CULHAM COURT

FOR A HOUSE just 38 miles from the centre of London, Culham Court enjoys as glorious and unspoilt a setting as can be imagined. Standing on a gentle slope above the river about two miles (3km) from Henley, it commands a 180- degree panorama of the Thames Valley in which barely a building is to be seen, a view that is as pristine now as when Culham was completed in the early 1770s. Better still, Viscount Hambleden, grandson of the second W.H. Smith, who bought the Culham estate in 1895, gave protective covenants over land on both sides of the river to the National Trust, safeguarding the landscape in perpetuity. Culham Court comes not only with a mile and a half of Thames frontage, with the towpath on the opposite bank, but an estate of 650 acres that has almost regained its 18th-century boundaries, thanks to judicious purchases by the (previous) two owners.

1760: The Culham Estate was bought by Richard Michell -

He had married an heiress with extensive sugar estates in Antigua. He repaired the existing mansion, but after a fire caused by the “carelessness of workmen” he decided to rebuild on the present site.
Recent research by John Martin Robinson in the Smith archives has produced a detailed specification for the house by the architect Stiff Leadbetter, who designed Nuneham Courtenay, near Oxford. As he died in 1766, Dr Robinson thinks the job was taken over by Sir William Chambers, designer of Somerset House, which is set equally splendidly on the Thames in London. Drawings by Chambers for “Mr Michell’s house” dated 1770 were sold at Christie’s in 1811 but cannot now be traced. I would like to introduce a third candidate as architect, as there are a series of features in the house that point to Sir Robert Taylor, who designed nearby Harleyford Manor on the Thames outside Marlow.

1770:  Act II Geo. III, c. 45 – The Culham Court Estate had privileges reserved.  No new towing paths, landing places or bridges were to be built there; and no “boat or float” was to be moored within 200 yards of any land or island belonging to the estate.
[ George III stayed there and presumably it was his friendship which enabled such a draconian act.  Leslie says –

It belonged in years gone by to the Cornwallis West family, one of whom, the Hon. R. West, here entertained His Majesty King George III for a night and a day.  At breakfast the host, knowing the partiality which His Majesty had for a particular breakfast roll, made only by Gunter’s in Berkeley Square, had these fetched from that shop and brought down by relays of horsemen all the way from town in time for the Royal breakfast, the rolls being kept hot by being wrapt up in flannel.  His Majesty only remarked on tasting them,
“Ah! Gunter, Gunter.  I am glad you deal with Gunter, West; nobody like Gunter.”
When he entered the house His Majesty wiped his shoes most carefully, and on Mr. West’s begging him not to take the trouble, he replied, “No, no, West, I am not going to carry dirt into any man’s house”.

Which is all very nice and cosy – but no mooring within 200 yards? – pardon me for breathing!
Actually this has rather been put right by gift of protective covenants to the National Trust mentioned above. ]
 

In 1771 Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys, whose eldest son married Richard Michell’s daughter Louisa, found the house “not finished” but with bed chambers “exceedingly convenient” and kitchens “all very clever”.

1793: Culham Court -

Culham Court 1793 Boydell

Culham Court.
June 1, 1793.  J. Farington R.A. delt. J.C.Stadler sculpt.
(Published)by J. & J. Boydell, Shakespeare Gally. Pall Mall &(No. 90) Cheapside (London).

1811: Mrs Lybbe Powys described another visit by George III, his Queen, princesses, 32 horses and “numbers of servants”, noting the King “always goes into every room”. When he startled a maid doing the flowers the monarch put on a naughty-boy expression saying: “Don’t be frightened — I won’t steal any one thing.”
 
1811: Culham Court from 'The Thames' -


Culham Court 1811

The Thames is no where more abundant in beauty, than between Henley and Marlow: while the river itself, as if sensible of the superior charms of its banks, lingers, as it were, in its course, by a greater variety and succession of meanders, than it any where displays, from its fountain to the sea.

Culham Court is among the ornamental objects which distinguish the Berkshire side of the stream.

The manor of Culham belonged, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth [I], to the family of the Nevilles: it was, in the beginning of the last century, the property of Serjeant Stevens, and latterly of Robert Mitchell, Esq. who erected the house, which, with the home scenery, forms the subject of the engraving.

On his death it descended to one of his two daughters, the co-heiresses of his property, who married the Honourable Mr. West, a brother of the Earl of De Lawarr.

From Henley, to this part of the river, the Berkshire side sinks in a comparison with the woody theatres of the opposite country: at Culham Court it recovers its former character, and at this place, Berkshire, which is full of landscape beauty, may boast of one of its most delightful prospects.

It is not of great extent, but embraces a variety of charming objects, and distinctly commands every thing it comprehends.

The mansion-house is an handsome modern building, and stands half way down an expansive irregular brow, with large, wide-spreading trees scattered over it, which gradually declines, in swelling and unequal slopes, towards the river beneath it.

To the right the view occupies the meads, through which the stream serpentines in superior beauty, with their rich and various boundaries.

Before it, and on the Buckinghamshire side of the water, is Medmenham, with its church, abbey-house, and upland farms.

To the left the eye advances up the enchanting vale of Hambledon, and finds more distant termination in the groves of Fawley.

From the high grounds above the house, there is a still more commanding view of the windings of the river, with Danesfield, the seat of Mr. Scott, on its shaggy cliff, and the less perceptible mansion of Hurley place, on the Berkshire bank.

On the same line of elevation, and in the same range of improvement as Culham Court, but receding rather more from the river, is Rose Hill, a very pleasant but singular villa, which belongs to the proprietor of Culham, and, in its original state, appeared to be an ornamental building in the grounds of the former. It was fancifully built in the precise form and arrangement of a Chinese habitation. It had its bells, its dragons, and spiral turrets, with all the gawdy colourings of that species of oriental architecture. These decorations it no longer possesses : it retains, however, its primæval distribution of apartment, and its single floor. It is placed in the recess of a wood, which forms two side screens that narrow the river from it, but it nevertheless commands several parts of that scenery which has been the subject of our description.

1826: The Henley Guide Full text & prints

Culham Court, the seat of the Hon. Frederick West, pleasantly situated on the banks of the Thames.

The manor of Culham, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, belonged to the family of Neville. It was some time ago the property of Serjeant Stevens, and afterwards of Robert Michell, Esq. one of whose daughters Mr. West married. Within the plantations at Culham, is Rose Hill, a house built in the Chinese style, by Governor Hart, and now the property of Mr. West.

In the year 1825, the following miraculous escape occurred at the farm house, at Culham Court. As Thomas, Appleby, aged 14 years, was drawing water from the well, about nine o'clock in the evening, he fell in, and was precipitated to the bottom, a depth of 48 yards ; immediate assistance was rendered, and the chain of the well was let down, which the boy caught hold of; when in the act of being drawn up, it unfortunately severed near the middle, and he was a second time precipitated to the bottom. Several ropes were then procured, and tied together, with a stick across the bottom, and a lighted candle in a lanthorn, about two yards from the end. The boy got across the stick, and was safely drawn up, and released from his perilous situation. Though slightly bruised, he received no material injury.

1828: Cullum Court, Henley-upon-Thames, Seat of the Honorable Fredk West.
W. Westall A.R.A. delt. R.G. Reeve sculpt. Published 1828 by R.Ackermann, 96 Strand, London -

Culham Court 1828 Westall
1828: Cullum Court, Henley-upon-Thames, Seat of the Honorable Fredk West.
W. Westall A.R.A. delt. R.G. Reeve sculpt.

1881: George Leslie -

Culham Court is a queer old, red-brick, Queen Anne house, uncomfortably perched up on a chalk hill.  I find I get to like this house better the oftener I see it, and indeed now almost admire it.
When I first saw Culham there was hardly any garden at all on the river front, as the park-like grounds ran right up to the house itself, which made it look more quaint and uncomfortable than even now.   Rather elaborate attempts have been made lately to pull up something round about its front, to hide, as it were, its nakedness, but it is not the place for a garden, and nothing can ever look comfortable on so steep a hill. …

 

Early in the 20th century Culham was home to the collectors who founded the Barber Institute of Fine Art in Birmingham and then to the newspaper magnate Cecil King.
 
For nearly half a century, from 1949 to 1996, Culham belonged to Felicity Behrens, wife of the banker Michael Behrens. They entertained writers and artists, including Edward Ardizzone, who did many sketches while staying here. They also employed Raymond Erith, the great postwar champion of traditional architectural values, to design garden terraces overlooking the river as well as a delightful flint-faced swimming pool pavilion with an exotic Pompeian-red mosaic interior.
 
Since then Culham Court has changed hands twice, most recently for £35,000,000

 

Culham Court 2006
Culham Court, 2006

One of the deep holes in the river near Culham, is named “Gleddie’s” or “Glady’s Hole”.  The legend as told me by the fishermen, being that here a very bad man of the name of Gleddie was drowned, and that as he sank, the bubbles that rose from him exploded in loud curses as they reached the surface.

[ As a small boat user on the Thames I cannot possibly imagine a fisherman noticing anybody else using bad language … ]

 
 
 
 
Upstream to Aston Ferry Slipway




Introduction
Estuary
PLA
QEII Br
Barrier
Tower Br
Custom Ho
London Br
; Frost Fairs
Cannon St Rb
The Great Stink
Southwark Br
Millenium Br
Blackfriars Rb
Blackfriars Br
Waterloo Br
Charing Cross Rb
Westminster Br
Lambeth Br
Vauxhall Br
Victoria Rb
Chelsea Br
Albert Br
Battersea Br
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Wandsworth Br
Fulham Rb
Putney Br
Hammersmith Br
Barnes Rb
Chiswick Br
Kew Rb
Kew Br
RICHMOND
Twickenham Br
Richmond Rb
Richmond Br
TEDDINGTON
Kingston Rb
Kingston Br
Ditton Slip
Hampton Br
MOLESEY
SUNBURY
Walton Br
Desborough Cut
SHEPPERTON
Chertsey Br
CHERTSEY
M3 Br
Laleham Slip
PENTON HOOK
Staines Rb
Staines Br
Runnymede Br
BELL WEIR
Magna Carta Is
OLD WINDSOR
Albert Br
Datchet
Victoria Br
Black Potts Rb
ROMNEY
Eton
Windsor Br
Windsor Rb
Windsor Slip
Elizabeth Br
BOVENEY
Dorney Lake
York Cut
Summerleaze Fb
MonkeyIsland
New Thames Br
BRAY
Bray Slip
Maidenhead Rb
Maidenhead Br
Below Boulters
BOULTERS
Cliveden
Hedsor
COOKHAM
Cookham Slip
Cookham Br
BourneEnd RFb
Quarry Woods
A404 Br
MARLOW
Marlow Br
Bisham
TEMPLE
HURLEY
Medmenham
Culham Ct
Aston Slip
HAMBLEDEN
Temple Is
Fawley Ct
Remenham
Regatta
Phyllis Ct
Henley Slip
Leander
Red Lion
Henley Br
Angel on Br
Landing
Hobbs Boatyard
Hobbs Slipway
MARSH
Hennerton
Bolney
Wargrave
Shiplake Rb
R.Loddon
SHIPLAKE
Sonning Br
SONNING
Dreadnought
K&A Canal
CAVERSHAM
Reading Br
Caversham Br
Reading Slip
Purley
MAPLEDURHAM
Hardwick Ho
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WHITCHURCH
Hartswood Reach
Gatehampton Rb
Goring Gap
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GORING
Swan
CLEEVE
Moulsford
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Papist Way Slip
Winterbrook Br
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BENSON
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R.Thame
DAYS
Burcot
Clifton Hampden
Clifton Church
Clifton H Br
Barley Mow
Long Wittenham
CLIFTON
Appleford Rb
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Sutton Br
CULHAM
Culham Cut Fb
Abingdon Slip
Abingdon
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ABINGDON
Nuneham Rb
Nuneham
Nuneham Park
Radley Boats
SANDFORD
Rose Island
Kennington Rb
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Iffley Mill
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Oxford Rowing
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Riverside Slip
Boathouses
Punting
Lower Cherwell
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Islip
Head of River
Salters Steamers
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Oxford Fb
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Weir stream
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Bullstake Stream
Osney Marina
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CANAL
Medley Weir Site
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Bossoms
Perch
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Godstow Nunnery
Godstow Br
Thames Br
KINGS
River Evenlode
EYNSHAM
Swinford Br
Oxford Cruisers
PINKHILL
Farmoor
Stanton Harcourt
Bablock Slip
Arks Weir Site
NORTHMOOR
Harts Fb
//Rose Revived
Newbridge
//Maybush
River Windrush
below Shifford
SHIFFORD
Shifford Fb
Tenfoot Fb
Trout Inn
Tadpole Br
RUSHEY
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RADCOT
Radcot Cradle Fb
Swan Inn
Radcot New Br
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GRAFTON
Eaton Hastings
Kelmscott
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BUSCOT
Bloomers Hole Fb
Trout Inn
St Johns Br
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Marina Slip
LIMIT
Inglesham
Hannington Br
Kempsford
Castle Eaton Br
Marston Meysey
A419 Br
Cricklade
SOURCE?
THAMES HEAD
SEVEN SPRINGS