One of the three great houses on the Henley Reach - Greenlands, Fawley Court and Phyllis Court.
Private Club, Right bank at Henley Royal Regatta finish
Phyllis Court Grandstand during Henley Royal Regatta
The present-day Phyllis Court is a stuccoed, Italianate mansion house on Henley's northern edge,
built in the early 1840s.
Set amidst sloping lawns which sweep attractively down to the Thames, it has been an up-market country club since 1906.
But the site itself is much older. Circumstantial evidence suggests that there may have been a small royal manor house or lodge here in the 12th century before the planned town of Henley was laid out, with grounds extending southwards into what is now Countess Gardens.
From the 14th century there was a house here called Fillets Court, whose name was gradually corrupted to Phyllis Court - the name Fillets derives from an Old English name for hay, and may originally have referred to the nearby meadows. This was the manor house for a sizable medieval estate called Fillets, which was merged with Henley manor in the 1650s.
The ancient house continued in use until the 1780s, when most of it was demolished. Fifteenth- and 16th-century owners who lived there included members of the Marmion, Hales and Masham families, and in the early 17th century Sir John Miller, who served as sheriff of Oxfordshire (1633-4), and also owned Henley Park.
James I's consort Anne of Denmark briefly stayed there in August 1604.
From the 1650s to 1768 it was home to the Whitelocke family and their successor Gislingham Cooper, owners of Henley manor.
In the Civil War the house became a Parliamentarian garrison, and was fortified with earthworks, a moat, and a wooden draw bridge. For a time it was commanded by its owner Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, a prominent (though moderate) Parliamentarian, who personally supervised the fortifications' demolition in 1646 and re-landscaped the grounds.
During the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 (which ousted the Catholic King James II), Sir William Whitelocke welcomed the future William III to Phyllis Court on 13 December, where he was greeted by a deputation of peers, bishops and London aldermen.
In its last days it was leased to gentry and aristocracy, among them Elizabeth, Countess Grandison, whose son Viscount Villiers organised the famous Henley Gala Week of January 1777.
From 1861 the rebuilt house was leased to Hugh Mair, who entertained lavishly around Regatta time, when picnic parties frequently viewed the races from its lawns.
It became a club in 1906, and by 1928 was 'one of the principal motoring and sports centres in the south of England', with aspirations to become 'the most luxurious and entertaining Club rendezvous outside London'
Phyllis Court Civil War moat, dug 1643
On the left the Roundheads, ---------
---------- on the right the Cavaliers of Fawley and Greenlands
It is still, to some extent, serving the same purpose!
It's hidden weir keeps out hoi polloi from polluting the sacred waters.
(You can just see the disturbed water of the submerged (removable) weir on the far side of the bridge)
1616: Phyllis Court was bought by Sir James Whitelock
Fashionable Henley before the Regatta
The Story of the Thames, J E Vincent -
Henley, long before the days of the Regatta ... was a real centre of fashion.
The Henley Balls, five or six of them to a season, were events of social importance.
Then in December 1776 there was a gala week at Phyllis Court, tenanted by Lady Grandison,
whose son Lord Villiers, with Lady Villiers, was staying with her and had organised a play.
Three nights the play was performed, the 'famous Monsieur Tessier' playing Pygmalion.
After two of the performances Lord Villiers was to give supper and a ball at Henley;
after the third there was to be a ball at the Freemans', Fawley Court.
[ Mrs Powys at Fawley Rectory wrote - ]
"I'll set down those I knew to be there ... though there were numbers of fine men behind, whose faces I was not acquainted with. The Duke of Argyll, Lord Frederick Cavendish, Count Brule, the Lords Tyrconnel, Beauchamp, Harrowby, Sefton, Rivers, Camden, Macclesfield, Barrymore, Parker, General Conway (of Park Place), etc. ... Ladies Grandison, Aylesbury, Egremont, Hertford, Macclesfield, Villiers, Dowager Tyrconnell, Sefton, Powis, Harrowby ...".
1826: The Henley Guide Full text and prints -
Phyllis Court, the old manor house, stood near the Thames, to the north of the town. About forty years ago [c.1786], it was pulled down, with the exception of a small portion which still remains. A fine terrace walk by the margin of the stream, the bowling green, fish pond, &c. attest its former magnificence; and, though in the formal style of antique gardening, are very picturesque. The situation is beautiful, and the view of the Thames is such as can seldom be equalled, commanding one of the noblest reaches in the whole extent of the river.
1837: The present house was built
The lawn in front of Phillis Court is
generally filled with plenty of spectators; this is especially the place for
local fashion. Here ladies and gentlemen promenade up and down, or sit beneath
the shade of the noble chestnut trees; they do not as a rule, care or know much
about the racing itself and even if they did, the situation is a little too
much in the rear to see the contending boats well, as they go by.
The attractions of the place are its exclusive character, and the freedom there is of moving about in the shade, and meeting one's friends. This pretty river terrace, with its trees, and the stately ladies and gentlemen, forms an agreeable contrast to the general omnium gatherum, giving a tone and dignity to the gay surroundings. Several picnic parties, to which permission has been granted, may be seen under the elm trees by the fishpond.
George Leslie is a little dismissive of Phyllis Court as a spectator viewpoint for the regatta! It was rather better than he suggested - the old finish at the bridge meant that it was well placed to see the last part of races -
Henley Regatta: A View from the Grounds of Phyllis Court Club
[ Looking upstream towards the old Regatta Finish at the Bridge ]
And today this is its view -
Phyllis Court view of Regatta
1901: The Thames Illustrated by John Leland -
Another [besides Greenlands and Fawley Court] well known house upon the Regatta Reach
is Phyllis, or Fillets, Court, which lies between Fawley Court and the bridge.
These houses played their part in the Civil War. In 1643, Skippon fortified Phyllis Court for the protection of Henley against the King's forces assembled at Greenlands. Ditches were dug, into which water from the Thames was admitted, guns were collected, and at one time 300 foot and a troop of horse formed the garrison.
When the trouble was over, Whitelocke, who owned Phyllis Court, as well as Fawley, filled up the ditches, levelled the mounds that had been raised, and sent away the great guns and grenadoes.