Heritage weekends provide the wonderful opportunity to visit places and houses that are not normally open to the public but only a limited number can be visited in the time and a choice has to be made. My choice were two close to Bookham, the Tithe Barn in Manor House Lane and Fetcham Park House.
The Tithe Barn at Lttle Bookham was quite a revelation. My previous visit a few years ago was impressive then (see ‘Stories & History, ‘Bookham was part of the Effingham Hundred’) but today the barn which years ago collected the tithes for the Effingham Hundred has now been completely renovated and is splendid in every way. Considerable work has been done to restore the walls, floor and roof, toilets and kitchens have been added to make it a highly useful facility for all sorts of functions. In addition the gardens surrounding it provide a lovely setting. The barn is the second largest tithe barn in England and it is good to see the impressive preservation work that has been done on it.
Much has already been written on Fetcham Park House (‘Fetcham Park House’ by Alan Pooley in the 2004 Leatherhead History Society Proceedings, Volume 6 Number 8). It is easy to travel up and down the Lower Road at Fetcham and never notice the large house close to Fetcham Church and which can really only be seen from Badingham Drive. What is startling is that there stands a considerable country house in a live and perfect state with fountains playing in the landscaped gardens.
We are used to grand country houses and manor houses preserved by the National Trust and just a mile away is Polesden Lacey. But Fetcham Park House is no museum of the past – it is a living house set up for daily use in its grandeur. Polesden Lacey is kept behind dark blinds with dimly lit rooms and warnings ‘Try not to touch’ to preserve its historic contents from damage from the light or handling. The chairs are not to be sat upon but to be admired and to remind visitors who had sat upon them in the past. Fetcham Park House is different again. Sunlight streams through the ample windows, everything is in perfect condition and brightly polished and is furnished fitting for a stately home.
The house dates back to just about 1700 and a fortune was invested on building and establishing the house and estate. A magnificent stairway was adorned with murals by the French artist Louis Laguerre and Capability Brown advised on the design of the grounds.
It has seen its dark days when it became a school, Badingham College from the 1920s to 1965. It then became derelict and was badly neglected. In 1979 a company bought it and sensitively restored it to its former glory including the magnificent Laguerre murals as well as extending it to make it a house of today. It now offers high class office facilities and also can be hired for functions such as weddings.
It is magnificent inside, all in perfectly restored condition including all the works of art. It has an atmosphere of elegance just as would be expected from a live country house including the staff. Outside the lawns and flowerbeds are all in keeping.
Today there are few country house maintained to this standard. Usually they are visited as museums. Here is a magnificent house alive today.