East Horsley Towers

Between Leatherhead and Guildford, East Horsley is but one of the thousands of blobs on the map that constitute leafy outer suburban London. Its houses tend to be discreetly half hidden behind walls and foliage:

house, East Horsley

But let's not sentimentalize the suburbs. Residential houses aside, the typical building is less likely to be the post office or "village" shop than the petrol station:

petrol station, East Horsley

Ian Nairn describes it as having "very little character and no village centre" (203). Oh all right, there's a pub:

East Horsley

Did you notice something in common to all three? If not, here's a detail, and also --

Horsley East Horsley

what was once the entrance to:

East Horsley Towers

East Horsley Towers, a building with a unique distinction (explained below).

Let's take a stroll around it.

East Horsley Towers East Horsley Towers East Horsley Towers East Horsley Towers East Horsley Towers East Horsley Towers

Yes this is a full-scale château, and what seems like the whole "village" (suburb) -- houses, pub, even petrol station -- is architecturally its extension. It's the creation of the first Earl of Lovelace (Byron's son-in-law). He started work on the building in the 1840s, but "about 1855 . . . he branched into an extraordinary Gothic style of flint and polychrome brick, apparently without an architect" (Nairn 204).

I had to visit this place when I'd seen the write-up in J. J. Norwich's The Architecture of Southern England. Norwich describes the buildings (mostly churches, cathedrals, and manor houses) that he enjoys. But he's repelled by this building; his description of it reads like the start of a better story by H. P. Lovecraft. He summarizes it as "a grotesque Victorian Disneyland which has to be seen to be believed -- and may not be even then", and concludes: "Unlike virtually all the other entries in this book, therefore, this one is not a recommendation: it is a warning."

East Horsley Towers (now "Horsley Towers") is now a facility of Initial Style Conferences, which describes itself as "the UK's market leader in the provision of dedicated residential training and conference centres." That's given a certain Pythonesque twist when we learn that it is, or anyway was when I viewed it, "a Rentokil Initial company" [source]. Whoa -- this uninvited tourist was lucky not to have been exterminated.

Perhaps the current use of the building is what leads it and the grounds to look so unnervingly neat. I usually prefer the unkempt; East Horsley Towers is not the place to look for this, but here is a detail that I could enjoy:

East Horsley Towers East Horsley Towers

For more, see:

Other snaps


No, I didn't use any filter and I haven't fiddled with any of the photos here: the sky really was this minatory shade. First created: 8 April 2001. Last fiddled with: 23 April 2006

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