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The magniﬁcent Oatlands Park Hotel you enjoy today, was built at the turn of the 18th Century on the Oatlands Estate, which has a long and varied history.
Originally the site of a grand Royal Tudor Palace, the Oatlands Estate in Surrey has been home to the Kings and Queens of England, played host to Emperors and Earls, and been immortalised in both prose and paint, throughout the centuries.
The current Hotel was built on the footprint of a large mansion which burned down in the late 1700s, but had dated back to the 15th Century. A Parliamentary Survey of the period mentions a house which sat in the grounds of a great royal palace, on the Oatlands Estate.
Henry VIII erected the palace for his new Queen, Anne of Cleves. Although a worthy rival to his other riverside house at Hampton Court, the imposing red brick building with its gateways, octagonal towers and open courts, Oatlands was only visited occasionally by the King.
And the intended resident, Anne, probably never lived there during the short time she was his wife, but it is thought Henry secretly married his next Queen, Anne’s young Lady-in-Waiting, Catherine Howard, in the Palace chapel.
The palace was more popular with his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, who spent a lot of time and money making the building more comfortable for her court to use as a hunting lodge.
Her successor, James I and his Queen, Anne of Denmark, also favoured the palace at Oatlands and they too spent money reconstructing the building. They founded ‘The Kings Silk Works” where silk worms were bred to provide silk for weaving.
During his residency at the palace, James’ son King Charles I appointed a man called John Tradescant the Elder as ‘Keeper of His Majesty’s Gardens, Vines and Silkworms’ at a salary of £100 per annum. In this role, he bought rare plants from around the globe, and was responsible for England’s ﬁrst museum ‘Tradescants Ark’. His son succeeded him in the role, on his death
Charles’ son Henry, 1st Duke of Gloucester was born at Oatlands and the ancient Cedar tree which stands beside the main drive of the Hotel today, was one of the ﬁrst to be imported to this country from the Lebanon, and is said to have been planted to honour Henry’s birth.
The palace fell out of favour and was demolished in the mid 1600s during Oliver Cromwell’s short-lived reign. The materials from it were used to build the locks and bridges of the Wey Navigation Canal, which runs from Guildford to Weybridge and was the ﬁrst canal in England.
However, the house on the estate escaped demolition, as it was more cost eﬀective to let it out, than to tear it down and sell of the materials.
Over the next 150 years, the house and grounds were remodelled, by a string of wealthy tenants. You can still see the coat of arms of one, the Duke of Newcastle, on the main gates at the entrance to the Hotel.
Another, the Duchess of York, loved animals so much that she created a Dogs Cemetery for her beloved pets when they passed away. The headstones celebrating the virtues of her four-legged friends are now set in the Hotel lawn near the Lounge Bar patio.
A kind and generous woman, the Duchess was very popular with the local population and on her death, a monument was erected in her memory at the bottom of Monument Hill in Weybridge, outside The Ship Inn.
Sadly the house burnt down in 1794, and was rebuilt the Gothic style, by her husband the Duke, who went on to acquire the Estate Freehold.
On his death in 1827, the property was sold to a young Regency dandy and gambler called Edward Hughes Ball Hughes, who was popularly known as ‘The Golden Ball’. He spent his honeymoon at Oatlands, before pulling down large parts of the existing building and making many alterations to what was left.
The 29 year old Hughes Ball Hughes continued with his whimsical alterations until his ﬁnances, considerably dented by his extravagance, forced him to let the house to the politician and poet Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere.
Lord Egerton lived there until the 1850s, when the arrival of the London & South Western Railway, meant the land was in high demand for the development of commuter homes.
So the absentee impoverished owner Edward, who was by then living in Paris to escape his creditors, ordered the sale of what remained of his once extensive property. The proceeds from the sale allowed him to live the rest of his life in a ﬁnancially stable position.
Oatlands was covered in lots, and a small syndicate including Mr James Watts Peppercorne, bought the mansion and some of the adjoining land for the purpose of converting it into a Hotel. The house was again remodelled and the present Tudor Wing added.
In 1856, the South Western Hotel opened, with Mr. Peppercorne as its ﬁrst Manager. For many years prior to the Great War, the South Western Hotel Company continued to own and run the property.
Famous guests who stayed at the South Western (later Oatlands Park) Hotel included popular actress Fanny Kemble, writer Emile Zola, politician Charles Dilke, novelist Anthony Trollope and the cartoonist and artist Edward Lear.
In her biography of Lear called ‘The Life of a Wanderer’, authoress Vivien Noakes wrote "He needed some cedar trees that were within easy reach of London, and he found them at the Oatlands Park Hotel at Walton-on-Thames."
Whilst he was working on his nine foot long picture of the ‘Cedars of the Lebanon’, he penned letters to his friends including Emily Tennyson, Sir George Grove and Chichester Fortescue, to whom he wrote in 1860 saying "The Hotel then is a large and sumptuously commodious place... I have a large light bedroom and wanting for naught."
In 1916 it was requisitioned and during the War was used as a Casualty Hospital for the New Zealand Forces serving in France. New Zealand Avenue, at the end of Oatlands Drive, is named in memory of the New Zealanders who died here.
Shortly after the War the property was purchased by Mr. M.F. North and Mr. R.W. Black, the founders of the North Hotels, and in 1924 the Estate was considerably enlarged by the purchase of Oatlands Lodge, a large mansion, now demolished, which stood on the site of the present Lily Pond.
As the years have passed, the Hotel has been enlarged further, notably by the extension of the Restaurant with suites above, in 1927, and by the addition of the Ballroom wing in 1930.
Barclays Associate Hotels owned the hotel for some years until the mid 1980's.
Oatlands Investments Ltd acquired the hotel in 1986, restoring and refurbishing it to a standard, which takes the Oatlands Park Hotel into 2011 and beyond.
Retained is the character of the Listed Building and grounds, which are included in the Register of Gardens and Parks of Special Historic Interest.