The story of Coldharbour Gentlemen plays variations on the theme of continuity versus change; it evokes a world that appears timeless and stable but is in fact relentlessly disappearing. As poet Brad Kessler has said, ‘Wherever the notion of paradise exists, so does the idea that it was lost’. The estate of Jayes Park is not immune to this reality, though it has given perpetuity a good shot.
In the nineteenth century, various chroniclers were wont to claim that a Steere had lived at Jayes since the Conquest, but sometimes—as evidenced by the Lee Steere Steere of this story, formerly Lee Steere Witts—accommodations needed to be made to keep the streak going (see my post, ‘Steere. Lee Steere’ in the People section of this site). But there has been a Steere of Jayes at least since Elizabethan times, and I’m told there is still today. Over those centuries the family has expanded its holdings and preserved the past—at least in one form or another.
The main body of the house at Jayes is said to be Elizabethan, though from photos I have seen my untrained eye might call it Queen Anne. The front façade, however, which may be glimpsed from the roadway below, appears to be mostly Georgian. When John Timbs, writing in 1822, says that the owner has ‘recently completed a noble mansion’ (Picturesque Promenade, p. 202), he must be referring to this front because later photographs show the older house still clinging to the back of the Georgian wing. A tower attached to one corner of the Georgian section seems to be an early twentieth-century addition.
In Coldharbour Gentlemen, my fictionalised version of Lee Steere Steere ascribes the enthusiasm for building the Georgian part of the house to his fiancée. I have no reason to believe this to be true; it simply made sense for the character I was creating to lack an ambition for aggrandisement but to be agreeable enough to indulge it in his wife.
Young Harry Steer, when he visits Jayes Park, is much taken with the outbuildings—granary, stables, and garden wall. These erections are still extraordinary, but sadly for the accuracy of my tale they seem to have been built during the nineteenth century; so their presence at the time of Harry’s visit is a piece of artistic licence. But they were too delightful to omit, with their pseudo-medieval ornamentation and elaborately carved bargeboards, as may be seen in the images below.
11 October 2021
William Berry, County Genealogies: Pedigrees of Surrey Families (London, 1837).
William Cobbett, Rural Rides (London, 1830).
‘Jayes Park, Surrey’, dated August 4, 2014, at Handed On, https://handedon.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/jayes-park-surrey/.
Brad Kessler, Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, a Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese (New York, 2009).
John Timbs, A Picturesque Promenade round Dorking, in Surrey (London, 1822).
The Victoria History of the County of Surrey, edited by H. E. Malden, vol. 3 (London, repr. 1967).