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The Grove, Watford

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The Grove, Watford

The Grove, set in 300 acres (1.2 km2) of parkland next to the River Gade, the Grand Union Canal, and the M25 motorway near Watford, Hertfordshire, England, was originally built as a home for the Earls of Clarendon.

It is now an hotel.



Excavations on the estate in 2002 revealed evidence from all periods of human cultural development. The earliest evidence of human activity is a Neolithic polished stone axe that was discovered in a small pit with the remains of a pot that appears to be of Middle Bronze Age. The first evidence of settlement consists of traces of oval and circular dwelling structures from the Early Bronze Age (around 4,000 years old). The Iron Age gives some pottery evidence but none of settlement. Two burials have been found dating to the Roman period, although they seem to be in the native rather than Roman tradition. Traces of Saxon settlement, rare in Hertfordshire, have been found. There are remains of at least eight grubenhause, sunken-floored buildings that are typical of this period. Medieval pottery contemporary with the building of the first manor house have been found in ditches. [1]

First references to The Grove

In 1294–5 John de Brittewell and Sarah his wife conveyed land and a third part of a mill in La Grava to Albreda de Brittewell and her two sisters Alice and Ellen. In 1324–5 Thomas de Harpesfield and Joan his wife held land in the demesne of St Albans at La Grava in the vill of Cassio, and the abbot released them from rent due for it. There is a monumental inscription in Watford church to John Heydon of the Grove, who died in 1400. John Rayner and Joan his wife conveyed the manor in 1481–2 to John Fortescue, John Sturgeon, John Forster, and Henry Heydon, for the use of John Fortescue. Owing to proceedings in the Court of Chancery the estate passed to John Melksham or Melsam, who died seised of it in 1487, leaving John his son and heir, who, in 1503 with his wife Elizabeth, granted it to Reginald Pegge subject to rent of £10. From Pegge the manor passed to his son William, who, with Margaret his wife and Geoffrey Oxley and his wife, late wife of Reginald Pegge, conveyed the manor in 1518 to William and John Heydon, who were probably descendants of the John Heydon who held the manor at the end of the fourteenth century. William Heydon died seised of it in 1545, leaving Henry his son and heir, who died in 1559, and was succeeded by his son Francis, who sold the manor in 1602 to Clement Scudamore. He sold it in 1631, with two water-mills under one roof, called the Grove Mills, to Sir William Ashton, from whom it passed to his second son Robert. On the death of Robert's son William without issue in 1703 the manor passed to Sir William Buck, grandson of William son of Sir William, the purchaser of the estate. He died in 1717, and The Grove came to his son Charles, who in 1728 sold it to the trustees of Fulk Greville, then a minor. He in 1743 sold it to Arthur Mohun St Leger, 3rd Viscount Doneraile, who conveyed it in 1748 to Charles Unwin, probably for the purposes of a settlement, for on the death of Lord Doneraile in 1750, without issue, it passed under his will to his cousin Elizabeth St Leger, afterwards the wife of Major Ralph Burton. On her marriage the estate was vested in trustees, who sold it in 1753 to the Hon. Thomas Villiers, second son of William Villiers, 2nd Earl of Jersey.[2]

Home of the Clarendons

The title Earl of Clarendon was first borne in 1661 by Edward Hyde. The title remained in the family until 1753 when the 4th Earl died. There being no male heir, the title did not pass on. The purchaser of The Grove, Thomas Villiers, had married the heiress to the Hyde family. He had been created Baron Hyde of Hindon in recognition of his diplomatic services in 1756, and in 1776 was raised to the dignity of Earl of Clarendon.[2]

The fourth earl was a statesman, diplomat (architect of the Quadruple Alliance of 1834), Lord Privy Seal, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, President of the Board of Trade, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Knight of the Garter, Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Regular guests included Queen Victoria, Lord Palmerston and Edward VII.[3]

Twentieth Century

The Clarendon family left The Grove in the 1920s, when it was used as a gardening school, a health centre (National Institute Of Nutrition and College Of Dietetics), a riding school, and a girls' boarding school.[4] It was the wartime headquarters of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway company, and then a management training centre for the British Transport Commission and later British Rail.[5]

The Hotel

The estate was sold in 1996 to Ralph Trustees Ltd, which extended the property and converted it to a hotel. Jeremy Blake, an architect with listed buildings and sustainability expertise, was appointed to undertake these works. The Grove is a former AA Hotel of the Year and was voted the UK’s Favourite Leisure Hotel by Condé Nast Traveller readers in 2008. It has 227 rooms, three restaurants, three bars and private rooms for parties, meetings and events.

The formal gardens were designed by the Chelsea Gold Medallist and judge, Michael Balston. Other features include an 18-hole championship golf course designed by the Californian Kyle Phillips, a spa, a health and leisure club, two large swimming pools, a croquet lawn, tennis courts, an OFSTED-inspected children's play area, a walled garden, woodland, meadowlands, a wetland area, two lakes, an urban beach and beehives producing Grove Honey.

In 2006, it was the venue of the World Golf Championship.[6] It was a suggested venue for the 2009 April G20 London summit.[7][8]

The 2013 Bilderberg Conference took place in the hotel.[9]


Shortly after acquiring the house, Villiers commissioned a series of architects to make alterations:

Matthew Brettingham (1699 – 1769)

Produced a seven-bayed southern front with two wings, facing Grove Mill Lane, between 1754 and 1761.

Sir Robert Taylor (1714 – 1788)

Made substantial alterations in the 1780s, demolishing the Brettingham wing with the family chapel and creating a Palladian two-storey mansion with Venetian windows and, internally, Italian plasterwork. The eastern front was designed in response to the new Repton-inspired drive, winding through the Gade Valley over a bridge and between lakes, which have all been restored.

He was also responsible for four fireplaces, one of which was destroyed to make way for a secretary’s desk when it was railway offices. A replica of the fireplace has been created within the restoration of the mansion.

Edward Blore (1787 – 1879)

Under the 4th Earl of Clarendon (1800 – 1875), the family’s increasing political influence and The Grove’s proximity to London meant that the family entertained more. The Earl commissioned Edward Blore to add a third storey to the house. He also created a grander ground floor and main staircase to make space to display the Earl’s large collection of Old Masters.


External links

  • Official website
  • Archaeology at the Grove 2002
  • History of The Grove, Archaeology at the Grove 2002
  • Preliminary investigations at the Grove, Archaeology at the Grove 2002
  • Stratigraphy and paleoenvironment, Archaeology at the Grove 2002

Coordinates: 51°40′38″N 0°26′11″W / 51.677325°N 0.43632°W / 51.677325; -0.43632

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