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Give me to view the wonders at my feet;
For such another scene the eye may never meet.

W. C. Smith

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Index

Jayes Park

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.

Jayes Park today. Copyright Colin Smith via Creative Commons, geograph.org.uk/p/2411778.

         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.

Outbuildings at Jayes Park with carved bargeboards; these were probably once stables. Photo by the author.
         The outbuildings are now let as offices, which makes me want to dream up a business enterprise and settle nearby! Perhaps the present owners of Jayes regret the necessity, however—to hearken back to the idea of paradise lost—so I should perhaps kerb my enthusiasm.
         The reformer William Cobbett travelled to Ockley in the early 1820s and makes a brief comment about Jayes (Rural Rides, p. 124): ‘At Ockley I passed the house of a Mr Steer, who has a great quantity of hay-land which is very pretty.’ Much of the Jayes property is on the Wealden clay, so it would not be suitable for crops that require a more well-drained soil—no matter how optimistic he may be in his discussions of crop rotations with Harry’s father. 
         One last note about Jayes, which may have sparked the curiosity of the attentive reader of Coldharbour Gentlemen: I have no reason to suppose it ever housed a ‘monstrous stuffed badger’ like the one Lee Steere Steere decides to give to Harry. That moment was a little private homage on my part to the original source of inspiration for the Darking Hundred series—Jane Austen’s unfinished novel known as The Watsons. Austen explicitly locates the action of the story in the neighbourhood of the market town of D.——, in Surrey, which can only be Dorking. It was curiosity about the setting of her tale that brought me to Dorking years ago, allowing me to discover the many intriguing stories chronicled in this series. In The Watsons, the good-natured heroine dances with a little boy at an assembly after his intended partner stands him up. He chatters to her about the great house in the area, Osborne Castle, and mentions among other amenities ‘a monstrous curious stuff’d Fox there, & a Badger’. I thought Harry would find them intriguing as well.
The old granary at Jayes Park. Photo by the author.
11 October 2021

Sources

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).

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