A history of The Oaks and Oaks Park
About The Oaks and Oaks Park
Entered from Croydon Lane or Woodmansterne Road
** New Book **
The Long and the Short of the Maid of the Oaks by Paul Williams
There has been a house at The Oaks since at least the 16th century. It was rebuilt in the mid-18th century as an Italianate 'villa' probably for the banker Thomas Gosling. The architect was most likely Sir Robert Taylor (1714-1788) who had close connections with the City of London, as he was a member of the Masons' Company and was elected Sheriff in 1782. Parts of the surviving stable block may be Taylor's work. The house was later occupied by the 12th Earl of Derby, who employed Robert Adam to rebuild it. However, the work was never completed, so that sections of Adam's castle-like design were left coexisting with Taylor's work. The Earl of Derby is thought to have planned the rebuilding for his wife and abandoned it when she left him to live with the Duke of Dorset.
The house was demolished between 1956 and 1960, leaving only the Bakehouse and a few outbuildings. The site of the house is still visible as a slight platform to the east of these (not to be confused with a much more prominent platform for an old tennis court down the slope to the north).
The framework of the existing park was created for the Earl of Derby in the 1770s. It was laid at in the manner of Capability Brown with a belt of trees around the perimeter and carefully placed groups of trees within this to produce the perfect 'natural' landscape. Brown worked on the Earl of Derby's estate at Knowsley but there is no evidence to connect him with the Oaks.
The original design was disrupted by the insertion of a tree lined drive across the centre of the park in the second half of the late 19th century (now used for car parking). About this time the park was divided by planting hedges across it and along the bottom of parts of the perimeter woodland. Some of these still survive. The park was acquired by the local authority in 1933 and the western half was turned into a golf course.
The gale in October 1987 was a disaster for The Oaks. Most of the mature trees were blown down and the shelter belts around the edge of the park were totally devastated. Many new trees have subsequently been planted.
There is a very attractive path through the shelter belt around the edge of the park. Very few old trees old trees survived the 1987 gale. The lower vegetation below the trees contains a great deal of holly, hawthorn and elm. The holly and the hawthorn were probably planted in the 19th century to provide cover for game. The elm has probably suckered back from mature trees killed by Dutch elm disease. It seems likely that the original shelter belt was primarily elm and beech.
The walled kitchen garden is set aside from the house in the usual late 18th century manner. It is in the upper part of a shallow dry valley and has been levelled by raising the ground in the centre.
The area around the greenhouse has been shaped into a Victorian garden with a lawn and scattered trees including some exotics. It seems likely that there were areas of bedding here in the late 19th century.
The area to the south of the café around the Croydon Lane entrance was evidently laid out as a garden in the 19th century. To the west of this there are the remains of a long greenhouse which dates from the second half of the 19th century. There is a tufa-lined grotto in the centre which may originally have been a fernery.
The walled garden lies through the woodlands beyond this. This is now a field surrounded by a brick wall. The kitchen garden was almost certainly created by the Earl of Derby in the 1770s. Some sections of the wall are probably of this age. The road is a later repair and much of the southern end was demolished by a bomb in the Second World War.
Returning to the café: the holly and yew along the road to the north appears to date from the 19th century. The outbuildings partly date from the 18th century and are the original stable block. The main house lay on the grass to the west of these. The site is still marked by a slight platform. Several of the yews along the west side of the house site are large enough to have been part of the 1770s layout. The shallow curving ditch to the north of the house site is the ha-ha which separated house and park. The platform to the north of this is an old tennis court.