West Horsley Place is of exceptional architectural and historic significance. There has been a manor house on the Estate since soon after the Norman Conquest, but the core of the present house is a 15th-century oak-beamed residence which had originally a central double-height hall. The house was seized by Henry VIII and given to his cousin and childhood friend Henry Courtenay in 1536. The grateful Courtenay felt he should ask the King and his retinue to lunch in the Great Hall, an expensive undertaking.

Details of the 35-course lunch survive. The range of birds on offer is startling – stewed sparrows, larded pheasants, ducks, gulls, stork, gannets, heron, pullets, quail and partridge. But someone (probably a hated rival, Thomas Cromwell) subsequently persuaded the King that Courtenay, with a Catholic wife, had been involved in a Catholic plot against the monarch. In 1539 the King had Courtenay beheaded (just three years after lunch!)

In about 1640 the owner of the Tudor building was embarrassed to be seen owning such an old house, but he couldn’t afford to knock it down. So, to our great advantage, he chose a cheaper option. He commissioned a long and exceptionally beautiful red-brick façade, in the latest style, and screwed it to the original Tudor timbers. It is like a theatrical set, pure show business, hanging from the old house rather than doing anything to support it. And at the top the façade has by now drifted away from the house behind by about five inches.

In addition to its connection with Henry VIII, the house has had a rich and varied past, having been owned by Carew Raleigh, son of Sir Walter Raleigh, by Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the “Fair Geraldine” of the Earl of Surrey’s Sonnets, and by the Nicholas and Weston families. It was subsequently acquired in 1931 by the Marquess and Marchioness of Crewe, the parents of Mary Crewe-Milnes, the Duchess of Roxburghe, who died at the age of ninety-nine in 2014.

Find out more about the people of West Horsley Place