A Brief History of Grove House

From 1622 until circa 1790 Roehampton Great House stood on the site of Grove House; no image of this house is known but by 1674 it was the second largest house in Surrey.

In the eighteenth century fashions were changing and what the very rich wanted near London was a moderate-sized villa with pleasure grounds rather than a vast mansion and park. Somewhere between 1779 and 1793 the Great House was demolished and Grove House, designed by James Wyatt for Joshua Vanneck, was built.

After numerous changes in ownership, in 1851 the estate was inherited by Stephens Lyne Stephens who came to live at Grove House with his wife Yolande Duvernay, a Parisian ballet dancer. At this time the family were referred to as England’s richest commoners but were socially ostracized as, prior to her marriage to Stephens, Yolande had been the mistress of the Marquis de La Vallette - amongst others. On Stephens death in 1860 Yolande commemorated her husband by building a Romanesque mausoleum in the grounds; it was consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1864. Yolande was buried there in 1894 and the enclosed grounds contain the graves of the Claremont family who cared for Yolande after Stephens death, Henry Claremont changed his name to Lyne Stephens after being the beneficiary of Yolande’s will.

The formal gardens, lily pond, Venetian wellhead and limestone terrace were added in the nineteenth century by the Lyne Stephens.

The central feature of the landscape is the lake which dates back to the Great House; it was enlarged, to its current size, at the behest of Joshua Vanneck. The bridge to the lake is an exquisite folly, contemporary to Grove House and consists of a stone balustrade with three arches and Coade-stone urns. The lake freezes in the winter and the College archive hold accounts of skating parties at the end of the 19th century and ice hockey matches played out between the Royal Flying Corps, who were stationed at Grove House, in World War One.

Within the grounds is a curious man-made grotto, behind which is an icehouse. Known as ‘Rooks Grotto’, and built somewhere between 1895 and 1912, it included pathways, caverns and cascading waterfalls. It is made of a variety of natural and artificial stones, iron girders and concrete. It is possible that the grotto was built for Charles Louise Fischer, an American merchant of German/Swiss extraction who purchased the House in 1912 and immediately carried out extensive alterations. It is rumoured that the grotto was built against the boundary wall of the convent, behind, to deaden the noise of the chapel bells. It is more probable that it was built to disguise the disused ice house.

The icehouse was rediscovered in 1998 behind a bricked-up door. No date can be fixed to its construction but probably dates to the late 18th Century. Ice taken from the lake would have been ground into powder which, when rammed into the shaft, sprinkled with water and salt would remain firm as a rock in the following summer. It is currently the home of a colony of rare cave spiders.

In 1921 Dr Claude Montefiore bought Grove House for £29,750 on behalf of the Froebel Educational Institute for Froebel College. Many changes have been made to the house including enlarging the panelled dining room and adding new buildings in the grounds.