Wotton House

Wotton House

Wotton House, or Wotton, in Wotton Underwood, Buckinghamshire, England, is a stately home built between 1704 and 1714, to a design very similar to that of the contemporary version of Buckingham House. The house is an example of English Baroque and a Grade I listed building.

The grounds were laid out by George London and Henry Wise with a formal parterre and a double elm avenue leading down to a lake. Fifty years later William Pitt the Elder and Capability Brown improved the landscape, creating pleasure grounds with two lakes.

After a fire gutted the main house in 1820 Richard Grenville, 1st Earl Temple, commissioned John Soane to rebuild it. After the 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, the last direct Grenville male heir, died in 1889, the house was let to a succession of tenants.

In 1929 it was bought by Major Michael Beaumont MP who renovated it. In 1947 Beaumont sold the estate to a charity who divided the grounds into small parcels and let the main house to two boys' schools.

By 1957 the house had become derelict and was due to be demolished when Elaine Brunner found it and with the help of the architect Donald Insall restored most of the Soane features, her daughter and son-in-law David Gladstone have continued the work she started.

The South Pavilion (the former coach house) was sold separately in 1947. It has had a number of notable owners including Sir Arthur Bryant and Sir John Gielgud, and is now owned by former British Prime Minister Tony and his wife Cherie Blair.

History of the house

Armorials of Grenville of Wotton Underwood, Buckinghamshire: Vert, on a cross argent five torteaux

Since the twelfth century there had been a manor house at Wotton Underwood owned by the Grenville family. In 1704 Richard Grenville (1644-?) built Wotton House on a new site on a mound looking down to a natural lake. The design was very similar to that of Buckingham House which was built at the same time and later became Buckingham Palace. The architect is unknown, but Sir Howard Colvin suggested John Fitch; John Millar believes it could be by Elizabeth Wilbraham.[1][a]

In 1749 Richard Grenville, the elder brother of George Grenville (Prime Minister between 1763 and 1765), inherited Stowe House through his wife Hester, sister of Viscount Cobham. Wotton was then run in tandem with Stowe.

A fire destroyed the interior of the house in 1820 but the coach house and kitchen pavilion (the "Clock Pavilion") survived intact. Richard Grenville, Earl Temple (later Duke of Buckingham and Chandos), immediately engaged John Soane to restore the main house. Soane lowered the house, removing the top floor and reducing the height of the first floor windows, giving it a Georgian proportion. He made inventive use of the existing floor plans and created a three-storey, top-lit "Tribune", alongside a new stone staircase, in place of the old entrance hall.[2]

With its Soane interiors Wotton had a succession of Grenville occupiers until 1889, when the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, the last direct male heir, died, the house was let to a succession of tenants. It was rented and then bought by Michael Beaumont (MP for Aylesbury) in 1929 and had it renovated by the architect Arthur Stanley George Butler,[b] concealing all of Soane's detailing including the central three-storey tribune.[3]

When Beaumont moved to Kildare in Ireland,[4] the house was sold to a charity, the Merchant Venturers of Bristol. It was neglected down through the Second World War (when it was not requisitioned), but it was put up for sale shortly thereafter.[5] After the war much of the grounds were sold in small parcels and in the early 1950s the building was used by two boys' boarding schools, Wotton House Boys' School followed by Cokethorpe School (since relocated to near Witney).[6]

Restoration of the main house

Elaine (Mrs Patrick) Brunner purchased the main house and the Clock Pavilion from Buckinghamshire County Council for £6,000 in 1957, two weeks before it was scheduled for demolition.[7]

Brunner engaged Donald Insall Associates to carry out extensive work on the house, repairing the dilapidations, undoing most of the Butler alterations and restoring Soane's architectural details. However the central feature of Soane's redesign, the "Tribune", which had been destroyed by Butler, was still unrestored when she died in 1998.[7]

The house passed to April, Brunner's daughter and her husband David Gladstone.[7][c] The grounds are open to the public at least one day a week during the summer months, but viewing of the house is by appointment only.[6]

In 2007 David Gladstone held a conference at Wotton in an attempt to determine the name of the original architect of the house. The conference generated at least two follow up papers: Howard Colvin (2010) proposed that John Fitch may have been the original architect, and later the same year John Millar (2010) proposed that it may have been Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632–1705).[d][1]

Conversion of the Coach House into the South Pavilion

The original Coach House (later re-christened the South Pavilion) and the walled formal garden were purchased by Tristram Gilbert and Andre DuGuay shortly before Elaine Brunner purchased the main house. They restored both and lived there until about 1965. The walled garden was opened to the public. The South Pavilion was sold to Sir Arthur Bryant, the historian, and then to Sir John Gielgud who, photographs show, further restored it. In 2000 Gielgud died there. In 2008 it was bought by Tony and Cherie Blair for £4m.[8]

Other Languages