Fawley Court

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Fawley Court, circa 1826
From Views of the seats of noblemen and gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, Second Series, Volume III, by John Preston Neale, 1826

Fawley Court is a country house, with large mixed-use grounds standing on the west bank of the River Thames at Fawley in the English county of Buckinghamshire. Its former deer park extended east into the Henley Park area of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire that abuts it to the south. It is listed at Grade I for its architecture.

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

Under Edward the Confessor in 1065 the Domesday Book notes Earl Tosti held this land as the manor of Fawley, connected with the village itself which sits atop the hill behind.[1]

After the Conquest, Fawley Manor was given by William I to his kinsman Walter Giffard, who was one of the leading compilers of the Domesday Book. His steward Herbrand de Sackville was holding it when the book was compiled in 1086<ref=domesd/>, and the Sackvilles held it until it passed through the marriage of the Sackville heiress Margery, to Thomas Rokes, in 1477.

In 1616, Fawley was sold to Sir James Whitelocke, a judge who also bought adjoining smaller Phyllis Court and larger Henley Park. His son, Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, was a parliamentarian and judge who also owned much land in Remenham. During the Civil War, Fawley was the scene of fighting between the Roundheads and Royalist troops commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Since Bulstrode Whitelocke was a Parliament supporter, Royalist soldiers quartered in the house under Sir John Byron having ransacked it in 1642.[2]

The house was completely rebuilt for William Freeman, a plantation owner and merchant, in 1684.[3] The resulting house is a large square brick and stone house with two tall storeys, plus basement and attic. The symmetrical plan is ranged either side of an entrance hall entered from the west, with the identically-proportioned saloon beyond; the principal apartments and staircases are placed in equal-sized blocks on either side, projecting slightly on the west and east fronts. The stair hall in the southwest block opens from the entrance hall; it has twist-turned balusters typical of the late seventeenth century. The centres of the north and south fronts are slightly broken forward and capped with pediments. There is an Ionic entrance portico on the west front.[2]

During the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William III of Orange stayed in the house during his march from Torbay to London, and received a loyal declaration from peers and an address from the Corporation of London. Interior finishing was ongoing however as the plasterwork of the saloon ceiling bears the date 1690; bearing the arms of Freeman and of Baxter, William's spouse. Its confident bold relief tempted Geoffrey Beard to ascribe it to London plasterer William Parker, whose comparable work at Denham Place is documented.[4]

Following Freeman's death the estate passed to John Cooke his nephew, a merchant, dilettante and amateur architect, who under William's will changed his name to Freeman. He was an early member of the Society of Antiquaries, built the Gothic folly in the grounds and the Freeman family mausoleum in the village based on the design of the tomb of Caecilla Metella in Rome. He buried a time capsule of contemporary artefacts in a mound resembling a round barrow on the estate. These were rediscovered in the early 20th century when the site was excavated by archaeologists. Examples of its many day to day household items of the early 18th century are in the River and Rowing Museum in Henley.

Between 1764 and 1766[5] the grounds were dramatically landscaped for Sambrooke Freeman by Capability Brown. Shortly thereafter the architect James Wyatt, not yet made famous by his Pantheon, London, worked on decorations in new rooms in the house (1770–71), where doorcases and chimneypieces in Wyatt's early neoclassical style and the decoration of the Library reflect his presence. Fawley may have been Wyatt's first country house commission.[6] He also designed "the temple", a folly and fishing lodge, on Temple Island.[7] One of two drawings securely attributed to Wyatt that appeared at a Christie's auction, 30 November 1983, is for the interior of the island temple, which was the earliest essay in England of an "Etruscan" style,[8] its pale green walls painted as if hung with "antique" black and terracotta figured tablets and medallions. The drawing that accompanied it is for the Drawing Room ceiling, as executed.

Drawings by James Wyatt's brother Samuel[9] suggested to Eileen Harris that he was responsible for the barn with an apsidal end, which survives (with some nineteenth-century changes) at Fawley. The recent improvements at Fawley were praised by Mrs Lybbe Powys in 1771. The brick facades were stuccoed about 1800, and were restored with new brick in the nineteenth century. Both George III and George IV visited the house.

19th century to date[edit]

Strickland Freeman, the son of Sambrooke Freeman, wrote works on equitation and veterinary aspects of horsemanship and botany. A very progressive landlord to his agricultural tenants he participated in advancing farming techniques and practices deemed by some[who?] revolutionary.

Strickland Freeman died without a son and heir. This was basically the end of the Freeman line whose history and achievements in a relatively short time frame were indeed meritorious and make fascinating reading[10][clarification needed] The estate passed to William Peere Williams, a distant relative. He again respected William Freeman's will to be able entitled inherit and changed his name to William Peere Williams-Freeman. After extensive and lengthy litigation his heirs eventually put the estate up for auction.

Fawley Court was sold to the Scottish banker and railway entrepreneur Edward Mackenzie in 1853. He purchased and retired to Fawley following many successful ventures developing major stages of the railway network in France after the ill health and death of his partner and brother the famous civil engineer and railway builder William Mackenzie. Edward Mackenzie died in 1880, and the house was inherited by his son, William Dalziel Mackenzie, who commissioned the Lancaster architects Paley and Austin to extend the house. This took place in 1883, and consisted of the addition of a wing, containing a study, a billiard room, smoking rooms, and bedrooms, together with terraces around the house.[11]

It is reputed to have been Kenneth Grahame's inspiration for Toad Hall in his book The Wind in the Willows, written in 1908.[citation needed]

Fawley Court was requisitioned by the British Army and used in the World War II by special forces for training. Maurice Roe (b. 4/6/1917 - d.6/5/2014 - military medal 1945) was trained there as a radio operator prior to his insertion into France as described by the obituary on the Telegraph 26/6/2014. He served both as a commando and as a member of the SOE (special operations executive) and as a Jedburgh. It was left it in a poor state after the war. In 1953 the house and surrounding park were purchased by the Congregation of Marian Fathers, to be used as a school, Divine Mercy College, for Polish boys. At its peak the school catered for 150 boys, aged 9 to 19, mostly the children of Poles displaced during the Second World War who had found refuge in Britain. A notable pupil at that time was Waldemar Januszczak, the British art critic (born 1954). The house was severely damaged by fire in the early 1970s, but was rebuilt with the help of donations from the Polish community overseas.

Parts and location[edit]

The main building set five times its length away from the river, 600m along the 2112m Henley Royal Regatta course and has a private promenade covering approximately half of the course, adjoining its two small farms to the south.[12]

Its former deer park extended east into the Henley Park area of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, which has an even larger estate, but more modest buildings. The town itself adjoins to the south, with the considerably smaller Phyllis Court being the closest neighbour.[2]

A modern church was built on the grounds, funded by the Polish Prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł (husband of Lee Bouvier-Radziwill, younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis); he died in 1976 and was interred in the church's crypt. The school closed down in 1986 due to a lack of students of Polish origin, and the Marian Fathers converted Fawley Court into a 'Retreat and Conference Centre'.

In 2008 the Marian Fathers caused a controversy in the Polish community by placing the estate on the market by informal tender.[13] They had deemed that there was no longer any missionary need to fulfill and that the proceeds of the sale could be better applied elsewhere. The house was sold in that year for £16.5 million to a property investor; in 2011 the circumstances around this deal was the subject of a Supreme Court dispute.[14][15] On 31 August 2012 the Marian Fathers removed the grave of the founder of Fawley Court – Józef Jarzębowski from the burial ground. Despite his family objections and Polonia diaspora protests, they moved it from Fawley Court to Fairmile cemetery in Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire.[16]

Architectural listing[edit]

Fawley Court is listed at Grade I by English Heritage.[17]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Domesday Map. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c British History Online, s.v. Fawley"
  3. ^ Attributions to Sir Christopher Wren made by the local historian R. H. Whitelocke, Memoirs of Burstrode Whitelocke, and in the Victoria County History of England are not supported by documents or patronage connections and are ignored by recent architectural historians.
  4. ^ Geoffrey Beard, Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain(London: Phaidon) 1975:52.
  5. ^ Peter Willis, "Capability Brown's Account with Drummonds Bank, 1753–1783" Architectural History 27, Design and Practice in British Architecture: Studies in Architectural History Presented to Howard Colvin (1984:382–391), p. 387 shows payments from Sambrooke Freeman to Brown at Drummonds Bank totalling £347 7s between 10 April 1764 and 28 June 1766; in this instance the formerly undocumented tradition was right.
  6. ^ Eileen Harris and John Martin Robinson, "New Light on Wyatt at Fawley" Architectural History 27, Design and Practice in British Architecture: Studies in Architectural History Presented to Howard Colvin (1984:263–267), suggested p. 264.
  7. ^ Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architect, 1600–1840, 3rd ed. (Yale University Press) 1995, s.v."James Wyatt".
  8. ^ Robert Adam's first venture into an "Etruscan" scheme was in 1774 for Derby House, London; his most famous one was the Etruscan room at Osterley Park, Middlesex. (Eileen Harris, The Furniture of Robert Adam; Eileen Harris and John Martin Robinson, "New Light on Wyatt at Fawley" Architectural History 27, Design and Practice in British Architecture: Studies in Architectural History Presented to Howard Colvin [1984:263–267]; the authors offer evidence that Freeman's connection to Wyatt came through his Sambrooke relatives, his mother's family).
  9. ^ Among Freeman papers in the Gloucester Record Office among papers deposited by the Strickland family of Apperley (Harrisand Robinson 1984:265.
  10. ^ Fawley Court and the Freeman Family – 1971
  11. ^ Brandwood, Geoff; Austin, Tim; Hughes, John; Price, James (2012), The Architecture of Sharpe, Paley and Austin, Swindon: English Heritage, pp. 207, 234, ISBN 978-1-84802-049-8 
  12. ^ Fawley Court and Temple Island park and garden – grade II* – English Heritage. "Details from listed building database (1000390)". National Heritage List for England .
  13. ^ Forced to sell Fawley Court, Henley Standard, 25 April 2008
  14. ^ "'Toad Hall' house Fawley Court at centre of legal fight". BBC online. 11 July 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  15. ^ "Koniec sporu wokół Fawley Court". 25 April 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  16. ^ "Fawley Court campaign". 14 January 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  17. ^ "Fawley Court". Images of England. Retrieved 12 July 2011. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°33′06″N 0°53′52″W / 51.5516°N 0.8978°W / 51.5516; -0.8978