The Prince’s Coverts and Jessop’s Well
Between Epsom and Oxshott is an area of woodland about a mile and a half long with the intriguing name of Prince’s Coverts. Enquiry has revealed that the prince in question was Leopold, who became King of the Belgians in 1831. The Prince married Princess Charlotte, the only child of George IV, in 1816 and the couple lived at Claremont Park, Esher, the estate having been purchased for them by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. Charlotte died in childbirth a year after the marriage.
In 1821 the Prince acquired a considerable area of common land to the south of Claremont to develop as a shooting estate. It had been attached to the manor of Stoke D’Abernon and was known as Stoke Common. Part of this land is now the woodland called Prince’s Coverts. On the death of Leopold in 1865 the Claremont Estate, including the addition, was acquired by the Crown and eventually broken up; however, the woodland and some of the farmland were retained, and Prince’s Coverts is now managed as mixed woodland by the Crown Estate Commissioners.
In the middle of the Coverts is a little square building with a hipped roof known as Jessop’s Well. It was built in the eighteenth century over a well with properties similar to those of Epsom waters. Clive of India bought the Claremont Estate in 1768, and according to a leaflet produced by the Crown Estate, ‘sold bottles of Jessop’s Well Water at 6d. each to the residents of Berkeley Square, where he also owned property’.
It is difficult to imagine the man of whom Horace Walpole wrote: ‘General Clive has arrived, all over estates and diamonds’, and who spent over £100,000 rebuilding Claremont, behaving in that way: the story is probably the result of a misinterpretation of an entry in the Claremont Estate account book which referred to bottles of the water being supplied to Clive’s town house. However, it conjures up an amusing picture of Lord Clive peddling bottles of water, and is not to be disregarded just for the sake of accuracy.
Although Prince’s Coverts is accessible to the public, they are not exactly made to feel welcome; a key has to be obtained from the Crown Estate Office at Windsor!