~ The History ~
Gatton Park is steeped in history. Since 1086, when it was owned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror, a manor has stood in the beautiful woods of Gatton Park. It has been home to wealthy gentry, ambitious politicians, aristocrats, and Victorian business magnates.
Between 1762 and 1766, Gatton Park underwent a number of significant changes under its owner, Sir George Colebrook, a wealthy merchant banker with the East India Company. Sir George employed the foremost garden designer of his time, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to transform Gatton Park. Brown swept away the manicured formal gardens, opting for a more natural aesthetic that complemented the landscape. He extended the lake, designed a series of ponds, added a serpentine canal, and moved a number of trees. At £3,055 (over £575,000 today) this was one of Brown’s most expensive projects.
The original house at Gatton Park was demolished in 1808 to make way for a grand manor in an Italianate style to suit the needs of the then owner Sir Mark Wood. The estate was then sold to Frederick John Monson, 5th Baron Monson in 1830 who oversaw an extensive remodelling of Gatton House, as it was known then.
Lord Monson was heavily influenced by his Grand Tour and set out to add to the splendour of Gatton House. Italian marbles intended for Charles IV of Spain were used in the Marble Hall, the crowning glory of Gatton. As a dedicated collector, Lord Monson had a number of masterpieces hanging on his walls – paintings by Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Bellini and Sir Joshua Reynolds graced his home.
It wasn’t until 1888 when the estate was sold to Sir Jeremiah Colman, of Colman’s Mustard, that the estate was once again at the heart of another ambitious building project. The beautiful columns still standing in front of Gatton Hall were added by Sir Jeremiah in 1891, but it was the park itself that received much of his attention: the Japanese Garden was constructed in 1909, followed by the Rock and Water Garden in 1912. Lost for many years, the gardens have now been restored and give visitors a tantalising glimpse into Edwardian garden design.
Unfortunately, in 1934, Sir Jeremiah’s secretary woke to find her room filled with smoke. An electrical fire in the cellar gutted the whole building, destroying the Marble Hall and many priceless works of art.
The beautiful building that now stands as Gatton Hall was built between 1934 and 1936 and remained the home of the Colmans until Sir Jeremiah’s death in 1942. In 1948, the estate was sold to the Foundation of the Royal Alexandra and Albert School.