The History of
Titsey Place & Gardens
It all starts with John Gresham…
Sir John Gresham who bought Titsey Place in 1535
The Gresham family, who have been so influential in the growth and development of Titsey Place, first took up residence in 1534 when John Gresham acquired the manor.
One-time Lord Mayor of London and a member of the most prominent merchant dynasty in Tudor England, John Gresham specialised in trade with the Middle East (spices and silks) and the Baltic (timber skins). Knighted in 1537, Sir John also famously founded the Russia Company, to trade with that far-off and then, little known country.
Like all his successful contemporaries, John invested his wealth in land, benefiting from the dispersal of Crown estates and confiscated church lands to pay for Henry VIII’s extravagant wars in France. Sir John bought the manors of Titsey, Limpsfield, Tatsfield, Westerham, Lingfield and Sanderstead on the Kent-Surrey borders as well as other properties in Norfolk and Buckinghamshire leaving his successors a handsome estate, the nucleus of which at Titsey has passed down intact to the present day.
And then there was William
Sir John’s eldest son, William, inherited his father’s Titsey property and devoted his time to improving the estate and building a new house there. No illustration of the latter exists as it was largely demolished in the eighteenth century apart from one small wing at the back which was kept as servants’ quarters.
The seventeenth century Greshams sat in Parliament as MPs and supported the King in the Civil War, suffering accordingly. In 1643 the house at Titsey was commandeered by the Parliamentarians although it was later returned.
At the Restoration in 1660, Charles II granted Marmaduke Gresham a baronet as reward for the family’s support of the royalist cause.
The Gresham family fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worst in the early eighteenth century. Sir Marmaduke’s grandson, also Marmaduke, was an extravagant spendthrift who let the house fall into ruin, leaving large debts when he died in 1742.
And another John
(who married well and saved the day)
Marmaduke’s eldest son, Charles, drowned at sea in 1750 so it was left to his younger brother John to restore the family fortunes.
Fortunately, John married an heiress, Henrietta Maria Clayton, and also inherited a second fortune from his Uncle. Many of these inherited paintings and furniture can still be seen at Titsey today. With the necessary funds to rescue the estate, Sir John demolished much of original, dilapidated house, building a smaller red-brick house on the old site. Five windows wide and with a neat pedimented front door it was a typical symmetrical Georgian box and remains the nucleus of the present house. The Church of St. James was moved to its present site on the other side of the turnpike road by Sir John Gresham in 1776, when developing a small park.
The first lady heiress but the last Gresham
Sir John left an only daughter, Katherine Maria – the last of the Greshams. Thanks to the prudence of her parents, she found herself an heiress after their death and in 1804 married William Leveson Gower, a younger son of Admiral the Hon. John Leveson Gower and first cousin of the Marquis of Stafford, later the 1st Duke of Sutherland.
The Leverson-Gowers step in
In the early nineteenth century the Leveson Gowers were at the heart of the Whig aristocracy and William’s cousin, the Duke of Sutherland was the richest landowner in Britain. Sadly, the marriage between Katherine and William ended after just four short years when she died leaving three children.
William develops the ha-ha
Their eldest son, also William, inherited the Titsey estate and a substantial income of £10,000 a year. He married Emily Doyle, from a distinguished Irish military family and was responsible, in particular for, the hillside beech plantation which covers 210 acres and is such a feature of the setting, as well as for the ha-ha in front of the house.
Granville sires 16 children AND remodels the Titsey Place
Their eldest son, Granville Leveson Gower was Squire of Titsey through most of the second half of the nineteenth century. He considerably remodelled the house and garden, continuing the work begun by his grandfather, William, in the 1820s. He decorated the house with the heraldry of the Gresham, Leveson and Gower families and over a twelve year period compiled the Genealogy of the Family of Gresham, privately printed in 1883 – a copy of which he gave to Queen Victoria as a present on her Jubilee in 1887.
He was an enthusiastic historian and archaeologist, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians and excavated two Roman sites on the Titsey estate. He was also active in public life, sitting for many years as MP for Reigate. He married Sophia, daughter of Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey and theirs was a happy marriage producing a large family of sixteen children. The eldest son, Ronald, sadly died of diphtheria in his twenties, so Titsey was inherited by the second son, Granville Charles, who married Evelyn Brassey of the railway construction family.
The Titsey Foundation is established
Granville and Evelyn had four sons, none of whom married. Ronald, the second son, was killed in the First World War while serving with the Coldstream Guards in France. Alan was the youngest and became a Major in the Coldstream Guards and a breeder and owner of horses. His most successful horse was St George II which was bred by his father, trained at Titsey and ridden by Alan to victory in the National Hunt Steeplechase at Cheltenham in 1938.
Richard, the eldest, was a Major in the Grenadier Guards and served in both World Wars and with his third brother, Thomas, lived at Titsey, restoring the house and reviving the gardens after war time requisitioning and occupation by Canadian troops. Thomas, in particular, was a keen gardener.
Together, Richard and Thomas established the Titsey Foundation to preserve the house, garden, church and parkland for public benefit. Under the guidance of the Trustees the estate is now open to the public every summer, offering miles of well-marked woodland walks on the side of the North Downs. Titsey Hall stands as one of the largest surviving historic estates in Surrey and attracts more than 20,000 visitors a year.