Chequered past of the Mansion at Moor Park Golf Club

PUBLISHED: 16:52 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:32 20 February 2013

by Robert Fortey

by Robert Fortey

Today, the Mansion at Moor Park Golf Club is recognised as probably the most prestigious 19th hole in the land, yet its majestic tranquillity belies a chequered past...

Today, the Mansion at Moor Park Golf Club is recognised as probably the most prestigious 19th hole in the land, yet its majestic tranquillity belies a chequered past which has touched many occupants of this and the original Palace of the More, as Martyn Pedrick discovers...

TakeRoyalty, add a crapulent cleric and a fraudulent fortune. Lace it with greed, lust, and a major wartime tactical boob, and you have a potent historical cocktail which is stronger than most.
The story of Moor Park in Rickmansworth goes back thousands of years when both Stone and Bronze Age man colonised it long before the Romans built their encampment on what is now the High Course.
The Manor of the More (as it was known) was granted to St Albans Abbey around 700 AD but it changed hands frequently before being restored to the Abbot by Henry VIII in 1515. Later, the tenancy passed to a new Abbot, the ambitious son of an Ipswich butcher. He is better known as Cardinal Wolsey, once thrown in the stocks for drunkenness, whose meteoric rise to fame and power was equalled only by the remarkable rate of his demise, due largely to arrogance and greed.
Prior to his occupancy, an impressive palace had been built a few hundred yards from where the mansion stands today. Wolsey frequently entertained his king here and it is believed that it was on one such visit that Henry first declared his love for Anne Boleyn.
The palace eventually fell into disrepair and it was the Duke of Monmouth who laid the foundations in 1670 for a new home which was eventually to become todays Mansion. Monmouth was in fact the bastard son of the rampant and dissolute King Charles II, the result of a dalliance in Paris with one Lucy Walters whilst he was heir to the throne.
Knowing that the illegitimate James could never take the crown, Charles ensured his sons future by arranging a marriage at the age of 16 to Anne Scott (14), heiress to the Earl of Baccleuchs fortune. Almost immediately, he was invested as Duke of Monmouth and, upon his coming of age in 1670, was appointed Captain-General of the Kings Forces, purchasing Moor Park by way of celebration.
A staunch Protestant, Monmouth was involved in the thwarted Rye House plot to overthrow Catholicism in Britain, and fled to Holland in 1683. Two years later, the death of his father saw his Uncle, James II, accede to the throne which Monmouth regarded as his birthright.
Together with just 82 followers he landed at Lyme Regis anxious to claim the crown, only to be crushed at the Battle of Sedgemoor. He was beheaded at the Tower of London, subsequently earning himself the unique pseudonym of Pretender to the Throne.
In 1720, Monmouths widow sold to Benjamin Styles who had amassed a fortune from the fraudulent South Sea investment company which collapsed, plunging thousands into financial ruin. He spent over 150,000 extending and cladding the mansion in Portland stone, creating pretty much the building we see today.
It remained in the Styles family until 1754 with its dignified and stately majesty standing, somewhat perversely, as a lasting monument to one of the most fraudulent financial ventures in the history of the nation.
Upon Styles demise, it was bought by Admiral Lord Anson who hired green-fingered svengali Launcelot Capability Brown to landscape the entire park at a cost of 80,000.
A later owner, Sir Lawrence Dundas, did much to improve the interior, his coup-de-grace being the engagement of J.P. Cipriani to paint Robert Adams ornate plasterwork in the tapestry gallery, now Moor Parks main dining room.
Future owners came and went, and it was not until 1828 that Moor Parks more pertinent history comes into focus. The purchaser was Robert, the second Earl of Grosvenor, later to become the first Marquis of Westminster. On his death in 1845, the estate passed to his third son who, in 1857, became the first Lord Ebury a title synonymous with Rickmansworth and the surrounding areas of Hertfordshire for more than 150 years.
The Grosvenors were to remain at Moor Park until the death of the second Lord Ebury in 1918. His heir put the mansion and grounds up for auction, with soap tycoon Lord Leverhulme emerging as the new owner. He commissioned designer Harry Colt to build three golf courses and recouped his money by selling building plots around the park (now the private Moor Park Estate).
It was under Leverhulmes auspices that Moor Park Golf Club was founded in 1923 and the courses and mansion are now owned by the members. The pride of the clubhouse is certainly the original hall a precise cube in shape with four major works by Venetian artist Jacopo Amigoni illustrating the legend of Io and Argus from Ovids Metamorphosis. The ceiling, with its false dome, is the only remaining work of Sir James Thornhill who was involved with the original dcor until arguments over payment resulted in his departure and, subsequently, a lengthy court case.
And the military cock-up? It was here that the wartime Operation Market Garden was planned otherwise known as the disastrous raid on Arnhem and the subject of a major movie A Bridge Too Far

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