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© Surrey Lieutenancy 2016

The Lord–Lieutenant writes:

The toll of great houses lost over the past century and more is devastating. Some of you may remember an exhibition at the V&A in 1974 entitled The Destruction of the English Country House put together by Roy Strong, Marcus Binney and John Harris following a report by John Cornforth. It listed over a thousand houses then - and 23 in Surrey alone. There will have been many since. And many, many were lost to fire.

And now Clandon Park joins this mournful list, and a great jewel in the Surrey crown is lost – maybe for ever. It is, of course, too early yet to know what the future may be. And lost too is the Surrey Infantry Museum, housing a wonderful collection of memorabilia from the two county regiments – the East Surrey’s and the Queen’s. Mercifully the records had been safely lodged with the Surrey History Trust. One witness to the destruction described seeing what looked like a fairly intact case of medals – but a bath had fallen through two or more floors to land beside it.

Lady Teresa Waugh, daughter of the 6th Earl of Onslow, lived at Clandon during part of her childhood, which she recalls in a novel she wrote in 2002 entitled The House. It is a fictionalised account but pretty faithful, it seems, to her experience of Clandon and her time there. Two little extracts, the first supposedly written by Annie, brought up on the estate and persuaded to be housekeeper for Lord Otterton (Onslow) as he moves into the House; she, of course, comments on the wonderful Marble Hall and other marvels but more intimately she remarks:

“Today her Ladyship took me round the house. I was quite fascinated. Even the rooms on the top floor where I shall have my room and where the children will live, seem huge to me, most of them with black patches on the ceiling where the water comes through when it rains. At the moment everything’s in a dreadful mess and needs a thorough cleaning. There is a huge landing on the top floor with a great, long table in the middle and a little spiral staircase going up onto the roof. We can have a washing line on the roof and dry the clothes there. From outside it looks as though the roof is flat, but when you get up there, you find rows of small pointed roofs running parallel to each other, down which the rain flows into a series of gutters. Round the edge is a stone balustrade much of which is broken.”

And Georgina, small daughter of the house, writes in her diary with her own spelling:

 “I am having a 4 posta bed. Mummy says it is only an ugly one and there is a lavatry inside the bookcase on the landing. Nanny has gone and Mamzel is here. She has got to teech us French. Boring. She looks at you with horrid eyes. Jamie thinks she is a german spy but Mummy says she is swiss. Lucky Thomas is at bording school so he wont have to see her much.”

Thus, pictures of life at Clandon before the National Trust took it.  And now only the walls stand as witnesses to what has been. We will all in Surrey mourn its loss with the Onslow family, with the National Trust and with the Nation.