Colonel Dennis O'Kelly's Racing Establishment on Clay Hill Epsom and its connection to West Hill House

In his Ancient Epsom, pub. 1928, the late Reginald White provided an account of O' Kelly's two racing establishments in Epsom and his acquisition of the famous racehorse, Eclipse. He mentions James Edwards' description of 'Clay Hill' in The Companion from London to Brighthelmston (surveyed c1790): -
"On the very summit of the hill, on the N side, is a beautiful and elegant villa erected about 1785* by Col. Dennis O' Kelly... In the front of the house is an elegant drawing room 40 ft. by 20 ft. with gardens shrubbery and stabling...There are 35 paddocks for his large stud of stallions, brood mares, colts and fillies."
Mr White inferred that "it must have faced the present stable gates of Hookfield, with the stables, shrubberies and gardens in rear on what was then a part of Epsom Court farm." He continued
"Whence and how has all this vanished without leaving any trace with the exception of a few loose- boxes which have probably been demolished? The present site is occupied with a straggling line of cottages, small villas and an infant school. It seems almost incredible, and yet the establishment must have had an existence, as it is recorded that the writer of the description 'was entertained with a sight of Eclipse' and there could have been no mistake about that!"

Answers to Reginald White's questions are that Dennis O'Kelly's house that lay on the northern side of Clayhill Green had been replaced by a late Victorian building, currently Kingswood House School, and the infant school was a conversion from the old stables.

Extract from 1843 Tithe Map - click image to enlarge
Extract from 1843 Tithe Map - click image to enlarge
Dark Green = O'Kelly's Estate with house on left and stables on right,
Light Green = Paddocks,
Yellow = The earlier holding
Note: North is not at the top of this map.

The original structures are shown on plot 410 of the 1843 Tithe Map, owned and occupied by Henry Gratton (sic). Grattan's title to the real estate descended from O'Kelly's family on marriage [Link To]. James Edwards had also mentioned the 35 paddocks being at the back of the 'beautiful range of stabling' on about 100 acres of land.

The development of this area of Clayhill may have begun with a lease for 21 years at £19. 5s. rent: Rev. John Parkhurst to Dennis O'Kelly, esq. both of Ebbisham (Epsom), 9 Nov 1770, 3 closes on Clayhill in Epsom. [Hull University Archives U DDLA/40/64]. In 1790, James Edwards observed the O'Kelly house mentioned in his survey to have been 'erected about fifteen years ago' i.e. around 1775 [*Mr White's reference to construction in 1785 was related to Edwards' publication year, 1800]. The large area of paddock land to the rear appears to have been a substantial part of Epsom Court Farm aggregated leasehold - as exampled by a lease for 21 years at £96. 10. rent: Rev. John Parkhurst to Dennis O'Kelly, 28 May 1778, Parcels called Over Lawn, Upper Lawn, Upper Four Acres, Lower Four Acres and 4 closes called Ovalls in Epsom [Hull University Archives U DDLA/40/66]. 'Lawn' appears as a six acre field, plot 175, on the 1843 Tithe map.

The property north of Clayhill Green, which had been occupied by Charles White Williams from about 1818 to at least 1825 presumably as lessee, fell into disrepair as shown by: -
a) The following reference in Eclipse and O'Kelly (Cook, 1907): -
'On June 4, 1827, Mr. S. Langlands (evidently an ancestor of the owner of the present well-known stand), builder, of Epsom, estimates £135 for repair of roof and brickwork at Clay Hill for H. Grattan, Esq., M.P., and a fortnight afterwards a Mr. Gardom reports that the place is in very bad repair from dry-rot.' &
b) A painting 'Stables at Clay Hill, Epsom, Surrey, Late Col. O'Kelly', held by Bourne Hall Museum.
Watercolour of Stables at Clay Hill
Watercolour of Stables at Clay Hill

During 1844, with an endowment from Miss Elizabeth Trotter of Horton Manor, the stable block was converted into West Hill Infants School. This establishment had been extended in 1872 but later condemned as unsanitary before closure in 1925 and subsequent demolition.

West Hill Infants School
West Hill Infants School
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

After the ownership of Henry Grattan, junior, land at Clayhill, adjoining Epsom Court Farm, came into the possession of Thomas Roberts, confectioner/pastrycook of Epsom, on 10 August 1841. Roberts' death was recorded in the Court Rolls on 7 May 1868 (St Martin's MI - died 24 April 1868, reg. Epsom 6/1868 aged 70), and his Executors sold off his various properties in nine lots at auction by Andrews, 23 December 1868 [SHCOL_7295]. This led to what Reginald White described as the 'straggling line of cottages [and] small villas' beside the infant school - including, running westwards, West Hill Cottage, 1869, Eclipse Cottage 1869, Rose Cottage 1878 and Brain Cottages 1870.

Further O' Kelly real estate south of Clayhill Green - Clay Hill (later West Hill) House

Retracing James Edwards' steps back towards the town one finds he described a 'high house which stands about 40 yards from the road, & has been lately beautified by the addition of a new front of red brick. It is a handsome building and stands pleasant, behind it are good gardens, plantations etc...' Edwards also mentioned that these premises were the property of 'William Dubois, Esq.'. No evidence has been found to corroborate the immediately previous statement, rather William Dubois had purchased the adjacent copyhold on 29 July 1786 [Lehmann 2C3]. This, according to Edwards, a 'public house, the sign of the horse Eclipse in the possession of William Hewell', was tenanted by the latter.

The estate, which lay below the summit of Clay Hill, south of Pound Lane, had by the 20th century become the much altered West Hill House, as explained in part by the Epsom Land Tax assessments. In 1680 this freehold site comprised a messuage, one stable, one garden, one orchard and two acres of land 'inclosed'. [Lehmann 2A2] By 1755, these premises, 'abutting on Clayhill on the south part & Hooke alias Pound Lane on the north part', had come in to the possession Mrs Wells, a widow, and would have been the 'small estate' said to have been acquired by Dennis O'Kelly about 10 years later, certainly before 1769. His buildings north of Clayhill Green came later, as discussed above.

Col. ('Count') Dennis O'Kelly -1728 to 28 December 1787

Much more information is contained in Eclipse and O'Kelly, by Sir Theodore Andrea Cook, 1907, -

"[There] is the grant of annuity arranged by an indenture drawn up on December, 1769, between Dennis O'Kelly, of the Parish of St. James's, Westminster, in the County of Middlesex, Esquire, of the one part, and John Sherwood, of Shadwell, in the said County of Middlesex, Esquire, of the other part. By this instrument Sherwood lends O'Kelly £1500 in consideration of an annuity of £100 a year for life, secured by O'Kelly's house in 'Clergy'(? Clarges) Street, in the Parish of St. James's, in which Robert Tilson Jean was living, and his house in Marlborough Street, where he lived himself, and also his house at Clay Hill, near Epsom, 'in the parish of Ebbisham, in the county of Surrey', then in his occupation. On the back of the indenture is the receipt for the repayment of the £1500 in 1775.

After some years of dispensing hospitality to racing men at Clay Hill, the Epsom property, Charlotte Hayes [LINK TO] seems to have left it entirely to the care of Philip O'Kelly, and lived in the house at the corner of Half-Moon Street and Piccadilly, which also belonged to Dennis. A document of 1777 shows that, up to this date at any rate, she had not quite succeeded in producing order and economy in her expenditure.

From a warrant and declaration taken out, it appears that the assignees of 'James Spilsbury, late of the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden, in the County of Middlesex, haberdasher and warehouseman, being a bankrupt,' complain of 'Charlotte Hayes, being in the custody of the Marshal of the Marshalsea of our Lord the now King before the King himself,' concerning the debt which she acknowledged at Westminster on August 1, 1776, 'for the use and hire of certain Cloaths and Garments...let to hire to the said Charlotte at her special interest and request...and also for work and labour before that time done performed and making fitting adorning and trimming divers Cloaths Garments and Masquerade Dresses', and for other work at divers times beforehand; and whereas 'the said Charlotte not regarding her said several promises and undertakings so made as aforesaid but contriving and fraudulently intending craftily and subtilly to deceive and defraud ...hath not yet paid the said several sums of money or any part thereof...' the assignees of the haberdasher assess 'their damage of fifty pounds and thereupon they bring their suit. Michaelmas Term in the seventeenth year of the reign of King George the Third'..."
Enlargement and improvement of the house on Clay Hill circa 1785 are noted in a report, No. 2722, on West Hill House, West Hill, Epsom, by the Domestic Building Research Group (Surrey) from February 1982.

O'Kelly had also bought himself a stately home at Canons in Middlesex, formerly the seat of the Duke of Chandos.

Dennis O' Kelly died 28 December 1787 - Will proved 4 January 1788 PROB 11/1161/234 - the Epsom estate passing to his nephew Andrew. By family arrangement, Canons went to Dennis' brother, Philip. The former's unofficial wife, Charlotte Hayes remained at their home in Half Moon Street, Piccadilly until her death in 1815.

Andrew Dennis O'Kelly

On January 25, 1788, Andrew had given a power of attorney to his father, Philip O' Kelly, to secure the fees on mares covered at Clay Hill. Philip had superintended the Epsom establishment for some time previously.

After 1788 Eclipse was removed from Clay Hill, Epsom, in a carriage drawn by two horses, accompanied by the groom, to Cannons, Middlesex, where he died on Saturday, February 28, 1789, aged twenty-five. Because of his exceptional stamina his remains were dissected to discover the secret of his speed and staying power. The autopsy was carried out, at least in part, by Edmund Bond of Epsom (who in 1794 gained the first certificate from the London Veterinary College). Eclipse's skeleton is at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire England.

From 1799, the estate south of Clayhill Green seems to have been let in two parts - the big house and the paddocks separately. First the Epsom house was occupied by Lord Elcho followed immediately by Lord Belfast (becoming The Marquess of Donegal on his father's demise) who took the villa whilst 'Pannewell' rented the land. A dispute, which was last for years, developed with the recklessly extravagant Donegal over unpaid debts, eventually including more than £2650 for dilapidations at the house.

On July 13, 1803, there is careful note made that Mr Alcock, steward of the manor, promised P. O'Kelly Esq., being fully authorised by Sir J. Mawby so to do, a grant of the piece of Waste in the front of the wall to the road from one end of Clay Hill to the other. Mr Bond the farmer, Mr Haswell the corn-chandler, Mr Wood the baker, and Mr Blank the carpenter were present, and were to form the jury of the Court Leet.

On December 29 of the same year Andrew Dennis O'Kelly let the land on Clay Hill, Epsom (which he had previously let to Smith Pannwell, Esq.) to Abel Craven Esq., being 12 acres with coach-house, stables, and outbuildings garden and fields, for £136 10 a year, & Mr. Craven to repair all the estate, & pay all taxes on it & have the usual right of common to the house. The villa itself was left empty and remained so for another 10 years, falling into disrepair.

Between 1804 and 1813 a tenant of the land is named simply as 'Davis' but, apparently, he was Solomon Davies

In 1814, AD O'Kelly demanded £2650 (as mentioned earlier) from the house lessee to cover the cost of making good the dilapidation. This became an element in a Memorandum of Agreement between George Augustus, Lord Donegall and Andrew Dennis O'Kelly of Half Moon St., (as admin. of his father Philip) in 1816. That attempt to arrive at a monetary settlement was not honoured and much later resulted in the case of Donegal v Grattan.

Andrew Dennis O'Kelly died in April 1820 - Will, 'of Paris', proved 4 October 1820 - PROB 11/1635/225.

Edward Archbold

Edward Archbold of the Bengal Lancers c.1781 age about 17.
Edward Archbold of the Bengal Lancers c.1781 age about 17.
Image courtesy of Christina Young © 2012

Archbold, had been a partner of David Johnston in Gibraltar, trading as Archbold & Johnson, merchants. As a widower with three children, living at Garrets, Banstead, he married Agnes Reid, only sister of Sir Thomas Reid of Ewell, on 12 Dec 1811 at Saint Mary Lambeth.

On 11 October 1813, Edward Archbold of Norfolk Street, Strand, purchased the Eclipse public house copyhold [Lehmann 2C4]. From 1814 the Land Tax records show Edw. Archbold to have been owner/occupier of Clay Hill House and Land, and to have remained there until 1819. Lehmann reports the Eclipse premises were sold to Rev Philip Henry Douglas of Epsom on 12 October 1819.

Rev Philip Henry Douglas

The Rev P H Douglas of Great Bardfield, Essex, had married Susannah Aplin at St Leonards, Shoreditch, 7 January 1813.

In 1820 & 1821 the lower Clay Hill Land Tax assessment shows Douglas, late Archbold. From 1822 to 1831 the entry is for Rev P H Douglas, Self, House and Land. Henry Pownall in Some particulars relating to the history of Epsom (1825) remarks 'The house near the residence of Mr. Williams [on the far side of Clayhill Green], has been much improved by its present owner, the Rev. P. H. Douglas, who occasionally assists the Rev. Mr. Darby in the ministerial duties of the parish'.

Mrs Susannah Douglas died, aged 32, and was interred in St Martin's churchyard. She had possibly succumbed to complications in childbirth because a daughter Fanny Heatly Douglas was christened in the church on 14 July 1826. A gravestone is recorded as showing: -

In Memory of SUSANNAH wife of the REV. PHILIP HENRY DOUGLAS of this Parish [who died] on (t)he 23rd day of April 1826 in the 33rd Year of her Age.

I (kn)ow that my Redeemer liveth and (that) he shall stand at the latter (day) (upon) the earth And though after my [passing] worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold and not another.

Job XIX 24 26 27 The memory of the just is Blessed Prov. X (?)

Likewise in Memory of ARCHIBALD WILLM DOUGLAS third son of the above who died March 5th 1824 Aged 11 months.

Also in Memory of ESTER JANE DOUGLAS eldest child of the above who departed this Life Sept the .. 1837 Aged 23 Years.
The part of the estate above Clayhill Green had passed into the possession of Henry Grattan, M.P. ('second son of the celebrated patriot'), through his wife Mary O'Kelly Harvey, daughter of Andrew O'Kelly's cousin, and was sold by him. The other O' Kelly training establishment 'on the Downs' descended further down members of the family, passing to Charles Langdale of Houghton through his marriage with Henrietta Grattan, daughter of Mary O'Kelly Harvey (Grattan).

Returning to the Rev P H Douglas, a second marriage to Mrs Ann Oram, nee Bull, widow of William Henry Oram, may be found registered at Worthing for the September Quarter 1839. The family then appear to have moved to the West Country.

The 1841 Census enumerates John Tate resident with his family in Clay Hill House. This is consistent with the 1843 terrier - Plots 207 to 210, including House, garden & pleasure grounds, orchards, meadows and sheds, Clayhill, owned by the Rev Philip Douglas with John Hilton Tate as his tenant.

James Levick became a tenant in Clay Hill House whilst Hookfield was being re-built in the 1850's

Edward Ellis

On 30 April 1861 the Eclipse PH copyhold was sold, as also would have been the Clay Hill House estate, by Rev Douglas of Broomhill, near Tiverton, to Edward Ellis, 36 Great Winchester Street, London.[Lehmann 2C4]. Ellis then appears with his family on Clay Hill in the 1861 Census.

Gilbert Alder

Alder, a coal merchant from Blackfriars occupied the property at the time of the 1871 Census.

West Hill House was offered for sale on his behalf in The Times of 17 May 1890.

Advertisement from The Times of 17 May 1890
Advertisement from The Times of 17 May 1890

George Henry Longman

A member of the publishing firm Longmans, Green & Co. who appears to have acquired West Hill House by 1891. He provided land on West Hill, adjacent to the Eclipse public house, in 1899 for Christchurch's hall to be built. Geo. Hy. Longman also appears in the Epsom Rate Book 1900 as owner/occupier of West Hill House, becoming joint Master of the Surrey Union Foxhounds from that year until 1904.


The purpose of this article has been to trace links in a chain from what Col Dennis O'Kelly called 'The Cottage' to West Hill House. The latter, described as having been a huge timber frame house and dated from about 1700, had been altered in the 18th and 19th centuries and then, after a long period of neglect, was rebuilt in the late 20th in a copy of its previous appearance and is now in use as offices.

With thanks to Jeremy Harte, curator Bourne Hall Museum for his helpful suggestions.

O'Kelly's Racing Establishment - Click image to enlarge
O'Kelly's Racing Establishment 'On the Downs' much later to become 'Sherwoods'
Click image to enlarge

These premises passed to Charles Langdale of Houghton trough his marriage with Henrietta Grattan, daughter of Mary O'Kelly Harvey/Grattan. From Mr. Langdale [Henrietta] it was bought by the Sherwoods in 1885

Brian Bouchard
November 2012

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