View from the south east
Location within Reading
|Former names||Caversham Manor|
|Status||Grade II listed|
|Location||Caversham, Berkshire, UK|
The history of Caversham Park goes back to at least Norman times, when Walter Giffard, a distant relative of William the Conqueror, was given the estate after the 1066 conquest. The estate, then Caversham Manor, was a fortified manor house or castle, probably nearer the Thames than the present house. The estate was registered in the Domesday Book, in an entry describing a property of 9.7 square kilometres (2,400 acres) worth £20. The estate passed to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and Protector of the Realm, in the late 1100s. Marshall, who in his final years acted as de facto regent under the reign of a young Henry III, died in Caversham Park in 1219.
Later it was occupied by the Earls of Warwick. In 1542, it was bought by Sir Francis Knollys, the treasurer of Queen Elizabeth I. However, he did not move here until over forty years later, when he completely rebuilt the house slightly to the north. Sir Francis' son, William Knollys, the Earl of Banbury, entertained Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Anne of Denmark here.
Later it became home to the Royalist Earl of Craven. During the Civil War, the house was confiscated and used to imprison Charles I. Following the Civil War, the manor was demolished because of its poor state of repair.
William Cadogan, 1st Earl Cadogan started to have the house rebuilt in 1718. A friend of the Duke of Marlborough, he tried to rival the gardens at Blenheim Palace. The house burned down in the late 18th century and was replaced with a smaller house. This was enlarged by Major Charles Marsack in the 1780s, in the Greek temple style. Marsack was High Sheriff of Oxfordshire for 1787.
In his Observations on Modern Gardening of 1770, Thomas Whately described the approach to Lord Cadogan's Caversham as examplary, an artful solution to its restrictive setting "confined within a narrow valley, without views, buildings or water", He praises the unequivocal statement of being a road to a grand house: "The approach to Caversham, though a mile in length, and not once in sight of the house, till close upon it, yet can never be mistaken fo any other way than it is". "Crossing the whole breadth of a lovely valley; the road is conducted along the bottom, continually winding in natural easy sweeps, and presenting at every bend some new scene to the view ... insensibly ascending, all the way". It finally "rises under a thick wood in the garden up to the house, where it suddenly bursts out upon a rich, and extensive prospect, with the town and the churches of Reading full in sight, and the hills of Windsor forest in the horizon."
In April 1786, Thomas Jefferson, the future third President of the United States, visited Caversham Park and other places described in Whately's treatise in search of inspirations for his own gardens at Monticello and other architectural projects. An astute observer, Jefferson's account in his Notes of a Tour of English Gardens reads like this:
"Caversham. Sold by Ld. Cadogan to Majr. Marsac. 25. as. of garden, 400. as. of park, 6 as. of kitchen garden. A large lawn, separated by a sunk fence from the garden, appears to be part of it. A straight broad gravel walk passes before the front and parallel to it, terminated on the right by a Doric temple, and opening at the other end on a fine prospect. This straight walk has an ill effect. The lawn in front, which is pasture, well disposed with clumps of trees."
Jefferson undertook the tour in the company of John Adams, his close friend and predecessor as US president. Adams' observations are far more general. However, he gives a fuller account of the route they were taking:
"Mr. Jefferson and myself went in a post-chaise to Woburn farm, Caversham, Wotton, Stowe, Edgehill, Stratford upon Avon, Birmingham, the Leasowes, Hagley, Stourbridge, Worcester, Woodstock, Blenheim, Oxford, High Wycombe, and back to Grosvenor Square... The gentlemen's seats were the highest entertainment we met with. Stowe, Hagley, and Blenheim, are superb; Woburn, Caversham, and the Leasowes are beautiful. Wotton is both great and elegant, though neglected"
The present building, inspired by Italian baroque palaces, was erected after a fire in 1850 by architect Horace Jones who much later also designed London's Tower Bridge. Its then owner William Crawshay II, an ironmaster nicknamed the 'Iron King', had the house rebuilt over an iron frame, an early example for this technique. Jones inserted his seven bay block between two colonnades of 1840 by John Thistlewood Crew (called J. T. Crews by Pevsner and English Heritage) which apparently survived the fire.
During the First World War, part of the building was used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. In 1923 The Oratory School bought the house and about 120 hectares (300 acres) of the estate's remaining 730 hectares (1,800 acres). The principal of the school was Edward Pereira. The legacy of the estate's days as a school remain with a chapel building and graves for three boys, one of whom died in World War II in 1940, the other two having died from accident and sickness in the 1920s.
The residential area of Caversham Park Village was developed in the 1960s on some of the parkland.
With the onset of the Second World War the British Ministry of Health requisitioned Caversham Park, and initially intended to convert it into a hospital. However, the BBC purchased the property with government Grant-in-Aid funds, and moved its Monitoring Service into the premises from Wood Norton Hall, near Evesham in Worcestershire, in Spring 1943. The nearby estate of Crowsley Park was acquired by the BBC at the same time, to act as the service's receiving station. Caversham Park and Crowsley Park continue to function in that role today. BBC Radio Berkshire is also based at Caversham Park.
In major building works in the 1980s, the BBC restored the old interior, removed utilitarian brick buildings put up alongside the mansion during the war, converted the orangery for use as a listening room and editorial offices, and built a large new west wing. A further major building project in 2007–08 saw the west wing converted to house all of Monitoring's operational staff.
A large 10-metre (33 ft) diameter satellite dish was erected in the grounds in the early 1980s. Later painted green (rather than white) to reduce its obtrusiveness, it and the mansion house are prominent local landmarks, overlooking the Thames and the eastern part of Reading. Shortwave aerials in front of the house were removed.
In the 1980s, the formal name of the service was shortened to "BBC Monitoring".
- "Caversham Park (bbc Records), Reading". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
- Garats Hay. Annual General Meeting – 2000, retrieved 25 April 2011
- The London Gazette: . 10 February 1787. Retrieved 2013-09-16.
- Whately 1770, chapter XLV.
- Whately 1770, p. 144.
- Whately 1770, p. 140.
- Whately 1770, p. 142.
- Jefferson 2008, p. 370.
- Adams 1851, p. 394 s.
- G. C. Boase, Jones, Sir Horace (1819–1887) rev. Valerie Scott, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 (Subscription required)
- Royal Berkshire History: Caversham Park
- Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600–1840, London 1978, p. 240.
- Caversham Park on Past Scape, English Heritage
- Adams, John; Adams, Charles Francis (1851), The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: Autobiography, continued. Diary. Essays and controversial papers of the Revolution, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States 3, Little, Brown, p. 394
- Jefferson, Thomas (2008), Oberg, Barbara B.; Looney, J. Jefferson, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Digital ed.), Charlottesville:: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, p. 370, retrieved 14 August 2012
- Whately, Thomas (1770), "Chapters XLV & XLVI", Observations on Modern Gardening (Second ed.), London: T. Payne, pp. 138–144
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Caversham Park.|
- Royal Berkshire History: Caversham Park
- Royal Berkshire History: Caversham Hamlets
- BBC Monitoring, Caversham Park
- BBC Radio Berkshire