The earliest known references to Clare Park (or Clere as it was then known) date back to 1215, when grain was sent to Waverley Abbey, and 1246, when timbers were selected for building work in London. The origins of the name ‘Clere’ (also variously known as ‘Cleere’ and ‘Cleare’) almost certainly lie with the De Clere family who owned or rented the land from the 13th to 16th century.
The use of the area as farmland seems to have continued since then and the current house is on the site of a 15th century farm residence called Cleere Place.
The current mansion house
In 1697 the farmhouse and estate passed into the hands of William Harding, a merchant and sugar plantation owner in Barbados. On his death in 1707 the estate passed to his younger son, John Harding, whose widow, Elizabeth, commissioned the current house in the early 1700s.
During the next 150 years, the house and estate passed through many hands. In 1827, it was purchased by Major George Birch, an ex officer in the East India Company, who eventually changed the name to Clare Park. The house was lived in by three generations of the Birch family until with the decline of farming after the First World War they sold the estate to a local landowner, William Butler, who offered the house and 200 acres for sale.
The house was bought by the Scutt family in 1923 for use as a school, mainly for the daughters of parents working overseas. William and Mary Scutt moved their school from Bramley into the new buildings at Clare Park and for a while the school prospered. Their four daughters assisted with the running of the school with well-defined roles according to their talents. Following the deaths of their parents in 1937 and 1945, Ethel became the Headmistress, Mabel the Matron, Ida ran the catering and the youngest, Elsie, the dance, music and games. By 1962, the school had 200 pupils. However, financial difficulties caused by the need for property maintenance and new facilities meant that the school closed in 1969.
Up to the present day
In 1970, the property was purchased by a group of individuals who had established the Active Elderly Housing Association in 1968. Their aim was to convert the premises ‘into a suitable residence for active elderly people of reasonable means’ and an extensive conversion programme took place during 1970. Staff were duly appointed and by October 1971 the first residents had moved in.
In 2005, the charity changed its name from the rather dated ‘Active Elderly Housing Association’ to ‘Clare Park Private Retirement Residences’.