Nuneham House

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Nuneham House from the River Thames

Nuneham House is a Palladian villa, at Nuneham Courtenay in Oxfordshire England. It was built for Simon Harcourt, 1st Earl Harcourt in 1756. It is owned by Oxford University and is currently used as a retreat centre by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. It is a Grade II* listed building.

Lord Harcourt demolished the old village in the 1760s in order to create a landscaped park around his new villa. He removed the village in its entirety, and recreated it along the main Oxford road (now the A4074). The house was built in 1757 by Stiff Leadbetter for the 1st Earl Harcourt, with the interior by James Stuart. Lancelot "Capability" Brown designed the landscaped grounds.

In the 1760s Oliver Goldsmith witnessed the demolition of an ancient village and destruction of its farms to clear land to become a wealthy man's garden.[1] His poem The Deserted Village, published in 1770, expresses a fear that the destruction of villages and the conversion of land from productive agriculture to ornamental landscape gardens would ruin the peasantry.[1] The Deserted Village gave the demolished village the pseudonym "Sweet Auburn", and Goldsmith did not disclose the real village to which it refers. However, he did indicate it was about 50 miles (80 km) from London and it is widely believed to have been Nuneham Courtenay.[1]

View of Nuneham Courtenay from the Thames 1787 by J. M. W. Turner, painted when he was either 11 or 12.

The house was altered by Henry Holland in 1781-2, including the heightening of the wings. In 1789 the 2nd Earl Harcourt re-erected the Carfax Conduit building in a prominent position in the park. It had had to be moved from Carfax in the centre of Oxford, where it was an obstacle to traffic.[2]

In 1904, after the death of Sir William Vernon Harcourt, Nuneham House was passed to his son, Lewis Vernon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt, known by many as "Loulou". He had just married Mary Ethel Burns, who was a niece of American financier and banker, J. P. Morgan. The estate inherited by the young couple was in need of major renovations, which they could not afford. For his niece, Morgan established a £52,000 ($260,000) line of credit at his London bank, which he told her did not need to be repaid. The Harcourts used these funds to renovate the old buildings and grounds.[3]

During World War II, Nuneham House and the park around it was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence and became RAF Nuneham Park. It was a P.R.I.U. or photographic reconnaissance interpretation unit. Examining the photographs taken by aircraft from RAF Benson and other airfields over enemy territory, were not only RAF officers but also small contingents from the Army, Royal Navy and the USAAF. Nissen huts and other, larger, buildings were erected adjacent to the mansion, including a camp cinema which villagers were welcome to attend. The RAF station continued after the war in the same role until the mid-1950s, when the added buildings and roadways were demolished and the estate handed back to the Harcourt family, who sold it to Oxford University.

The Harcourt Arboretum, part of the tree and plant collection of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, occupies part of what were the grounds of Nuneham House.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Rowley, 1978, page 132
  2. ^ Follies and Monuments website
  3. ^ Strouse, Jean. Morgan: American Financier. Random House, 1999. pp. 384-386. ISBN 978-0-679-46275-0

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Coordinates: 51°40′41″N 1°13′13″W / 51.67818°N 1.22041°W / 51.67818; -1.22041