History 2

Park Place School, Remenham, Henley-on-Thames

History 2

By Kind permission of Woodpecker Books.

Park Place about a mile and a half from Henley, on the Berkshire side of the river, belongs to Mrs Noble and would scarcely be possible to find for its size a more beautifully situated property, with such a variety of scenery. The panorama presented from the house, terraced gardens and park, could scarcely be equalled in England. From the river and road below, the wooded slopes that crown the chalky heights form a fascinating picture of sylvan scenery, especially beautiful in autumn when Nature dips her brush in a true kaleidoscope of colour. The late John Noble, Esq, purchased the estate and mansion in 1869 from Mr Easton, together with another mansion called Temple-Coombe, which Mr Easton had built on a portion of the original park adjoining Park Place. The park contains some 900 acres.

Mr Noble almost entirely rebuilt the house in the French-Italian style, with a fine tower which commands splended views over the valley of the Thames. The whole house is filled with objects d’art and pictures too numerous to be given in detail in these pages. A list of pictures which form heirlooms of the mansion must be mentioned. George 11, in royal robes, full-length, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, another portrait of him, by Ballom; George 111, by Sir J. Reynolds; Queen Charlotte, by Sir J. Reynolds, these two were given to Lord Malmesbury, a former owner of Park Place, by the king; Princess Augusta, by Sir George Kneller; Princess Mary of Orange, by same painterl Princess Charlotte, by Dawe; Charles 1, one other picture must be mentioned, a copy of one at Buckingham Palace, representing Park Place in 1748, when it was the property of Frederick Prince of Wales, son of George 11, and which Mr Noble bought.

This place is described in an act of release of land in 1719, between Lord Archibald Hamilton ( then owner of Park Place ), and other referred to as ” Park Place “, alias ” Strouds “. Now this points rather to two sucessive families possesing it, and in examining Henley’s deeds, the name of Richard de la Strode attached to a seat of ” S. Ricardi de la Strode ” is found, undated, but from the names of witnesses, of great antiquity; in this he bestows a house in New Street extending to Aldefield ( now Northfield ), to Robert de Menme, ” pro homagio et servicio suo ” proving then feudal tenure.

Likely enough Richard de la Srode gave his name to ” Strouds ” in Remenham, allowing for the indifferent orthography or the time, ” Park’s ” the name occurs in a list of Henley mayors, or wardens, in 1591. Previous to Lord Archibald Hamilton’s purchase of Park Place, Mrs Elizabeth Baber, spinster, is mentioned as owning it. Lord Archibald Hamilton sold Park Place to Frederick Prince of Wales, son of George 11, about 1738, for that year they are stated to have gone up from thence to Reading by river, ” and greatly diverted themselves upon the Thames in their badge, and sailed up the Kennet as far as High Bridge,” probably a record of their first long excursion on the river here. The Prince and Princess lived at Park Place for several years, when the place was sold, after the death of the Prince in 1751.

General Conway, Henry Seymour Conway, son of the first Lord Conway, was born in 1720, educated at Eton; he entered the army, as aide de camp to the Duke of Cumberland at the battle of Dettingen, present in the battles of Loffeit and Fontenoy; he was taken prisoner after the latter. He was groom of the chamber to George 11, and afterwards George 111. About 1747, he married Caroline, daughter of John Campbell, fourth Duke of Argyle. She has been previously married to Charles Bruce, Earl of Ailesbury, and by him had one daughter, afterwards Duchess of Richmond. Lady Ailesbury retained her first married name after her marriage to General Conway with him she had another daughter, Anne, born in 1748, afterwards the Hon Mrs Damer, the sculptress of the heads on Henley Bridge. General Conway commanded the forces in Germany in 1761: dismissed in 1765, on account of his persistant resistance to rejection of corruption! He returned to London, and became M.P. and Secretary of State from 1765-1768, then returned to his profession: in 1782 became field marshal, in 1785, was Governer of Jersey. General Conway and his wife were devoted to their residence Park Place. He turned his sword as much as possible ” into a reaping-hook,” and we must now turn to the improvements he made, and one of the most notable was the bridge over what is called the ” Happy Valley, ” which carries the road from Henley to Wargrave. It was embellished by blocks of stone brought from the ruins of Reading Abbey. Horace Warpole, afterwards Lord Orford, was the intimate friend and connection of the Conways; he speaks of the building of this bridge in these words: ” Oct, 3rd, 1763, the works at Park Place go on bravely, the cottage will be very pretty, the bridge sublime, composed of loose rocks that appear to have been tumbled together there, the very wreck of the Deluge. One atone is forteen hundred weight and will be worth a hundred of Palladios’ that only fit to be used in an opera.” The engineer and adviser for this bridge building was the Rev. Humphrey Gainsborough.

The cottage is what is called the ” Chinese Cottage,” from paintings on the walls, and stands in one of the beautiful undulating hollows in the ground. general Conway bored a subterraneous passage at the head of the ” Happy Valley ” for 170 yards, which still exists. It is approached by an arcade of arches cut in the chalk, adorned with casts, fronting the lovely valley through which, at the extreme end can glimpse the silver Thames is obtained. Near the boathouse, at the foot of the bridge, the first Lombardy poplar introduced into England was planted by General Conway with his own hand; the slip was brought fron Turin by Lord Rochford in his cottage. To the east of the mansion a fine Cedar exists, planted by George 111, when resident with his father and mother at Park Place.

The boathouse with its picturesque gabled roof, is a well known and much admired object from the river. Above it is a museum of curious old carvings, china etc. The varied walks, with their exquisite peeps of the river and distant prospect, are too numerous to describe in detail. A piece of ornamental water, stocked with rare aquatic birds, is another attraction. On the summit of the hill near the house, commanding a fine prospect, is a summer-houde, once floored with horses teeth!

But the most curious object, now included in the portion of park alloted to Temple Coombe, a large white house built at the Wargrave end of the property, inhabited by members of the Noble family, is the Druids Temple. When General Conway was Governer of Jersey ,was digging on the Mont de la Ville, near St Heliers, with a view to making a drill-ground for the soldiers, this temple, buried apparently purposely, covered with a tumulus was found. It has been conjected that the Druids themselves concealed it to prevent their enemies the Romans profaning it. A Roman medal of the time of the Emperor Claudius, and another obliterated, were found in the earth about sixty five feet in circumference, composed of forty-five large granite stones, and contains six perfevt lodges or cells: is described in volvii of ” Archaelogia”.

The inhabitants of Jersey made a present of it to General Conway, who had each stone marked and replaced at Park Place exactly as it had been found in Jersey. it must have been an inconvenient, costly present, as it is said to have loaded four ships to bring over. The Temple Horace Walpole writes to the Countess of Ossory, in August 1785: ” I have been to Park Place ona pilgrimage to Little Master Stonehenge, alias the Druids Temple from Jersey, which is now erected on the bank of an eminent hill, with two wings of fir groves a small distance away, and is sen from the garden over a long ridge of firs that shoot up from the side of the beautiful descending valley seen in the horizon, it looks very high-priestly, and in that broken country may easily be taken for respectable ruins of an ancient castle or Caratacus own summer-house. Park Place is now one of the spots most deserving to be visited in our island.” An inscription in French is cut ona slab of stone, and placed among the stones of the Temple, describing its discovery and its presentation to General Conway. These verses, freely translated, run thus;

“For ages hidden from all mortal eye, this ancient Druid pile did hidden lie, oft did the priest to these rude Altar lead, the trembling human victim doomed to bleed, but here, this Temple will in future show, the grateful love with which our bosoms glow, that Caesen Father, and her chief, brave and attentive cam to her relief! Therefore, oh! Conway, to record that day, and wishing thy great valour repay. She caused this ancient fabric to be sent, as a just tribute to that great event.”

Caesarea was the Latin name for the Isle of Jersey
The mansion house of Park Place in the time of General Conway was not anything like so large as it is now, amd amongst some paintings belonging to the Powys Libbe family of Hardwicke Hall, Berks, is an amusing description of an unexpected visit from the Princess of Hesse, Count and Countess Zekany, and Count and Countess Ravehully, who arrived when dinner was finishing, and who stayed the night, causing the Duchess of Richmond and Mrs Damer to sleep in the attics to make room for them!

General Conway planted a lavender farm, which extended along the fields towards Marsh Hill. He built what is now called Woodlands, just under White Hill, as the distillery, and it was called Lavender Cottage. The plants were cuttings, slipped and prepared in the Autumn, planted by women, who bedded them in rows for two years, afterwards planted four feet apart and two feet distance in rows of Lavender plants from here were sent to Lord Orford in 1793 at Strawberry Hill.

Miss Conway, afterwards the Hon. Mrs Damer, as quiet as a child, betrayed a talent for modelling, laughing one day at a head model! by an italian Sculptor, she was rebuked by David Hume, then a visitor, when she at once modelled a head in wax singularly free of fault. She afterwards studied under Ceracchi, and in Bacon’s studio learned anatomy from Cruikshank. She married John Damer, eldest son of Lord Milton, afterwards Earl of Dorchester, in 1776. It was not a happy marriage, her husband was very wild, and ended shooting himself in a London tavern, in 1776, on his father refusing to pay £70,000 of his brothers debts. Mrs Damer became an eniment sculptress. Besided the heads on Henley Bridge she modelled an eagle, a statue of George 111, one of Mrs Siddons, a bust of Nelson, George 1V, Mrs Berry, Charles Fox, which latter bust she gave Buonaparte in 1790, busts of Lady E. Foster and lady Melbourne.

In 1793 Park Place was unroofed and unceiled, as General Conway, complaining calls it naturall the coldest house in the world. On July 9, 1795, General Conway was taken suddenly ill in the night, and died between 4 and 5 a.m. His widow, ladt Ailesbury, sold park Place the following year, 1796, to the Earl of Malmesbury.

During the residence of the Conways at Park Place a vast number of celebrated and distinguished people visited them, amongst them, Gay the Poet, and frequently Horace Walpole and the Misses Berry. Mrs Damer became the heiress of Horace Walpole, who was her Godfather, and inherited Strawberry Hill from him. She died at the age of 80, in 1828, and directed her will that the working tools, and the ashes of a favourite dog should be buried with her. Horace Walpole tells us, she was void of all ostentation and love. The head of ISIS on Henley Bridge was modelled from the likeness of her friend, Miss Freeman, of Fawley Court. Mrs Damer was the intimate friend of a vast number of illustrious people, notably Buonaparte and the Empress Josephine.

The first Earl of malmesbury, who now became possesed of Park Place, was the son of James Harris, the great literati, nicknamed, Hermes, on account of a work of his entitled, Hermes, or, a Philosophical Enquiry concerning Universal Grammer. The whole of the Hermes library was established in Park Place. The house was greatly enlarged by Lord Malmesbury from designs by Henry Holland. Lord Malmesbury was a distinquished diplomat, he had represented England as Ambassador at St Petersburg, the hague and Paris. The Emperor Alexander of Russia had a great regard for him, as evinced by his stopping at the Lodges in 1814, when passing through Henley, to inquire after Lord malmesbury, who was taken ill. During the Malmesbury possesion of Park Place, the Prince Regent was a frequent visitor, amongst others, Pitt, Canning, and many distinquished statesmen visited him, but he does not appear to have kept the garden as the Conways did, as Miss Berry, visiting Park Place with Mrs Scott fo Danesfield in 1811, complains of the gardens looking neglected and forlorn, but perhaps her own melancholy thoughts may have tinged the picture, for she had become engaged to G. O’Hara in that very garden some years before, a brief engagement soon broken by estrangement and absence, but deeply mourned by her.

In 1815, the Park Place property was sold to H.P. Sperling. Esq, who resold it in 1825, to E. Fuller Maitland Esq. At the death of Mrs Maitland, who survived her husband, the Place was sold by her son to Mr Easton in 1866. The place was for some time empty, and the housekeeper was left in charge of the house, one day a gentleman rode up, and presented her to view, some ladies now approached in a carriage, and went over the house, when the old servant, in showing the Royal pictures descanted on Queen Charlotte not looking plain as people said in her picture. The horror of the housekeeper can be imagined when the equerry placed a sovereign in her hand. the ladies had driven away and informed her that the visitor was her Majesty Queen Victoria