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.
A memory of the park in the sixties from Kathleen Chilcott:
The Oaks Park – what a lot of lovely memories of vising it very oen when I used to live in Wallington ! Now I am in a care home in Manchester to be near my son and daughter.
How lucky we were to have the Oaks Park but also The Grange and The Grove, with Epsom Downs not far away, where “The Oaks” horse race was named aer the park.
I spent lots of happy mes at The Oaks where we were able to camp on a small site at the back of the park with the Guides, tesng the Guides for their camp permit. This allowed them to take their patrol camping on a supervised site for a weekend. Unfortunately, camping is no longer allowed at The Oaks but I believe Barbeque Evenings sll take place on the site.
I remember too the old mansion at The Oaks, used by soldiers during The Second World War. It’s not there now but I remember going to talks about what was le of the house and also lectures about plants at The Oaks Park Garden Centre, a hut just inside the main entrance. Down the lower end of the park, we used to go on birdwatching walks organised by the park staff
The nearby smallholdings were originally set up for people who’d been in the war, so they had a job to come back to – they could raise animals and grow crops to pay for their rent. Some very small houses were also built near one of the gates for people without a home aer the war.
The Oaks House may be gone, but the gardens sll remain, and we all hope they will be there for a long me to come. They are full of happy memories from my Guide Camp Weekends as well as from family days out – with my Mum and my own family. We send every support to The Friends in all they’re doing to nurture The Oaks for future generaons.