Chris Farara reports on the visit
A group of Members was invited to visit Claremont House on 31st October following the mounting of an exhibition there during national Heritage day in September when the House was open to the public. The exhibition, prepared by David Hassard and colleagues from the Kingston Aviation Centenary Project, covered the residence at Claremont by Sydney Camm and Hawker’s Design Department during World War 2. The house is now the Claremont Fan Court School whose new science and technology building is named after Sir Sydney Camm
The tour of the house was conducted by Pamela Rider, herself a pupil at the school in the 1960s and now the school archivist. We visitors were taken throughout the building starting with an unusual feature, a tunnel used in the past for bringing stores and provisions into the house; in fact a large tradesman’s entrance. During the tour we were given a detailed and fascinating history of the house by Pamela.
In 1708 Sir John Vanbrugh, the Restoration playwright and architect, built himself a small house. In 1714 he sold the house to a wealthy Whig politician, the Earl of Clare, who became Duke of Newcastle and served twice as Prime Minister. He commissioned Vanbrugh to add two great wings to the house. The Earl named his country seat Clare-mount, later contracted to Claremont.
When the Duke of Newcastle died in 1768, his widow sold the estate to Robert Clive, founder of the British Indian Empire, who decided to demolish the house and commission "Capability" Brown to build a fashionable Palladian mansion. Brown, more landscape designer than architect, took on his future son-in-law Henry Holland to assist him. John Soane, later Sir John Soane, worked on the interiors which were strongly influenced by work of Robert Adam. Clive, by now very wealthy, is reputed to have spent over £100,000 on rebuilding the house. Sadly he died in 1774, the year that the house was finished.
The estate was sold to a succession of owners until, in 1816, Claremont was bought by the British Nation as a wedding present for George IV's daughter, Princess Charlotte, and her husband, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Princess Charlotte, who was second in line to the throne and very popular with the people, died there following two miscarriages, after giving birth to a stillborn son. Leopold retained ownership of Claremont until he died in 1865 after he had left in 1831 to become the first King of the Belgians.
Queen Victoria was frequently at Claremont as a child and later as an adult when her uncle Leopold lent her the house. She, in turn, lent it, after the revolution of 1848, to the exiled French king and queen, Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amelie, the parents-in-law of Leopold. The exiled king died at Claremont in 1850.Victoria bought the house for her fourth and youngest son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, when he married Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont in 1882. The Duke and Duchess of Albany had two children, Alice and Charles. In 1900, the latter became the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and a German citizen.
During the First World War Claremont was used as a convalescent home for Officers and from 1916 it was let to a girls' school in Leatherhead. Claremont should have passed to the Duke of Albany on his mother's death but because he had served as a German general in the First World War the British government disallowed the inheritance. Claremont was accordingly confiscated and sold by the Public Trustee to shipping magnate Sir William Corry, director of the Cunard Line. Two years after Sir William's death in 1926, it was bought by Eugen Speyer a wealthy German financier.
In 1930 the Mansion stood empty and was marked for demolition when it was bought by the Governors of a south London Christian Science school becoming Claremont School. In 1978 it amalgamated with Fan Court School of Chertsey. In spite of its many owners and occupiers the interior architectural details, ceilings, fireplaces and sculptures are in remarkably good condition.
The visitors were then welcomed by Jane Jenkins to the very impressive, beautifully designed and built Sir Sydney Camm science and technology building. Its modern architectural style, both inside and out, complements perfectly the Grade 1 listed Palladian mansion housing the main school. Almost complete, the classrooms, laboratories and workshops are equipped to a very high standard. Finally, over tea and biscuits, the Association visitors could chat to their guides, Pamela and Jane, thanking them sincerely for a most interesting and fascinating visit.