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‘Executioner’s’ Axe Found During Conservation Assessment At West Horsley Place

An unexpected discovery has been made during assessment for repairs to the historic Grade I listed West Horsley Place – and it looks like an executioner’s axe!

The Axe discovered in an attic at West Horsley Place.

A team of experts assessing the most immediate conservation needs of the house, which was placed on the Historic England At Risk Register in 2016, found the axe among debris in a derelict and unused attic room.

A spokesperson for West Horsley Place said: “Although there is no record of executions having taken place at the house, since Norman times beheading has brought about changes in ownership of the manor house and its surrounding 380-acre estate, starting in 1388 with the execution of Sir James Berners, charged with misguiding King Richard II.”

The spokesperson added that In 1536, King Henry VIII handed ownership of West Horsley Place to his cousin, Henry Courtenay, who is known to have entertained the king and his retinue to a 35-course lunch in the Stone Hall, only to be convicted of treason and beheaded two years later.

And following the execution of her husband in 1618, Elizabeth Raleigh achieved her unlikely wish of retaining Sir Walter’s severed head in a “red leather bag” that she kept by her side at all times for the rest of her life, including the four years (1643–47) she spent living with her son, Carew, then the owner of West Horsley Place.

West Horsley Place.

Peter Pearce, director of the Mary Roxburghe Trust, the charity created to rescue and restore West Horsley Place, said: “With a long line of illustrious owners, including royalty and members of the Royal Court, it is perhaps not surprising that beheading, the punishment reserved for those of noble birth, has played its part in the history of West Horsley Place.

“But discovering an axe here was quite a shock! It has since been sent to an historic weapons expert for analysis.

“As we take steps towards rescuing and restoring this enchanting house of significant historic and architectural interest, we look forward to unravelling more of its extraordinary past.”

West Horsley Place is an ancient estate separating the villages of West and East Horsley. The central features of the estate are the house known as West Horsley Place, and eight Grade II listed buildings and structures in its immediate vicinity.

All are of significant historic and architectural importance but are now in a very bad state of repair.

Bamber Gascoigne in the library at West Horsley Place.

In 2014, West Horsley Place was inherited by historian Bamber Gascoigne from his great aunt, Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe.

To rescue and restore it, and to enable the public to enjoy and benefit from the estate, Bamber and Christina Gascoigne wish to establish there a vibrant centre for the performing and visual arts and for the teaching of crafts.

West Horsley Place features this Tudor staircase.

In 2015 Bamber and Christina Gascoigne established The Mary Roxburghe Trust, with charity status, and generously transferred ownership of the entire estate to the trust.

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