and landscape it is important that all are properly recorded and preserved for future generations. Due to Historic England’s unfortunate listing oversights of the 1970s and the greed of developers we have already witnessed a vast number of historical buildings and estates disappear and Esher Place House must not be added to this list of carnage. To even consider carving up the house as proposed and to create an estate within an estate, with a supermarket style carpark for its frontage is pure sacrilege and the proposal of Philistines!
Elmbridge BC must address the historic significance of Esher Place House before considering any development proposals. Permitting the current plans will be a national travesty as highly important interiors and the grounds will be destroyed forever.