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1875 – Wadhurst Park, Sussex

Architect: E.J. Tarver

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The Maunser family built several houses on the site. A map from 1652 shows an Elizabethan manor house, half timbered and gabled, with outbuildings and a church. In 1870 the estate was sold to Cristobal and Adriano de Murrieta, two bachelor brothers of a wealthy Spanish family. Their married brother José made his residence at Wadhurst Park. The Murrieta forebears came from Santurce, near Bilbao, in the north of Spain, from where they had emigrated to South America. In the course of two generations they had amassed a great fortune by trading, especially with Argentina. Eventually they returned to Europe and settled in England, where “C. de Murrieta and Co.” developed into a firm of great importance. Don José was given the title of Marques de Santurce in October 1877 by King Alfonso XII in recognition of the many services he had rendered Spain. His wife was also Spanish, with her origins in Santurce. It was she who undoubtedly contributed a great deal towards achieving the high position the family held in English society. She was clever and fascinating as well as beautiful and a great favourite of the late King Edward VII.

Among the frequent guests at Wadhurst Park were Lord Randolph Churchill, Billy Oliphant, Lord Charles Beresford and Arthur Balfour, who often came to relax in the pleasant atmosphere at the Murrieta’s new family seat. Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, rarely seemed happier and more at ease than at Wadhurst Park.

All this lavish entertaining called for a big, comfortable house. After having bought Wadhurst Park in 1870 the family immediately engaged the English architect Edward J. Tarver to build a house on the site; incorporating an existing house to serve as domestic offices. The new house had high ceilings, a tower with an adjoining gallery and no less than five W.C.s. The Builder, May 19, 1877, shows an engraving of the central hall of the house and gives information about the house in general. The house was built by a Mr Shearburn from Dorking and had cost to date £12,000. In The Builder, April 12, 1884, Mr Tarver reported about new developments at Wadhurst Park. The house had been added to, a new bigger dining room had been created, the old one being too small for “such distinguished guests as The Prince of Wales”, as Mr Tarver put it. Wadhurst Hall was claimed to have been the first country house in England with several dining tables in the dining room. A long range of stables for summering hunters, new farmsteads, one called “Flattenden”, the other “Combe”, had been built, a chapel lined with reproduction Spanish tiles had been erected and a conservatory built to make the approach to the chapel under cover.

No wonder that Wadhurst Park was called “The Princely Estate” when it was offered for sale in The Times ten years later. In 1890 the financial house of Baring was thrown into crisis when Argentina defaulted on bond payments. The Murrietas were heavily involved with the Argentine Railways and lost their fortune in the aftermath of the crisis. Wadhurst Park had to be sold.