Wotton House. Extensively restored and reconstructed by Henry Woodyer, c.1864-77 Wotton, Surrey. Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. 2008. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]

Wotton House has rather a typical building history. It could almost be the original of Trevor Yorke's generic "Exemplar Hall." First mentioned in the Domesday Book, it was originally an old moated manor house. In the seventeenth century it was bought by the Evelyn family, on the proceeds of George Evelyn's gunpowder mills. The diarist John Evelyn was born there and was very fond of it, describing it as "large and antient, suitable to those hospitable times." He felt that despite being only about twenty miles from London it could be "compared to one of the most tempting and pleasant seates in the Nation" (2). Its first reincarnation as a substantial country seat took place in 1670, and it was altered and improved several times after that, though never more radically than by William Evelyn in the second half of the Victorian period. The Gothic Revival was in full swing in Surrey then: the mansion at Henry Drummond's Albury Park, a few miles down the road, had recently been remodelled by Pugin, and the entire village of Albury is dominated by its many Pugin-style chimneys. William Evelyn was naturally inspired to update his own property, and engaged one of Pugin's followers, the church and country house architect Henry Woodyer, to rebuild its east wing and give the whole place a sharp new/old Jacobean/Tudor façade. Woodyer, for all his personal flamboyance, produced a rather staid design. Some time later, William Evelyn also had the orangerie extended. Since the house lies in a hollow, it is best viewed from above; steps to the top of the seventeenth-century grotto at the rear provide the ideal vantage point.

Matthew Arnold, a good friend of the Victorian Evelyns, and a godfather to one of their children, loved Wotton and once went with another friend, Lady de Rothschild, to examine John Evelyn's old herbarium there — "the plants wonderfully preserved still, and the notes to them full of matter" (Letters 5: 220). In retirement, Arnold had become an enthusiastic botanist himself. He also liked fishing there. The house has recently been completely restored and refurbished, and is now a conference centre, hotel and events venue.

Another View

Sources

Albury: A Short Guide to the Parish. The Albury Trust, rpt. 1998.

Arnold, Matthew. The Letters of Matthew Arnold, 6 Vols. Ed. Cecil Lang. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2001.

Evelyn, John. The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. John Bowle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Nairn, Ian and Nikolaus Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Buildings of England: Surrey. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2nd ed. 1971.

Quiney, Anthony. "'Altogether a Capital Fellow and a Serious One Too.' A Brief Account of the Life and Work of Henry Woodyer, 1816-1896." Architectural History 38 (1995): 192-219.

Yorke, Trevor. The Country House Explained. Newbury: Countryside, 2003.


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Last modified 31 August 2008