One of the excitements about old houses is unexpected discoveries. When, while emptying rooms in preparation for repairs at West Horsley Place, an old and rather pretty decorated red silk velvet bag emerged, we initially thought little of it; but sometimes objects open a realm of possibilities and a glimpse deep into history. Could this bag once have held the embalmed head of Sir Walter Raleigh, brought here by his grieving widow Bess Throckmorton when she came to live with their younger son Carew, owner of the house and probable builder of the mellow renaissance brick front that fronts the house today? We do not yet know; but extensive coverage in the press and media around the 400th anniversary of Raleigh’s execution on 29th October has spread interest in this gruesomely evocative story like wildfire. We are seeking a suitably qualified expert, with the help of the V & A, to tell us more about the bag. We will share anything more we can learn.

In November 2017 following a public consultation, our overall strategic plan to rescue and restore West Horsley Place and to ensure that the West Horsley Place estate delivers wide public benefit received approval from Guildford Borough Council.  Under the planning and listed building consent legislation, additional planning consent must be sought from the local authority and from Historic England as detailed plans are developed.  In October, we were delighted when the Council approved our detailed designs for the barns at Place Farm.

Place Farm Barn

As outlined in our strategic plan, the South Barn at Place Farm will be restored and be available to the public as a performance and activity space. An adjoining cart shed will be restored and adapted to become a small café, which will cater for visitors enjoying the estate during events, courses and activities.  Accessible toilet facilities will be created in a brick and tile annexe to the South Barn. Two, small single storey extensions will be required to provide a linking corridor between the South Barn and the café and to accommodate the fully accessible toilet facilities. Work is already underway and will be completed next year.

We are currently well advanced in planning with Surrey County Council a number of improvements to the highway to improve our entry and exit onto the main road.  Surrey County Council will ensure that advance notice is given of any roadworks which may be required and we thank you in advance for your patience and understanding. These changes will improve road safety and will ease traffic flows at busy times.

We will continue to share our evolving plans with our local communities over the coming weeks and months as they develop, building on our previous consultations during 2017, to give everyone a sense of, and a stake in, the excitement of what West Horsley Place has to offer for the future as a centre for wide range of activities.  Our vision is that these will include artistic and musical performances, talks and lectures, opportunities to hold classes and other community uses, weddings and other private bookings, art and sculpture exhibitions and much else besides.

To help us develop a programme which truly meets the needs and aspirations of local people, over the coming months we will be talking to local associations and special interest groups about what they would like to see at West Horsley Place. Those discussions will give us feedback to refine our vision for the future. If you represent or are involved in a local organisation and would like to talk to us about this, please do get in touch with us at [email protected]

Recently, we were delighted to welcome members of the West Horsley Evening WI and Horsley gin company, Mews Gin, to reap the harvest from the estate’s historic orchards and gardens.  The WI distributed our apples and pears amongst neighbours who are unable to get out much, and also to local churches to use in home-cooked meals prepared for the elderly. And, from Christmas, Mews Gin will be adding West Horsley Place Damson and Sloe Gins to their popular range of artisan gins.

We were delighted to welcome around 700 visitors to West Horsley Place on our Heritage Open Days weekend in September for free guided house tours and access to our 18th century walled gardens. We’d like to thank our wonderful team of volunteers from the local community for their time and effort that made this possible.

We also plan to launch a Friends organisation in the New Year to harness the already strong and growing local support for a new future at West Horsley Place.  Watch this space and also our website, which is currently being rebuilt for launch also in the New Year.

West Horsley Place is of very significant historic and architectural importance, now in such a poor state of repair that it is on the Historic England ‘At Risk’ Register.  The Mary Roxburghe Trust was established to rescue, repair and conserve this important part of our heritage and to enable the public to enjoy and to benefit from it.  Ensuring that West Horsley Place is an asset for our local community is at the heart of our vision.

We face a massive challenge to reverse nearly half a century of gentle decline in the condition of our many historic buildings, their worn out services and the estate landscape, and it will be a long and costly journey on which we are still near the beginning.  It was a great encouragement recently to receive a grant of £50,000 towards the restoration of the Grade II Stable Block and Clock Tower, dating from the 18th century and now in urgent need of repair. Once restored, the Stable Block will be open to the public for the teaching of visual arts and crafts.

We will need to raise a great deal more money over the coming years to meet these challenges and to realise our plans for West Horsley Place. However we are on our way, and we very much look forward to enabling this grand old house to play an exciting new role within our community.

Mary Roxburghe Trust Director, Peter Pearce