Ashley House, Epsom

A freehold mansion erected for John Rily by 1769 but named after its lessor between 1800- 1845, Miss Mary Ashley.

A watercolour of Epsom by J. Hassell.
A watercolour of Epsom by J. Hassell.
It is titled 'Epsom, Miss Ashley' and signed and dated 1822 in the lower right hand corner
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

In an article about Old Houses in Epsom, Ewell and Cuddington published in Surrey Archaeological Collections Vol. 51, 1950, the late Cloudesley S. Willis, F.S.A., remarked :-
'This house, which stands on the west side of Ashley Road, is dated on a lead rain-water head 1769, with the initials I.R. Excepting the front elevation and porch, there is little that suggests the fashionable Adam style of this date ; and the house generally is in the taste of some twenty years earlier.'
before continuing with a detailed description of the structure at that time.

Ashley House main door.
Ashley House main door.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

This has led later commentators to assume that the building was actually erected in the 1740's but no evidence has been found to support that as a fact. It simply appears to have been in an outmoded style, by 'a local country builder'.

The land upon which it stands was once in the possession of Benedict Leonard Calvert, 4th Baron Baltimore and an earlier messuage passed through the hands of a Mr Smith and Thomas Aldridge. The latter may have been become a widower in 1766 as suggested by a monument in St Martin of Tours churchyard: -

Table Tomb 838:
Interred beneath this place is the earthly remains
Both originally of Woolwich in Kent.
A Good Liver, Tender Mother, sincere friend and one
of the best wives, died the 3rd day of November, 1766,
Aged 66 years.
Here the weary are at rest.
January the 8th 1763 Aged 22 years.
Son of the above ..
who died October 31st 1813, Aged 75 years.

Towards the end of Mr Willis' piece, he added, almost as a footnote:-
'Mr. D. A. Burl [another local historian] states that the house was built by John Riley the younger on the site of a former messuage in the possession of Lord Baltimore'.
John Riley (Rily) had married Elizabeth Ayliff(e), daughter of Joseph Ayliffe, at St Martin's in the Fields, Westminster on 16 January 1734. Two daughters from that union were baptised at St Nicholas Olave - Elizabeth, 12 July 1739, & Ann, 6 August 1741. Other family names appeared in the registers of St Mildred, Bread Street, up to 1747.

On the 21st of Dec. 1755, Elizabeth, wife of John Riley, had been robbed coming out of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey Church, on Fish Street,following a charity sermon. Evidence was given that just before coming out of the church, she was giving alms at the plate with her left hand, when a person leant on the back of her negligee. As she put put right hand behind to disengage it, a watch and gold chain were snatched from her side.

In December 1771, The Oxford Magazine: Or, Universal Museum announced '...died at Epsom in Surry, after a long and painful illness, which she bore with exemplary patience and resignation, Mrs Rily, wife of John Rily, Esq., of Bread Street Hill in this City.

John Rily was a 'soap-boiler [soap maker] who became a member of the Fletcher's Company and may be found in commercial directories in business at 6 Bread Street Hill in the City of London from 1761 until 1775.

The erection of the house for John Riley, as noted by Mr D A Burl,was declared (in August 1850) by John Hayton of Clay Hill, Epsom, [a corn dealer, born 1775, who claimed descent from Sir Edward Williams] to have been by Thomas Butcher, builder, of Epsom who had been active in the town during the latter part of the 18th century.

When Thomas Bevan of Ashtead married Anne Prevost at Epsom on 16/08/1774, John Riley was a witness. Mr Riley, however, died intestate, 13 January 1776, 'on Bread Street Hill'. Since his wife had pre-deceased him, the two surviving daughters, Elizabeth and Ann, became co-heiresses.

On 2 May 1777, Sir Edward Williams, Bart., married secondly Miss Elizabeth Rily, of St. James's Place, eldest daughter and one of the co-heiresses of the late John Rily of Epsom and Bread Street, London. Ann Rily of Argyle Street, London, the sister, wed William Shaw at St James, Westminster, 19 May 1779, also to become his second wife.

During September 1778, Sir Edward Williams of London and of Llangoed, Brecon, Wales, baronet, with Elizabeth, his wife and Ann Riley of Epsom, spinster, had leased:-
'A capital, new erected [supporting the 1769 date rather than one suggested to have been constructed decades earlier], brick dwelling house and offices, coach houses and stables, gardens, orchards, court yard and pasture field in the town of Epsom, abutting N on a new road leading to the Downs [from the Spread Eagle into the Town Mead later Eagle then Ashley, Road], SW on gardens, NE on a garden belonging to the King's Head inn and S on a field.'
for 12 years at £147 pa to Nathaniel Bayley of Westminster, Esq.

In Edwards' Companion to the Road from London to Brighthelmston, surveyed in 1789, the author remarked: - 'On the opposite side, about half a furlong from the Spread Eagle is a large brick house, the front which is towards the east is cased with grey stock bricks; it is an elegant house, and commands an agreeable prospect to the south east, the property of John Riley, Esq., and in the occupation of Nat. Bayley, Esq.'

From March 1790 another lease was granted for 3 years to Thomas John Parker of Epsom, Esq, at £150 rent p. a. Then the co-lessor was named Ann Shaw of Inglewood, Berkshire, widow, her husband William having died during 1784. The premises appear in the 1795 Land Tax Return described as 'late Colonel Paulett's'.

Subsequently, the occupier became John Brathwaite who was succeeded by his niece, Mary Ashley, following his death 'suddenly, much lamented' on 21 September 1800.

A Memorial Inscription in Bristol Cathedral reveals that Ann Shaw survived her brother in law and sister:-
'Sir Edward Williams, Bart., of Langoed Castle, co. Brecknock, died 1804, aged 76; and Dame Elizabeth his wife, daughter and co-heiress of John Rily, of Epsom, died 1812, aged 67.
Arg. a stag tripping ppr., the badge of Ulster, on an escutcheon of pretence or a fess between-three crosslets az. (Rily)'.
The Will of Dame Elizabeth Williams of Clifton Wood, Gloucestershire, proved 5 June 1812 [PROB 11/1534/91] made her sister Ann Shaw residuary legatee. Consequently the latter would have come into sole possession of Ashley House following her sister's demise.

Ann Shaw died in her town house at 5 Wimpole Street, Cavendish Square, London, on 10 February 1826 rather than at Inglewood House, Hungerford, Berks.The late Hans Lehmann tells us in 6C1 of The Residential Copyholds of Epsom that 'under her will, her freehold and copyhold estates with the mansion house at Epsom came on 6 June 1827 to Elizabeth Skinner Barnes [daughter of John Barnes and Constance nee Quarrington, baptised 21 August 1777 at Wotton under Edge, whose maternal grandmother had been Margaret Ayliffe]. As recorded in the Court Rolls on 21 October 1828, Miss Barnes expired a year later aged 52 at her house in Wimpole Street, London [probably inherited from Mrs Shaw]. She was buried in the vault, at Kintbury Parish Church, of her relation and friend Ann, relict of the late William Shaw, Esquire of Inglewood House. [Will of Elizabeth (otherwise Eliza) Skynner Barnes, Spinster of Wimpole Street Cavendish Square, Middlesex, proved 12 June 1828. PROB 11/1741/311] The late Miss Barnes' Executors , conveyed the Ashley House freehold premises for £1700 to Alexander Wood, of Epsom, corn chandler, in July 1840. He leased them to George White in 1846 for 21 years at £100 rent p.a. They were described as lately in the tenure of Mrs Mary Ashley - who had in fact died at Epsom on the 25th April 1845 in the 90th year of her Age .

[Papers at Surrey History Centre - 895/1/1-2, 3-7, 8-11 & 12-22 Will of Mary Ashley, Spinster of Epsom , Surrey, proved 28 May 1845 - PROB 11/2017/74 ]

For the 1841 Census Alexander Wood had been enumerated on New Inn Lane, Epsom, but in 1850 was living at Priam Cottage, otherwise Downs Farm, a farmer of 100 acres, employing two men.

Tithe Map showing area occupied by Ashley House.
Tithe Map showing area occupied by Ashley House.

The 1843 Epsom Tithe Award shows Alexander Wood owning a messuage described as a house, buildings & garden (plot 537 Ashley House) with a kitchen garden (538) and meadow (539) on the west side of the lane (present day Ashley Road) with an additional meadow (540) and coach house and yard (541) on the east side of the road. Mary Ashley was named as occupier. By 1848 a new County Court House had been built next to Ashley House presumably under an arrangement with the lessor. George White acquired the freehold interest from Alexander Wood of Epsom, corn and coal merchant, in September 1850.

George ('Lawyer') White had been born on 17 September1809, son of Joseph White. He was a prominent solicitor and became Master Extraordinary in the High Court of Chancery in 1851 and Registrar of Epsom Court in 1856. In later years he held the position of clerk to the Epsom School Attendance Committee from 1877 to 1895 and was clerk to the Burial Board from 1869. [LINK TO White Notebook]

A Memorial was erected in St Martin of Tours Church, Epsom,
'To the memory of GEORGE WHITE of Ashley House, Epsom. He was Churchwarden and for many years Vestry Clerk of this Parish. Born 17th September, 1809 Died 6th August, 1898'
His burial aged 89 took place at Epsom Cemetery on 11 August 1898. The widowed Mrs Jane White stayed in occupation and was named the owner of Ashley House in 1900. She appears to have remained there until about 1919 before moving with her son, Capt. Reginald White, to Millwood, Links Road, Epsom. From that address she was brought for interment in Epsom Cemetery on 3 May 1929, aged 92.

Ashley House appears to have been sold on to Sir Gervas Powell Glyn who died on 17 July 1921 in his 59th year. Subsequently Lady Glyn arranged for the sale of Ashley House with a residue of the contents of Rectory House, Ewell, which took place in February 1923. A sales brochure described Ashley House as a freehold Georgian residence with five bedrooms to the upper floor, four bedrooms on the first floor and four reception rooms and a drawing room on the ground floor with cellarage under the whole house. The adjoining 'modern' Annexe had five lofty rooms and was described as self-contained. The grounds comprised large vegetable and flower gardens, an orchard, an old lime tree avenue, rookery and tennis lawns, all set within four and a half acres. Outbuildings included a flint-built summer house, a brick built range of stables, coach house, potting shed, store house, forcing house, granary, poultry houses and other useful outbuildings. [Surrey History Centre ref. 6168/5]

The purchasers seem to have been Henry John Roll and Frank Ernest Roll who were local builders based in Epsom High Street. They altered the premises before the house was sold for offices of the Rural District on 21st January 1926. It was acquired by Surrey County Council in 1934 before use as a Registry Office.

The property is currently being converted into flats.

Brian Bouchard © January 2017