Oaks Park was formerly part of a much larger estate of about 180 acres and was the site of one of the great 18th century sporting country houses in England.
It was here that 12th Earl of Derby and his friends established the two prestigious horse races in The Oaks and The Derby, which now take place at Epsom Racecourse. The Oaks was also the scene of a famous Fête Champêtre in 1774 (a rural festival) to celebrate the betrothal of the Earl to Lady Betty Hamilton. No expense was spared and it was attended by the great and the good of Georgian Society.
After having several different owners, the estate was acquired by Carshalton Urban District Council in 1933 and was developed as a public park and a golf course. By a deed of October 1945, the Urban District Council covenanted with Surrey and London County Councils the use of the park and declared the land to be part of the London Green Belt around London.
Following a major fire, the house was demolished between 1956-60 leaving only the bakehouse and outbuildings, some of which, namely the former Stable Block and the Grotto, are Grade II listed in recognition of their importance.
In 2009, an excavation was carried out by a local archaeological team and the Friends of Honeywood Museum to locate the tops of the foundations of The Oaks house itself, which had been covered by the meadow land of the park. This enabled the site of the house to be marked out on the grass in chalk. Then, with the help of public realm funding from the Local Committee, a number of interpretation boards were commissioned around the park explaining the history of the park. In September 2009, 19th Earl of Derby visited the park to open the markings of the site of the house and he planted a commemorative oak tree. In return, he gave us one of the Derby’s racing colours, which resides in the Honeywood Museum. The chalk markings had faded but are being reinstated.
A further archaeological excavation was carried out in 2011 to try to locate the famed cockpit reputed to have been built into the floor of one of the rooms in the east wing. Unfortunately, no trace was found of the cockpit, but the dig served to increase our understanding of the building.
Books and links for further reference
Paul Williams: The History of The Oaks Volume One: The Stanley Years.
The History of The Oaks Volume Two: The Victorian era to modern times.
Both books are available from Honeywood Museum, Carshalton.