[ To find Hardwick House going upstream look for a small island then look to your right. At the end of the next field is a double line of trees leading to the house. ]
To Nature in my earliest youth,
I vowed my constancy and truth;
Wherein lie HARDWICK'S much loved shade,
Enamoured of her charms I strayed,
And as I roved the woods among,
Her praise in lisping numbers sung.
1762: Caroline Powys, a letter to a friend -
We live at Hardwick (our father with us) in a large old house, about twelve rooms on a floor, with four staircases, the situation delightful on the declivity of a hill, the most beautiful woods behind, and fine views of the Thames and rich meadows in front. Hardwick Woods you may perhaps have heard of, as parties come so frequently to walk in them, and request to drink tea in a cottage (called 'Straw Hill') erected for that purpose in a delightful spot commanding a noble view of the Thames.
1768: from the Diaries of Mrs. Lybbe Powys, Hardwick House, edited by Emily J Climenson -
Besides an excellent husband, our Caroline had
become the mistress of one of the most beautiful
estates on the banks of the Thames. Hard wick
House, near Whitchurch, Oxon, was, and is, of unique
interest, equally to lovers of history as to admirers of
scenery. Situated on a grassy slope leading down to
the river, commanding fine views of the same, and
yet elevated sufficiently to avoid the river fogs, backed
by a steep hill, richly clad with exquisite hanging
woods, which protect the house from the north and
east winds, it possesses an unrivalled aspect, whilst
its exterior presents a crowd of picturesque gables,
surmounted by the quaint clock-tower, rising from
mellowed red walls, adorned with stone mullioned
windows a most pleasing style of architecture. In-
ternally its interesting and comfortable apartments
combine to form a tout ensemble hard to beat.
As to its ancient history, the Manor of Hardwick was amongst the list of twenty-eight lordships given by William the Conqueror to his favourite, Robert D'Oyley, on his marriage with Aldith, the daughter of Wigod, Thane of Wallingford (the faithful friend and cupbearer to the Conqueror). ...
It is stated in a paper of Bransby Powys, grandson of our heroine, and who may be deemed the archaeologist of the family, that the family of De Herdewyke held Hardwick soon after the Norman Conquest. Canon Slatter derives the name Hardwick as Hard Spring, wick or wyke, used for wich and wych, being Celtic for a spring. This spring is named in the old Saxon boundaries of Whitchurch. As proper names were frequently derived from the place persons lived in, doubtless the De Herdewycks adopted theirs from their abode. ...
During this Mr. Lybbe's life occurred the dreadful period of the Civil Wars. In 1642, at its commencement, loans were levied by King Charles I. on his faithful subjects. The following is a copy of the loan levied on Richard Lybbe:
"1642. Declaration to raise ,100,000 from subjects in loans. 40 demanded from Mr. Lybbe on plate. Toucht plate at 55., untoucht plate at 45. 4d. per ounce. Seven days given to find and give to the High Sheriff (then Sir Thomas Chamberlayne), who is to pay back at Corpus Christi, Oxford."
The King's signature is at the top of this paper, the rest in print, containing the signatures of the Earl of Bath, Lord Seymour, John Ashburnham, John Fetti- place. It was addressed "To our trusty and well- beloved Richard Lybbe." The King acknowledged the receipt of the loan, and Mr. Lybbe eventually endorsed the paper at the back, "Was never paid back, nor expected it, but the document would have a value of its own"
In 1643 the Parliamentary troops from Reading sacked the house at Hardwick, "taking awaie," as Mr. Lybbe piteously describes it, plate to the value of near £200 (a list of which will be found at the end of this work), and other goods, including a fine bed with velvet hangings, to a total of £800. Mr. Lybbe meanwhile being obliged to conceal himself for fear of being taken prisoner. He, however, managed to save his best horses, and sent three for the King's service to Captain Tom Davis, who was in a troop under the Marquis of Hertford.
There is a tradition in the family that at the commencement of the war a large sum of money was buried for security, and every subsequent generation of descendant children have dug for the same, but without success! ...
In one of the memorandum books of the Lybbes is this entry : "King Charles the First was prisoner at Causham Lodge, and bowled in Collin's End Green, 9th July 1648, attended by a troop of horse of Colonel Rossiter's." Collin's End is on the top of the hill at the back of Hardwick, and belonged to the Lybbe estate. There was a bowling-green attached to an inn there, afterwards called the " King's Head." The original house is now Holly Copse, but there is an inn near bearing the same sign.
Charles I. was at Caversham, 3 from July 3rd to the 22nd in 1647. Mr. Jesse, in his "History of the Stewarts," says : " He (the King), frequently went to the bowling-green at Collin's End, Mr. Lybbe Powys' possession. There was a small building for shelter and refreshment near. Mr. Powys has a picture at Hardwick of the old lady who lived in the house near, who used to wait on the King when he visited the green." This picture is now at Holly Copse, near Collin's End, belonging to Mr. Lybbe Powys, as well as Queen Mary's stirrup. The bowling-green is now an orchard. Lord Augustus FitzClarence, Rector of Maple-Durham, gave to this inn, years after, a portrait- sign of the King, copied from a Vandyck, under which the following lines by Mr Jesse were inscribed:
Stop, traveller, stop ; in yonder peaceful glade
His favourite game the royal martyr played ;
Here, stripped of honours, children, freedom, rank,
Drank from the bowl, and bowled for what he drank
Sought in a cheerful glass his cares to drown,
And changed his guinea ere he lost his crown.
In a paper of Bransby Powys he states of
the house: "Some portions are evidently of a very
early period, and were probably existing in the time
of Richard II., but the south front or river front was
built by Anthony Lybbe after the restoration of Charles
II., when the house appears to have required great
repairs, in consequence of the dilapidations occasioned
during the Civil War, the known loyalty of its owner
having subjected it more than once to the pillage
of the Parliamentary forces." ...
To return to a description of Hardwick House. The general architecture is Tudor, though, as mentioned before, a portion is far older, supposed to be of Richard II.'s reign. Time has mellowed the bricks it is built of into a colour that fascinates the artist's eye ; the windows picked out with stone, a few modernised, but the majority retaining their original shape. The south front of the house has been extended considerably by the present lessee , Mr. C. Day Rose, but very judiciously ; he has also built new stables, a covered tennis-court, cottages, &c. ...
On the south side of the house runs a broad terrace, beneath this a flower garden on a gradual slope to the river Thames, with fine trees scattered around notably a fine cedar on the east side, and opposite Queen Elizabeth's bedchamber a large mass of clipped yew, through which an arch is cut, forming a quaint object. The entrance is on the north side of the house, under the clocktower, but another door has been made close by. On this side the ground rises in a steep grassy slope for a great height ; on either side this vista hang the most exquisite woods, forming a complete shelter from the north and east. On the top of the slope is a fine natural terrace, from which is a superb view. Here stands a cottage called "Straw Hall," once a favourite resort of picnic parties, but since game has become more strictly preserved is closed to the public. Written over "Straw Hall," in 1756, is a verse by Thomas Powys, brother of Philip, and afterwards Dean of Canterbury, who had a great turn for rhyming:
Within this cot no polished marble shines,
Nor the rich product of Arabian mines ;
The glare of splendour and the toys of state,
Resigned, unenvied, to the proud and great ;
Whilst here reclined, those nobler scenes you view
Which Nature's bold, unguided pencil drew.
... Returned to the house, the spectator enters from
the porch a square panelled hall, hung with many
family portraits and furnished with old oak ; to the
left of this is a drawing-room. A very fine room used
as a dining-room is beyond the Queen Elizabeth's
staircase. The wainscoting of the walls, most elegant
in design, a very handsome plaster ceiling, and
in the mantelpiece is a stucco head, said to be a likeness
of King Alfred.
One of the principal staircases, which is shut off from the hall, is extremely handsome, the balustrades all oak richly carved, the plaster ceiling most exquisitely modelled. This staircase leads to Queen Elizabeth's bed-chamber, now used as a drawing-room, and both staircase and room were decorated for the visit paid by the Queen to Mr. Lybbe. Queen Elizabeth's room looks east, is very large, with a splendid oriel window at east end. The whole of it is panelled with most richly carved oak, the details of which would take too much room to describe. The door and its case are remarkably ornate. Over the fireplace, which has a carved back and contains very ancient dog-irons, is a most curious over-mantel, which represents Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice. An angel is seizing his arm to prevent this. In niches at the side are large figures of Faith, Hope, Justice, and Charity. Above these are the Lybbe arms. But what makes this very noteworthy is that the whole is carved in chalk, which retains its original sharpness of outline in a remarkable manner, and is, I believe, in these days a lost art.
The plaster ceiling is elaborately modelled, and in the centre, at intervals, are three portrait medallion heads of Queen Elizabeth. Four other heads in medallions are placed at the corners, of the following incongruous personages, viz., Joshua (dux), Jeroboam, Fama, and Julius Caesar, all fully inscribed, so that no doubt may exist as to their personalities, though why they are selected, with the exception of Fama, is a mystery. Some years ago, unfortunately, the bedstead was disposed of, but a pencil-drawing of it exists in one of Bransby Powys' big family scrap-books, and represents a huge handsome carved four-poster, in which we can imagine the Virgin Queen reposing under her own medallion portraits.
The bedrooms are numerous and comfortable, retaining old-fashioned names, such as the "blue room," "mahogany room," &c., &c., the "powder room," a very essential apartment when people loaded their head or wigs with powder. This is now made into a dressing-room. There are several staircases, many sitting-rooms, and long corridors filled with pictures, ...
1792: Picturesque Views on the Thames by Samuel Ireland -
... on the Oxfordshire side of
the river, at Hardwick, is the residence of Mr. Gardener, formerly in the possession of
Mr. Powis. It is happily sheltered by the
neighbouring hills, and at an agreeable distance from the river.
This house was probably in former times a monastery ; and its situation is chosen with that degree of attention to the conveniencies, and even luxuries, of this transitory state, for which the founders of most of our religious houses have been famed.
1793: Hardwick House, Boydell-
Hardwick and Maple-Durham. 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.
1829: A Tour on the Banks of the Thames -
Near to [Hardwick] is a goodly hostel, called Colin's End, where,
while we partook of some excellent brown bread, butter, &c., washed down by a fine glass of ale,
our loquacious host informed us we were on the spot so often visited by Charles the First,
who, while detained a prisoner at Caversham, was allowed by his keepers to come here,
where he diverted himself with a game at bowls, of which game he was passionately fond.
There is a picture hanging up in one of the rooms of an ancient personage, formerly the landlady, who attended Charles on such occasions.
1842: Hardwick House in The Environs of Reading, J.G.Robertson -
Hardwick House, J G Robertson 1842
1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall
Continuing our voyage [downstream] from Pangbourne — a line of undulating chalk
hills on the immediate left, and an uninterrupted tract of flat meadowland
stretching for two or three miles along the opposite bank — we soon
arrive opposite Hardwick House, seated on the slope of a wooded height
above the river. It is a large gabled structure of red brick, situated on
a terrace of earth raised considerably above the river, upon which are
many shady bowers of old yews cut into fanciful arcades. It is so little
altered from the time of its erection, that it seems to carry back the
spectator to the era of our great civil war. Here Charles I. spent much
of his time during the troublous period that preceded his fall, "amusing
himself with bowls", and other sports.*
* No nobleman's mansion was considered complete, at this period, if it were not provided with a bowling-green. Our little cut exhibits the game as played in the time of Charles I., and is copied from an Italian print, by Rossi, dated 1647. The sport is said to have originated in England; and the earliest traces of it are to be found in manuscripts of the 13th century. Covered alleys were afterwards invented for the enjoyment of the game in winter; and it was looked upon as a gentlemanly recreation, of value for the exercise the players attained in its practice. The reader will remember Pope's line:-
Some Dukes at Marybone bowl time away,
On the fine lawn between the house and the river are some noble specimens of cedar, oak, and elm- trees, that, judging from their great age, must have been witnesses of the alternate sports and apprehensions of the sovereign.
1874: Hardwick House, Henry Taunt -
Hardwick House, Henry Taunt, 1874
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT01356
1881: George Leslie, "Our River" -
In among the trees at the foot of the hills may be seen the smoke from the chimneys of the fine old red-brick house of Hardwick; a broad opening has been kindly made through the elms in front of the house, through which a good view of its quaint gables is obtained from the river; like most old houses it gains considerably in effect as the suns rays get low. When the wind ceases to ruffle the water, the smoke rises through the elms in a straight column, and the rooks return to their homes; then too can be heard the sound of an old clock bell tanging the hours and quarters. Hardwick lacks the hidden mystery of Maple Durham, but has a stately charm of its own which is quite as good in its way.
1889: Jerome K Jerome -
A little above Mapledurham lock you pass Hardwick House, where Charles I played bowls.
1906: G E Mitton -
a fine old house, Hardwicke, is passed. Charles I stayed here and played bowls. The house itself is well protected by trees, but it stands in rather open country, amid bare chalk uplands, where sometimes may be seen a curious opaline glow in pale sunshine.
The King Charles -
A mile beyond Mapledurham is the site of the old "King Charles" (now removed) where swung a portrait in oil of the king, supposed to be the work of Lord Adolphus Fitzclarence, beneath which was written
Stop, traveller, stop. In yonder peaceful glade
His favourite game the Royal martyr played;
Here 'reft of children, honour, freedom, rank,
Drank from the bowl, and bowled for what he drank;
Sought in a cheerful glass his carts to drown,
And changed his guinea ere he lost his crown.
Oratory School Boathouse, Right bank.
The Oratory Boathouse was also the home of the Goring Gap Boat Club who have punts for local members and also some rowing. [They are now completing their new boathouse beside Gatehampton Railway Bridge]
Hardwick Estate is a private estate, owned by the Rose family who have been here for
three generations. The Estate covers 500 hectares. Much of it is commercial woodland.
There is a wide range of habitats on the Estate, ranging from the flood plain of the
river Thames to chalk down-land, conifer and deciduous woodland and arable stock farming.
Most of the Estate has been managed organically for 20 years and due to its low input nature
prior to that, it hosts an exceptional variety of flora and fauna, few places exist with such
a range in this part of the world. Bird life is particularly good from Goldcrest to Red Kite
and everything in between.
There are several separate businesses run at Hardwick:-
1. The market garden and field vegetables.
2. The main farm (Path Hill). a beef and arable unit.
3. Organic table poultry, under the name of Hardwick Rangers
1881: George Leslie, "Our River" -
The water is not very deep from Hardwick House to the bridge at Pangbourne, and has many beds of round rushes growing in it, which indicate a good hard gravel, suitable for punting. These round rushes when not growing too thick are very pleasant to punt through, the sound of them rattling and rubbing along the sides of the boat having a soothing effect on anyone lying in the stern. Children in boats always want to pick them; they call them fishing-rods. When you pull rushes they frequently come up from their roots, sometimes six or seven feet long, and a variety of amusement can be got out of them by plaiting or pealing; a sort of little boat can be made by flattening and winding them round themselves into an oblong form, with the end stuck up through it for a mast, which please children very much.