|Roehampton University: Downshire House, Manresa House (Whitelands College), Mount Clare and Downshire Field||Wandsworth|
In the C17th and C18th Roehampton became a popular place for wealthy people to have country villas, whose fine houses set in grounds were built on the high-lying site. A number of these fine houses remain, including Downshire House, Manresa House and Mount Clare, the latter's grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. Much of their former grounds were built over for the Alton East and Alton West Estates but the houses themselves have been converted for educational use and now provide facilities for Roehampton University. Remnants of earlier garden features are found in the surrounding environment, including an C18th garden temple, a summer house and architectural balustrading.
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Photo: University of Roehampton
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Although the present Downshire House was built in c.1770 it is on the site of an earlier mid-C17th villa. When the extensive estate of Roehampton Park was broken up between 1770-88 the land was used for Mount Clare, Clarence Lodge, Templeton (q.v.), The Priory (q.v.) and Lower Grove House, as well as for enlarging the grounds of Downshire House and the Cedars (now demolished). A small part of the once extensive formal gardens of Downshire House remain today to the north, which includes brick walls, stone balustrades with pineapples and a hipped roof summer house by O P Milne. 'The Watchers' by Lynn Chadwick, 1963, overlooks the landscape.
Manresa House, built by Sir William Chambers (1723-96) in 1761-63, stands hidden behind the high walls in the Alton West Estate, the main front facing west across Richmond Park. An earlier house appears to have been on the same site from the C17th and the property has had a number of different names over the years. It was known as Parkstead House when it was built for the 2nd Earl of Bessborough, becoming Roehampton Park in 1832, Bessborough House in 1848-50 and re-named Manresa House in the 1860s after the house and part of the grounds were purchased by the Society of Jesus in 1861. The name refers to Manresa in Spain where the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, wrote 'Spiritual Exercises'. Changes were made to the house by the Society and it was used as a retreat and a teacher training college until 1962. It was later owned by the LCC and subsequently the GLC, becoming Garnett College and Putney Adult Education Institute in 1979. It is now Whitelands College, which was founded in 1841 by the Church of England’s National Society as a teacher training college for women, and was originally based at Whitelands, a Georgian property in Chelsea from where it gets its name. Whitelands is one of the oldest higher education institutions in England, pre-dating every university except Oxford, Cambridge, London and Durham. In the garden is the remains of an C18th garden temple; the garden has suffered from landfill to create playing fields, thus altering the relationship between it and Richmond Park.
Mount Clare by Robert Taylor, built in 1770-3, had gardens that were landscaped by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, but much of this has been covered by buildings. A temple from Manresa House, moved here in 1913, stands in the grounds of the principal's house at Mount Clare.
Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; Dorian Gerhold 'Villas and Mansions of Roehampton and Putney Heath' (Wandsworth Historical Society, Wandsworth Paper 9, 1997)