Visit to Wrotham Park 2014
In November 2014, 44 members of the Society were shown round the ground floor rooms of Wrotham Park in two groups by the estate's Archivist, Mr Charles Dace. What follows is Mary Cook's account of the visit.
Having passed the entrance to Wrotham Park innumerable times over the course of very many years, it was pleasant to go through the huge gates and enter the grounds. The mansion looked impressive, surrounded by lush parkland. We were greeted outside by Mr. Dace, who told us the history of the building. It was designed in 1754 for Admiral John Byng and took three years to build. Unfortunately, it is doubtful whether the Admiral ever lived there as he was sadly executed in 1757 for dereliction of duty. Due to inadequate equipment, he failed to relieve Minorca from the French and was unfairly held responsible for this.
The house was then inherited by his nephew George. A number of Georges lived in the house over the years, two of them being noted for enlarging the estate and building extensions such as bringing forward parts of the frontage and adding a third storey and one for acquiring many treasures. There was a disastrous fire in 1883 but fortunately most of the contents were removed to safety and the fabric of the house was intact.
We entered the house and were shown the Entrance Hall, Library, Saloon, and Dining Room among others, all of them very splendid. Mr. Dace told us that he spent a whole year cleaning and restoring the 4000 or so books in the Library. What a task! The rooms were all sumptuously furnished and looked very comfortable. However, as you can imagine, the up-keep of such a building is horrendous - the cost of cleaning the curtains in the Saloon alone was £7000! The view from the front windows was extensive and Borehamwood could be seen in the distance. Mr. Dace told us the family history illustrated by the numerous portraits of the Byng/Strafford family, some painted by very well known artists.
A very impressive staircase led to the upper storeys and again, there were statues and numerous portraits lining the walls. The house and grounds have been used by film and television companies over the years - a notable film being Gosforth Park. It can also be hired for conferences, social events, weddings etc., all of which help to offset the cost of the upkeep of the mansion and estate.
It was a most enjoyable occasion, especially as we were told so much of the history of the family by Mr. Dace. Very many thanks to him for this and also to Mr Robert Byng, the present owner, for allowing us to visit.