Oatlands Palace


From Henry VIII's royal residence to First World War hospital

'The Little Castle, 18 miles from London, lies on a slope and commands the most glorious view.'

Composer Joseph Haydn, during a visit to Oatlands House in 1791

This online exhibition explores the history of Oatlands Palace through the ages. This large site has witnessed significant periods of history as a royal palace and a country home, before being demolished in the 1600s. In time, it was replaced with another grand estate, seeing use as a First World War hospital and most recently as a hotel.

The Story of Oatlands

Beginnings as a Royal Residence

Oatlands Palace was originally built for King Henry VIII in 1537. Although it was a notable new addition to the Tudor king’s plethora of royal dwellings at the time, much of the stone used to construct this great royal residence actually dated back to the Norman era. In 1110, the great blocks had first featured in the impressive Chertsey Abbey building. When Henry’s landmark break with Rome and Reformation began in the 1530s, the old Abbey, among many others across England, fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and its stone was swiftly transported to Oatlands.

The Palace stood in the middle of Weybridge and witnessed many important historical events. The Palace enlarged his hunting estate known as the Honour of Hampton Court. This estate extended from Hampton Court Palace out to Oatlands in Weybridge and down to Nonsuch Palace near Ewell, also now lost. It provided additional space near Henry VIII’s main residence at Hampton Court. At its largest, the palace covered 14 acres of land and housed many servants, courtiers and government officials.

Henry had intended the palace to be the residence of his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, who he married in 1540. The union, however, was very short-lived, and it is thought that Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, at Oatlands chapel later that same year. Later in the Tudor period, Oatlands was the palace Queen Mary retreated to after her phantom pregnancy, and the young Princess Elizabeth, born in 1533 just before the palace was built, avoided plague by escaping to Oatlands. After being crowned Queen in 1558, she became a keen huntswoman, and hunted deer in the park her father had created here.

Destruction during the Civil War

Black and white print on card of a drawing for a 'Design for a Gateway at Oatlands by Inigo Jones'.

Black and white print on card of a drawing for a ‘Design for a Gateway at Oatlands by Inigo Jones’.

 

Both Queen Anne of Denmark and Henrietta Maria (wives of James VI and I and Charles I respectively) made improvements to Oatlands Palace. Queen Anne commissioned Inigo Jones to design the Great Gate from the garden into the Oatlands Park grounds. She was also responsible for ‘the makinge of a new brick wall … to enclose her majesties vineyard at Otelands’.

Upon the ascension of Charles I to the throne, his wife Henrietta Maria also used the Palace as a country retreat, and John Tradescant was employed by her to work in the Palace Gardens – you can find out more about this further down the page.

Charles I was briefly imprisoned at Oatlands during the English Civil War, when the palace was surrounded by Parliamentarian territory across most of Surrey, and had been used to station Oliver Cromwell’s troops. After Charles’s trial and execution in January 1649, the palace fell out of favour. It was sold to Robert Turbridge for £4000, and then demolished by him to fund the Republican army. Some of the bricks were even used in the construction of the Weybridge canal.

Regeneration of the Oatlands Estate

Watercolour of Oatlands House with lawn in front, during the occupation by the Duke of York. The original is in the British Museum.

Watercolour of Oatlands House with lawn in front, during the occupation by the Duke of York.

 

When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660 as part of the Restoration following the long Interregnum, the Oatlands estate reverted to the Crown and the land was leased to a succession of noblemen. It was the Seventh Earl of Lincoln who eventually built Oatlands House in the 1720s, 500 metres east of the original Palace site. The Ninth Earl of Lincoln went on to transform the grounds of Oatlands House. A Temple of Vesta was added and Inigo Jones’ Palace gate became a folly (a building constructed for decoration). Later, a gothic grotto was built. This contained several rooms lined with stones, shells and stalactites.

In 1789, the Duke Frederick Augustus of York bought Oatlands House and moved in with his wife. The Duchess was an eccentric lady and surrounded herself and the estate with a menagerie of animals. Although the house sadly burned down in 1794, it was rebuilt in the popular Gothic style of the period.

The Duke and Duchess had an unhappy marriage and the Duchess lived most of her life alone at Oatlands with her menagerie of animals, which you can find out more about After her death in 1820, the Oatlands estate was sold off. The area which once formed the middle and outer courts of Oatlands Palace became a commercial market garden.

Changing Landscapes at Oatlands

  • Building the Palace
  • John Tradescant
  • Henry Scott
  • The Duchess of York's Dog Cemetery
  • The Grotto

The Palace was created on the site of the Rede family home, Oatlands Manor. The family were wealthy London goldsmiths who had moved to the countryside. Oatlands Manor would have been a grand house, even before being made into a palace, and we know it included a moat. When William Rede died, the family were evicted to make way for the Palace, despite his widow’s pleas that ‘It will be great undoing if I continue not your tenant at Otelands’.

A huge illustrated sheet of parchment to John Rede from Henry VIII outlined the plans for the king’s acquisition of Oatlands. It specified that the land would be taken in return for some of the treasures attained from the king’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The grand palace was initially built with 3 main adjoining courtyards and was typically Tudor in its style, with similarities to Hampton Court just a few miles further down the river Thames. It had a small moat, but was quite unique thanks to the fact that it was not styled with any other obvious ‘mock-castle’ features as was the fashion of the time.

John Tradescant the Elder (d.1638), was appointed ‘Keeper of His Majesty’s Gardens’ at Oatlands Palace by Henrietta Maria, King Charles I’s consort.

John Tradescant the Younger (d.1662) followed in his father’s footsteps after enrolling at King’s School in Canterbury. He became Keeper of His Majesty’s Gardens, Vines and Silkworms at Oatlands Palace, ‘in place of John Tradescant, his father, deceased.’ The Tradescants were also well-known as plant collectors, bringing back many new varieties to Britain. The fruit opposite, known as the ‘Tradescant Cherry’ was one such find, and they also introduced the Tulip Tree and Michaelmas Daisy to Britain.

 

This illustrated black and white engraving is of ‘Henry Scott, Gardener at Weybridge in Surrey’. Scott worked at Oatlands Palace Gardens in the 1750s, and attempted to grow Pineapples there. The remains of pine pits were discovered in the foundations of the Palace in later years, and were mistakenly initially thought to have been the work of John Tradescant around 100 years earlier.

The illustration opposite was designed by Henry Scott, drawn by W. Wales and engraved by F Vivares. It was first published October 1754.

This black and white photograph shows the Duchess of York’s Dog Cemetery in the grounds of the Oatlands Estate.

Black and white photograph of the Duchess of York's Dog Cemetery in the grounds of the Oatlands Estate, c.1900.

Black and white photograph of the Duchess of York’s Dog Cemetery in the grounds of the Oatlands Estate, c.1900.

The Duchess Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina had married Frederick, the Duke of York – the second son of King George III – in 1791. She took up permanent residency at Oatlands after becoming estranged from her husband. The Duchess had an amiable, intelligent, and charitable nature, but one passion in particular overshadowed all others: her love of animals.

With her marriage to the Duke remaining childless, Frederica instead doted on a huge and ever-expanding family of pets. Indeed, it was a love which was well-known and recorded at the time.

The uniformly arranged slabs in the grounds of Oatlands Park are hardly distinguishable from the manicured lawn where they lay. The only feature which highlights their presence is a small green sign, reading “Duchess of York’s Dog Cemetery, Circa 1790 – 1815”. Although the cemetery has been moved as the years have progressed, ultimately it was here, in the grounds of her treasured home, that the Duchess laid her much-loved companions – ‘Satan’ included – to rest.

From 1762-7, the Duke of Newcastle oversaw the construction of an elaborate Grotto in the grounds to the west of Oatlands House. Joseph Lane and his son, who specialised in grotto-building in England and had worked on the famous Painshill Grotto in nearby Cobham, later added elaborate internal decorations such as shells, stones, imitation stalactites and crystals to the walls and ceilings, and stained glass in the windows. The structure was relatively large, consisting of four internal spaces connected by passageways. There was even a ‘gambling room’ and a tiled cold bath which was fed by a spring. In Elmbridge Museum’s collection, the imitation statue of Venus de Medici which stood at the top of this bath structure is preserved, having been donated in 1920.

Black and white print entitled "The Grotto at Oatlands, near Weybridge", the seat of the Duke of Newcastle. It shows the lake in front of the Grotto.

Black and white print entitled “The Grotto at Oatlands, near Weybridge”, the seat of the Duke of Newcastle. It shows the lake in front of the Grotto.

Outside, the structure was covered with decayed lava stone, with a swan pool just outside the entrance and the Duchess of York’s dog cemetery nearby. Contemporary records reveal that the Duke and Duchess of York regularly entertained guests in the enchanting building in the early 1800s.

By 1944, the Grotto was reported to be in bad condition, partly thanks to visitors who would pick decorations off the elaborately decorated walls. Having stood for nearly 200 years, it was sadly demolished in 1948 by the Ministry of Works, having been declared unsafe.

The interior of the Oatlands Grotto, showing the Upper Chamber with chairs, and shells mounted on legs to form tables.

The interior of the Oatlands Grotto, showing the Upper Chamber with chairs, and shells mounted on legs to form tables.

Oatlands Hotel and the First World War

Black and white postcard of Oatlands Park Hotel, showing the curved drive to the porticoed entrance with New Zealand soldiers sitting and standing outside, October 1915.

Black and white postcard of Oatlands Park Hotel, showing the curved drive to the porticoed entrance with New Zealand soldiers sitting and standing outside, October 1915.

Henry Holland’s 1794 design of the Oatlands House for the Duke of York was drastically reconstructed in 1827 for its new owner, Edward Ball Hughes.

Later, in 1846, the Oatlands Estate was broken up into lots and sold at public auction for development to James Watts Peppercorne. He redeveloped Oatlands House into the South Western Hotel in 1856. The new large west wing added at this time, including the stock brick Italianate design, was a radical alteration and extension of the 1827 house, and the hotel is now Grade II Listed.

By this time the London and South Western Railway made the Weybridge area accessible to London, and the hotel attracted visitors from far and wide who had come to admire the 18th century follies.

During the First World War, the hotel was requisitioned for injured New Zealander soldiers, specifically ‘medical & tuberculosis cases and limbless men’. Additional space was needed due to overcrowding at Mount Felix Hospital just up the road, situated next to Walton Bridge.

At the war’s end, the hotel reopened in 1919. It has welcomed many guests over the years, including famous names such as Emile Zola, Anthony Trollope and Edward Lear. It is now known as Oatlands Park Hotel, and traces of its rich history can still be seen in the hotel and its extensive grounds.

Unearthing Oatlands

Objects from Oatlands Palace were found during archaeological excavations in 1964, 1983 and 1984 and tell us much more about life at the Tudor Palace. Elmbridge Museum holds and cares for this nationally significant collection along with items relating to Oatlands Palace and House.

Wood Panelling Piece of wooden panelling with the obliterated coat of arms of the Reed family in the centre. The piece came from the Tudor Oatlands Palace and had come to be in the possession of a local vet until the 1960s.

Stone Tile This fragment of rectangular tile is decorated with part of one small roundel. The whole tile would have been decorated with roughly nine roundels. This is one of the tiles which dates back to the medieval period, when it was used in Chertsey Abbey. After the destruction of the Abbey it was brought to Oatlands for reuse in Henry VIII's palace.

Stone Tile This is another fragment of tile which was originally used in Chertsey Abbey, and then reused in Oatlands Palace. It is decorated with small roundels, five of which are visible on this fragment.

Stone Tile This stone tile makes up about a quarter of an original tile from Chertsey Abbey. It was reused in the construction of Oatlands Palace in the 1530s, and is one of two similar fragments in Elmbridge Museum's collection.

Stone Gateway This is one of four large worked stone pieces from the Great Gate at Oatlands originally built by Inigo Jones in the late 1600s, and now preserved in Elmbridge Museum's collection.

Stone Gateway Large worked stone from the Great Gate at Oatlands originally built by Inigo Jones in the late 1600s. The gate was commissioned by Queen Anne of Denmark and later moved by the 9th Earl of Lincoln when he came to own the estate.

Tudor Fireplace This black and white photograph shows a 16th Century Tudor fireplace from Oatlands Palace, now preserved in the Burrell Collection. It is over three metres tall and has Henry VIII's coat of arms and the Tudor Rose carved into the woodwork.

Imitation Venus de Medici Statue This copy statue of Venus de Medici is made of white marble. It is one of several brought from Europe by the 9th. Earl of Lincoln, who built the grotto in the grounds of Oatlands House about 1770. Venus stood at the head of the bath in the Bath Room in the Grotto, and remained there until presented to the museum in 1920.

Smiling Stone Cornice This stone cornice terminal is in the shape of a face. It was originally from Chertsey Abbey in the 1400s, and when the Abbey was torn down in 1537 it was transferred to Oatlands Palace and used in the foundations there until it was unearthed by archaeologists. It used to greet visitors to the Museum when it was above Weybridge Library.

Remnants of Oatlands

Although Oatlands Palace no longer stands, there are a number of remains across Weybridge which provide hints of its existence. Explore some of them below.

The Tudor Archway

The Tudor archway is the only part of Oatlands Palace which remains above ground. Situated in Tudor Walk, there is now a blue plaque on the side of the brick wall denoting its significance. Before the 1980s, the archway was bricked up, but it was opened in 1985 as part of the redevelopment of the surrounding area.

The only remaining Tudor archway of the original Oatlands Palace building, now standing in Tudor Walk.

The only remaining Tudor archway of the original Oatlands Palace building, now standing in Tudor Walk.

Road Names

A number of road names in the vicinity of the Tudor archway and the Oatlands Park Hotel reflect the former presence of the royal palace and mansion. These include:

Tudor Walk; Grotto Road; West Palace Gardens; Palace Drive; Oatlands Close; Rede Court; Oatlands Drive; Duchess Court; Old Palace Road; Catherine Howard Court; Oatlands Mere; York Road; Oatlands Chase.

Tudor Walk, Weybridge.

Tudor Walk, Weybridge.

Grotto Road, Weybridge.

Grotto Road, Weybridge.

West Palace Gardens, Weybridge.

West Palace Gardens, Weybridge.

Tunnels under Oatlands

From the Tudor period onwards, a series of underground tunnels and chambers have existed underneath the site of the old palace. Some of these were for sewage and some led around the former moat. There are many which remain from when the Palace was built during the 1500s, as well as later additions from the estate’s conversion into a mansion. Numerous photos of the tunnels are kept in Elmbridge Museum’s collection. These tunnels gave rise to a tradition of local tales of “passages leading to Hampton Court”.

1920s black and white photograph of the interior of the Great Culvert which was inserted into the moat of Oatlands Palace.

1920s black and white photograph of the interior of the Great Culvert which was inserted into the moat of Oatlands Palace.

Plan and elevations of Underground drains and chambers on the site of Oatlands Palace.

Plan and elevations of Underground drains and chambers on the site of Oatlands Palace.

Explore Further

Delve into the history of Ogilvy's Apothecary by discovering our Object in Focus, where you can find out how one small jar contained an essential to Tudor sickness and health.

Take a look at the Tudor ointment jar