Park Place School, Remenham, Henley-on-Thames


Brief Description

Park Place is situated a mile east of Henley-on-Thames in the village of Remenham. It is a Grade 11 listed building, built around 1719, the stables also within Park Place are Grade 11 listed buildings. Park Place has had some very famous and prominent owners. From 1947-1988 it was used as a boarding school for children between the ages of 11-16, who suffered from Health or Emotional problems. The school catered for upto 65 boys at anyone time. It had a full complement of staff including, teachers, houseparents, nurse, cooks, domestics, caretaker and a visiting Doctor and Dentist. Despite several alterations, the present building was built in a French Renaissance style, and is set in beautiful landscaped gardens totalling 65 acres.

Detailed History

Previous Owners of Park Place

Lord Archibald Hamiton 1719, H.R.H Frederick Prince of Wales 1738, General the Hon Seymour Conway 1752, James Harris First Earl of Malmesbury 1796, Mr Henry Piper Spurling 1816, Mr Ebernezer Fuller-Maitland 1824, Mrs Fuller-Maitland 1858, Mr Charles Easton 1867, Mr John Noble 1869, Mrs Noble 1890, Middlesex County Council 1947, Hillingdon Council 1965, Owner 1989, Present Owner 2004……

Park Place dates back to 1719 when the present land that the house now stands was bought by Lord Hamilton who later became an MP and Lord of the Admiralty. The house was sold in 1738 to HRH Frederick Prince of Wales, the eldest son of George 11, who is ruputed to be responsible for the planting of the three magnificent Cedar trees standing at the South of the house. Frederick died in 1751 and the estate, which totalled 900 acres, was sold bt his wife, Augusta, in 1752 to General Henry Seymour Conway.

General Conway in his early military career didn’t improve on the property, but towards the end of his career in the 1780’s, he made many improvements to the property. He made substancial changes to the grounds including a major tree planting and landscaping programme together with the introduction of a number unusual objects in and around the Happy Valley area, now forming part of the adjoining Conway Bridge Estate lying east of the estate. These include the remains of an artificial Grecian ruin, the building of the Bridge at the bottom of Happy Valley ( built by The Reverend Gainsborough – brother of the artist and painter ) which still carries the main Henley to Wargrave Road, the remains of the Druids Temple brought from Jersey in 1785 during his period of Governer of Jersey, and the underground passage leading from the existing grounds into Happy Valley. A substancial grotto was excavated in the 1780’s at the far end of Happy Valley with six vaulted-tunnel entrances and a long vaulted room.

General Conway had the house partly rebuilt following a fire in 1768. General Conway died in 1795 and his wife, Lady Ailesbury, sold Park Place to Lord Malmesbury in 1796.

Henry Holland carried out further alterations for Lord Malmesbury, a politician and diplomat. Lord Malmesbury was visited by King George 1V at Park Place along with a number of notable people including Lord Minto, Frederick Duke of York, Sir Walter Farquhan, Lord Palmeston and William Pitt. Lord Malmesbury auctioned the estate in 28 Lots at Henley Town Hall in 1815 with the house being purchased by Mr Henry Piper Spurling in 1816 for £32,000. Mr Spurling only lived at Park Place a short while before exchanging the estate in 1824 for Norbury Park in Surrey with his cousin Mr Fuller-Maitland. It was at this time that the four oberlisks flanking the entrance were brought from Stansted Hall, another family estate. Also he acquired and erected the upper part of Christopher Wrens St Brides Church Spire, which was damaged by lightning. The spire still stands in the grounds adjoining Park Place Farm to the north east of the stable block, and was erected to commerate Queen Victoria’s succesion to the throne. Mr Fuller-Maitland died in 1858 and his wife remained a Park Place unto August 1865, this was about the time that apparently Queen Victoria visited Park Place with the intention of buying the estate, but this was not acted on. Park Place was sold im 1867 to Mr Charles Easton for £71,400.

In 1870, Mr John Noble bought Park Place and the following year, a major fire destroyed much of the interior of the main house. Mr Noble engaged the services of Mr Thomas Cundy to rebuild Park Place in a French Renaissance Style which took two years to complete. These included the addition of the balustraded terraces to the west side of the house together with the planting of the formal gardens. The present day stable block was constructed during this period along with planting of several thousand specimen trees and shrubs. Mr Noble also had the sinking of the existing well to a spring in the chalk strata 300 feet below the bed of the Thames. The 670 acre estate remained in the Noble family until 1947 when it was auctioned off in 28 Lots, at Henley Town Hall, the main house was bought by Middlesex County Council in 1947 for use as a residential school. On the formation of the new London Boroughs in 1965, Hillingdon Council assumed responsibility until it’s closure in the Summer of 1988.

From Berkshire by Nikolaus Pevesner, 1966, Yale University Press, New Haven and London

The present house is by Thomas Cundy, 1870, in a rather dreary French Renaissance Style with a tower over one corner of the facade and Pavallion roofs. This house takes the place of that of the Conway family, and the interst of Park Place is its grounds as beautified by General Conway, who bought the estate in 1752, in his time the grounds were 900 acres in size. To this period belong the handsculpted obelisk piers close to the entrance to the house, and the OBELISK W of the house, but not the seeming obelisk E of the house, which turns out to be the little top SPIRE of St Bride’s in the city, erected by Fuller-Maitland in 1837. Conway work also included the CYCLOPIC BRIDGE at the foot of HAPPY VALLEY ( now part of the grounds of a house of that name ). This was built in 1781-86. The stones were said to have come from READING ABBEY and are in fact much too cyclopean for that. Every stone, Horace Warpole said was placed by the general’s own direction. The stones came from fourteen different counties, and the bridge cost £2,000. On the side that are conglomerate and form vousoir stones. At he top of Happy Valley the GROTTO, six tunnel-vaulted entries into a cross tunnel-vaulted long low rooms with niches. Here also, it is said, stones from Reading Abbey were used. From here the Thames looks through the bridge as if it were immediately beyond. In fact there is plenty of space and e.g. a pretty early C19 COTTAGE with bargeboarded gables which was built as a boathouse. Yet a little further an estate called TEMPLE COMBE and in this the DRUIDIC TEMPLE, called by Horace Walpole ” little master Stonehenge”, a STONE CIRCLE found in Jersey in 1785 and brought over as a gift to General Conway in 1787. The stones were all re-erected accurately, and Walpole is right, as usual, when he calls the monument ” very high-priestly “. The circle stood originally on Mont de la Ville, St Helier, Jersey. In its original form the tomb was covered by a mound of earth revetted with drystone walling, but only the megalithic structure was erected in the park. In its present form it consists of a stone-built passage 15 ft long and 5 ft wide roofed with four capstones leading to a circular area enclosed by a ring of thirty upright slabs against which are built five cells roofed with capstones but open to the centre. The diameter of this circle is now 27 ft, although a contemporary plan made before its removal from Jersey shows it to have been originally 21 ft in diameter, Some slight additions appear to have been made to the monument as a number of the stones are of a sandstone unknown in Jersey but outcropping in Berkshire.

Recreation of a Georgian Family —— with thanks to Country Life —- March 24, 1960.

On the high plateau above Henley-on-Thames stands Park Place, a large imposing home heavy with 19th century ornamentation, imprisoned within this Victorian facade is another house, and it is this earlier 18th century building that we are concerned. Park Place was bought in 1752 by General Henry Seymour Conway, soldier, statesman and cousin to Horace Walpole. Although not such a paragon of everything excellent as Walpole described. Conway was a man of great distinction. Five years previous he had married Caroline Campbell, daughter of the Duke of Argyll and the widow of the Earl of Ailesbury. As was then the custom, she retained her husband’s title on her re-marriage. This second marriage turned out to be an ideally happy one, as Lady Ailesbury was intellectually Conway’s equal, besides being a woman as extraordinary beauty. Her beauty was bequeathed to Mary, her first child, by her former husband, later to become the Duchess of Richmond. Anne, the second daughter, by General Conway, received her share of the good looks, and a considerable talent for the arts. In the background moved Horace Walpole, following the activities at Park Place with the deepest interest.

According to the opinion of a friend who was a frequent visitor, Park Place was not particulary striking when acquired by the General, Caroline Powys wife of Philip Lybbe Powys, noted in her diary of 1762. ” We went to see Park Place the seat of General Conway one of the most Capital Situations in England. The house stands agreeably, but is to indifferent for the surrounding area—-“. During the first years ownership, General Conway could give little time to his home owing to his career. As his career faded, Park Place became a cherished thing, which as much time, money and devotion spent on it to satisfy any house, and in 1793, the year Conway was made field-marshal, major structural alterations were made. Before this however, constant improvements to the grounds took place, tree planting and landscape-designing were the major projects, and a number of strange objects began to make their appearance, to the great delight of Horace Walpole. On the Waegrave side of the park, a fault on the land has forced a shallow wide valley, starting from the top of the hill, and winding down to the river bank. It is known as Happy Valley, and towards the top are the remains of an artificial Grecian ruin designed by James (Artenian) Stuart. Almost completely obscurred by woods, shrubs and trees, its tumbled columns, and fallen busts, its cracked fountains and marble seats, give a macabre atmosphere of never-being.

A later owner constructed, out of wooden blocks used for printing wall-papers, a summer house, now roofless and bearing no signs to the jumble of stones near which it stands. To provide work for the men who had fought under his campaigns and then unemployed, the General decided to excavate under the hill so as to hollow out vast caves. These still exist, although the entrance, not far from the ruin, has fallen in. The inevitable shell grotto was supposed to have been erected near the spot, and at the edge of an unused track lie the bones of late-Victorian and Edwardian dogs, commemorated by miniture tombstones. The main Henley to Wargrave follows the river winding round the base of the steep Beech-tree covered hill, and is carried over Happy Valley, to an extremely narrow bridge, made from rocks fetched from the ruins of Reading Abbey. Conway’s bridge was yet another of the Generals whims. Being humped-nacked, it is highly inconvenient to 20th-century traffic. However, although nearly 200 hundred years old, it still carries modern vehicles. Walpole was delighted with the novelty and described the bridge as ” being composed of rocks that will appear to have tumbled together there the very the very week of the Deluge. One stone os of fourteen hundred weight, and to be worth a hundred of Palladio’s bridges that are only fit to be used in Opera’s.” He does not mention the architect, the Rev. Thomas Gainsborough, this was typical of Walpole, who seldom gave credit outside his own circle. Of all General Conway’s odd collestion, nothing os more extraordinary than the group of ivy-covered stones assembled in dolmen form about a quarter of a mile from main house.