Mount Diston or Garlands later Woodcote Grove

Woodcote Grove
Woodcote Grove
Image courtesy of Brain Bouchard © 2012

In John Toland's Letter to Eudoxa from his New Description of Epsom, published posthumously during 1726, in Volume II of A collection of several pieces of Mr Toland, we are told: -
"The form of our village, as seen from the downs, is exactly semicircular, beginning with a church, and ending with a palace. Mr. Whistler's far conspicuous grove, makes, as it were, a beautiful knot in the middle, and the road from thence to Woodcote Green, may be called midway street."
"The other house in Epsom that requires a special mention, is Mount Diston, so nam'd from the owner, and from the round hillock near adjoining, which, rising gently on all sides in a conic figure, terminates on the summit in a circle, which is a hundred foot diameter, and divided into four equal quarters. The round and cross walks of this circle are turfd, and those triangular quarters planted with trees; which, after they are grown to their full height, will make a stately landmark over all this country. But tho' nothing seems more pleasing to the eye, than the near prospect of the town, or the distant prospect quite around, yet you mount still higher nine and twenty steps into an arbour or pavilion, on the top of an oak, that grows in the very edge of the circle, and whence your view is every way proportionately enlarg'd. Up to this circle there comes a double walk, divided by a range of trees from the best garden, yet of very easy ascent, three hundred and fifty five foot, which I call the north walk : and at the other end, there comes up to it likewise from the reservatory the south walk, three hundred and seventy foot; in both which the slopes seem wonderfully natural, yet artfully contrived. At the foot of the mount is a cross walk, from north-east to south-west, two hundred and ten foot, open at each end thro' handsome grills and from the the court before the house there goes a walk from north-west to south-cast, five hundred and fifty five foot, including the breadth of the court. Behind the house is a magnificent double terrass, the middle of each being gravel, and turf on the sides, (which may be adorn'd with ever-green dwarfs) three hundred foot long; and the semi-circular Hope, with proper squares, in the middle of this terrass, is eighty foot broad to which you ascend out of the garden ten steps, being five steps to each terrass, and then ten steps more from the upper terrass into the house; all these steps, as well as those in the fore-court, being of excellent Portland stone. From the terrass, which I have said is three hundred foot long, there is continued in a straight line over the side of the mount, directly towards the downs,a walk finely turfd, as are all the rest (except one private sand walk, and one gravel-walk) six hundred and fifty foot. And it must be acknowledged that Mr. ACKRES, in laying out this hill, wherein nature was the chief guide that he followed, has done justice to his art: nor is it to be doubted, but his genius will still appear with greater advantage in the garden as soon as he goes about it there being not a more beautiful or convenient piece of ground for such a use anywhere. Let others judge as they please of the house and the conveniences about its I shall confine my self to the peculiar objects of my own delight, which will add not a little to the pleasures of this place."
The description of Mount Diston does not, however, appear in the original version of the letter dated 30 May 1711 [LINK]

Henry Pownall writing Some Particulars relating to the history of Epsom in 1825 identified Mr Whistler's house with Garlands but, with regard to Mount Diston, confessed 'We cannot even trace this once beautiful place, but conclude it to have been the mansion, which stood on the hill behind the house, now occupied by Mrs. Pugh.' The latter would have been above South Street east of Abele Grove but the home of Diston and Garland was one and the same and otherwise known as Woodcote Grove. There is evidence that Henry Whistler's residence had been built on Mounthill, in what Toland described as a 'far conspicuous grove', near the road to Woodcote Green.

Woodcote Grove is absent from the Epsom manorial survey of 1680 but, at 14A1 of The residential copyholds of Epsom, Dr H L Lehmann identifies its location as demesne property then held on lease by William Clinch. The dates of publication of the two versions of Toland's Letter to Eudoxa suggest the mansion could have been constructed between 1711 & and the author's demise in 1722 which accords with Lehmann's deduction (14B1) from other evidence that it had been built for Josiah Diston circa 1720.

Josiah Diston (1667-1737), a wool merchant who operated at Blackwell Hall cloth market in Basinghall Street, London, married Alice Cornish (his second cousin?) at Bridewell Chapel on 18 July 1693. He became Director of the Bank of England, 1701 - 1721, & Deputy Governor, 1721 -1723; was also a Director of the new East India Company 1706 - 1708 & 1711 and MP for Devizes 1706 -1710 & 1715 -1722. He known to have been purchasing land in Epsom from 1713 and has been said 'to have been successful enough to build a country house near the increasingly fashionable spa ..., and to make considerable improvements to the extensive grounds, such as delighted John Toland, who nicknamed the estate Mount Diston'.

In his Epsom, its history and surroundings of 1902, Gordon Home refers to Diston losing his fortune 'through expensive living and possibly some gaming', and consequently ruining himself, 'selling the property to a Mr. Garland ... '. Josiah Diston had begun to sell off his estates in Epsom from 1722 and in fact failed as Receiver-general of taxes for Westminster in 1726. Following the loss of his fortune, Diston disposed of the remainder his real property to retire, in debt and receiving royal bounty, before dying in poverty at Hampstead on 7 November 1737 (Interred St George, Bloomsbury 10 November 1737).

Nathaniel Garland (1684 - 1756), a prosperous mercer and Master of the Company in 1739, had bought Woodcote Grove, Epsom, from Josiah Diston around 1730. In 1755 Nathaniel Garland, 'the younger', held, by free deed, 'One messuage , coachhouses, stables,and other outhouses, gardens and pieces of land, 6 acres, abutting on the road leading from the town of Epsom to Walton [Chalk Lane] on the west part...' This Nathaniel died at Epsom on 8 November 1756, described as having been 'an Hamburgh merchant' [1753 Will proved 1 December 1756 - 'mercer of London'].

The house and other estates, including Sundridge Lodge, Wiltshire, and Michaelstowe, Essex, (See appended Pedigree for Garland) descended to Lewis Peak Garland, a third and youngest son, who had been born in 1732. He married Indiana Sharington Talbot during 1772 but died aged 46, 26 June 1778, and was buried in the churchyard of St Martin's, Epsom, on 3 July 1778. His elder son, Nathaniel (2) born 31 December 1774, had been christened at St Martin's, 23 January 1775, but his second child, Peak, did not arrive until after Lewis had died: the younger son's baptism as Peak Lewis was recorded in the Parish registers on 28 November 1778 and a tablet on the east side of St Martin's church commemorates his death in 1841, aged 62 'of Sandridge, Wilts'.

Nathaniel (2) married Anna Walter Cope on 3 March 1814 at Orleans in France and thereby hangs a tale. After attending school at Eton, Nathaniel Garland (2) had gone on to Christchurch, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner to matriculate on 15 November 1793. Instead of waiting to take his degree, about 1797 he embarked upon the Grand Tour and was still travelling around Europe in 1803. Unfortunately for him, the Napoleonic War broke out which resulted in him being 'detained' (detanu) - for the next 11 years! - during which time he is reported to have paid 136,000 francs in 'fines' extorted by his captors. Incarcerated about the same time had been the Cope family including a 14 year old daughter, Anna Walter. They appear to have been interned together at Valenciennes and, when the groom was 39 and bride 25, were joined in matrimony by a fellow detenu (an attested copy of the official translation of the marriage settlement between Nathaniel and 'Miss Anna Cope of Paris', dated 26 February 1814, is held by Surrey History Centre under ref. K90/21/1). It is unclear when the newly-weds gained their release but their son Edgar Walter Garland, was born in England: he was delivered on 26 December 1814 and baptised at St Mary's, St Marylebone Road, London, on 20 January 1815. Woodcote Grove is mentioned in Pownall's history of Epsom - "The next seat worthy of notice in this place, is that described by Mr. Toland, as 'the Grove', but now called Garland's, after the family in whose possession it has been many years; and is now the residence of Nathaniel Garland, Esq., late high sheriff of Essex. It is situated at the north-west end of Chalk Lane, and is a handsome brick building, surrounded by about fifty acres of land, well timbered, and finely undulating." The demise of the later Nathaniel Garland was recorded at Upper Berkeley Street West on 3 January 1845. Two years later, the widowed Anna obtained a royal licence to resume her maiden name of Cope, 'in obedience to the will of her grand-uncle', in order to inherit family estates at Drummilly, Ireland: she lived on until 1867, dying in Armagh aged 77.

Woodcote Grove shown in the 1866 OS Map  - click to enlarge
Woodcote Grove shown in the 1866 OS Map - click to enlarge

Edgar Walter Garland of Michaelstowe Hall and Woodcote Grove married Amelia Robertson, 19 February 1844. Edgar Walter offered Woodcote Grove for sale in 1895 when it was bought by the fifth Earl of Rosebery to settle on his daughter, Lady Margaret Etienne Hannah (Peggy) Primrose, for life.

Mr. Garland, who died in 1902 without issue, was reported to have displayed, at his London House, a painting of Mr. Diston, probably by Sir Peter Lely, and one of Charles II which came out of Woodcote Grove. *

During 1899, at the age of 18, 'Peggy' Primrose became the second wife of Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe. They appear to have leased out Woodcote Grove. In the 1900's the premises were occupied by Alfred Withall Aston and, according to an obituary in The Times , 14 October 1929, he remained there until his death when the estate came back into the possession of Lord Crewe.

The Marquess and Marchioness of Crewe were in residence during 1930 but on 19 June 1931 an announcement appeared in The Times: - 'Lord Crewe's Queen Anne House to be let unfurnished with 16 acres'. Thereafter there was a sequence of tenants until the property was sold to W S Atkins and Partners during 1957. Fully restored, the house remains in use as the company's offices.

The late Cloudesley S. Willis, in Old Houses in Epsom Ewell and Cuddington, published in Surrey Archaeological Collections Vol. 51, 1950, remarked: -
'Hanging in the hall at Woodcote Grove is a portrait of Charles II with an inscription stating that it was painted by Lely by order of the King and presented to J. Diston, founder and builder of the house where the portrait was hung about 1680, and to which it has returned. This gives an approximate date for the house.'
For reasons given earlier the dating is questionable, and see a footnote on Christies' cataloguing of a portrait of J Diston.

Mr Willis also provided a detailed description of the house: -
'It was formerly known as Mount Diston, there being a mount that is part of the layout of the gardens. There is a large paddock. The estate is partly walled, with panelled stone piers to the main entrance gates and arches to the flanking side gates. The house is of two storeys on a semi-basement, of brick, with rubbed brick dressings, a plinth and string-course. The enriched wooden cornice with modillions runs round the house and the front has a pediment to correspond. The attic is lighted by dormer windows with alternate circular and angular pediments, at front and back, which are somewhat crowded together. The front door, standing on stone steps, has fluted Corinthian columns and an entablature; at the back a door with steps opens to the garden. The sash windows at the back have outside frames, those in front are recessed. Woodcote Grove has undergone extensive alterations from time to time; the architraves of the doors and windows in the hall are carved with egg and tongue, probably done in the time of George II; and about 1895 wings north and south were added by the late Lord Rosebery, when use was made of some mahogany doors brought from the upper floor. The dining-room floor is said to be inlaid with tulip wood. The hall is paved with vein marble, and it has a similar chimney-piece with columns and black and white jambs and frieze. The staircase, which is screened by a Doric colonnade with an entablature and elliptical arches, is of stone with a wrought-iron scrolled balustrade and a ribbed barrel ceiling. The library is lined with raised panelling of pine with a wooden cornice and doors and box shutters to agree; in it are two rococo carved wood chimney-pieces with shoulders, and marble slips of mid-18th-century date. A concealed door in the library is arranged to look like rows of books. Three of the bedrooms are panelled in a similar style, and one has an original flat chimney-piece of marble and an 18th-century hob-grate. The service staircase is spiral and of stone. The attic passage and rooms are panelled. In the cellar, which is below the basement, is a brick tunnel leading to the garden. Another tunnel runs from the road under the carriage drive, so that tradesmen calling at the kitchen door are not visible from the house.'
Gordon Home had commented, in 1902, on what he considered a
'well designed and conspicuously attractive house ...constructed of red and yellow brick with bright green jalousie shutters', mentioning 'a fine old fire-grate dating from the 17th century' in the entrance hall. He was particularly impressed by 'the huge vault-like cellars beneath the drive in front of the house and also at the back'. It was suggested that 'They are far too commodious for ordinary purposes and their curious recesses and alcoves seem to point unerringly to the smuggling days when such quantities of run goods found their way up the Portsmouth Road...'
Dating evidence in the documentary record

In The Mansion, Woodcote Grove [Surrey Libraries LOC 728.8 WOO], published by Atkins in 2005, Hugh R. Edgar set out 'to establish an approximate date of construction using the house itself as a primary source of information'. On page 22, however,the author adopted 1697, a year determined on the basis that the name Mount Diston had first appeared in print during 1700. As far as the present writer can establish that title for the house was coined by John Toland but did not get published by Pierre Des Maizeaux until 1726. [See fifth paragraph of this article.] Although Josiah Diston the elder had been buried at St Lawrence Jewry on 17 September 1696, a family home in the country was still being maintained at Chipping Norton in 1706. Josiah junior is described as 'of London' in an indenture of 7 March 1709. The London Diary (1717-1721) of William Byrd of Westover, Virginia, records going to 'my Lord Guildford's [Durdans] and walked in his garden and then to Mr Diston's and then to my Lord Baltimore's [Woodcote Park]..' on 10 May 1719. Josiah was also nominated as a pall-bearer for the burial of Mrs Elizabeth Fawkner (Faulkner) at Epsom during 1720. The limited documentary evidence therefore suggests that Josiah came into possession of the house before 1719 but during the first quarter of the 18th century rather than at the turn of the 17th.

*The portrait of Charles II was recorded at Woodcote in an inventory carried out by the Department of the Environment in 1954.

Christies Sale 1991 - Simon du Bois (1632-1708)
'Portrait of a Gentleman, traditionally identified as Josiah Diston, bust length, in a red cloak and white stock signed and dated lower right 'S. du. Bois. fecit. 1683', in a feigned cartouche, the frame inscribed 'Josiah Diston founder and builder of Woodcote. This picture was painted by order of King Ch. II and presented to Diston in 1683. Hung at Woodcote till 1850 and was replaced in 1901 coming to the Durdans in 1958'. The label on the frame of this portrait identifies the sitter as Josiah Diston, but as he was born in 1667, thus making him only sixteen at the date of the portrait, it does not seem that the identity can be sustained, as the painting represents a man in his twenties or thirties.' [An explanation could be that claimed presentation by Charles II was untrue but Diston is actually portrayed after his marriage a decade later.]
Christies Sale 28 October 2009 Soerst (1648-1680)
'The portrait of King Charles II with a provenance back to J Diston also came up for auction attributed to Soerst, London, Circle of Sir Peter Lely.'
English Heritage Listing

CHALK LANE (East Side) Woodcote Grove Grade II* Listing NGR: TQ2236858933
Late C17. Two storeys, basement and attic. Plain brick with red dressings.1 - 3 -1sashes, the centre slightly projecting under pediment. Flight of steps with iron rails leads to central fluted Corinthian columned doorcase with rusticated surround, panelled frieze and dentilled cornice. Glazed double doors and rectangular leaded fanlight. Carved and dentilled eaves cornice, round window to pediment. Slate roof with four large (?modern) pedimented sashed dormers, inner ones with segmental pediments. To North and South are two storey and attic similar style wings added circa 1895. Flat roofs with parapets. Rear elevation, similar, but no doorcase to centre. The house was built by J Diston. A portrait of Charles II in the hall bears an inscription that it was painted by Lely at the command of and as a present from him to Diston. The house was originally called Mount Diston and there is a mount in the garden. Interior: Hall paved with white marble, and black and white marble mantelpiece. Staircase, screened by Doric colonnade, is of stone with wrought iron scrolled balustrade and ribbed barrel ceiling. Pine panelling to library with two mid-C18 carved wood fireplaces with rococo ornament. 3 bedrooms with C17 bolection moulded panelling, one with original marble fireplace and C18 hob grate.
Garlands Pedigree - click to enlarge
Garlands Pedigree - click to enlarge

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