On Monday I had the great pleasure of talking about Ashdown House on BBC Radio Berkshire’s History Hour. It was wonderful to be invited and I hope it brings in some more visitors to see “our” special house. Ashdown gets so little publicity and is such a jewel – it deserves to be more widely known!
Visiting Caversham Park for the interview was in itself a treat because it was one of the Craven estates that I had not previously seen. The parallels with Ashdown are striking. Both can trace their origins back pre-Conquest and both were established as hunting chases in the 13th century. During the medieval period one of Caversham’s most famous owners was William Marshal, a close advisor to both King Richard I and King John, who rose to become regent for Henry III. William Marshal was the embodiment of the chivalric ideal and a celebrated knight. Arguably there are parallels there with William Craven five hundred years later.
The Craven family acquired Caversham Park in the early 17th century as part of their extensive investment in land. By 1643 it had been sequestered by the parliament along with all of William Craven’s other estates apart from Coombe Abbey. King Charles I was imprisoned at Caversham in July of that year. As at Ashdown, trees on the estate were felled to build Cromwell’s Navy. The Elizabethan manor house and the estate suffered much damage during this period but when William Craven regained his lands in 1660 he rebuilt Caversham Park, probably with William Winde as the architect. By 1689 it was the sixth largest house in Oxfordshire. (Like Ashdown, Caversham has moved county!) It was sold on Craven’s death in 1697 and came into the Cadogan family.
The terrace at the front of the house dates from the Georgian period when Capability Brown landscaped the grounds. The current mansion, however, dates from the 1850s. I was allowed a special peek into the grand Victorian reception rooms on the ground floor. The atrium, (pictured above) which was once the entrance to the stables, is particularly impressive.
I’m looking forward to doing more research into Caversham Park during the period of Craven ownership so if anyone has any information, please get in touch!