Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Caversham Court Gardens - Berkshire

Caversham Court is another of those places that fell foul of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

St Peter's Church was built during the 12th Century. A rectory was built alongside it, and following King Henry VIII's intervention it was gifted to Christ Church, Oxford. The rectory housed many influential local families over the next 400 years, and eventually became known at Cavendish Court.

The building had a chequered life. It came under attack during the Civil War. Later it was rebuilt in the Tudor style. Parts of the staircase and ceiling that sported bullet holes from the attack are preserved and can be viewed at the Museum of Reading.

The gardens were originally created over a 20 year period, commencing in 1660. In 1993, ownership of the house and gardens passed to Reading Corporation. The house was demolished but the gardens and other important buildings were opened to the public in 1934. When Reading Borough Council took over, they closed everything to visitors until the garden was reopened in 2009.

Caversham Court Gardens


Monday, 18 June 2018

Houghton House - Bedfordshire

We rarely detour anywhere to take in ruins, but sometimes the history of a place makes the journey worthwhile.

The Historic Houses Association tells us that Houghton House was built in the early 17th century by Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. It was intended as a hunting lodge. The design was neither one thing nor the other as it included both Jacobean and Classical features.

It lasted as a dwelling for close to 200 years, and is believed to be the inspiration for the ‘Palace Beautiful’ in the John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim's Progress.

It was dismantled in 1797, but rather than simply razing it to the ground, is was decided to keep the shell as attractive ruins and these were featured as part of the Ampthill Park.

MK45 2EZ

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Wickham House - Berkshire

Wickham House in Newbury, Berkshire, looks nothing like its original form. Originally a rectory was built on the site in the late 1700s. In the mid 1800s the Rector was one William Nicholson, an Irishman of some considerable wealth. First he totally rebuilt the nearby church of St Swithum, and then he turned his attention to the Rectory itself. During 1855 and 1958 he added a tower, large bay windows, a cloister, conservatory and finally a vinery. Other additions that he had were later demolished.

The house we see today is available for weddings, conferences and functions, and the gardens are opened to the public when it is deemed that they have something to show.
Wickham House

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Monday, 23 April 2018

West Woodhay House - Berkshire

The house is not open to the public, but the gardens are on occasions, and then they are worth a visit.

There was once a castle on the site, but there are no remains whatsoever. A medieval manor was next to be built, and again, no trace remains. The current West Woodhay House was built in 1635. It is credited by some to Inigo Jones, but was more probably built by Edward Carter.

West Woodhay House

RG20 0BS

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Welford Park - Berkshire

The area that is known as Welford Park has been occupied for well over 1000 years. There was a monastic lodge that belonged to Abingdon Abbey. This was usurped by King Henry VIII following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He put the manor to use as a hunting lodge. Welford Park is still known today as a deer park.
The house that now occupies the site was built in 1652 for Richard Jones, His Grandfather, Richard Jones (Lord Mayor of London) had bought the grounds in 1620, but had done nothing with it. An extra storey was added in 1700 under the ownership of John Archer, and it was further remodelled in 1840.
During the First World War, the house was used for convalescence. In 1954 it passed to John Puxley and it is still owned by his family. Welford is particularly well known for its splendid display of snowdrops, but there are other attractions, and the house is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday.

Welford Park

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Friday, 20 April 2018

Shaw House - Berkshire

Shaw House was built sometime after 1575 and was completed in 1581. It was built for, and owned by, Thomas Dolman. He had made a fortune through the cloth trade. During the Civil War, Newbury was the scene of two battles. Shaw House was used by the Royalists during the second battle.

In 1720 the house passed to James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos. He was known for his eccentricity. This must have been a family trait because the Second Duke bought a wife at a sale in Newbury. (Hints of the Mayor of Casterbridge). Anne Wells was a chambermaid in Newbury, so probably enjoyed the elevation to Duchess, all with no sale & return.

Anne outlived her husband and remained at Shaw House until her own death in 1750. The house was next sold to the Andrews Family, was later used as a school, but now belongs to the West Berkshire Council. It is open to the public and is also available as a conference centre.
Shaw Manor House

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Thursday, 19 April 2018

Nature Discovery Centre - Berkshire

Based on disused gravel pits at Thatchem, the Nature Discovery Centre is a good trip for all the family, not just children.

The main focus originally was to provide kids with a great day out, but as the popularity of the venue has grown, so has the intent to please all visitors, and so the site can be said to be a work in progress, especially if ambitious plans to improve the waterfront are approved.

The lakes features important reed beds, with a hide that allows the quiet and interested to investigate at close quarters. The surrounding area is marsh and heathland and abounds with wildlife.

The lakes are a welcoming host to over-wintering waterfowl, but later visitors include redwing and fieldfare, down for a visit from Scandinavia.  There are many moths and butterflies that are no longer common in towns and villages, especially the likes of the garden tiger, butterbur, waved black, holly blue, and gatekeeper. There are a variety of damselflies and dragonflies, interesting and uncommon beetles, and a host of wildflowers throughout the Spring and Summer.
Nature Discovery Centre

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