COUNTRY HOUSES AND GARDENS
People behind Oxfordshire’s Country Houses and Gardens Dr Oliver Cox Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Thames Valley Country House Partnership Project.
Stonor Family, 2016
Oxfordshire is a county full to bursting with brilliant country houses and beautiful gardens. From the baroque bombast of Blenheim Palace, the French chateau style of Waddesdon Manor through to the intimate setting of Kelmscott Manor and Sulgrave Manor, and the inspirational Waterperry Gardens, Oxfordshire delights the senses and contains stories that capture the history of Britain from the medieval to the modern. There are architectural marvels. Waddesdon Manor and Blenheim Palace are two architecturally adventurous buildings that pushed boundaries in terms of their scale and their lavish interior decoration. Yet, just like in Downton Abbey, the real stars of the show are the people and personalities who lived upstairs and downstairs in Oxfordshire’s country houses.
Stonor Park, set deep in the Chilterns in a deer park with mature beeches has been home to the Stonor family for over 850 years. The mansion, which has evolved over time and responded to different fashions from the 12th to 19th century is just part of the story. Within the walls of the Stonor dramatic changes occurred that shaped modern Europe. The Reformation swept across Europe in the sixteenth century, creating a new type of Christianity called Protestantism. From the reign of Henry VIII onwards, Protestantism became the authorised Established Church in
Another Oxfordshire radical was the pioneering Arts and Crafts designer and political activist, William Morris. His country house, Kelmscott Manor, on the banks of the River Thames, was the inspiration for producing his most memorable patterns that still decorate homes around the world in the twentyfirst century. From ‘Strawberry Thief’ to the Kelmscott Press editions of William Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, William Morris created a design aesthetic, inspired by the beautiful landscape around the village of Kelmscott, which endures to this day. Morris, described as ‘a man whom history will never overtake’ combined his artistic talents with a passion for socialism.
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England. The Stonor Family, at great personal risk, remained Catholic. In June 1581 the family gave refuge to a leading Oxford academic and Jesuit, Edmund Campion, who printed in Stonor Park a wildly controversial pamphlet, Rationes Decem, which gave ten reasons why the Catholic faith should be preferred to the Established Church. Today you can still visit the room where Campion, evading arrest as a traitor, printed this incendiary pamphlet. Campion was captured one month later. He was brutally tortured for three months before being hanged, drawn and quartered.