The Surrey Hills is very much Lutyens and Jekyll territory, notably at their first-ever collaboration at the garden designer’s home, Munstead Wood. Penny Churchill takes a look.
Built by a young Edwin Lutyens for garden designer Gertrude Jekyll in 1896–97, Munstead Wood at Busbridge, near Godalming in the Surrey Hills AONB, was the first of more than 100 major collaborations between Lutyens and Jekyll that have graced the pages of Country Life since the magazine’s founder, Edward Hudson, visited in 1899.
For sale for the first time in more than 50 years at a guide price of £5.25 million through Knight Frank, Grade I-listed Munstead Wood, with its trademark long roofs, dormers, tall ornamental chimneys and ‘Surrey style’ Arts-and-Crafts interior, is widely regarded as one of Lutyens’s most important country houses.
Its just over 11 acres of gardens, originally laid out by Jekyll and restored in the 1990s, are independently listed Grade I in the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. The sale is being handled by Tim Harriss of Knight Frank’s Guildford office and Julia Meadowcroft of the firm’s country department.
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Historically, the site occupied by Munstead Wood was part of the former open common of Munstead Heath, a typical south Surrey landscape described by Jekyll as ‘this country with its great tracts of wood and heathland, beautiful wild ground and soil of bright yellow sand and rock’.
In 1878, she moved with her mother to their newly built Munstead House at Busbridge and, four years later, in 1882, acquired the roughly 15 acres of Munstead Wood that lay across the road.
The transformation from pine woods and rough heathland to famous woodland garden took place over many years, during which Jekyll allowed felled woodland to grow, as well as thinning the young trees to create areas of different varieties, each with its own under-plantings of flowers and shrubs.
The resulting woodland garden was viewed via a series of long walks. Later, the woods would merge gradually into lawns near the house, with seasonal gardens flowering in succession through the year.
The first meeting between Jekyll and Lutyens took place at nearby Littleworth Cross, the home of Harry Mangles, who, with his brother, James, was one of the earliest rhododendron collectors and hybridisers.
Jekyll was visiting one afternoon in May 1889 when she was introduced to Lutyens, who was designing a gardener’s cottage and some garden buildings there. It was an instant connection of true minds, based on a shared love of the vernacular architecture of south-west Surrey, which led to Lutyens being commissioned to design Jekyll’s new home, starting their collaboration that would last until her death in 1932.
Lutyens’s first building for his new partner and patron was The Hut, a cottage built in the grounds of Munstead Wood in 1895, where she lived, worked and wrote until the main house was completed. His last was her memorial at Busbridge Church, where she is buried.
Munstead Wood is built of the local Bargate stone in a U-shape around an open courtyard, with a west wing containing Jekyll’s workshops and a service wing to the east. The southern garden elevation has a long tiled roof that extends down to the top of the ground floor, broken by two large gables.
Oak timbers, obtained locally and silvered using a treatment with hot lime, are used throughout the building; other classic Lutyens features include a large hooded fireplace and a shallow-stepped staircase leading up to the oak-beamed Long Gallery that overhangs the central courtyard.
After Jekyll’s death, her nephew, Francis, lived on at the property, during which time he wrote her biography, based on her papers and drawings. In 1948, buildings to the north and west of Munstead Wood, including Jekyll’s former gazebo, potting shed, gardener’s cottage and stables, were sold off and converted to four privately owned properties, now known as The Quadrangle, Munstead Wood Cottage, Munstead Orchard and a new house, Heath Lane House. Francis Jekyll continued to live at The Hut until his own death in 1965.
The sale of Munstead Wood follows the death in March this year, aged 97, of Lady Andolyn (Marjorie) Clark, who bought the house in 1987 with her late husband, Bob, later Sir Robert Clark. They met in occupied Italy during the war, where both served as part of Sir Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). Sir Robert, who enjoyed a successful post-war career as a director of the Bank of England and chairman of the Mirror Group after Robert Maxwell’s death, died in January 2013.
During their time together at Munstead Wood, Sir Robert and Lady Clark lavished much evident loving care on the house and its garden, the latter meticulously restored according to Jekyll’s original designs.
The main house offers 7,446sq ft of elegant accommodation on two storeys including, on the ground floor, an entrance porch and reception hall, a drawing room, dining room, two studies, sitting room, kitchen/breakfast room, art room and pottery studio, plus domestic offices, stores and access to cellars; the first floor houses the principal bedroom suite, six further bedrooms, two bathrooms and the impressive Long Gallery with its massive oak beams.
Godalming: What you need to know
Location: About 6 miles south of Guildford and just over 30 miles from central London. Godalming train station is located just 1.5 miles from the property, where it runs a regular service into London Waterloo. The A3 provides great access to the M25, and Heathrow, Gatwick and Farnborough airports are all within easy reach.
Atmosphere: Godalming is a bustling market town with a superb array of amenities with many boutique shops, coffee shops, pubs, restaurants and two supermarkets. Nearby Guildford offers a more extensive range of shops as well as sporting and leisure facilities.
Things to do: There are several sports clubs situated close to the property including The Queen’s Sports Centre at Charterhouse and the West Surrey Golf and Tennis Club in Enton. For walkers, riders and cyclists, the Surrey Hills AONB is essentially on the doorstep.
Schools: Plenty of great options in the area with St Catherine’s in Bramley, the Royal Grammar School, Guildford High School, Charterhouse, Prior’s Field, St Hiliary’s and Godalming Sixth Form College.
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