The Durdans, Epsom
The Durdans, Epsom
Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre (Opens in a new window)

The Durdans is a large house situated in Chalk Lane Epsom, between Woodcote and Epsom Downs. There have been a succession of houses on this site, and it is fortunate that at least three paintings exist which show predecessors to the present building.

Durdans by Knyff
Durdans by Knyff
Image courtesy of Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window)

In 1617 Elizabeth, Lady Berkeley bought a "messuage, with a dovecote, two gardens, two orchards and 12 acres of land with meadow, pasture and wood" from Sir William Mynne of Horton, which is believed to be Durdans.1 Elizabeth's daughter Theophilia, wife of Lord Chief Justice Sir Robert Coke, inherited Durdans in 1634/35. The house was not considered to be particularly distinguished. A painting by Jacob Knyff in 1673, which now hangs in Berkeley Castle, shows what this house was like. It was built on an H-shaped plan with substantial bay windows on the gabled outer wings. It also had gabled window bays each side of the entrance. On the right hand side of the house there was a classical, single storey long gallery which projected beyond the house by four tall windows, to the forecourt. Beyond the forecourt was a moat. The gallery had a flat roof with a balustrade and was a very advanced architectural style for the time. The Hearth Tax returns of 1664 and 1673 record that the house had 29 hearths.

There is evidence that the painting was not commissioned to mark the completion of the long gallery as was often the case. An agreement dated 1639 between Sir Robert Coke and Jerome Reed, a London plumber, which is also in Berkeley Castle, refers to the addition as a "great hall or new room".

A postcard view of The Durdans
A postcard view of The Durdans

The fashionable court-style gardens were laid out at the same time and can also be seen in Knyff's painting. John Harris2 suggested that they might have been designed by Isaac de Kaus. There was a quadripartite parterre* with a fountain on the intersection of the cross walks and statues in the centre of each parterre. Espalier** fruit trees adorned the garden walls. The far end of the garden has a double cross terrace preceding a wooded hillside, and terminating in an architectural feature such as an arch or gateway.

After the alterations, Durdans was considered to be on a par with Nonsuch, and they were referred to as the "Palaces of Nonsuch and Durdans".

Sir Robert Coke also acquired a building on the estate known as the Dogghouse (Dagghouse), probably from John and Thomas Hewett. He fitted this as a library for any of the Ministers of the county of Surrey to use on week-days between sun-rising and sun-setting. He had inherited the books, which included some Greek and other manuscripts, from his father Sir Edward Coke. These remained at Durdans until 1682 when they were given to Sion College.3

Theophilia died childless, and her husband left the house in his will in 1652 to their nephew George, 2nd Earl of Berkeley. It is clear from George's letters that he was very close to his Uncle and Aunt and enjoyed visiting Durdans. When it became his, he entertained King Charles II and the Queen there in 1662, along with Princes Rupert and Edward and other noblemen. Charles II also dined at Durdans in 1664. Nevertheless, it seems that George wanted a more fashionable residence. Jacob Schmitt's painting of 1689 shows a very different house, in a more gracious, classical style. Building material would have been readily available for as Keeper of Nonsuch Palace, George had permission to acquire several wagon loads of stone and timber when Barbara Villiers had Nonsuch demolished in 1682. George's demolition lease expired in 1684, so it is likely that Schmitt's painting marked the completion of the house. It shows the railings along the moat and bridge to be interspersed with heraldic beasts which probably also came from Nonsuch.

Evelyn described the house in a letter to Samuel Pepys of 12 April 1689 as the "Delicious Villa Durdans" and in 1697 noted that some of the famous plaster stuccoes from Nonsuch had been transferred to Durdans. John Talman's sketch of the house dated 21 Sept 1702 shows the pale stone. It also shows the tower and cupola that can be seen in Knyff's painting. The house had been brought right forward to abut the moat. Celia Fiennes visited in 1711 and writes of a double staircase in the garden which led up into the grove.

An other postcard view of The Durdans
Another postcard view of The Durdans

In his will of 1698 George left the property to his son Charles, and there followed a quick succession of owners: Charles sold it to Charles Turner of Kirkleatham of Yorkshire in 1702; John, Duke of Argyll acquired it in1708, and by 1712 Francis North, Lord Guildford owned it. Bishop Willis's Visitation in 1725 referred to him as a resident of Epsom but by 1726 the house was being advertised "To Let":
"At Epsom in Surrey, a large house called Durdans belonging to a noble lord handsomely furnished with outhouses, garden, grove and kitchen garden, planted with choicest fruits and paddock stocked with deer and some pasture grounds, all in good repair. Enquiries to Thomas Perschowse, Attorney in Garden court, no.4 in the Temple." 4
Lord Guildford's son, Lord North and Guildford, succeeded him in 1729. He was the Lord of the Bedchamber to the Prince of Wales from 1730 to 1751 and lent the house to Frederick, Prince of Wales for hunting and hawking. A later owner, Lord Rosebery, was keen to prove the Royal occupation and wrote in his notebook:
"At last I have found an authentic trace of Frederick, Prince of Wales in connection with Durdans. In his accounts of 1740, which I possess, there are payments of £100pa to the under housekeeper of Durdans and half a guinea to Joseph Spiers, watchman at Durdans".
Further evidence is to be found in the Prince's own accounts of 1742 and 1743 which list expenditures of £865 for alterations by John Lane, joiner and Andrew Jelfe, mason.

Durdans Gates 1958
The Durdans Gates in 1958
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

Alderman William Belchier bought the house in 1747, and set about demolishing what he regarded as "a melancholy mansion" with the intention of building a new one. He acquired the iron gates from Canons at Stanmore which bear the Chandos motto. Bourne Hall Museum believes that these may have been produced by a pupil of Tijou who produced the gates for Hampton Court. Belchier had his crest added. Sadly, before the new house was completed it caught fire on 25 Feb 1755, and after two hours only the shell remained. Instead of rebuilding on the site, Belchier sold it to Charles Dalbiac in 1764 and chose to build his own house in a nearby chalk pit, which would become Pitt Place. Dalbiac employed William Newton to rebuild the house, and Newton's work forms the core of the house that exists today.

Durdans by John Hassell 1816
Durdans by John Hassell 1816
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection

George Blackman bought the house in 1799 and then sold it to Sir Gilbert Heathcote baronet and Member of Parliament in 1819 as a country retreat and place for his stables. Sir Gilbert became well known as a breeder and owner of race horses, including the Derby winner Amato, which gave its name to the Amato pub in Chalk Lane. In 1847 he first opened the paddock for horses to finish in and in 1866 he built a shed in the saddling paddock.

Lord Rosebery purchased The Durdans from the cousins and heirs of Sir Gilbert's son, Arthur, on 13 May 1874, although he did not spend the night there until 29 May 1876. At the time of purchase he was told that it was famous in England for its nightingales but he had to wait until 30 April 1899 to hear his first nightingale. Caveat Emptor!

As a prominent politician and Prime Minister Lord Rosebery entertained political colleagues such as William Gladstone and royalty including Queen Alexandra, King George V, Queen Mary and Princess Mary. He was also a well known horse breeder and owner of race horses. Lord Rosebery continued The Durdans equine tradition, and his Derby winners Ladas (1894), Sir Visto (1895) and Cicero (1905) are buried in the grounds.

Image of Cicero.  Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre
Image of Cicero taken by the Empress Marie at The Durdans 1913.
Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre (Opens in a new window)

Lord Rosebery employed John Hatchard-Smith, the Epsom & London architect, to make various alterations to the house. He also moved the ornamental gates from the west entrance to the ornamental position at the end of a new lime avenue down to Chalk Lane, and added a new wing, employing George Davy to make the house grander.

It was probably during Lord Rosebery's ownership that the name became established formally as The Durdans. April 1918 he wrote " I long hesitated between Durdans and The Durdans. I think the former form is correct but the latter had been established and current so long that it would be difficult to change. When I found that in the particulars of sale when the place was put up for auction at the death of Arthur Heathcote it was called The Durdans that seemed to establish the form and it was The Durdans when I bought it. Now I definitely call it The Durdans. I must add that I have seen this nowhere else." Dirden was a surname recorded locally from the time of Richard Dirden or Diridenne in 1375. Durdans, as a house name, is not unique to Epsom.

On his death in 1929 The Durdans was inherited by his daughter Lady Sybil Grant, nee Primrose and her husband Brigadier (later General) Charles Grant. General Grant died in 1950 and Lady Sybil in 1955. The estate was then inherited by Lord Rosebery's grand-daughter Lady Ruth Irwin, and her husband Lord Charles Irwin, Lord Halifax's son. They employed Claud Phillimore to sympathetically reduce the design to Newton's original concept.

In 1973 the house and immediate gardens were sold to Mr and Mrs Bruce McAlpine. The Halifax family retained all the land, but gradually this is being sold off for housing e.g. the Paddocks and the Kitchen Garden.

This item written and researched by Tim Bauckham and E Manterfield 2006.
With particular thanks to Sue White for contributing to and assisting with compiling this item.

1. A history of the County of Surrey Volume 3 (1911) Parishes: Epsom pg 271-278.
2. Country Life 8 Sept 1983 SHC 728.8 DUR p
3. Account of Sion College by Rev WH Milman in Lond and Midx Archaeological Society 1880.
4. Inner Temple MSS 538, 17, fo 347.
5. Pocket book kept by Lord Rosebery at Durdans Zs277.
6. Tanners Bodleian MSS 230.
7. SHC 2673.
8. SHC 2773.

* A parterre is a formal garden construction on a level surface usually consisting of planting beds, edged in stone or tightly clipped hedging, and gravel paths arranged to form a pleasing, usually symmetrical pattern. A quadripartite parterre is a garden with four parierres.
** Espalier is the horticultural technique of training trees through pruning and grafting in order to create formal "two-dimensional" or single plane patterns by the branches of the tree.

Some Images from the Francis Frith Collection

Photo of Epsom, The Durdans 1895, ref. 35123
Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.

Epsom, The Durdans 1895

Photo of Epsom, The Durdans 1895, ref. 35124
Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.

Epsom, The Durdans 1895

Midnight flit?

The whole country was shocked by the runaway romance of Henrietta Berkeley and Forde, Lord Grey. He was a peer destined for high office, and a well-known seducer; she was a hot-blooded teenager, and an earl's daughter. She was also his sister-in-law, which gave them ample opportunity to spend time together at the Durdans. When the news became public, Henrietta fled from the house wearing only a nightgown and petticoat, and took refuge with her lover in London.

The Plague

The summer of 1665 saw London terrified by the plague, and many left the city. Robert Hooke, the scientist and experimenter for the Royal Society, had planned to follow the Exchequer to Nonsuch, but Lord Berkeley offered him lodgings at the Durdans instead. Here the virtuosos spent their days devising new patterns for ships' rigging and wheeled vehicles, and lowering a board stuck with candles into the well, to test the gases which made them go out.


The Royal Surrey Bowmen were founded on St. George's Day in 1790. They met at the Rubbing House on Epsom Downs - then a building for racehorses, afterwards a pub - and were a very distinguished group, attended by the Duke of Clarence. The society lapsed in the Napoleanic wars but was revived (without the Royal) in 1937. They shot at Tattenham Corner Stables until Sybil Grant offered them the use of her grounds at the Durdans.

Canadian Connection

Surrey hosted many men from the Canadian Army in World War 2; many of those in Epsom were from 2 Army Field Workshop of the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, with headquarters in Ashley Road. The racing industry provided most of the premises, with the major assemblies section at the Durdans stables and training at Tattenham Corner Stables. Some of the men were billeted in the Grandstand, while their officers slept in the (presumably more distinguished) Prince's Stand.

These tit bits came from our Did You Know page.

Fire at Durdans

Epsom and Ewell Advertiser Thursday 13 January 1949

"Shortly before midnight on Thursday, while Lady Sybil Grant was entertaining members of the Epsom Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society at her residence, Durdans, Epsom, a fire broke out in a room on the first floor of the mansion, used by Sir Charles Grant as a rest room.
To check the flames, firemen had to remove the hearth and overmantel and cut some floor boards away. The fire is thought to have been caused by a defect in the hearth.
Lady Sybil is a sister of the Earl of Rosebery."

Durdans Supplement

English Heritage listing Grade II*
"1764. Architect William Newton. Altered in C19, possibly by George Devey. Red brick. Pitched slate roof. 2 storeys. Moulded stone cornice and balustrade. Principal front has 2 - 3 - 2 windows with C19 stone mullions and transoms. Centre 3 bays break forward slightly. Neo-Georgian porch in centre of ground floor. Garden front similar, but central 3 bays are canted. End elevations have 2 ranges of windows under coped gable end, in which is set 1 semi-circular lunette. 2 cartouches in south end.1 reads "Chs. Dalbiac Restt. 1764 Wm. Newton Art",. and the other "SG. Sibyllae Amicisque 1929-55". Interior retains at least 2 original chimney pieces to Newton's designs (drawings in R I B A Collection), of which the better has a depressed arch with a keystone, surmounted by a marble bas-relief and flanked by detached Ionic columns. Original house was built by Lord Berkeley in the mid C17, and its appearance suggests that it was as advanced in taste as his more famous town house in Piccadilly. Its subsequent owners included the 2nd Duke of Argyll (in 1708), The Earl of Guilford (in 17ll), and Frederick, Prince of Wales. It was pulled down and the present house built for Charles Dalbiac. In the late C19 it was the seat of the Earl of Rosebery, Prime Minister and owner of several Derby winners. Listing NGR: TQ2086959587"
The Durdans Grove

John Toland in his Letter to Eudoxa, 1711, writes of Epsom's groves:- 'I except not that of Durdans famous for Love' and 'Woodcot-seat, in whose long grove I often converse with my self'. The first allusion is to Aubrey's statement that Durdans' grove had been the scene of the intrigue between Ford, Lord Grey of Warke and Lady Henrietta Berkeley. Rev. John Parkhurst contradicted this, saying that it took place at 'a house of the Berkeleys, at the west end of the town in the road to Leatherhead' - the 'Late erected messuage' afterwards the Parish workhouse.

This addendum provides further information about two of the owners named in the original article and another two.

1.Charles Dalbiac - 1764 to circa 1774

Although it has proved impossible to confirm who was the restorer/re-builder of Durdans, between 1764 & 1768, that man is thought to have been the Huguenot refugee who, with his brother James, became a maker of silk and velvet at 20 Spital Square, London before 1763 -

He had married Susane de Visme in 1759 but his first wife died during 1768 and he wed secondly Anne le Bas by 1774. Their marital home appears to have been established in London because The Artillery, Spitalfields Huguenot church, records of christening of the first child of this union - Dalbiac. 1775, 25 Mars. Harriet, ff. de Charles, et d'Anne le Bas; bap. à la maison par Mr. Jacob Bourdillon, Past. P. Etienne le Bas. Ms. Louise Dalbiac et Marguerite Turner. Née 23 Fév.

Their son Jaques (James) Charles DALBIAC born 14 April 1776, apparently also in London, was also baptised at The Artillery, French Huguenot church, Spitalfields, 30 May 1776.

Certainly Durdans had been sold before 1777. About 1782 an estate at Hungerford Park, Berks.,was bought by Charles Dalbiac: this address being given when he was nominated in that year for appointed as Sheriff of Berkshire. He demolished the old mansion, and rebuilt on the same site. The Berkshire Directory of 1796 states "Mr Charles Dalbiac, the present proprietor, has lately erected an elegant villa in the Italian style on the spot where the old house stood". This property was sold in 1796.

Charles Dalbiac died at Margate, aged 84, on 23 December 1808 [Will of Charles Dalbiac of Bloomsbury proved 16 February 1809 - PROB 11/2069]. His relict, Anne, expired in Dawlish, Devon, and was interred there, aged 72, 20 August 1819.

2. Dr Timothy and Mrs Elizabeth Dallowe, his widow - circa 1774 to no later than 1777.

According to A Topographical History of Surrey by Edward Wedlake Brayley, 1841, 'The house now called Durdans was next built, and sold to Mr. Dallowe;'.

On 22 November 1759 at St Martin's, Epsom, Timothy Dallowe [Dr of Physick], widower, had taken as his second wife Elizabeth Hartopp, 'spinster 'of this parish', by licence. They appear, however, both to have been members of the Independent Chapel congregation. 'Dr Dalton' was interred on 5 October 1775. By his Will 'of Epsom' proved 3 November 1775, he asked to be buried in the 'same tomb as my late dear wife [Mary]'.

It seems likely that Dallowe, having married one of Sir John Hartopp's heiresses, could have acquired the house from Dalbiac about 1773 when the latter purchased Bookham Grove [LINK]. After Timothy Dallowe's death his relict took the lease of a house at Dorking and Durdans could well have been sold on to Kenworthy before 1777.

3. William Joshua Kenworthy - Not later than 1777 - 1778, then widowed Mrs Kenworthy until 1799.

Little is known about the Kenworthys but William Joshua could have been a son of Joshua, trading out of Poland, sometime consul in Danzig and spy for Walpole. From 1772 until his death William Joshua Kenworthy himself had been a merchant in London at 26 St Lelens and then 33 Charterhouse Square.

In 1777, Woodcote Park had been purchased by Arthur Cuthbert [Link] but he immediately disposed of 34 acres in the eastern extension to William Joshua Kenworthy in order for the latter to extend his Durdans estate above The Grove. As an inscription in St Martin of Tours church indicated, however, his enjoyment was short-lived: - In Memory of WILLIAM JOSHUA KENWORTHY ESQ., who died at Durdens, July the 16th, 1778, Aged 58 years. [Will proved 3 August 1778 PROB 11/1044]

According to The Topographer, 1791, 'the present possessor is Mrs. Kenworthy, who purchased this estate, and part of Woodcote Park, in this vicinity...'

In April 1799, the property was advertised to be sold on her behalf:-

The Times 02 Apr 1799
The Times 02 Apr 1799

3. George Blackman, later to become Sir George Harnage, Bart. - 1799 to 1819

An image of Gorge Blackman is available on the BBC Website.

George Blackman appears to have been a partner in J L Blackman & Co., Merchants, Chatham Place, Blackfriars, London. They dealt in sugar and, from 1785, George's father, John Lucie Blackman had also been the owner of a slave plantation in Barbados*.

Sir Edmund Nagle 'married, August 16, 1798, a lady of ample fortune, the widow of John Lucie Blackman Esq. of Craven street'. Durdans was puchased in 1799 when George came into his inheritance. A list of Epsom freehold quit rents for 1801 includes his name as the owner and occupier of Durdans. He became a Sheriff of Surrey in 1802.

On 16 May 1803, by Sir Isaac Heard, Knight, Garter, George Blackman of Durdens in the parish of Epsom, co. Surrey, Esquire, was granted Arms, vizt., Ermines three lions ramp. ar. within a bordure or, seraee of crescents az.-Crest, a demi griffin, semee of crescents, collared ... Motto, Fide et Fiducia

In An account of the celebration of the jubilee, on the 25th October, 1809 ...
"At Durdens near Epsom, the poor were made happy by the liberality of the neighbourhood. George Blackman, Esq. presented to the parish of Epsom, a round Salver of about 22 inches diameter, extremely plain in its decorations, but well-finished in point of workmanship. The centre of the Salver exhibits the Attributes of the Trinity, encompassed with a Glory. Above the centre is inscribed in capitals, - 'Fear God', beneath it 'Honour the King' and towards the bottom in a scroll, 'This Salver was presented to the parish of Epsom, in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Reign of his Gracious Majesty, George the Third; by George Blackman, (of Durdens) Esq.'"
Blackman sold Durdans in 1819 and within two years entered the Baronetage:-
Sir George Harnage [christened George Blackman, 28 July 1767, at St Olave, Hart Street, London], 'Baronet, of Harley Street, county of Middlesex, and of Belleswardine, county of Salop; son and heir to John Lucie Blackman, late of London, Esq. created a Baronet; and by royal sign manual, dated October 11, 1821, Sir George, and his issue, are authorised to take and use the surname of Harnage only, and also to bear the arms of Harnage quarterly with those of Blackman, (his paternal coat,) in compliance with the earnest wish and desire of his maternal uncle, and father-in-law, Henry Harnage, of Belleswardine, county of Salop, Esq. Born July 5, 1767. Married [at St Marylebone], July 19, 1791, Mary, eldest daughter of Colonel Henry Harnage, of Belleswardine, and has issue, George, a commander in the R. N. born July 19, 1792 ; and other children.'
ARMS: - HARNAGE, Bart. (Harley Street, Midd. and Belleswardine, Salop, 8 Sept.1821) quarterly; first and fourth, ar. six torteauxes, three, two, and one, for Harnage; second and third, erm. three lions ramp. ar. within a bordure or, semee of crescents az. For Blackman - Crests, first, out of a ducal coronet, a lion's gamb holding a torteaux, over it, Deo duce decrevi, for Harnage; second, a demi griffin, semee of crescents, collared, over it, Fide et fiducia, for Blackman.

Two years later, Sir George Harnage (late George Blackman), of Chatham Place, was declared bankrupt.

An Obituary of Sir George (Blackman) Harnage appeard in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1837: -
"Nov. 19.[1836] At East Moulsey (sic),in his 70th year, Sir George Harnage, Bart. He was the only son of John Lucie Blackman, esq. of London, merchant, (of an old London and West India family,) by Mary, daughter of Henry Harnage, esq.,who afterwards remarried the late Adm. Sir Edmund Nagle. He married, July 19, 1791, his cousin Mary, eldest surviving daughter of Henry Harnage of Belleswardine, co. Salop, esq., a Lieut.-Colonel in the army; and in 1821 he assumed the surname of Harnage only, by license under the royal sign manual. The family of Harnage long flourished in Shropshire, and purchased the manor of Belleswardine in 1548. In the same year (1821), by patent dated Sept. 8, he was advanced to the dignity of a Baronet."
Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle, K.C.B. and G.CM., Groom of the Bedchamber to his Majesty, died 14 March 1830 - 'At his house, in East Moulsey, aged 73'. A description of East Molesey Church mentions: -
'In the nave is a neat tablet to the memory of Adm. Sir Edmund Nagle, G.C.B, G.C.M, one of the grooms of his Majesty's bed-chamber, who died at the age of seventy-five, on March the 14th, 1830 ; and also of Mary his widow, who was the daughter of Henry Hamage, esq., and widow of John Lucie Blackman, esq., of Craven-street, London : she died at the age of ninety-eight, on the 13th of May, 1836. Admiral Nagle was a nephew of the celebrated orator and statesman, the Right Hon. Edmund Burke. He was a brave and skilful officer, and a great favourite of his late Majesty, George the Fourth : both himself and his lady died at their residence at East Moulsey.

Another tablet records the interment here of Sir George [Blackman] Harnage, (the son of Lady Nagle by her first husband), who was created a baronet on the 28th of July, 1821; and who assumed the name of Harnage by royal permission, in the October following, in virtue of his maternal descent from an ancient family of that name, which held a high rank in the county of Salop, in the time of Edward the Third. He died in 1836, aged seventy years'
*Proprietor of Boarded Hall plantation in Barbados.

Boarded Hall Estate was located in the parish of St. George on the island of Barbados in the West Indies reported as having consisted of one hundred forty acres of land and thirty 'Negroes', or, in another source, forty-two 'Negroes' and one white servant. It was bequeathed, 1748, to the Hon. John Lyte, a judge in Barbados, who in 1743 had married Susannah Blackman, In 1785 it became the property of John Lucie Blackman and, following his death in 1799, the estate was passed down to George Blackman, in whose hands it remained until he fell into bankruptcy and mortgaged it to Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle and to Nathaniel Saxon, Esq., in 1823.