For many years, from 1911 until his death, the Canadian-born newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook lived on his large country estate in North Downs in Surrey: Cherkley Court. He would have entertained a number of famous guests there, including prime ministers such as Churchill and Macmillan, and authors, for example Rudyard Kipling and H G Wells.
Since then the estate has been through a variety of vicissitudes, including a short period in the nineties when an unsuccessful attempt was made to convert it into a golf course.
Following this it was obtained by the Beaverbrook Foundation, a charitable body, the house and grounds were restored and subsequently, in 2007, the gardens were opened to the public.
I’m not sure that the publicity was as good as it could have been, as several people I spoke to had no idea the gardens even existed, and on my several visits there it was never particularly busy, even on a fine day.
The gardens were delightful, and there was an excellent tearoom with seating on a terrace overlooking the valley of the River Mole.
At the end of 2010 it was announced that the gardens were no longer going to be open, and the house and estate was put on the market as a private dwelling. This, apparently, was because the Foundation had spent several million pounds on litigation in Canada.
More recently a planning application has been made to Mole Valley District Council for its conversion to a luxury hotel and spa, and private golf course. It’s a prominent site on a hillside in the Green Belt, in an Area of Great Landscape Value, and partly in the Surrey Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The council’s own officers recommended refusal of the plan, and apparently the statutory and non-statutory bodies representations from which objections were received include the Environment Agency, the National Trust, the CPRE, the Surrey Hills Board, the Surrey Hills AONB Planning consultant, Natural England, Surrey Botanical Society, the County Ecologist, the County Landscape Officer, as well as various residents’ associations and local bodies. Surrey already has something in the order of 140 golf courses.
MVDC Councillor Dickson thinks “The golf course would enhance the countryside”, presumably enhancing as making it a desirable landscape for Teletubbies to move into.
On 4th April in a three-hour debate the Development Control Committee voted 9-8 to not refuse the application; they will meet again on the 2nd of May to decide what conditions to apply to the planning permission if it is subsequently granted. It may well then be referred upward, ultimately to the Secretary of State, who may appoint an Inspector. So who knows how long it will take – or what the outcome may be. There’s a website which is campaigning against the development, which has a succinct (but obviously partisan) account of the whole affair, and will have up-to-date information about the application.
The gardens were young, but they were beautiful, and I doubt many will ever see them mature; here are a few photos of them when they were open, from 2008 and 2009 mostly.
And just in case you need a reminder of what they look like, here’s a picture of a bit of a golf course (on a foggy day):