Claremont House, by Thomas Allom. Source: Brayley and Mantell, facing p.445. [Click on this and the following images to enlarge them, and usually for more information about them.]

Wednesday, 18 January [1871]

A soft sunny showery morning and it felt like spring as we walked to Claremont (Sam and I) soon after noon. Mr. Macdonald's quarters are the same as those of the equerries over the handsome stables. Before luncheon he took us round the gardens and stables. (In his rooms is the log of Herne's oak from which he cut a wedge for Emmie.) There is a great deal of glass, but the place was sadly neglected during the residence of the French Royal Family who let the gardens and glass houses to a market gardener. Mr. Macdonald is gradually reducing things to order and the shrubberies and lawns and all the grounds are much improved during the year and a half that he has been in power at Claremont.

The stables at Claremont.

There is stabling for some 40 horses at Claremont. When the Queen stays here 7 or 8 policemen are on duty and live on the premises. Mr. M. took us across the finely timbered park down to the home farm where there is a tall column crested with a stone statue of a peacock, the bearing of the Earls of Clare to whom the property formerly belonged, before it was bought by Lord Clive. Round the base of the column are several inscriptions, one commemorating the marriage of Prince Leopold with Princess Char-[110/111]lotte, another the building of Claremont House and the laying out of the grounds by "Capability Brown."

Mr. M. took us over the equerries' quarters and showed us the comfortable rooms usually occupied by Sir Thomas Biddulph, Lord Alfred Paget and Col. Ponsonby. Lord Alfred Paget hates fire-guards and the housemaids always insisted on putting one on his fire. Whenever he came into his room the fire-guard was sure to be on. He tried to hide it in every corner of the room, but the housemaid always found it and put it on again. One day Lord Alfred was found on his knees to the great surprise of one of his friends who came in suddenly, for it was not a posture which was. familiar to Lord Alfred. But it was discovered that he was striving to pack away the fire-guard into his portmanteau and so effectually hide it from the careful search of the housemaid. When the Queen comes over from Windsor to Claremont she drives at a great pace all the way, 12 miles an hour. The distance is 18 miles and she changes horses at Chertsey, but the equerry in attendance is obliged to ride the same horse all the way. A short time ago she came over for the day, Lord Alfred in attendance riding 16 stone and riding by the carriage door covered with mud from the wheels. They came at the grand trot all the way, and when they reached Claremont the Queen said alighting, "I hope you are not tired, Lord Alfred." "Well, Ma'am," drawled Lord Alfred, "we had all our work to do to keep up." The Queen is always addressed in private as "Madam" to save "Your Majesty" which is not allowed.

From the passage of the equerries' quarters we descended a staircase into the stables immediately below. The equerries try to get the horses put under each other's rooms that they themselves may not have their sleep broken by the stamping and neighing of the horses and the rattling and ringing of their chains. There is not room for the equerries usually in the house so they are sent down here to sleep. Mr. M. gave us an admirable luncheon of roast mutton and claret followed by an excellent Gloucestershire wild duck. Also he made us drink some very powerful mountain dew. After which we sallied out towards the house which we entered by a back door after passing through a tunnel well managed so that tradesmen and servants can approach the back [111/112]entrance without being seen from the house. We went through the large dark kitchen with its immense fire and admirable hot plate dresser. In the back kitchen a boiler had just burst and the ruin of the boiler was standing surrounded by debris, waiting for repairs. Mr. M. had been very busy in the house all the morning giving orders and superintending the preparations for Lord Lorne and the Princess Louise who are to pass their honeymoon here in March.

We went up a staircase into the Grand Hall, which is oval and paved with white and black marble. There are some busts in the hall, of Prince Leopold and the Princess Charlotte.

Probably the painting mentioned here, of the Duchess of Kent with a very young Princess Victoria.

The rooms lie en suite all round the grand hall and staircase. The first we went into was the drawing room furnished and coloured with blue, with some handsome orange-yellow Japanese or Chinese folding screens. The window seats of white marble. In this room are two beautiful pictures, one of the Duchess of Kent with the Princess Victoria as a child in her lap. The other has only lately been placed at Claremont and is a copy of the original picture of Princess Charlotte painted by her command and at her expense, and intended by her to be a birthday present to her husband for his birthday which happened just after her own death.

The face is a singularly beautiful one. The original picture is at Brussels. We saw also the room and bed in which the French Queen Marie Amelie died. In this room there are several portraits of the French family, including pictures of the French Queen herself and of her husband Louis Philippe. Next door was her dressing room with a deep large bath, almost concealed, in which the old French Queen was nearly drowned. Her attendant had left her for a few minutes and when she returned the old Queen was struggling and plunging about in the bath almost at her last gasp. Her picture gives the impression of a very handsome aristocratic person, of decided character, with a sweet and dignified face. Next is the room and bed in which the Princess Charlotte died. The room has remained almost undisturbed since then. At the time of the Princess's confinement the ministers of State were assembled in the dressing room adjoining.

Next is the Ball Room, a fine room some 60 feet by 30, carpeted with a richly coloured superb deep Persian carpet which was [112/113] brought over by Lord Clive and which has been in use ever since. It had hard wear during the occupation of the French Royal Family for they used the room as a chapel and were always having prayers and mass in it. The carpet however has been scoured and looks entirely bright and new. This grand suite of rooms runs completely round the house and this and some others of the rooms look out towards Esher over the terrace and what is called the garden front of the house.

There are several more family portraits (English) in the dining room, but it was almost too dark to see them. There is a fine expanding table, and between the table and the fire stands a folding screen covered with pictures which Princess Charlotte used to cut out and colour and paste on to it as an amusement on wet days. The Queen (Victoria) sits at the round table with her back to the fire. When the French people were here they used to sit down to dinner every day 70 in number, the whole household assembling together and the upper servants sitting below the salt.

We went upstairs and got out on to the leads on the top of the house, from whence there is a splendid view on clear days. The Grand Stand at Epsom looks quite near. It began to rain and we came in again and went into the room now occupied by Sir W. Jenner. It is a room in the roof, low but large and comfortable. It was Lord Clive's bedroom, the room he chose in preference to all the rest of the house, and he never occupied any other. When the S.W. gales blew and rattled the windows Lord Clive used to get up in the night to wedge them tight and guineas being more plentiful with him than anything else he always used them. The housemaids used to transfer these guineas to their own pockets in the morning and prayed with reason for a S.W. storm. The room is said to be haunted and was not used for some time, but when Dr. Jenner heard of this he said, "Put me there," and he has been in possession ever since. The rooms are appropriated by cards with the names of the occupants written on them placed in brass card frames on the doors, e.g. "Sir J. Biddulph," "Sir W. Jenner," &c, &c.

Then we went out of doors to see the grounds.

Left: The beautiful grounds of the house, this part now managed by the National Trust (note the cedar tree). Right: Some of the same long-established camellias still flourish here (note the monogrammed railing).

Close to the corners of the house stand some noble ancient cedars, one with gigantic horizontal arms, one of them, the lower-[113/114]most, supported by props. On a high mount clothed with wood rises the ruined tower built by the Earls of Clare. This mount gives the name of the Lords of Clare to Claremont. In their time the dwelling house stood lower down in the park. Below the mount there is a lake and beautiful alleys and glades of rhododendrons amongst the woods. Looking down upon the lake through a screening fringe of trees is the old summer arbour of the Princess, the place which she was very fond of and which the King of the Belgians after her death converted into a memorial temple. It was opened and unshuttered for us. It is a circular building with small high stained windows emblazoned with the arms of the Royal Houses. Before the door runs a small terrace with a low iron railing ornamented now with the monogram L.L. From the terrace you look down through the trees upon the lake.

Princess Charlotte's mausoleum. Source: Brayley and Mantell 447 (unsigned — but either by Thomas Allom, or under his supervision).

The Camellia house was very beautiful, the trees loaded with white and crimson buds shining like stars among the glossy dark green foliage.

We wandered about the beautiful paths and glades under the great oaks and firs, till we came round again under the Claremont ruined tower peeping from the top of the steep high mount through the trees and so by the great cork tree to the front of the house adorned by the grand portico supported by massive and lofty Corinthian columns. [110-15]


Kilvert's account of Claremont and its grounds is informative and accurate, and full of human interest. He manages to convey the complicated history of the house, and its successive occupants, in a lively fashion, punctuated with anecdote. Anyone who has been through the house will easily recognise his description of the rooms (even the deep plunge bath installed by Clive), and learn a good deal more about the life there in Victorian times. He reports every little detail, from the discomforts of those allocated rooms above the stables, to the very camellias that still flourish there from very old stock. Kilvert had a gift for noticing and remembering such details, and presenting them in a most entertaining way. His subtle sense of humour is fully on display here, especially in relation to Lord Alfred Paget. First comes the Lord's amusing battle with the maid over the fireguard in his room, then the tale of his fast and muddy ride from Windsor. Kilvert gives us his response with just the right word. To the queen's possibly tongue-in-cheek enquiry, "I hope you are not tired, Lord Alfred," he "drawled" casually, "Well, Ma'am ... we had all our work to do to keep up." This perfectly suggests the Lord's attempt to pass off his dishevelled state, and save face. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Related Material


[Illustration souce] Brayley, E. W., and Gideon Mantell. A Topical History of Surrey. Vol. 2. London: G. Willis, 1850. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, Universoty of Toronto. Web. 10 April 2020.

Kilvert’s Diary (a selection). Ed. William Plomer. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.

Created 10 April 2020