There’s no plaque commemorating the spot, but by the corner of an old walled garden by Oaks Park was the location of a Smithy (a blacksmiths workshop). It was here that John Constable painted White Horse, a famous piece of art now in New York.
The Smithy was located at the junction of Fairlawn Road (now a path) and Croydon Road near to what is now the Oaks golf course.
Constable finished the celebrated oil named White Horse in 1819, aged around 43. The painting itself is set at Flatford in Suffolk, but Constable must have felt comfortable setting himself up at the Oaks to finish the piece.
John Constable is one of the Old Masters perhaps best known for his painting The Hay Wain – depicting a location at the border of Essex and Suffolk.
Constable often visited Woodmansterne (just up the road from the Smithy) as a guest of William Lambert, an old friend of Charles Bicknell, Constable’s father-in-law. It was a handy stop-off between Constable’s homes in Charlotte Street, London and, Brighton where he lived from 1824 until 1828.
The Oaks house itself, now demolished, at the time of Constable, was owned by Lord Derby. Lord Derby purchased the house and land in 1788 from William Lambert senior.
Below is a picture of the stable block, one of the few remaining parts of The Oaks house, and perhaps an indication of how the Smithy may have looked.
A source of income for John Constable was country house painting, though it’s not clear if he ever painted The Oaks. Also, to make ends meet, Constable took up portraiture, and although he found it dull he was known to have painted both Mr Lambert, and his children.
Constable died in 1837.
© Collating research, writing and current pics Secret Carshalton, Old images under Creative Commons license, British History Online