England

Bamber Gascoigne plans 'mini Covent Garden' for mansion gardens

Bamber Gascoigne and West Horsley Place Image copyright BBC/BRITISH LISTED BUILDINGS
Image caption Bamber Gascoigne inherited West Horsley Place unexpectedly last year

Broadcaster Bamber Gascoigne is planning an opera house like a "tiny Covent Garden" in the gardens of the Surrey mansion he inherited last year.

The 700-seat theatre at West Horsley Place, near Guildford, would be a new home for Grange Park Opera, currently based in Hampshire.

The former University Challenge quizmaster inherited the house from his aunt Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe.

He said the opera house plans were "absolutely thrilling".

Passed to trust

"I'm not directly involved in any way in running the theatre but it will look like a tiny Covent Garden in the back garden."

Gascoigne, 80, did not know his 99-year-old aunt had left him the house until he was contacted by his solicitor after her death.

Auctions of the duchess's possessions in London and Geneva earlier this year raised £8.8m.

Gascoigne and his wife, a potter, have no children and the property will be passed to the Mary Roxburghe Trust dedicated to the performing arts and teaching arts and crafts.

Image copyright Grange Park Opera
Image caption The opera house is planned for the gardens of West Horsley Place
Image copyright Sotheby's
Image caption Sir Thomas Lawrence's painting Satan As The Fallen sold for £122,500, more than four times its estimate

Gascoigne said he was approached by Grange Park Opera, whose lease at The Grange was terminated earlier this year.

"The opera company are going to be giving us an annual sum towards repairing the house," he said.

"Their being there will also make us better known and make the place live again.

"We want to do more than just restore the house - we want to make it a place where lots is happening."

If planning permission is granted, it is hoped the theatre will open in June 2017.

Guildford Borough Council said a pre-application had been submitted and it was talking with Gascoigne's consultants.

"A full planning application will be required and once received, the proposal will need to be carefully assessed," it said.

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