Robert Barclay (1751-1830) was a Southwark Brewer for many years before he moved to Bury Hill, as well as being part of a well-known Quaker family. He was born in America, in Philadelphia, being sent over to England at the age of 12 where he was educated at the Friends’ School in Wandsworth. He later went into the family business.
In 1781 Barclay, along with his uncle David, bought the Anchor Brewery from Mrs Hester Thrale. This was the beginning of Barclay, Perkins & Co. which the Barclay family were heavily involved in right up until 1955 when it merged with Courage & Co. The brewery was a monumental success, and by 1809 it was the largest brewery in the world, with an annual output of 260,000 barrels.
In 1815 Bury Hill was bought by Barclay, him having leased it since 1803, and it was kept in the family for 150 years. He soon began making many changes to the house and estate, being a keen gardener and botanist. He created pleasure gardens which included beautiful large lakes. More time was created for him to devote himself to the development of his lands when in 1812 he handed the responsibilities of running Barclay Perkins over to his eldest son Charles Barclays.
At Bury Hill, Barclay built hot houses for exotic plants and had artists draw some of his most rare species and then offered them to botanical journals. He also had artists record many buildings in Surrey he deemed notable, resulting in a collection of over 500 watercolours by John and Edward Hassall. These are now in the Surrey History Centre, although many can be viewed online also.
Barclay also applied himself to philanthropic causes, founding the first schools for the poor in the area, as well as supporting the emancipation of slaves.