Richard Rooth's house
"The Elms" : one of Epsom's "lost" buildings


The Elms also known as 4 Dorking Road or Clock House in Spring 1974
The Elms also known as 4 Dorking Road or Clock House in Spring 1974
Photographer not known
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

On the 19/20 October 1715, Richard Rooth, resident at Park Place, St James's, London, a son (b. circa 1657) of Captain (later Sir) Richard Rooth from Butler's Grove, Kilkenny purchased an existing house on New Inn Lane, Epsom, now the A24 Dorking Road. He had been married to Jane nee Itchingham of Dunbrody, Wexford, after her first husband, Arthur Chichester, Lord Donegal died, on 26 October 1678, from no later than 1681 until her demise during 1712.

Almost immediately thereafter, on 22 May 1712, Richard Rooth contracted a second marriage to Mary, daughter of George, Earl Berkeley, who was the widow, then aged 58, of the notorious Ford Grey (1655-1701), 3rd Lord Grey of Warke. [Link to Midnight Flit]

A small, early Georgian, house

Before 1717 Rooth arranged for a new residence to be built on the Epsom site to a Neo-Palladian design by Colen Campbell which appeared in 'Vitruvius Britannica or The British Architect' as shown in an engraving by Henry Hulsbergh below:

Mr Rooth's House in Vitruvius Britannica - Click image to enlarge
Mr Rooth's House in Vitruvius Britannica
Click image to enlarge

The building was described as "tho' but of small extent, it is most conveniently laid out and well finished".

Plans for Mr Rooth's House in Vitruvius Britannica - Click image to enlarge
Plans for Mr Rooth's House in Vitruvius Britannica
Click image to enlarge

Celia Fiennes travels have been described in a book entitled 'Through England on a side saddle in the time of William and Mary', published in 1888. A description of her journey to Epsom, which must actually have taken place during the reign of George I, contains much more detail about Rooth's property: -

"There is another house of Mr Ruths who married Lady Dennagall is new and neate. The Entrance is a space the breadth of ye Court and ffront, rail'd in and opening in ye middle wth sort of wicket, two such at Each End wth heavye Latches to pull up, and the gate swings both wayes. There is a brick wall wth peers and breast high, and jron pallisadoes of a good breadth Each side the gate, wch is Carv'd iron work with a Deer on the top of a Cypher, and an oaken tree Cut a top; the two first peers are wth Great flower potts, those on ye Peeres Each side ye jron works Lesser flower potts. Beyond are the gates into the coach yard, wch with the Stables is a neate Pile of Buildings by it self. Just on ye other side is such a building the kitchen and offices and little Laundry Court, and here is the back Entrance through a Long brick Entry open on one side, but a wall to ye Court side and house, and Enters into a passage that Leads to a little hall brick't, wth roomes for ye buttler and a batheing roome. By it is a Large hall paved wth stone and thence is one way into the garden. Under the staires and balcony that descends from ye dineing roome in ye first passage are staires wch brings to a space that turns up to the Great staires and roomes.

The ffront Entrance is into a handsome Court, one Large paved walke in the middle between Grass, the borders round of flowers, ye wall wth trees. You ascend some stepps to a broad terrass paved and with a breast wall sett wth flower potts. This is the breadth of the house and at Each End two Large white seates wth arches over ye head. You Enter a step or two to this space wch Lead s to ye staires on ye Left to a little parlour wanscoted, white in veines and gold mouldings, a neat Booffett ffurnish'd with Glasses and china for the table, a Cistern below into which the water turn'd from a Cock, and a hole at bottom to Let it out at pleasure. Wth in this roome was a Large Closet or musick roome, on the other side was a dine-ing room wth a balcony door wch has staires to ye garden in a round with half paces and jron railes. Thence is a drawing roome, beyond that a Closet that comes out into a little passage to the staircase, wch is Large and makes the fourth part of the house; they are wanscoate varnish'd and the Lower step or two Larger, and ye other End is in a turn. The half paces are strip'd, the wood put wth ye Graine, the next slip against the Graine, wch makes it Looke pretty as if Inlaid.

You Enter one roome hung with Crosstitch in silks, the bed the same Lined wth yellow and white strip'd sattin, window Curtaines white silk damaske wth furbellows of Callicoe printed flowers, the Chaires Crosstitch and two stooles of yellow Mohaire wth Crostitch, true Lower knotts in straps along and a Cross, an Elbow Chaire tentstitch; Glasses over all ye Chimneys and Marble pieces. The windows in all the roomes had Cusheons. The next roome was Lady Dennagalls Chavmber and Closet hung wth very rich tapistry, the bed Crimson damaske Lined wth white Jndia sattin, wth Gold and Crimson flowers printed; the Chaires, one red damaske, the other Crostitch and tentstitch very Rich, soe round the roome. The Closet, Green damaske Chaires, and many fine pictures under Glasses, of tentstitch sattin stitch Gumm and strawwork, also jndia flowers birds &. The roome over the Little parlour was Mrs Ruths, a pladd bed Lined wth Jndian Callicoe, and an Jndia Carpet on the bed-wth in was her Closet. Over this are good Garretts and staires to the Leads wch shews you all about the town.

The first garden is square, the walls full of trees and nail'd neate, an apricote, peach, plumb, necktarine, wch spread but not very high; between Each is a cherry stript up to the top and spreads, Composeing an arch over the others. There are borders of flowers round and a handsome Gravel round. The Grass plott is Large; in the middle a little Gravel in an oval or round, where is a Large fountain of stone full of stone Images to spout the water. This Garden is the breadth of the dwelleing house-the dineing roome and drawing roome Looke into it.

Out of this (which is ffenced by a breast wall wth jron pallasadoes painted blew wth Gilt topp) you ascend severall stepps through an jronwork'd gate to a ground divided into Long grass walks, severall of wch ascends ye hill and between the Ground improv'd wth Dwarfe trees of ffruite and flowers and greenes in all shapes, intermixt wth beds of strawberyes for ornament and use. Thus to another bank wth stepps to a Green Cross walke, and then more trees and devices. Thence to two mounts cut smoothe-between is a Cannall. These mounts are severall stepps up under which are jce houses; they are a square fflatt on the top ffenced with banks round and seates, beyond which is a summer house in a tree, which shews a great way off the Country. There are Low Cut hedges on Each bank, and painted sticks wth Gilt tops in ye greens and flower potts, and thus is one terrass above another. Over their stables are Chambers for ye men, over the Kitchen and Dairy and buttery and scullery are roomes for Laundry, and for the maids."
Richard Rooth's second wife, Mary (nee Berkeley, relict of Ford, Lord Grey of Warke), Countess of Tankerville, died on 19 May 1719. Speculation that Rooth was the "Mr Wroth of Epsom" who became the third husband of Olivia, Viscountess Dowager of Ikerrin, Ireland, in the same year can be refuted and so Richard, gentleman merchant of the City of London, lived on as a widower until 21 November 1726. In a version of his will dated 15 February 1713, Rooth had expressed a wish that "my body may be privately interred in my garden if that may be permitted against prevailing custom, otherwise that it may be laid near the remains of my dear friend in Epsom Church": in the event, he was buried at St Martin's on 25 November 1726 presumably beside Jane, his late first wife, Countess of Donegal.

In an edition of Toland's 'A description of Epsom' published in 1726 reference is made to "Mr Rooth's in New Inn Lane, whose canal on top of a hill with soft walks on both sides and the green mounts at each end are very delightful". The property was inherited by a daughter, Elizabeth incorrectly named by Burke as Barbara, only issue of Richard Rooth by Jane, Countess of Donegal to survive childhood. She had married Henry Cliffe, a sea captain with the East India Company who became lord of the manor of Sutton, but died insolvent during 1719. Eventually, on 4 June 1736, the house was sold on by their elder son and heir Richard Cliffe of Sutton to Baron Anthonio Lopes Suasso of Epsom. [Suasso (sometime owner of 'The Cedars', Epsom), a prominent Jewish merchant in The Hague and a large shareholder of the Dutch West India Company, had underwritten William of Orange's invasion of 1688 .] A description of the real estate from that time contains references to a row of elms which would have led to the house becoming named "The Elms" .

Don Francisco van Anthonio Lopes Suasso, the Baron's son, acquired the house from his father on 17/18 September 1755 but it was Francisco's wife, Esther Suasso Teixera, who sold it on 6/7 April 1757. By 24 September 1757 the property had been purchased by Samuel Sharp, citizen and surgeon of London.

A makeover by Robert Adam

During 1765, Anthony Chamier had bought three sub-manors in Ewell - Fitznells, Roxley and Bottolphs - immediately commissioning Robert Adam, the most fashionable architect in Britain to draw up plans for a new building on the site occupied by 'Fennells Place'. These were not executed and that old manor house still exists on the Chessington Road. In the 1770's, however, Chamier bought Samuel Sharp's estate on the Dorking Road, Epsom, and, during 1775, he instructed Robert Adam to design four ceilings for the Rooth house to which two large rooms were to be added. As reported by John Edwards in 'A companion from London to Brighthelmston', 1801, the house became large and elegant with the additional rooms running the full depth of the property on each side. The stuccoed frontage had been ornamented with fluted pilasters and there were large Venetian windows in pavilions at each end as depicted in the following image from circa 1820. This had not previously been identified as depicting Adam's work and is the only known representation of his design.

Squire Bartell's House
Squire Bartell's House.
Artist and photographer not known.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

There is some doubt about the involvement of Robert Adam in the work undertaken on the central block: presumably, placement of the Ionic pilasters could have been determined by the position of the original windows but the capitals do not correspond with Adam's writings and practice. Perhaps these were added by whoever undertook the work in a loose interpretation of the style. In describing Epsom, Toland remarks about the houses: - "The fronts are adorned throout with rows of elm or lime-trees, in many places artificially wreathed into verdant Porticos, cut into variety of figures, and close enough wrought to defend those, who fit under such hospitable shades, from the injuries of the sun and the rain."

Having become a founder member of the Literary Club in 1764, Anthony Chamier frequently entertained Samuel Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds at his home and the latter painted three portraits of him. On 10 September 1779, John Wilkes daughter wrote from Epsom of her return "from a very agreeable visit at Mrs.Chamier's".

Chamier died at 9 Savile Row, London, on 12 October 1780: his will dated 9 October 1780 described the Epsom house as "the capital messuage" in which he then dwelt. He was buried at St James, Piccadilly having left his property and estates in trust for his wife during her lifetime and then to a nephew, John des Champs, on condition that this beneficiary took the name and arms of the Chamier family.

By 1784, however, the devisees of Anthony Chamier were engaged in the liquidation of his estates in Surrey and ownership of the Epsom house subsequently passed to Thomas Pattle [probably 1748-1818, later a Director of the East India Company] who retained it until 1792.

It then came into the occupation of Sir John Brewer Davis [from Hawkhurst, Kent, of Lincoln's Inn, obit 9 November 1817] from 1793 to 1799. Pownall tells us (see below) that the next owner had been a "Mr Cunningham". He may be identified as John Cunningham, Shop keeper, Dealer and Chapman [mechant], Gazetted as a bankrupt on 2 October 1804, whose personal effects and other assets were to be auctioned as announced in the 'Morning Chronicle of 7 November 1804. His house, The Elms, was not included in that sale and appears to have been leased out. In 1816, an occupier had been Sir James Alexander [knighted 2 March 1803 when Sheriff of London and in 1815 a member of the "United Company of merchants trading to the East Indies"] who purchased the property in 1819.

The "great stuccoed house" is replaced by a mansion much enlarged and improved

In 'Some particulars relating to the History of Epsom', published in 1825, Henry Pownall wrote: -
"Proceeding towards Epsom, past the house of Solomon Davies*, Esq. and the Work-house, an old building, formerly the residence of the Earl of Berkeley; we pass on the left of the road, a handsome white house, partly screened from the road by trees and evergreens. It formed part of Mr. Rooth's elegant mansion, described by Toland. It afterwards became the property of Sir John Brewer Davis, of whom it was purchased by Mr. Cunningham, a corn chandler, of Epsom, who, having amassed some money, ruined himself by the purchase of this property, and was afterwards a bankrupt. He divided the land, and pulled down the greater part of the house, after which he disposed of the estate to Sir James Alexander, the present owner, who has much enlarged and improved the mansion. The grounds are well laid out; on the summit of the hill at the back, of the house, is a fine sheet of water, well stocked with fish. Sir James Alexander has for many years been an active magistrate of Surrey, and was high sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1801, at which period he received the honour of knighthood."
More information may be gleaned from a letter to the 'Sportsman magazine' in 1822: -
"Among other things, now out of date, I wanted to know what had become of Chamier's house, and whether any of Governor Stark's family still resided in Epsom. Not only the names had fled from general remembrance, but even the great stuccoed house had fled also, a new one having been, erected on its site, at present inhabited by Sir James Alexander."
The following print was produced by Overton depicting "The seat of Sir James Alexander" circa 1825. It may be seen that the pavilions had been removed from the flanks of the old building but its core appears to have been retained in the simple box structure which resulted from the reconstruction.

The seat of Sir James Alexander
The seat of Sir James Alexander c.1825
By Overton

Sir James Alexander died on 6 January 1830 but a tenancy of the property appears to have been taken on earlier by Solomon Davies (* see above) "for many years magistrate for the county of Surrey". He survived only until 8 June 1830 and Sir James' "new" house may be found advertised to be let, in 'The Times' 4 May 1831,
"containing on the attic story 2 large bedrooms; on the two pair (sic), 6 airy and well proportioned bed rooms, a dressing room, and water closet; on the principal floor, spacious morning, dining and drawing rooms, study and butler's pantry, approached by principal and secondary staircases; the basement includes a handsome entrance hall; large and convenient housekeeper's room and servant's hall, kitchen, scullery, larder, dairy, excellent wine, ale, and beer cellars &c: detached is a convenient brew-house, wash-house, laundry, coal yard, capital stabling, coach-house, and large court yard, small farm yard, with numerous offices &c. The grounds are tastefully laid out and consist of large walled vegetable garden, flower garden, shrubbery, with basin of water and ice-house; forecourt, with carriage sweep to front entrance and a productive meadow."
Later ownership of the house passed to Thomas Whitmore, Secretary of H. M. Customs, who occupied it until his demise, aged 65, 9 December 1841. In the tithe award of 1843, his widow, Mrs Grace Gribble Whitmore, seems to have retained the premises, including pleasure grounds extending over 1 acre, 2 roods and 32 perches and a meadow of about three and a half acres.

The Elms in the OS Map of 1866
The Elms in the OS Map of 1866

'The Elms'  circa 1924
'The Elms' circa 1924

The remodelled house, mentioned in 1858 as "built on the site of a more ancient mansion", continued to be known as 'The Elms' for at least another 100 years: in 'Epsom, its history and surroundings' by Gordon Home, published 1901, it was identified as "The very substantial stuccoed house [opposite the Workhouse], the residence of Mr M. E. Muir, and often spoken of as 'The Clock House' is really named 'The Elms'. Toland speaks of this as 'Mr Rooth's in New Inn Lane' and the canal he refers to is doubtless the strip of water at the end of the grounds." Nairn & Pevsner's 'Surrey' notes "a big early C19th facade with four column Tuscan porch", suggesting that the house could be older and reporting the Epsom Reference Librarian's opinion that the back elevation had similarities to the plan of 'Mr Rooth's house'. The former stable block retains a square open bell turret with weather vane above it and a more recent clock below. Grade II listed, it stands behind a high wall on the Dorking Road, Epsom with a lodge and the main house, somewhat altered, at present occupied by the Clock House Medical Practice.

Although it would be possible to extend the sequence of occupiers their names would add little to the later history of the house. Nevertheless, one should perhaps mention James Henry George Pierson who owned the property for at least 20 years from 1865 to 1885 and became involved in a legal dispute with a lessee who had sub-let to Charles Morley White without consent. The case established a principle that once a landlord knows about a breach, any act which recognises the continued existence of the landlord and tenant relationship, will amount to waiver of that particular breach. It is not relevant that the landlord did not intend to waive the breach. This rule can operate harshly, as in Pierson v Harvey (1885) 1 TLR, when the landlord's bank accepted rent contrary to the landlord's express written instructions and the breach was held to have been waived.

In fiction, "The Elms, Epsom" appears as the address of James Maradick in Hugh Walpole's 'Maradick at 40' (pub. 1910). The author had previously spent a year teaching French at Epsom College.


Brian Bouchard © 2010
Member of Leatherhead and District Local History Society



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