Vann – a Surrey gem

Vann is a family home between Chiddingfold and Godalming, owned by the Caröe family, whose gardens are open during the year. The late Mary Caröe told us its history back in April 2017.

Vann was leased by my late husband’s grandfather WD Caröe, the Arts & Crafts architect from the Godman Estate at Hascombe, in 1907 for the princely sum of £42 per annum. He did not purchase it until 1930. He was also architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners from about 1886 so much of his work concerned cathedrals and churches all over England and Wales. He was allowed to make whatever alterations he wanted to the house and was quite ruthless in his adaptation of the existing building in spite of his membership of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. But the works were done to a very high standard and incorporated some very special arts and crafts features for which he was renowned.

The name Vann is a corruption of ‘Fen’, a wet place, and that indeed is what Vann is. Our research has shown that there was a house on this site in 1198 listed as belonging to Elizabeth atte Fanne. The oldest existing central part of the house, a typical Surrey half-timbered building of wattle and daub with later brick in-filling, was built by the descendants of Sir Bernard Jennings (1415-85), MP for Guildford in 1446-7 and Mayor of Guildford in 1465,1474 and 1476. He may have never lived here but his great grandson Thomas is described ‘as of Fanne’.

The central part has been core-dated to 1540. It was a grand ‘hall house’ of the period and would have had a fire on the central floor and sleeping bays reached by ladders as one sees at the Weald and Downland Museum’s Bay Tree House. However even a wealthy family like the Jennings could not have afforded window glass and the windows carried vertical oak slats of which one set remain. They would have had waxed linen blinds to help keep out the draughts. Bernard was the great grandfather of Sarah Jennings, later Duchess of Marlborough thereby adding a grain of truth to the legend or false family tradition that she was associated with Vann. The house remained in his family until 1590 when it was sold by Thomas, who also owned Braboef Manor in Guildford (now the College of Law) and other local properties.

In 1608, Vann passed to the Vintners Company. I am told that the city livery companies bought properties as an investment at this time. It was held in trust for a Sarah Clarke from Battle in Sussex. She most certainly never lived here but her son Anthony did and bought and sold a nearby cottage from the More family of Loseley. In those deeds, he is described as ‘gentleman of the Manor of Vann’, the first record we have of Vann as a ‘manor’.

It was at this time in 1619 that the great central chimney was inserted and the house was then floored. In 1689 Clarke sold Vann to another Mayor of Guildford, John Childe (who built Guildford House). He was responsible for the addition of the William and Mary wing to the south. This three-storey building (and basement) comprises two handsome pine panelled rooms on ground and first floor still with their original Delft tiles in the fireplaces, and a fine oak staircase. The rooms are tall and well-proportioned with shuttered windows and window seats, wooden mullions and transoms and much of the original glass which is supported unusually by wooden saddle bars. There are two particularly charming bedrooms at the top under the eaves.

Childe’s eldest son, also John (born 1656), sold the house in 1722 and it was entailed in 1734 to Peter Myers. In 1735 another pine panelled room was added to the north of the original timber-framed house comprising a kitchen with a well below. There were several owners or tenants in the C18 including members of the Ford family who are buried in Hambledon churchyard.

In the mid C19, Vann was part of the large Sadler estate and was known as Lower Vann Farm with fields stretching to the south-east over what is now woodland. An architect called Pocock from Chiddingfold owned it in 1840 and added the lean-to at the front and bay windows at the back. Tom Sadler of Pockford sold to Joseph Godman of Park Hatch and Burgate and it was he who leased the house to WD Caroe, who set about major alterations to create a typical Edwardian country retreat, doubling the house in size with new kitchen quarters and offices.

He amalgamated the five C16 rooms and three staircase to create ‘the parlour’ with the original open fireplace and Jacobean crane and spit rack. He installed a C16 plaster ceiling from Vicar Pritchard’s house near Llandeilo, which he was given as a gesture of thanks for his campaign to prevent its demolishment for road widening. There were other additions made to the house including a dressing room with a domed ceiling to accommodate a rail so that he could do somersaults for exercise, and a magnificent mahogany-clad bath with eight taps.

He joined the barn, dated by dendrochronology to 1575 on to the house, with the cart sheds and pig-sty as the link. The house had electricity with a ‘battery room’, a very early example. WD Caröe held the post of Master of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers for many years from 1904. The pipe work was all in lead and each plumber had to label his length with a brass plate with his registration number. Woe betide that man if there was a leak. From the new 1907 wing a very attractive pergola of Bargate stone led out eastwards to the field pond.

There was five acres of garden with a crinkle crackle wall for fruit trees and a Yew Walk planted in 1909 and enclosing a dry stone walled rhyll fed by the stream from the hills above. The original plantings were roses but the depredations of the local deer population led us to remove these in 1970 and replant with foliage plants, less attractive to the wild life. In 1911 the Caröe’s friend and neighbour Gertrude Jekyll designed a water garden, damming the field pond to create a waterfall that descended into the valley with four ponds crossed by bridges and stone flagged paths to a second waterfall with the stream disappearing into the woodland beyond ‘grandmother’s White Garden’, a mass of snow drops in winter, and later fritillaries, martagon lilies and white flowered shrubs supplied by Miss Jekyll. She herself provided 1,500 plants from her nursery at Munstead to clothe the banks. These are listed in her note book number 24 that is now in Godalming Museum. Much of this original planting remains.

The house was only used for weekends until we inherited it in 1969 – no one had spent the winter here. Over the years, we have managed to restore much of the original planting and in addition have made changes, with island beds where there was a run-down market garden, double borders, and later in 2008, a ‘Centenary Garden’ to reduce the area for vegetables. We have planted up other areas to give added interest the year-round. There is a herb garden enclosed by a yew hedge where I have had some topiary fun – two cats and a mouse. At the front is the original ‘Old Garden’, a cottage garden with its original brick paths approached from the road through a yew arch. Sentinel yew trees and hardy fuchsias give structure here.

The house and garden now provide a wonderful family home for a third and fourth generation of Caröes and the gardens are open during the year. Please visit www.vanngarden.co.uk.

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