Photographs and commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee except for the second paragraph, which was added by our webmaster and chief editor, GPL. [You may use these images 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 or cite the Victorian Web in a print document. Click on all the images to enlarge them.]

Horsley Towers is a Grade II* listed building in East Horsley, Surrey. Originally designed by Sir Charles Barry, and built 1820-29 in a rather nondescript Tudor-Gothic style with flint facing and stone and brick quoins (see listing text). The house had been commissioned by landowner and MP, William Currie (1756-1829), but he had no chance to enjoy living in it. Its appearance was substantially altered after it came into the hands of William, Earl of Lovelace (1805-1893), who bought the estate for himself and his wife Ada Lovelace, and their family, in about 1845. The tower at the west end was added by him in 1847, and the hall too is dated 1847. "Improvements" continued after his first wife's death in 1852: the other tower to the east was added after a visit to the continent; at this time the cloisters to the north were built as well (1859; see listing text again). The chapel to the north east was completed in 1860.

Left: Chapel interior. Right: Conical tower.

At the left one sees the Earl's typical combination of flint and brickwork. Lovelace, then the largest landowner in the county, seems to have done all the Victorian designing by himself, and according to Peter Evans's summaries of what modern art historians, such as Ian Nairn and J. J. Norwich, have to say about it, they find it appalling. Certainly the building, like much Victorian gothic, displays a good deal of eccentricity and mixes many styles. In contrast to the lavish polychromy of the chapel interior, the exterior has two different wall surfaces — the dominant flint and brickwork plus smooth lighter stone of the two cylindrical elements on the main tower, which is probably supposed to be a castle keep, or allude to one, but which actually looks more like a church tower to which someone has attached those cylinders. They seem distant relations — illegitimate offspring of? — French chateaux of the Loire Valley but, perhaps appropriate to an age of industrialism, they look more like factory chimneys. The windows, of course, have far more in common with eighteenth-century than with medieval buildings. If one takes away the tower, this view of the Earl's creation resembles buildings from the 1920s found on many American university campuses, including Princeton and Yale. [GPL]

Side view with two towers

Stephen Tudsbury-Turner writes usefully (especially in reference to the cloisters and chapel),

After the death of his first wife, in 1852, Lord Lovelace travelled abroad for a time before returning and directing his architectural and engineering mind to his home at East Horsley.... Lovelace, in common with the many Victorian peers whose fortunes had increased during the early years of the nineteenth century, was determined to give his Surrey estates the Gothic face-lift deserved by properties owned by the county's most important inhabitant. In 1858 he designed and built for himself at the east end of his house a tall, steeply-roofed tower in flint and polychrome brickwork, the style being vaguely Rhenish Gothic. The following year, still working with the same materials and in the same fanciful style, he built a system of cloisters at the back of [the] original building.

The cloisters, which were enclosed at the first-floor level, led to an ornate and stylized chapel which was decorated with blue and white tiling which contained the arms of various branches of the Lovelace family, inlaid into the floor below the altar, and a memorial tablet to his first wife. Not content with this, the Earl then imported an Italian artist to further embellish the chapel with paintings which were contained within the spandrels. The polychrome brick vaulting ribs were ridged with iron rods, and, as a further salute to the technological achievements of his age, the Earl used drainpipes to act as the columns supporting the vaulting over the chapel entrance. Meanwhile beneath the cloisters, he displayed his engineering skill in constructing a tunnel which passed under a section of the gardens to the west of the mansion. It connected with the servants' entrance in the courtyard surrounded by the cloisters, which in turn led to the back drive and the village, and was a feat of engineering of which Lord Lovelace must have been justifiably proud. [10-11]

After this, Lovelace, "Surrey's most spectacular neo-Gothic architect" (Tudsbury-Turner 12) set to work on transforming the village, which still has a very distinctive character today. He constructed similarly distinctive horseshoe bridges over gulleys, to allow him to cut through the surrounding woods; ten of these still survive. [JB]

Related Material


"Horsely Towers, East Horsley." British Listed Buildings. Web. 18 December 2015.

Nairn, Ian, and Nikolaus Pevsner. Surrey. Revised by Bridget Cherry. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin: 1971.

Norwich, John Julius. The Architecture of Southern England. London: Macmillan London, 1985.

Tudsbury-Turner, Stephen. "William, Earl of Lovelace, 1805-1893." Surrey Archaeological Collections. Vol. LXX (1974) — reprinted in a leaflet obtained at the house [JB].

Last modified 18 December 2015