Clandon Park is an 18th-century Palladian mansion in West Clandon and is reached by turning north at the junction of the A25 from Newlands Corner with the A246 Leatherhead to Guildford road.
The estate which extended over Clandon and Merrow was bought in 1641 by Sir Richard Onslow named from the family being Lords of the manor of Onslow in Shropshire. Sir Richard was Speaker of the House of Commons and later Chancellor of the Exchequer. Several later generations of the family were also Speakers of the House of Commons – all were Whigs supporting Protestantism.
The current house, built 1730-3 is well worth a visit with its very fine interior, magnificent marble hall, fireplaces and stucco ceilings and a fine collection of porcelain, furniture, paintings and tapestries. The basement now houses the museum of the Royal Surrey Regiment (and very knowledgeable curator). Since 1956 the property has belonged to the National Trust and is open to the public. In its fine grounds is a Maori meeting house which had provided shelter during an eruption of Mount Tarawera in New Zealand in 1886 and was shipped from by Lord Onslow the then Governor General of New Zealand at the end of his appointment.
Since this was written a disastrous fire broke out in April 2015 which gutted the house. Fortunately some artefacts were saved but many were lost including the Surrey Regiment museum in the basement. Planning is in progress to resurrect the house but this will be a long process – the National Trust are determined to rebuild it. It will be many years before the grandeur of the house as shown in this article will be recaptured.
Views of the House
On one of the walls hangs a painting showing a hunt with horses and hounds in the foreground but in the background is a horse racetrack with a wooden grandstand overlooking the end of the finishing straight. The course was known as Guildford Racecourse and horse racing started there in 1701.
The course was on the Downs at Merrow and was about two miles long. If you look at a current day map of the area most of the outline of the course is still marked as a footpath. Very approximately the old racecourse went round what is now Guildford Golf Course which lies just south of the A246/A25 road at Merrow. Travelling down from Newlands Corner on the A25 towards Clandon a road called Trodd Lane goes off to the left towards Guildford and this road crosses the path of the old racecourse and what is now the golf course..
On the northern side of the racecourse was a long finishing straight nearly a mile long running east to west. Somewhere near the end of the straight was the not very grand grandstand – a very insubstantial looking wooden structure judging by the only evidence there appears to be from an old painting. Nothing now remains of the grandstand and from old accounts it was cruelly broken down and used to fuel a bonfire on Guy Fawkes night in 1854 not long after the course had closed.
Racing commenced in the reign of William III (1689-1702) who gave a King’s Plate of 100 guineas (1 guinea = £1 1s = £1.05) which later in Queen Victoria’s reign was named ‘The Queen’s Plate’. The importance of the course diminished in the later 1700s and when racing in England revived after the Napoleonic Wars it centred around Epsom and Ascot rather than Guildford. However the Queen’s Plate Race held in Whitsun Week each year continued through to 1870.
The memory of racing still remains in Merrow with a mounted horse on the village sign. The course of the track makes a very pleasant walk on the downs mainly around the golf course. The full distance walk is a little over two miles.
Just slightly south of the west end of the track is an area known as ‘The Warren’ which was an enclosed walled area in the days of Lord Oslow for breeding hares for hare coursing and rabbits for food. Such a warren had its own keeper with an attached cottage. The Keeper’s cottage still stands together with portions of the six foot high wall that surrounded the warren.
Hare coursing was made illegal in the UK in 2005 but is still carried out in Ireland and many other countries. It was a popular sport especially amongst the nobility and was carried out under formal rules. Greyhounds or crossbred lurchers were used as ‘sighthounds’ – dogs that chase on sight not on scent. Images of greyhounds go back to the earliest history and appear in temple drawings in Turkey dating to 6000BC. They are not given their name because of colour but one theory is that the name comes from them being ‘gazehounds’, a derivation of ‘sighthounds’. They are the only dog mentioned in the Bible (Proverbs 30: 29-31:. There be three [things] which go well, yea, four are comely in going: 30 A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; a greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up). Greyhounds were valued by Egyptian Pharaohs because of their speed, grace, elegance, and loyalty. Cleopatra and King Tutankhamen had greyhounds. Figures of the pharaoh’s greyhounds were often carved into the walls of their tombs or mummified alongside their masters. In ancient Egypt the birth of a greyhound was often second in importance to the birth of a son. Entire families would mourn the passing of a greyhound by shaving of heads, fasting, and weeping out loud.
In hare coursing two hares were released some 100 yards ahead of the dogs with the hares capable of running at some 25 mph. Greyhounds are capable of running at about 45 mph and they can see objects at over half a mile. The sport was not in the dogs killing the hares but in the chase and points were awarded in the ability of the dogs to turn the hares as they neared. Going purely on sight the hares could very often escape in undergrowth. In the walls of the warren there were also ‘meuses’ or holes made specially as escape holes from or into the warren and these can still be found in the remaining part of the warren wall at Merrow. Lurchers sometimes are used rather than greyhounds as they are better at turning on the run whereas greyhounds tend to run in a straight line.
A further memory is on the A246 Leatherhead to Guildford road at Merrow where there is the ‘pub’, now called the ‘Horse and Groom’. It used to be the ‘Horse and Hounds’ for the huntsmen to gather. This lies near the end of Trodd Lane.