P R O F I L E
Grottoes are mystical places with magical powers and the grotto at Oaks Park is no exception. For many long standing local residents it conjures up fond recollections of childhood experiences. Janice, a local resident pictured, has been making wishes at the grotto poolside for about 50 years now.
The house was originally built around 1750 but was partly rebuilt by Robert Taylor (architect) in 1775 and later modified by Robert Adam in 1790. The park was laid out for the Earl of Derby in the 1770s with changes made in the 1790s. The then fashionable landscape style was employed with trees forming a perimeter screen and placed in artful clumps to suggest a natural landscape. In 1933 it had fallen into the hands of the Carshalton Urban District Council and 80 acres were intended as public park space. The house was left in ruins with leaking roof and internal damage after WWII when it was used by the military.
The Oaks was demolished in stages between 1956 and 1959. In spite of great hopes it proved to be too difficult to retain even part of the main buildings. The bakehouse, stable block and some outbuildings are all that remain. An archeological investigation was carried out by Carshalton and District History and Archeology Society in July 2009 and the line of the mansion walls has been marked out in the lawn. The grotto is nearby to the left of the main entrance and includes a pool where one can leave a wish while placing one's hand on the surrounding tufa. Fish once swam in the pool by the grotto. Originally the grotto was part of a five section conservatory complex, described as newly erected when the property was sold in 1873. The grotto area is still described as the site of the old greenhouses, suggesting a change of use over time.
The finishing line on Epsom Downs - did the wish at the grotto come true?The estate lent its name to the Oaks and the Derby horse races. The Derby was named after the Earl of Derby and the Oaks was inaugurated by the Earl in 1779. The Oaks is still run annually during the Derby meeting at Epsom Downs Racecourse, about 4 miles to the west. The original Oaks Race ran from Barrow Hedges, north of The Oaks and through Oaks Park before heading west to approximately the site of the current Epsom Downs Racecourse. The Oaks subsequently became one of Britain's leading events for three-year-olds.
Water supplies to The Oaks came from a 300 foot well ajoining the house. The water was raised by machinery worked by a horse. It was a copius supply that was conveyed to the top of the building. However by 1912 the Sutton District Water Company was charging thirty pounds a year to supply water.
The park has been extensively used by the 1st Belmont Cubs and Scouts over the years. In the late 1950s the scouts acted as gate stewards to the International Caravan Club Rally. Former members of the troop recall having "wide games" on dark evenings in the grounds, often creeping up from St John's Hall at Belmont and scaring the wits out of anyone lingering near the grotto. The same local lads recall the ruined building and climbing in when no one was watching. Particularly memorable was a grand room with a semi-circular wall at one end. There was also a collapsed floor with extensive cellars beneath. All very different from mum and dad's house in Belmont. For a number of years the scout troop met in the stable block where the Senior Scouts had a room. Later the park was used for camping by the scouts and guides.
The Oaks is still in public local authority ownership and includes a golf course and cafeteria, the latter being open 7 days a week. There is no substantial surface water at The Oaks and this has tempered the landscaping compared with other parks. The grotto is freely accessible and is one of the few reminders of the house and its grandeur.
Further reading - Cunningham M. The Oaks and Oaks Park (undated) Sutton Leisure Services.
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GREAT BRITISH GROTTO GRADING
Access all Year, Access by Road, Access on Foot, Disabled Access, Free Entry, Grotto - just one, Restaurant/Food, Toilets
Park or Garden, Rural
England - Southern
THE FEATURES PRESENT
+Cared for and maintained in good condition, +External rock structures, either real or simulated, +Sacred spring or integral water feature, +Stunning setting and location