Carshalton:   Rural and Picturesque

Today, Carshalton is a charming suburb of London, but during the Regency, it was a small, partially commercial village about ten miles south-west of the metropolis. Early nineteenth-century Carshalton offers many options for a Regency author in need of a setting within easy reach of London, whether those needs require an idyllic and bucolic environment, a bustling industrial mill works, or a mix of the two.

Before London swallowed the village of Carshalton . . .

Carshalton has an ancient history. Several prehistoric artifacts from both the Neolithic and the Iron Age have been found in the area, the Roman road, Stane Street, went through the village and it was recorded in the Domesday Book as Aultone, the name meaning "settlement by the spring." All of which suggest human habitation at that location for millenia. At some point in the Middle Ages, the prefix Kers, meaning "crossing" was added. That early name later became corrupted as Carshalton (pronounced Car-shawlton), the name by which it was most widely known during the Regency and is still known to this day. An alternative pronunciation of the name was Casehorton, or Cayshorton. Evidence suggests that may well have been a much older version of the name. It is certainly possible that at least some people would have used that version of the village name during our favorite decade.

There were five manors situated in the area in the time of Edward the Confessor. These tracts were united before the invasion of William the Conqueror, and that large manor tract was divided into two sometime before the surveys conducted for the Domesday Book. There was a church in the village which was recorded in the Domesday Book, at least part of which is believed to have been incorporated into the current church that now stands on the site. The Church of All Saints was built near the center Carshalton village, on a rise of ground near the pond. The current church was constructed in the twelfth century, probably over the much older church, during the reign of King Richard II. Significant additions were made in the thirteenth century. The church features a chancel, a nave, two aisles and a low square stone tower which is placed near its center. The living at All Saints was known to be very lucrative, even during the Regency. The Reverend William Rose, M. A., was installed as rector there in 1777 and held that position until his death in April of 1829. Therefore, the Reverend Rose was rector at All Saints Church throughout the Regency.

Just beyond the churchyard wall is a small spring which has been known for centuries as Anne Boleyn’s Well. One legend has it that the spring appeared when Queen Anne’s horse kicked over a stone when she was passing through the village on the way to the great Nonsuch Palace, a few miles to the west of Carshalton. This seems highly unlikely, since Henry VIII did not begin construction on this grand palace until more than two years after Queen Anne’s execution. Another version of the legend was included in Volume One of the 1817 guide book, Picturesque Rides and Walks, with Excursions by Water, Thirty Miles Round the British Metropolis. According to this guide book, Anne Boleyn stopped to refresh herself at the spring and " … was so highly gratified by its flavour," that she ordered the spring to be encircled by a low stone wall in order to protect it. Anne is supposed to have left a sum of money to ensure the wall which encircled the spring was kept in good repair and an "iron bason" was made available on a chain to provide any traveller with easy access to the tasty water.

Despite these various stories, the first documentary record of "Anne Boleyn’s Well" appears on the Arundal map of c. 1610 – 1620. The most likely explanation is that the Counts of Boulogne owned tracts of land in Carshalton in the twelfth century, and it is believed there was a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Boulogne near that spring. It is probable that the word "Boulogne" became corrupted to the better-known, and English, "Boleyn" over the centuries. This may have been helped along by the gradual association of the intensely sexual pagan mother goddess Anu, first with St. Anne, the mother of Mary, and then with Anne Boleyn. By 1817, the low wall of Anne Boleyn’s Well was encircled by an outer fence of sturdy wrought iron to help preserve it. Even before the Regency, there were many women who would have taken a drink, or more, of the spring waters of Anne Boleyn’s Well in the hope of increasing their fertility so that they would be able to conceive a child. Some may have even traveled over a great distance in order to partake of the supposedly fertile waters of Anne Boleyn’s Well. Certainly, there were still many women who drank at that well during the Regency in the hope of conceiving a child.

More than one large manor house was built in the vicinity of Carshalton in the eighteenth century. One of the first was Carshalton House, built in the first years of the eighteenth century by Edward Carleton. Sometime after 1710, it was sold to Dr. John Radcliffe, a noted physician who often attended Queen Anne. He was the same Dr. Radcliffe whose enormous donation to Oxford University, upon his death in 1714, inspired Oxford to name several important buildings and institutions after him. After Dr. Radcliffe’s death, Carshalton House was purchased for £3500, by Sir John Fellows. A few years later, Fellows was appointed one of the sub-governors of the South Sea Company. Fellows remodeled and expanded the house, adding a third floor to serve as additional servant’s quarters. He added extensive gardens to the property which included fountains, a rustic Folly Bridge and a grotto or hermitage, which was a very fashionable garden feature at the time.

While leveling ground to create an avenue on the estate, a number of human bones were found, in conjunction with an array of Roman artifacts, including weapons. Fellows also had a very unique building constructed on the property which remains a local landmark to this day. The core of this building housed a pump which supplied water to the house and the fountains in the new gardens. Known as the Bagnio when it was first built, today it is known as the Water Tower. That same structure also served as a garden folly which housed a suite of rooms that consisted of an orangery, a saloon and a bagnio, the walls of which were covered with blue and white Delft tiles and included a deep plunge bath and adjacent robing room. The Saloon was the most ornate of the rooms, decorated with a coved ceiling, an ornate cornice and series of deep floor-to-ceiling niches which displayed sculpture and other art objects. The Saloon windows faced the gardens, including the artificial lake. It was here that Fellows and other owners of the property entertained their guests. After the South Sea Bubble burst, the government confiscated Carshalton House from Sir John Fellows. However, he was allowed to live there until his death in 1724. The house then passed through the hands of several owners. During the Regency, it was the seat of one William Reynolds, Esquire. Carshalton House was a very grand manor and, even during the Regency, was still the largest and most elegant estate in close proximity to Carshalton village.

Another important estate near Carshalton village was the Oaks. This parkland was laid out for the 12th Earl of Derby in the 1770s, around a villa which had been built for Thomas Gosling for a society of gentlemen called the Hunter’s Club, in the 1750s. At that time, the estate was known as Lambert Oaks, when it was leased by a Mr. Lambert. For many years, it was the scene of a variety of sporting events, including fox and stag hunting, as well as coursing. It retained its sporting flavor when it was acquired by the Earl of Derby. In 1779, the Oaks gave its name to one of the five classic English flat horse races, and one of only two restricted to fillies. The Oaks race was originally run over the grounds of the estate and part of the route can still be seen in what is now Oaks Park. That classic race for fillies is still run as part of the British racing calendar, though now at the Epsom Downs race course. The villa was expanded and remodeled by Robert Adam in the 1790s, when General John Burgoyne leased it from the Earl for a time. The villa is known to have had at least fifty bedchambers and the majority of them were regularly occupied by either Derby’s or Burgoyne’s gentlemen friends for a round of hunting or other sport each year. Sadly, the villa was demolished in the late 1950s, but it would have been standing and still the property of the 12th Earl of Derby during the Regency.

Closer to Carshalton, but not as grand, was the estate known as Carshalton Park. The property was purchased at the end of the seventeenth century by Sir William Scawen, the Governor of the Bank of England. In 1723, his nephew, James, planned a grand mansion on a rise on the estate which was to be designed by the noted Italian architect, Giacomo Leoni. Many of the building materials were acquired and stockpiled at the estate. Sadly, though drawings for the main house were completed, construction was never begun. Some scholars speculate that the building of the house was abandoned on the death of James Scawen. However, Leoni did eventually publish eleven of drawings for both plans and elevations for the intended mansion house in his edition of Alberti’s Architecture. Leoni had also been commissioned to landscape the grounds of Carshalton Park, which he did carry out. Those plans almost certainly included a grotto. The curving, three-chambered grotto of brick was built over one of the springs on the property which was one of the tributaries to the River Wandle. The rear of the grotto was set into the hillside with the front facade under which the spring flowed out, meandering through the estate on its way to the main part of the river. Ornamental iron gates secured the main entrance to the grotto. The interior of the grotto was decorated with lead, flint, glass, coral and sea shells so that it resembled a sea cave. The main chamber in the center had a large marble basin in the shape of a sea shell and at the top of the arch above it stood a large statue of Neptune. The grotto may have been designed by Leoni, though no plans by his hand are known.

An elegant orangery was built on the grounds of Carshalton Park in the late eighteenth century, probably by James Scawen’s nephew and heir. This nephew had planned to build a magnificent manor house and had even begun to gather some of the necessary materials. Sadly, he died before construction on the house could begin and the property was sold by his heirs near the end of the eighteenth century to one George Taylor, Esquire. Taylor did build a manor house at Carshalton Park, using some of the materials which Scawen had gathered, though Taylor’s house was nowhere near as grandiose as had been the one planned by Scawen. Taylor’s house was situated near the entrance to the park and was more modest in size, in keeping with that of an affluent country gentleman, rather than a wealthy nobleman. It was built in the Tuscan order and covered with white stucco, but was reported to have had every modern convenience inside. During the Regency, as had been the case for at least a century, deer roamed free over Carshalton Park, which had an extensive woodland. Mr. Taylor generously allowed the public to enjoy the parkland and the grotto. He owned the park throughout the Regency and continued to allow the public the use of his park during that time. One of the main tributaries to the River Wandle ran through the grounds and was said to have some of the best trout in the entire area.

In addition to fishing, other Regency sports and outdoor pursuits could be enjoyed in the land surrounding Carshalton. One of those was coursing, in which greyhounds chased hares over an open field course. Quite a number of deer could be seen roaming the parklands of Carshalton, which were hunted by sportsmen during the season. There were also several sporting gentlemen in the area who kept packs of fox-hounds and regular fox hunting meetings were held over the rolling fields of the region. In addition to fox hunting, pleasure riding through the open countryside was also very popular. There were multiple tributaries to the River Wandle which ran though the area of Carshalton. Some of them were of significant size and fed large, deep ponds. It is quite likely that at least a few people enjoyed boating or even swimming in the streams and ponds in the warmer months. Those large streams also attracted a number of water fowl, which were hunted by the sporting men of the area. Hiking was regularly enjoyed by many residents, as well as tourists in the village of Carshalton, and some of those added a picnic to their hiking or boating excursions.

Another unique aspect of sport in the Carshalton area was John Hodson Durand, Esq. As a young man, Durand had been an avid sportsman who was particularly interested in coursing. By the later decades of the eighteenth century, he had sponsored and organized regular coursing meetings near Carshalton and elsewhere. In fact, he was said to be the very life-spring of field sports in the neighborhood. He had also been a very convivial man who had offered the hospitality of his home and table during meetings. Sadly, by the time the Prince of Wales had become Regent, John Durand was an elderly man whose health had forced him to become a near recluse. He had taken up residence at a house near Carshalton village known as Little Woodcote. Though he could no longer enjoy field sports, Durand was still sometimes able to offer his generous hospitality to other sportsmen when his health permitted. He signaled to all of those in the neighborhood when he was able to receive guests by having a small flag hoisted to the roof of his home. It the flag flew over Little Woodcote, Durand’s friends knew he was home and that he would provide them a fine meal and lively conversation. If the flag was not flying over Little Woodcote, then Mr. Durand’s friends knew he was not receiving guests.

Dear Regency Authors, if you are in need of a rural or pastoral setting near London for one of your romances, the area around Carshalton might be just the place. It was only ten miles south of the metropolis, there were a several fine estates in the area, with extensive grounds, not to mention a number of walking/hiking trails through a verdant countryside. Tourists might walk over some of the extensive parklands, or, if the owner was away, might even be able to take a tour of one or more of the manor houses in the area. Naturally, any of those manor houses could offer a charming setting for a country house party. Of particular interest for a romance novelist might be the "sea cave" grotto and the orangery at Carshalton Park. Either one might make a beguiling setting for a romantic tryst. Many country sports were also available in the Carshalton area, including hunting, coursing, fishing and boating. Impromptu horse races might even be run over the grounds of the Earl of Derby’s Oaks estate. Might the reclusive sportsman, Mr. Durand, have a role in your story? Mayhap one or more of your characters knows about the flag flying at Little Woodcote and joins one of those sporting dinners. Then again, perhaps one of your female characters has come to Carshalton to drink the waters of Anne Boleyn’s Well, in the hope she can finally conceive a much-wanted child. Are there other ways in which one or more of your characters might take advantage of some of the rural features of Carshalton?

Next week, an account of the commercial and industrial aspects of the village of Carshalton.

About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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3 Responses to Carshalton:   Rural and Picturesque

  1. fascinating! I confess if I want a rural setting, I tend to make up a fictitious place using the idiom of the local county [more old Norse elements in the East for example, and Roman ones on the main Roman roads and of course a different profile of trees in different places] but it’s nice to have real ones as well especially when they feature legends or special wells or engineering wonders. The old pronunciation -horton will be from the Norman French labial insufficiency which often confused l and r, which is why Mary becomes Mally or Molly, Sarah becomes Sally and so on.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      When I began reading about Carshalton, I realized that it had a great deal to offer as a setting. It was a thriving village close to London, readily accessible via the stage coaches or private carriages, not to mention all the sports and other activities available in the area.

      Thank you for explaining the “-horton” pronunciation. I was wondering how that could have happened.



  2. Pingback: Carshalton:   Commercial and Industrial | The Regency Redingote

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