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|Coworth Park Hotel|
|Location||Sunningdale, near Ascot, Windsor and Maidenhead, UK|
Coworth House, currently known as Coworth Park Hotel, is a late 18th-century country house situated at Sunningdale, near Ascot, in the English county of Berkshire. In 2008, its interiors were gutted and rebuilt to facilitate the house's new use as a hotel. The exterior facades were retained, but a new roof, while uniting the corps de logis and its later early 19th-century flanking wings, has marred the intended Palladian concept of the architecture. Coworth House opened as a luxury hotel-spa on 27 September 2010.
Coworth House dates in its oldest form from 1776, the sixteenth year of the reign of George III, the year Captain Cook embarked on his third – and last – world voyage, and the year the rebellious American colonists passed the Declaration of Independence. It takes its name from the surrounding hamlet of Coworth which until a reorganisation in 1894 lay in the parish and manor of Old Windsor. In the late Victorian era there was a Coworth House in British Columbia; and from the 1930s until at least the onset of the Second World War, The Coworth Stakes for two-year-olds was run over five furlongs for five hundred sovereigns at Hurst Park each July. The Devil's Highway, the Roman road running from London to Silchester, half a mile to the north, runs through the estate.
The land that Coworth House stands on was granted in 1066 by the saintly Edward the Confessor to Westminster Abbey. William the Conqueror regained possession of it from the Abbey in exchange for lands in Essex. Theoretically, the manor of Old Windsor still remains with the Crown. In 1606 it was leased by James I to Richard Powney, whose great grandson, Penyston Powney, was administering it in 1737. After his death in 1757, his son and heir, Penyston Porlock Powney, became the Crown lessee, and was still appearing as such in records when Coworth House was constructed in 1776.
The land on which Coworth House stands was conveyed in 1770 by William Hatch and Elizabeth his wife, who were presumably Powney's agents or sub-tenants, to one William Shepheard. No records survive to confirm as much, but in all likelihood it was William Shepheard who six years later constructed the dwelling seen today.
Shepheard was a prosperous East India merchant with offices in the City of London. He was the first of two men associated with British India to own the property. This was an era when the world anticipated making a financial killing in Asia – from the Court of Directors of the East India Company sitting in their ornate offices in Leadenhall Street, to the company's network of military and civil servants out East. One might add to this every member of the army [regardless of rank] the numerous independent merchants living in the three British Presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay – and the whole array of native Indian rulers ranging from Moslem sultans and Hindu rajas, to hordes of freebooters scouring the villages.
When Shepheard died about 1810, Coworth House passed to his son, also called William, whose executors sold it before 1836 to George Arbuthnot (1772–1843), a Scottish colonel who served in Madras. The 1841 census finds Arbuthnot sharing the house, perhaps as two distinct entities perhaps not, with the family of his nephew and son-in-law, John Alves Arbuthnot (1802–1875), a director of the London Assurance Company and of the London and Colonial Bank.
John Alves Arbuthnot was a son of Sir William Arbuthnot, 1st Baronet. He was born 3 October 1802 in Queen street, Edinburgh. He married his cousin, Mary (1812–1859), by whom he produced eleven children. He was the founding partner of the firm of Messrs. Arbuthnot Latham & Co. and was High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1873. He inherited Coworth House from his uncle and died here 20 August 1875 aged seventy-three, leaving a personal estate 'sworn under £400,000. He gave Coworth House – then called Coworth Park – to his daughters, 'for as long as more than two shall remain unmarried', then to his eldest son, William Arbuthnot (1833–1896) who at the time of his father’s death was living on the estate with his family at Park Lodge.
William Arbuthnot spent his formative years in India where in 1858 he married Adolphine, the second daughter of Edward Lecot, the French Consul at Madras. During that time, he worked for the family mercantile bank, Arbuthnot & Co., founded at Madras in 1810 and occupying the handsome pillared-and-pedimented Arbuthnot Building, replaced in the 1960s by a high-rise block.
Adolphine died in the year of her marriage. Seven years later, William married (Margaret) Rosa, the eldest daughter of John Campbell of Kilberry, Argyll, by whom he produced three daughters, Mary, Alice and Rosa, but no son. The family also owned a London town-house, No. 28 Park Crescent, an impressive curvilinear block of Nash dwellings overlooking Regent’s Park.
On Monday 9 June 1879, the Prince and Princess of Wales, the future Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, arrived at Coworth House from Paris to attend the approaching race meeting at Ascot. They are believed to have stayed as the guests of William and Rosa Arbuthnot for a week. They returned for another week in June 1883, again for the racing, and perhaps on other occasions also. By coincidence, some fifty years later, Edward’s grandson, the short-reigned Edward VIII, would occupy Fort Belvedere, Surrey, a property adjacent to Coworth House.
In 1883, William Arbuthnot sold Coworth House, moving to Ham Manor, Newbury, where he died, aged sixty-two, 9 February 1896. Coworth House was purchased from William Arbuthnot by William [afterwards Sir William] Farmer (1832-1908), chairman of Messrs. Farmer & Co. Ltd., Australia merchants, of No 48 Aldermanbury in the City of London. Framer, who was Sheriff of London 1890–1891, and High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1895, was Master of the Gardeners' Company in 1898. About 1899 he sold Coworth House to Edward George Villers Stanley (1865-1948), Lord Stanley, who in 1908 succeeded his father as 17th Earl of Derby.
The Derby family owed its rise to a treacherous ancestor who had switched allegiance from Richard III to the future Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, thus determining the outcome of the contest and the descent of the English crown. The 17th earl was one of the most prominent and popular men of his day. Although he was twice Secretary of State for War and served as Ambassador to France, he is best remembered as a luminary of the Turf and as a member of the Jockey Club. He thrice won the Derby, named after the 12th Earl, and thrice won the Oaks. The St. Leger was taken by his horses on six occasions and the One Thousand Guineas he won seven times.
Many good stories[clarification needed] are told of Lord Derby, including the following, which is surely apocryphal not least because he was a man of utter probity. He was spotted by a steward feeding one of his horses shortly before the start of a race. When challenged, His Lordship explained the substance was sugar, and promptly ate a lump himself to show that it was innocuous. 'Keep the creature on a tight rein until a furlong out, then let him have his head, He’ll do the rest'. His Lordship added, almost as an afterthought: ‘If you hear anything coming up behind you, don’t worry and don’t turn round, it will only be me’.
A county director of 1903 describes Coworth House as ‘an ancient building standing in a thickly wooded park’. As Derby also owned Knowsley Hall in Lancashire, his principal country-seat, and a magnificent London town-house in Stratford Place, St. James’s, Coworth tended to be occupied only during Ascot race meetings. The Derby landholdings in 1833 consisted of some seventy thousand acres in Lancashire, Cheshire, Flintshire, Surrey and Kent, but not a single acre in Derbyshire. The landholding produced a rent-roll of £163,273 p.a. the equivalent, perhaps, in millennium money to something in the region of £7 m.
Coworth House continued with Lord Derby until his death in 1948. It then became the home of his widow, Alice Stanley, Countess of Derby (1862–1957), the youngest daughter of the 7th Duke of Manchester, and a lady-in-waiting to her friend, Queen Alexandra. Lady Derby died there 24 July 1957, aged ninety-four. A month later her former home was advertised for sale in The Times; and at this or a subsequent date was converted to use as a Roman Catholic convent school. The next owner is thought to have been Vivian 'White' Lloyd, who died in 1972.
The entrepreneur Harold Bamberg it was who converted the house to multi-occupation use as offices. Bamberg was a director of the travel agency Sir Henry Simpson Lunn Limited (later to become Lunn Poly travel, then become part of Thomson Holidays) and chairman of British Eagle Airways. After the Second World War, he was one of several entrepreneurs, including Jack Jones and Alex Bristow, who pioneered the principle of cheap flights for all, and in doing so paved the way for Freddie Laker and his successors. Fittingly perhaps, given the closeness to the grounds of Smith’s Lawn, Bamberg was a patron of the game of polo, at which his son, Alex, was a promising No.1 for Eaglesfield.
- Geoffrey Tyack, Simon Bradley & Nikolaus Pevsner, ed. (2010). Buildings of England Berkshire. Yale University Press. p. 543. ISBN 978-0-300-12662-4..