Reviewed by Rachel Adams on 8th January, 2016
Mr Lack began by explaining how many of these great houses had disappeared in the 20th century,
particularly after the wars, due to the lack of funds, high inheritance tax and their use during
the wars by government departments as hospitals etc. Oxfordshire alone lost 13 since 1930 but
because of the involvement of the National Trust there is better survival and wealthy people
are now building and restoring properties.
Mr. Lack chose 4 houses to tell us about and to show lovely and interesting slides. The 4 were:
- Family house
- Jacobean Gem
- Dolls House
The first was Rousham house, owned by the Cotteral Dormer family since 1620 when the land was
bought by the Dormers, who built the house in 1635. In 1735 they asked William Kent to redesign
the house. He added two wings to the original house and a stable block. The interior of the house,
which is not open to the public, retains the 17th c paneling, original staircases, furniture,
paintings and bronzes. Rousham house remains as Kent designed and the gardens with its rills,
cascades and statues represents the first phase of English landscape design and again it is
exactly as Kent left it. Rousham is said to be Prince Charles' favourite country house.
The Palace, was Blenheim, built by Sir John Vanbrugh for John Churchill
as a reward from a grateful nation for his victory at Blenheim over the French and Bavarians during
the Wars of the Spanish Succession. It is the only non-royal — non-episcopal building to hold the
title of “Palace”. Soon after construction began, the building was the subject of political
infighting and Vanbrugh was eventually sacked and Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor completed the work.
The 4th Duke of Marlborough employed Capability Brown in 1764 to design the beautiful landscaped
gardens with the famous bridge we enjoy today. The King at the time was heard to exclaim,
“we have nothing like this at Windsor”
The Jacobean Gem, built 1607-12 was Chastleton House. The Chaucer family originally owned the land,
but in 1604 the house was sold by Sir Robert Catesby of Gunpowder Plot fame to Walter Jones a lawyer
and wool merchant. As the house was owned by the same family for 400yrs until acquired by the
National Trust in 1991 much of the interior furnishings have remained the same. The house is built
of Cotswold stone around a courtyard and its outstanding feature is the Long Gallery, which is
22 metres in length, here the family would play cricket on winter afternoons. This was obviously
a family fond of sport because the rules of croquet were formed here and a beautiful croquet lawn
lies in front of the house. A rare Bible- The Juxon Bible is an important treasure kept at the house.
It was said, to have been used by Bishop Juxon at the execution of Charles 1st,
therefore this was the last thing on earth to be touched by the King.
Finally, The “Dolls House” or Ashdown House which lies on the Oxfordshire/Berkshire border a
few miles from White Horse Hill. The Earl of Craven built the house for the “Winter Queen”,
Elizabeth of Bohemia, a sister of Charles 1st. but sadly, she never came to live there.
one of the most amazing slides we saw was of the staircase, which winds up and up through
several floors to the cupola on top of the tower where one can view the strange mysterious countryside.
The time ran out too quickly on such an interesting and entertaining lecture but it certainly
made us eager to visit these fabulous buildings.