Tracking down a lost Palladian villa in the Surrey Hills
PUBLISHED: 12:27 04 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:27 04 June 2020
David Burton from Dorking Museum takes a look at the tale of the lost palladian villa of the Surrey Hills
A local ramble of Wotton and Friday Street detailed in Surrey Life last autumn, invited walkers to discover the highest waterfall in Surrey, constructed in the 18th century as ‘a decorative addition to the Wotton Estate’s landscaped gardens’.
In fact, the creation of that waterfall is nothing to do with the Wotton Estate, but is one small part of a mystery that intrigued a group of local friends and encouraged them to put on their walking boots and seek out the site of a grand house referred to in Edward Brayley’s History of Surrey, 1841.
There, Brayley refers to a secluded valley chanced upon by a ‘Dutch’ merchant, Theodore Jacobsen, who, struck by its beauty, purchased the land and erected a house in 1740 to his own design, naming it Lonesome Lodge.
Part of the Tillingbourne Valley as it gently slopes from Leith Hill between Broadmoor and Wotton, the ‘Lonesome’ valley remains relatively secluded even today.
One can see what the attraction must have been to a busy London merchant as an escape from the city.
The Jacobsen family came from Hamburg, settling in London in the 17th century, trading as merchants in the Steelyard, the London headquarters of the Hanseatic League, which promoted trade and commerce between north German towns and neighbouring countries.
The Jacobsens were Masters of the Steelyard in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Theodore Jacobsen (1686-1772) acquired his rights in the Steelyard in 1706, becoming a successful and prosperous merchant in his own right. Alongside this, he also developed an interest in architecture.
As a ‘gentleman architect’, he was responsible for, or involved in, the design of several buildings, including some very significant ones – the East India Company headquarters, the new Bank of England, the Foundling Hospital, the Haslar Naval Hospital and Trinity College Dublin.
In these designs, Jacobsen adopted the Palladian style, a Classical style undergoing a revival in 18th century England and highly fashionable at the time.
Entranced by the tranquillity and privacy of this particular section of the Tillingbourne Valley, Jacobsen first put down roots here in 1724, when he bought 123 acres of land in Broadmoor.
He invested heavily in creating his idyllic summer retreat, accumulating further land over the next 30 years, resulting in a 440-acre estate, building his summer retreat, Lonesome Lodge, and harnessing and formalising nature to inspiring effect.
The original exquisite villa, Lonesome Lodge, can be envisaged clearly through two engravings, c. 1740, from Jacobsen’s original drawings.
Approaching over the bridge from the direction of the Guildford-Dorking Road, the visitor would be greeted by an impressive façade in the Palladian style, set into the slope of the hill. The showpiece of the three-storey house, the drawing room, offered extensive views up and down the valley.
The building was designed to sit in a romantic landscape which reflected the movement towards naturalistic style intended to inspire and raise the spirits. Jacobsen’s creative and ambitious use of water mirrored the work of his neighbour, Sir John Evelyn, at Wotton House.
The creation of the chain ponds, which still remain the valley’s most distinctive feature, required extensive ground work. The river was spanned at intervals by bridges and, central to the ornamental layout of the ponds, was a circular basin featuring a gravity-fed fountain, which continues running today.
Perhaps Jacobsen’s master-stroke is the captivating Tillingbourne waterfall – Surrey’s highest. The team’s researches reveal how, by agreement with Evelyn, Jacobsen dug a pond in 1753 – Brookwick (now Brookmill) Pond – and built a brick-lined leat to channel the water and to provide the greatest possible height for the waterfall.
Jacobsen spent many years – and considerable resources – perfecting his estate. After he sold it in 1763, it passed through the ownership of a number of wealthy occupants.
The house was extensively enlarged and variously renamed Filbrook Lodge and Tillingbourne Lodge. The troubled tenure and ignominious departure of the last owner to live there, Thomas Haughton Harding, heralded the downfall of Jacobsen’s country idyll.
The Duke of Norfolk purchased the estate in 1840, but decided to build a new Tillingbourne House further down the valley. The once opulent Lonesome Lodge was dismantled in 1854 and re-usable materials sold off at auction.
The group of friends who put on their walking boots to track down traces of Lonesome Lodge are members of the Capel History Group.
Their extensively researched and fully-illustrated book Lonesome Lodge: A Lost Palladian Villa is published by The Cockerel Press and available from Dorking Museum shop and website.