Oxfordshire is bordered by no less than six counties on all sides which often makes for more diversity within a county. Culture and even customs often intermix and because of a restructuring of municipal principalities in 1974 many of the mansions which lie along the Berkshire border and within Oxfordshire today, were once considered to be Berkshire mansions. The southeast corner harbors four mansions along the border and in this account are Fawley Court, Mapledurham, Stonor Park and Nuffield Place- the latter being the home of a different William Morris. Nuffield was his home for thirty years before he passed on in 1963 and it is filled to the brim with artifacts which illustrate his long career and life in the automobile industry. –The Castle Lady
Nuffield Place, located seven miles northwest of Henley-on-Thames, was recently saved by yet another fund raising campaign which is only fitting for the abode of one of the best loved philanthropists of recent English history. It was completed exactly 100 years ago before Lord Nuffield, otherwise known as William Morris, took the house for his own. He began a career as a bicycle repairman when he was practically just a lad and gradually built up his knowledge and tinkered around with mechanical apparatuses until he became a very well-to-do car manufacturer as the founder of the Morris Motor Company. Among the many cars he was responsible for bringing to the public, such as the two-seat Morris Oxford ‘Bullnose’ in 1913, the Mini is still among the makes which survive under BMC today as the Mini Cooper, redesigned by Alec Issigonis in 1959 so that it would have front wheel drive and a transversely mounted engine. As a result they were roomier than you might imagine if you have never been inside one. At one point Enzo Ferrari owned three of them !
After the time that he established his first shop at Longwall, Oxford in 1902 his enormous success as a car manufacturer mounted into incredible wealth but he kept to an extremely simple lifestyle (for a multimillionaire) and never lost his love of inventing. He established the Nuffield Foundation in 1943 with 10 million (and later 30 million!) with an eye to help promote social welfare and education way before England adopted a welfare state. More money went to support hospitals and medical research. With the money designated, he founded Nuffield College at Oxford University and other philanthropic projects.
Nuffield is unchanged from the period of time that William and his wife lived there. The furnishings are the same and their personal possessions still sit where they were left, which gives an authentic look at the simple way in which they lived and a perfect example of a 1930s country home. On a tour you can discover William’s love of mechanical workings, even in his bedroom which houses a multi-shelved closet with a miniature workshop equipped by a fascinating collection of hand tools. It was here that he would work on into the night doing delicate metal work! Almost everything in view is very familiar-looking.
On April 27th 2011 the Daily Telegraph announced the opening of Nuffield Place for the public to view with the headline ‘William Morris: the humble lifestyle of Britain’s great philanthropist revealed’. He, in fact, had the house expanded in 1933 when he moved in and redone in a very homey Art Deco style which reminds me of a Thomas Kinkade or Liliput Lane cottage! The architect was Oswald Milne who was tutored under Edwin Lutyens but ultimately the style which he leaned to was Queen Anne- a little behind the times. Nuffield’s tastes ran to Edwardian and his love of the style even shows in Nuffield College which can be seen on New Road at Oxford. Here, as at Nuffield College, you find pitched roofs, Cotswold tiles gables and dormers. Only some unusual bays give it more of a gingerbread appeal rather than Gothic Blois Chateau!
The interiors are a different story, however, where the preference for Edwardian styling really shows, especially in the public rooms. You’ll find his love of gadgets throughout the house, of course. The Hall is filled with clocks which he regularly attended and repaired and you’ll find some treasures in the sitting room featuring an HMV television from 1955. The drawing room has some curiosities as well. You’ll see a prototype of an iron lung on the tour which is a real study in the innovation of that time by comparison to the technology of the present.
Not far away, at Stonor Park which is not quite 5 miles north of Henley-on-Thames, this mansion sits above the Chiltern Hills in an expected seclusion- considering its present size. As the seat of the recusant Camoys for nearly nine centuries you would think that substantial medieval remains would still be in evidence but it was added to and modified many times over the centuries and is actually the result of modern additions for nearly every century that it has been in existence. The house at Stonor is still, at its core, a group of medieval buildings, however, with the first being an aisled hall possibly dating from the late 12th century and the original additions- a buttery (now a study), a 13th century solar, of course and the Chapel was originally built between 1280 and 1331.
When you approach Stonor from the south you’ll see that it has flanking ranges which impart a semi-circular appearance but it is, in fact, an E configuration. A new hall was added in the 14th century which was finished with a Tudor forecourt by the 16th century. By the 18th century the house was brought up-to-date with new red brick exteriors with Georgian windows and a Gothic proscenium graced with Elizabethan statues. The Chapel’s earliest inception was of flint and stone, with an even earlier brick tower along the southeast but now the interior is nearly modern with an 18th century restoration in fashionable Gothic Revival similar to those at Mapledurham and Milton. The stained glass windows were the work of Francis Eginton installed in 1797. During the Reformation Stonor sequestered the Jesuit priests Edmund Campion and Robert Parsons who lived and worked on the property with Campion’s Decem Rationes (Ten Reasons)secretly being printed on the premises in the roof space. ( A small exhibition on site illuminates his life and work.) When a raid took place on August, the fourth, in 1581 both priests had taken leave for several days but Lady Cecily and her son John and one Jesuit priest were imprisoned. In spite of this and further legal proceedings against the Stonors, they remained staunch Roman Catholic throughout the centuries allowing local villagers to attend Mass at their private chapel. A nearby stone circle site is prehistoric, imparting the name of the property and one original stone may be incorporated into the southeast corner of the chapel. Because of landscaping executed in the 17th and 20th centuries the current stone positions are corrected but it is listed as a folly in the official records.
The interior is filled with unique rooms which include family portraits, paintings by old Italian Masters and ancient European bronzes but the Long Gallery features three tapestries- one 17th century Flemish and a prodigious collection of Japanese ceramics along with more family portraits, memorabilia and papers previously unavailable for public display. The architectural development of Stonor is reflected mostly in the interiors if you keep your eyes trained for it but with recent renovations and decorative additions by the Stonor relations there is much more to see and makes for a wonderful interior tour. You’ll find the dining room hung with 19th century French wallpaper which depicts scenes of Paris as viewed from the Seine! All the wall interiors are in vivid colors and you’ll find the principal rooms along the main façade. Lord Camoys’ study has drawings by Tiepolo and Carracci and Venetian globes of the late 17th century. An interesting relief of silhouettes accompany the staircase leading to the bedroom floor. Lord Francis bedroom is the most unusual because of the bed which is shaped like a shell and appears to be floating on a sea of dolphins surrounded with chairs shaped like oysters. You’ll find the library magnificent with all the ancient artifacts, missals, prayer books and Bibles with busts of saints which line the shelves. Portraits and art abound here as well along with the size of desk I love the most. It is the type of room in which a long winter’s day can be improved by lighting a fire in the fireplace and cozying up with a nice book.
A walled Italianate garden is featured here along with spectacular views of the Chilterns from the former kitchen garden. The house is surrounded by beautiful hillside gardens containing splendid displays of daffodils, narcissi, irises, peonies, lavender and roses accompanied with an herb garden and shrubs. A foot path once used to drive sheep is ancient and if you follow it, you can view herds of fallow deer which at one time provided venison to the house and their guests.
Traditional English tea is served in the tea shop where you can organize your next private tour and lunch!
T-01491 638587 administrator ( Sue Gill)
Even further south, Fawley Court is seated just north outside Henley-on-Thames off Marlow Road right on the banks of the River Thames. This neo-classical restoration mansion, a large square red brick with two storeys, a basement and attic is quite pretty to look at from the outside- just as much as in the interior. L’environs de Fawley are equally beautifully laid out and idyllic with a canal which runs from the garden front down to the Thames. Fawley’s claim to fame is that Wren was the architect with the twinned saloon designed by Grinling Gibbons. Whether this is true or not, the features I will mention certainly appear in their preferred styles including a Tudor roofline. What was added later makes Fawley appear especially unique with an unusual white balustered veranda and galleried wings.
Rebuilt for Col. William Freeman in 1684, the red brick and light stone laced exterior is basically symmetrical along two sides of an entrance hall and entered from the west side. The saloon is situated behind the principal apartments with the staircases along the west and east wings and is the only original decoration to survive. The southwest wing staircase leads from the entrance hall upward with twist-turned balusters which were fashionable in the late 17th century. North and south projecting sides of the main block sport capped pediments but the actual entrance along the west has an authentic ionic portico (installed in 1799) with a full balustered veranda atop to beautiful effect.
More than likely, the actual architect was James Wyatt as his brother Samuel’s drawings were discovered by Eileen Harris and indicated that he was personally responsible for the barn which has a classical arched recess. You can see James’ late 18th century work, commissioned by Sambrooke (William’s grand-nephew), on decorations in later ground floor rooms in the house with thresholds and chimney pieces finished in his early neoclassical style. Interiors of the Library and Temple Island also show his signature ‘Etruscan’ style which were pale green walls draped with antique black and terracotta tablets and medallions. The Library’s ionic colonnade built into the sideboard recess was added in 1804 probably commissioned by Strickland Freeman, Sambrooke’s son. The former drawing room ceiling is confirmed to be James Wyatt fine plasterwork and is, in fact, a museum in and of itself with an Adams-styled ceiling. Between 1764 and 1766 the grounds were dramatically changed by Capability Brown before the restoration building took place.
John Cooke, Freeman’s nephew, also a merchant, dilettante and amateur architect became heir to the estate circa 1700 and changed his name to Freeman. He was an early member of the Society of Antiquaries and built the Gothic folly on the grounds and the Freeman mausoleum in the village. If you check it out you’ll find it is based on the design of the tomb of Caecilla Metella in Rome. John’s most unusual work was a buried time capsule of contemporary artifacts placed in a mound on the property. Rediscovered in the early 20th century during excavations these items are now in the River and Rowing Museum in Henley.
Royal visitations include William III of Orange in 1688 during the ‘Glorious Revolution” as an interlude to his march from Torbay to London, and George III and IV before the exterior was redone in stucco in 1800. Then, in 1853, the brick was restored by William Mackenzie whose father was a Scots banker and purchased Fawley Court that same year. He also added a new wing along the north side. After WWII Father Jozef Jarzebowski, a prodigious Polish migr, founded a college at Fawley Court making it possible for young Polish immigrants to study in England and be sequestered indefinitely after the Treaty of Yalta because they refused to return to their country under communist rule. Father Jarzebowski died in 1964 and being sainted, received a state funeral attended by thousands including heads of state and church. He chose his own spot at Fawley Court for his grave. After the Marian Fathers purchased Fawley Court in 1953 the house was used for some time as a boarding school but today the aforementioned drawing room is a museum with documents of the Polish kings, a collection of historical sabres and military objects relating to the Polish army. Part of the 12th century manor house has been used to display their collection of paintings, early books, numismatic collections, arms and armor. Their library consists of twenty thousand books. For decades Father Jarzebowski was interred on the grounds but litigation in 2012 caused him to be exhumed and his remains to be interred at a cemetery in Henley-on-Thames.
She was condemned to plain work
and to purling brooks,
Old fashioned hall, dull aunts and croaking rooks.
– Alexander Pope
Mapledurham, an enigmatic 16th century Elizabethan mansion, was a favorite visiting place of Alexander Pope, the famous poet of the 18th century, from 1707 to 1715. He was a lifelong friend of the daughters of Lyster Blount , Martha and Theresa, neither of which ever married. He wrote to them and wrote poems about them in ‘To a Young Lady with the works of Voiture’ and ‘On her leaving the Town after the Coronation’ attributed to Theresa when she was unable to attend George I’s coronation in 1714. Pope had a hand in the gardens to a large extent as he also did extensive landscaping at his own home at Twickenham. Seated a mere twomiles northwest of Reading, on a north bank elbow of the River Thames, it rests in a medieval enclave steeped in history.
Mapledurham’s beginning is associated with two manors, according to the Domesday book, which includes the equally famous and well-visited 15th century watermill which originally dates back to Saxon times. Of these three, the original manor is now used as the tearoom and gift shop, once in possession of Milo Crispin, the Lord of the Honor of Wallingford, during the days following the Conquest. Portions of the larger late medieval house remain within the enlarged manor, once referred to as Mapledurham Gurney, attributed to William de Warenne but the name came from an earlier inhabitant and acquired by marriage- male spouse, Gerard de Gournay. By 1270 it was passed down by marriage to the Bardolfs who held title and property for 120 years. Upon the decease of Sir Robert Bardolf in 1395, Robert’s widow’s nephew, William Lynde, inherited the manor in 1416. His grandson sold the house in 1490 to Richard Blount of Iver and it has belonged to the Blount descendants from that time.
In 1588 a Sir Michael Blount, lieutenant to the Tower of London (like his father Sir Richard who died in 1564), obtained a loan of £1,500 for restoring the manor house as it appears today and it was in keeping with his status of a high appointed official of Elizabeth I. Mapledurham was not finished in his time but his son Sir Richard saw to the completion by 1612. Richard also enlarged the estate by purchasing the smaller, older manor from Anthony Brydges. When the house was besieged by an army of Roundheads in 1643 many items inside had already been sold to pay off debts. It was sequestered for a time by Parliament but reacquired by Lyster Blount, a cousin to Sir Richard’s son Walter, in 1671. Lyster was only seventeen at the time !
In 1828 Sir Michael Strickland’s grandson Michael Henry employed Thomas Martin to replace much of the interior of the old manor and restored the exterior keeping to the Elizabethan integrity it was given back in the 16th century. His work was extensive, with further work in 1863, inside and out, striving to modernize the interior while faithfully restoring the H-plan exterior to its elegance prior to the Civil War. Today when you tour the interior you will see original plasterwork ceilings, grand oak staircases with an extensive collection of art and family portraits covering three centuries from the 1500s. The Gothic family chapel, which was built close to the banks of the Thames, was built late in the 18th century and is still well attended publicly. Agnes Mary Blount married Charles John Eyston and the estate has been passed down his line since the mid-20th century.
Mapledurham and its many outbuildings (34 listed medieval structures including the old stables, and almshouses) look fascinating from every angle but some of the best views are aerial photos. The Tudor architecture of the large manor is quite distinct with narrow, sharp angles, steep roofs, and pepperpot chimneys all clothed in a close wooded environment. The Great Hall was divided into entrance hall and reception rooms above, well worth viewing. Be sure to include the upstairs saloon in your tour which gives wonderful views over the park from the remaining front windows and the dining room for its art. According to my research this was the backdrop for Ozzy’s first album cover with Black Sabbath. You won’t find any images showing it off, however, on Mapledurham’s official web site. Better dust off that old record collection and take another look!
In late September of 2013 an annual fair took place at Mapledurham and replicas of the Mapledurham Watermill and Mapledurham Yew Tree Cottage were offered as exclusive Lilliput Lane models sold as a set for 34.95, only available to members of the Collectors’ Club who reserved them in advance and attended the fair.
http://www.london-unattched.com/2012/12/mapledurham-and-the-miller-english-artisan-food/#comment-73750 www.mapledurham.co.uk/visit.php for open times, directions and prices
The Castle Lady