Ruxley Towers, Claygate - historic Surrey homes
PUBLISHED: 00:07 16 May 2012 | UPDATED: 11:06 30 September 2014
Certainly one of Surrey's more unusual homes, Ruxley Towers in Claygate has just come on the market again. MATTHEW WILLIAMS reveals the story behind this amazing fairytale castle, which could be straight out of a Harry Potter film
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2009
If you've ever taken a wrong turn off the A3 near Claygate, you might just have come across a fairytale tower and wondered what on earth it was, before promptly falling in love with the place. Well, the good news is that the main attraction at Ruxley Towers is back on the market (albeit for a cool £2.5m) - just the tower, mind; the rest is split into four further apartments.
Originally built in the late 1800s by Lord Foley, for his wife Lady Evelyne (some say to compete with the height of Queen Victoria's country house at nearby Claremont), the striking six-storey tower features octagonal rooms, vaulted ceilings and culminates in a roof terrace capable of hosting the perfect cocktail party.
Indeed, this magnificent gothic pile, which wouldn't look out of place in the next Harry Potter film, has such a draw that when current owner Jennifer Lacoste stumbled across it, back in 1996, she decided to buy it on the spot.
"I lived in Coombe Hill in Kingston at the time and my son was a student in Cobham," says Jennifer, who also has a residence at Cobham Park. "I had a bit of time to kill before picking him up from an event and I just happened to be looking in Surrey Life when I saw a detail about Ruxley Towers undergoing redevelopment after years of neglect. I was intrigued and thought I'd go and have a look.
"There was no front door at this point, so I walked in and all I could see was the most beautiful octagonal entrance hall, the trompe l'oeil paintings and then a ladder - there was no staircase to the first floor. So I climbed up, as there seemed to be no one around, and suddenly this chap in a long mac appeared. He asked me what I was doing there and for some reason I answered: 'I'm the purchaser.' It just sort of came out; there hadn't been any plans to move but something about it just spoke to me."
Steeped in history
Forty-eight hours later, Jennifer was putting her own home on the market and had become the proud owner of her very own fairytale castle. What she didn't realise, however, was the great sense of history she was also buying into.
As she began to research the place, she discovered that long before the tower came along, the Ruxley Estate itself was home to one of King Henry VIII's hunting lodges, and then in the 1700s, England's wealthiest man, William Beckford, lived there.
Later, when the tower itself was built, Queen Victoria was said to have enjoyed tea in the drawing room; and Sir Cliff Richard was filmed sitting in the very same room as BBC Two celebrated his 40 years in showbiz.
"At the time, I knew nothing about the property's history and it has been a journey of discovery ever since," says Jennifer. "Yes, you can build marvellous places nowadays, but what you can't build is the history inside. Think back to the colourful life of Henry VIII and the entertainment that would have come with him on his hunting parties.
"You wonder how on earth, later on, they got away with demolishing so much of the property, as the tower and adjoining homes are only a small part of what was originally here."
In fact, there were gardens reminiscent of Hampton Court Palace and an arboretum in the entrance that wouldn't have looked out of place at Kew Gardens.
"When you're inside, it becomes a fairytale existence for adults," says Jennifer. "The tower has an absolute warmth to it, and on every level, you see different sunrises and sunsets. Once inside, you never want to leave. It really draws the best out of any soul who steps through the doors."
So, having lived there for 13 years, and still being so obviously in love with the place, what is it that has led Jennifer to want to move on?
"I want to set up something overseas and have a new challenge living in Italy with my animals and writing short stories," she explains. "That's really what I want to do and now feels like the right time to give it a go.
"The property is on the market but I'm also looking to rent - it doesn't really matter to me. We've had our bit of loveliness - now, perhaps, it's time for someone else to experience it."
3 other Surrey properties with the wow factor...
One of Surrey's major country houses for at least 500 years, Albury Park Mansion in Albury is now home to luxury apartments ranging from £350,000 to £1,850,000.
Coverwood (tel: 01483 651010)
Built in 1842, the Old Mill in Cranleigh is a three-bedroom Grade II listed windmill that is surrounded by the ancient woodland of Winterfold Forest.
Foxtons (tel: 01483 400000)
Set to be the height of luxury, Princess Square in Esher is due to be completed in early 2011. The original property, Milbourne House, once belonged to Queen Victoria.
Knight Frank (tel: 01483 564660)