Thursday 5 November 2015

Claremont Landscape Garden

Claremont Landscape Garden Esher Surrey National Trust

I think the autumn colours this year have been the best for several years. It's been a joy to see them whether walking down the road or driving round the country. The great thing about having so much colour in the trees in this time of year is that it gives so much choices of places to visit. One garden we hadn't been to for some time was Claremont Landscape Garden so we decided on a little seasonal trip.
Claremont Lanscape Garden was originally the garden for the neighbouring Claremont House. This house is still standing but is now occupied by the private Claremont Fan Court School. The original house has built in 1708 by the renowned architect Sir John Vanbrugh for his own use. Vanbrugh was responsible for the designs for Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. Within six years he had sold to Whig politician Thomas Pelham-Colles. Since Pelham-Colles also held the title of the Earl of Clare at the time he gave the house the name of Clare-mount which in turn became Claremont.
The Earl of Clare later became the Duke of Newcastle and served two stints as Prime Minister. When he died in 1768 his widow was forced to sell Claremont to pay some of the large debts her late husband had amassed in keeping Claremont. She sold the estate to Robert Clive, better known as Clive of India. He decided the house was not to taste and had it demolished. In its place on a different part of the estate he commissioned Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to design the house. Brown however was more a landscape gardener than an architect and he passed the project to his future son-in-law Henry Holland. Despite the huge amounts of money that Clive spent building the new house, designing the interior and the gardens he never got to live in the house as he died just before it was finished in 1774.
It seems that Clive's extravagant taste was not suited to many people and in the subsequent years Claremont had a number of owners who didn't stay around long. However in 1816 it has decided the estate was fit for royalty as it was purchased on behalf of the nation as a wedding present for William IV's daughter Princess Charlotte of Wales and her husband Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Sadly the newly married couple did not spend much time either in this house together. On 5 November 1817 Princess Charlotte died after giving birth to a stillborn child. She was just 21. Had she lived Princess Charlotte would have become Queen upon her father's death in1830 thus changing the entire future of Britain.
Prince Leopold had become a British citizen and continued to live in the house until he became the 1st King of the Belgians in 1831. During the time he did live there a frequent visitor was his niece, the future Queen Victoria. So taken with the house was Victoria that she bought it in 1882 as a wedding present for her fourth and youngest son, also called Prince Leopold.
In 1884 Leopold's son Charles was born in Claremont House. Leopold, a haemophiliac, had died four months before his son's birth. Charles should have inherited the house when his mother died in 1922 but by then he had already been striped of his royal titles and British peerages. Charles inherited the title of Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from his uncle in 1900. When war was declared in 1914 Charles had to make a decision as to which way his loyalties lay and he went to the German side. The British government forbade the inheritance and confiscated the property.
Claremont's next owner was the director of the shipping company Cunard Line, Sir William Corry. Four years later in 1926 Corry died and Claremont was bought by Eugen Spier. By 1930 Claremont stood empty and unloved. Its history of short-lived owners it seemed had finally caught up with it. Plans for a housing estate were drawn up and the mausoleum that had been built in the memory of Princess Charlotte was knocked down. The house was saved from being demolished a second time when the school moved in.
With the whole estate too big for the needs of the school the National Trust acquired 50 acres of the garden in 1949. The great feature of the garden was that it was one of the earliest remaining examples of the English Landscape Garden. The garden was established by Claremont's second owner Earl Clare and was based on the principles of having a large parkland with vast lawns and woodland, a man-made lake with island and small buildings.
One of the most unusual aspects of the garden is the tufted amphitheatre. In its time it was the grand setting of the Claremont Fête Champêtre; a four day extravaganza of music, theatre and fireworks. Guests would attend in costume based around that year's theme.
Today around the grounds there are still less obvious reminders of the garden's grand past. The ditch that runs round the edge of the lake is a 'ha-ha' and put in to keep the livestock out of the pleasure grounds without spoiling the view. At this of year it is a river of leaves that is enjoyed by the young visitors experiencing the now simple pleasures of Claremont.


  1. i haven't had fall for over a decade but i agree with you. this year's fall has been absolutely glorious! lovely shots

  2. Very interesting post - thanks for joining in at this week's Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) at

  3. What a fascinating history, and how very different things could have panned out if Princess Charlotte had lived.
    Such an imposing garden. Your photos make me want to don my wellies and get out there to explore it for myself - except a middle aged woman in her PJs roaming round garden in the dead of night is hardly a good look now is it?...
    And on that charming mental image - thank you for joining in and sharing x

  4. I'm always fascinated by the histories of these old estates so I loved reading this. Quite sad how it changed hands so many times during its history but then wonderful that the land is now preserved and managed by the National Trust for all of us to share. Must have been rather fantastic to attend one of the events in the outdoor amphitheatre.

  5. simply stunning and wonderful photos and so much good information, I too often wonder how different the world would be if someone didn't die so young

  6. What a fascinating place and gorgeous pictures. I'm loving all the yellow leaf shots this autumn :) #hdygg

  7. What an interesting and also rather sad history Claremont has had. I remember a road and a university building in Newcastle having the same names so it's influence reaches far.


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