Horsley Towers

Horsley Towers was designed by William, Earl of Lovelace (1805-1893) some time after 1855. It is located in East Horsley, Surrey. 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 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 the building when it is mentioned at all, 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 to 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 strike me as looking 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]

According to Stephen Tudsbury-Turner,

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.

Left: Chapel interior. Right: Conical towers. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

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. [Tudsbury-Turner, 10-11]

After this architectural romp, 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 also constructed distinctive horseshoe bridges over gullies, to allow him to cut through the surrounding woods; ten of these still survive. [JB]

Side view with two towers

Photographs 2006 by Jacqueline Banerjee. [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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


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 East Horsley Towers [JB].

Last modified 8 September 2016