Thame Park

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Robert Plot ‘s Map of Oxfordshire 1676

Natural History of Oxfordshire ~ Robert

Outside the Town, in the Hamlets, the Chief Ancient Building is Thame Park, also the Site of Thame Abbey.  The Permanent buildings and the Abbey Church were erected on land given by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, 3 carucates in extent, being his Park of Thame, so that henceforth the Abbey was called (St Mary’s) ‘sancte Marie de Parco Thame,’ and was reckoned to be of the Bishop’s Foundation. The change cannot have been later than 1140, as the Park was confirmed to the Monks by Pope Innocent in March 1141, and a probable date is Autumn, 1139, when Alexander and Roger his uncle, either voluntarily or by compulsion, divested themselves of much of their Wealth.  Except for the Abbot’s Lodgings, which were built early in the 16thC, and the 13thC Range to the North, nothing now remains of the Monastic Buildings or of the Abbey Church.  The Buildings appear to have been in a bad state of repair early in the 16th century, ‘in ruins‘ according to Bishop Longland, and on the Dissolution of the Monastery the greater part of them including the Abbey Church were apparently either pulled down or used as Farm Buildings.  In about 1840 the Site was examined by William Twopenny, who made drawings.  He calculated that the Church had been 230ft long by 70ft and that it had a Lady Chapel extending a further 45ft at the East end.  The Bases of 14 Piers of the Nave, 7 on either side, were still visible. There were traces of a detached Rectangular Building on the South, which he supposed might have been the Chapter House, and also traces of other Monastic Offices.  A Report made about 1507 by William Wood, a Monk of Thame, to Pope Julius II corroborates Twopenny’s calculations of the size of the Church.  He said that the Abbeys of Furness & Thame were of almost equal dimensions.

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Furness Abbey from the South

The Original Church was consecrated in 1145 and the Building was presumably begun about 1140.  Fragments of the old building, however, found in walls in the 19thC all had Early-English mouldings, and a Stone Lavatory with Early-English carving of birds and flowers existed in 1841.  Such documentary evidence as there is supporting the view that the Chancel at least was rebuilt in the early 13thC.  In 1232 Henry III gave the Monastery timber for making the Stalls of the Choir, and in 1236 30 Oaks to make a Kiln in order to rebuild the Chancel which had fallen down.

When the Wenmans obtained the Site of Thame Monastery,  they preserved the Abbot’s Lodgings and part of the Monastic Buildings. The Lodgings, which form the South Front of the present Thame Park House, were built at 3 separate dates and are an ‘excellent‘ specimen of the late phases of domestic Gothic. The earliest part of the Range dates perhaps from about 1500 and comprises a small Upper and Lower Hall with Bay windows at the East end; an extension was added later, embodying a larger Hall, on the Ground Floor, of 5 Bays with an Upper Hall and a 2nd Room beyond. Lastly, a low Tower of 3-Storeys in height covering the original external South Door was built after 1530 when Robert King became Abbot. The 2nd building has a large South Oriel and a projecting Stair.  The Stone Entrance door has a 4-centred Arch within a square frame. The whole Range was formerly covered with Stone slats. The Western Upper Apartment has a late 16thC Stone Fireplace, but the moulded Beams are the early 16thC and may have been put in in Abbot Warren’s time (d.1529).  The Parlour on the 1st-floor of the Tower retains its original linen-fold Panelling with an internal Porch and Carved wooden Frieze showing Italian influence.  On the Ceiling of the Ground Floor Room are the Arms of numerous Benefactors of the Abbey.  The Kitchen Wing to the North is older than the Tudor Wing. The 6th Lord Wenman pulled down part of the old Abbey in 1745 and added a Palladian West Front: his Architect was said by Lee to have been Smith of Coventry, but it seems probable that Smith of Warwick was intended, that is William Smith (1705–47), the son of Francis Smith of Warwick.  The Architecture is ‘simple and restrained‘. The Reception Rooms on the piano nobile were probably altered by the last Lady Wenman (d.1870), who entertained William IV here.

Thame Abbey, an important Cistercian Abbey founded c.1140 on the site of the present Thame Park House, was acquired in 1547 by Sir John Williams, later Lord Williams of Thame.  The greater part of the Abbey Buildings, including the Abbey Church, were either pulled down at this time or used as Farm Buildings.  Upon Lord Williams’ death in 1559, the Estate was left to his daughter Isabella and her husband Sir Richard Wenman, in whose family the Estate remained until the early 20thC.  The Wenmans preserved the 15th/16thC Abbot’s Lodgings (now the South Wing), together with the Kitchen Wing to the North. The 6th Viscount Wenman added a Palladian West Wing in the late 1740s. The Park was probably laid out in the mid to late 18thC, seemingly covering part of an earlier Park which stretched further South and West, across the Thame Road. The Serpentine Lake was probably formed out of the Monastic Fishponds (c.1957) at this time, too. Sophia Wykeham (d.1870), created Baroness Wenman in 1834 by William IV, restored the Medieval Chapel in 1836, embellishing it with further Gothic decoration, at around the same time as she carried out major alterations within the House and constructed the Entrance Lodges. The Estate was sold by Herbert Wenman Wykeham-Musgrave in 1917, passing then through various Private Ownerships and remaining Privately Owned (1997).

Thame Park lies 2km South-east of the centre of Thame, occupying c.210ha of largely flat land, with an elongated hillock in the Southern half of the Old Park. The Park is divided into 2, the Old Park to the West, and the New Park adjacent to the East, the whole being bounded to the West by the B4012 Road running South from Thame to Postcombe, to the North by an arm of the Cuttle Brook (a tributary of the River Thame), and on the other sides by Agricultural Land.  The setting is largely Agricultural, with a late 20thC Light Industrial Estate 500m to the North, and extensive views South and East from the Park towards the Scarp of the Chilterns.

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The main, North Approach enters the Park 1Km North-west of the House, the Entrance being set back off the B4012 and marked by a Gateway Screen with flanking Lodges (c. 1830s, listed Grade II) in Gothic Style. The rendered brick Screen contains a central, raised Carriage Arch (castellated above) with smaller, flanking Pedestrian Gateways, all retaining cast-iron Gothic Gates. From here the North Drive curves South-east through the Park, turning East 250M West of the House, becoming a straight approach aligned on the main Door, flanked by the remains of an Avenue of Horse Chestnuts.  The Drive passes through a Gateway (19thC with 18thC gates, listed Grade II) standing 170M West of the House, consisting of wrought-iron Carriage Gates flanked by Pedestrian wrought-iron gates, hung from square Stone Piers attached to a screen of iron railings alternating with further Stone Piers. The Drive divides to encircle a panel of Lawn 30M from the West Front on which stands a small, circular Stone Pond with the remains of a central Fountain (mid-19thC, listed Grade II), having lost its central Statue of Mercury and 8 peripheral cast-iron Vases (mentioned in Listed Building Description but currently absent due to being sold by a Family member; but thought to be in store, 1997).  In the late 19thC this Lawn was divided into 8 Segments radiating out from the Pond, probably separated by narrow gravel Paths (OS.1881).  The remains of 2 Chestnut Avenues, focused on the turning circle, radiate North-west and South-west across flanking Lawns to North and South of the Drive.  The Lawns, containing several other mature trees, are bounded to the West by a brick ‘ha-ha‘, at the centre of which rises the Gateway, and to the East by the Pleasure Grounds.  East of the Circular Lawn a Carriage Sweep adjacent to the House is overlooked by a double Flight of balustraded Stone Steps giving access to the Central Door on the 1st-Floor.

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The South Approach enters the Park 1.3Km South-west of the House, through a Gothic, Stone Gateway with flanking Lodges (c.1830s, possibly D Harris and R Abraham, listed Grade II), the whole Composition facing South-west along the B4012. The Gateway is flanked by Octagonal Piers with battlemented tops, supporting wrought-iron Gates with Gothic Tracery, attached to battlemented Screen Walls leading out to the small Lodges concealed to the North of them.  From here the South Drive curves North-east, joining the North Drive where it turns east 250M from the Main Front of the House.

A Spur off the North Drive 700M North-West of the House approaches the House from the North, acting as a Service Drive, passing the Walled Garden to the East and arriving at the Stable Court and Service Area East of the House.  It is joined to the Carriage Sweep on the West front by a Link Drive curving around a Shrubbery on the North Front.  The current Service Drive appears in the late 18thC to have been the Main Drive (the Southern portion of the North Drive is not shown), giving access to the North or East Fronts of the House.

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Principle Building
Thame Park (14th, 16th, 18thC, listed Grade I) lies at the centre of its Pleasure Grounds and Park, connecting the Old and New Parks to West and East. The Stone House incorporates 14thC work in the North Wing, 16thC work in the fine Abbot’s Lodging which forms the Tudor South Wing overlooking the South Lawn, and 18thC work, possibly by William Smith of Warwick, in the West Wing, built c.1745.  This forms the Main Entrance Front, with a Piano Nobile (Principle Floor) reached by the Grand Double Staircase from the Drive.  When the Wenmans obtained the site of Thame Monastery,  they preserved the Abbot’s Lodgings and part of the Monastic Buildings. The Lodgings, which form the South Front of the present Thame Park House, were built at 3 separate dates and are an ‘excellent‘ specimen of the late phases of domestic Gothic. The earliest part of the Range dates perhaps from about 1500 and comprises a small Upper and Lower Hall with Bay windows at the East end; an extension was added later, embodying a larger Hall, on the Ground Floor, of 5 Bays with an Upper Hall and a 2nd Room beyond. Lastly, a low Tower of 3-Storeys in height covering the original external South Door was built after 1530 when Robert King became Abbot. The 2nd building has a large South Oriel and a projecting Stair.  The Stone Entrance door has a 4-centred Arch within a square frame. The whole Range was formerly covered with Stone slats. The Western Upper Apartment has a late 16thC Stone Fireplace, but the moulded Beams are early 16thC and may have been put in in Abbot Warren’s time (d.1529).  The Parlour on the 1st-floor of the Tower retains its original linen-fold Panelling with an internal Porch and Carved wooden Frieze showing Italian influence.  On the Ceiling of the Ground Floor Room are the Arms of numerous Benefactors of the Abbey. The Kitchen Wing to the North is older than the Tudor Wing. The 6th Lord Wenman pulled down part of the old Abbey in 1745 and added a Palladian West Front: his Architect was said by Lee to have been Smith of Coventry, but it seems probable that Smith of Warwick was intended, that is William Smith (1705–47), the son of Francis Smith of Warwick.  The Architecture is ‘simple and restrained‘. The Reception Rooms on the piano nobile were probably altered by the last Lady Wenman (d.1870), who entertained William IV here.

Extensive alterations were made about 1920 by W H Gardiner under the supervision of G Berkeley Wills of London and in accordance with his designs.  All the 19thC decoration, much of it in the style of Louis XV, was removed. Ionic capitals replaced the ‘badly modelledCorinthian ones of the original columns in the Dining Room.

The Stables (c.1745, probably William Smith, listed Grade II) lying close by, 20M North-east of the house, are of 2-Storeys. Built of coursed Stone rubble with Ashlar dressings, they form a Square Courtyard open on the West Side, situated at an irregular angle to the House.

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Abbotts Hall Wing of Thame Park House

The Pleasure Grounds lie to the North & South of the House, bounded to the West by the Entrance Lawns, and to the East by the sinuous Fish Pond and its adjacent screening Woodland.  An entrance at the South-west Corner of the House, from the Carriage Sweep, gives access to the South Lawn, overlooked by the Tudor South Front with its Low Tower at the East end, and the 18thC South Elevation of the West Range.  The open Lawn is bounded to the West by a screen of Shrubs and Trees, including Yews, beyond which, along the Southern half, lies the remains of a Stone ‘ha-ha’.  Upon the Lawn stand several mature trees, including Cedars of Lebanon and several curving Paths survive in outline.  The Lawn is dominated by the Fish Pond, with 2 Islands towards the South End, where the water level is very low, and a Wooden Boathouse with a tiled roof standing at the Southern tip.

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A narrow ribbon of Lawn continues North from the South Lawn, along the West edge of the Pond, giving access to the Northern Pleasure Grounds.  These are bounded by the Pond to the East & North Entrance Lawn to the West, straddling the Service Drive from the North and encircling the Walled Kitchen Garden.  The Lawn between the Kitchen Garden and the Pond retains traces of a Formal Layout, with, at the West Boundary, inserted into the Kitchen Garden’s East Wall, a Stone & rendered Classical Gateway with 3 Arches on circular Pillars (19th or early 20thC), supported by taller, square, flanking Pillars, reached up several broad Stone Steps.  The Walk continues north from here, turning West from the North end of the Pond (at this end almost full of water), passing a Gabled Gothic-style Cottage to the North.

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The broad grass Walk continues West among dense Shrub Planting, crossing the Drive into further Shrubbery, emerging 150M North-west of the House at St Mary’s Chapel (early 14thC, remodelled 1836 by D Harris & R Abraham, listed Grade II).  This small Stone Chapel was probably built by the Abbey outside the Gates as a Travellers’ Chapel, later being remodelled by Sophia, Baroness Wenman, when it was rendered & various Gothic devices were added.  The Chapel stands at the West edge of the Northern Pleasure Ground where it merges with the North Approach lawn.  The Building is visible from the Drive, and is linked by a curving Path to the Carriage Sweep.

The Wenmans preserved as a Private Chapel the Medieval Chapel.  A 19thC engraving of it by F Mackenzie shows that it dated from the 14thC.  It was then as it is today: a parallelogram in shape with a high-pitched Roof, a Western Bellcote and a West Doorway. The building was restored in 1836 by Sophia Baroness Wenman.  Lee complained that too many of the Ancient characteristics of the Chapel were then marred or destroyed.  High pews, ‘ugly to a degree‘, a ‘cumbersome and vulgar‘ Pulpit & Reading Pew, and an Organ were installed.  The Floor was laid partly with tiles (some 15th and some 16thC) from the Ruins of the Abbey.  The restoration was begun by ‘Mr Harris‘ and completed by ‘Mr Abraham‘. It seems likely that Harris was Daniel Harris of Oxford and that Abraham was Robert Abraham of London (1774–1850), who had a Roman Catholic connection.  The following Monumental Inscriptions were recorded by Lee:  Thomas Wenman (d.1665), eldest son of Sir Francis Wenman, Bt, Seymour Wroughton (d. 1736), Philip, 6th Viscount Wenman (d.1760), Sophia Viscountess Wenman (d.1787), who was interred in an Open Vault in a small projecting Sanctuary at the East-end, Father Bernard Stafford (d.1788), Philip, 7th Viscount Wenman of Tuam & Baron Tuam (d.1800), by Westmacott, and Sophia Elizabeth Baroness Wenman of Thame Park (d.1870). Lupton records a Memorial in the Chapel-yard to the Countess de Roubion (d. 1854).

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The Park is divided into the Old Park to the West of the House & Pleasure Grounds, possibly based on a Medieval Park which continued West across the B4012, and the New Park to the East, created during the 19thC.  The Old Park, largely level North of the South Drive, remains Pasture with some Arable, containing many mature specimen trees & clumps, and is bounded to the West by belts of trees, with intermittent open stretches.  The elongated Hillock in the Southern Section overlooks the New Park to the East, Farmland to the South, & Parkland to the West & North.  It contained an Icehouse on its Northern Slope, some 400M South-west of the House (OS.1881), but no trace of this remains (1997).

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Map of Oxford County
Surveyed by a local man, Richard Davis of Lewknor and published in 1797. This large map consists of 16-sheets at an impressively detailed scale of 1:31,680 or 2-ins to 1-mile. No more than 200 copies were ever made, the evidence is based on all sets of the Map having manuscript Serial No.s – this Image is part of No.34.  Very few complete copies survive.  In terms of what the Map shows, a clear break has been made from the Saxton-led traditional County Map, as here far more detail than previously is featured. Not only are CountyHundred Boundaries, Rivers & Streams, Towns & Villages, Parks & Woodland depicted, but here we have Roads, Tracks, Hedges, indeed every Field can be seen and relief is beautifully represented by the use of hachuresDavis was also Topographer to His Majesty, George III.

The remains of a straight Avenue of Trees, aligned from the South-west Boundary straight towards the South-west Corner of the House, are shown on the 1st Series OS Map lying 1.2Km South-west of the House, South of the current South Drive. This feature corresponds with that shown on Davis’ Map of 1797, which shows a similar Avenue. Almost all the trees of this feature have gone (1997).  A straight Double Avenue close to the West Boundary of the Park lies 1Km West of the House.  Some mature trees remain, and traces of a Platform between them can be discerned.  Davis shows a Park Fence running along this Alignment.

The New Park, bounded to the North by Sydenham Hurst, a mixed Woodland, is divided by several Hedges, being mixed Arable & Pasture, retaining some mature single trees & clumps. It enjoys views East & South towards the Chiltern Scarp, but is largely screened from the House & Pleasure Grounds by the Belt of Trees East of the Pond. Late 19thC early 20thC Mapping shows progressive planting of single trees & clumps, in addition to a few already existing small clumps and the initial labelling of the New Park in 1901 (OS).

The Kitchen Garden, with Walls of Brick & Stone (19thC, listed Grade II), lies 70M North-east of the House, separated on its South-side from the North Wing of the Stables by a short Path, from which it is entered via a Doorway in the Wall.  It is an irregular Rectangle, having no South-west Corner due to the presence of a Canal running between the West Wall & the Service Drive, which encloses the remains of an Orchard.  The Walled Garden retains on its North Wall a series of ornamental, lean-to wooden Heated Glasshouses in poor condition, with attached Chimneys rising above the Wall behind them.  The Garden is largely laid to Lawn, with Perimeter & Cross Paths, all lined by clipped Box Hedges, the Central North/South Walk being flanked by trained Fruit Trees. The South-East Corner is subdivided by Brick Walls, with further wooden Glasshouses in poor condition on its North Wall.  It contains the remains of a Formal Layout, including 4 circular clipped Box Hedges enclosing Beds & the Classical Entrance in the East Wall from the Lawn adjacent to the Pond.

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Thame Park is one of the oldest enclosed Parks in England. The Bishop of Lincoln planned to use it for Deer Hunting in the 1130s.  It is a Private House & Park.  At this point just by the B4012 Road a Public Footpath goes across to Sydenham.  The Road to Sydenham was diverted around the Park in the 13thC.   It is 1st recorded in 1317 as a Way running from Thame East of the Abbey to ‘parts of the Chilterns‘.  The Abbey was allowed to enclose part of it provided the Abbey made another of the same size on its own Soil.  Davis shows on his Map of 1797 a Way running along the East of Thame Park to Sydenham and a Way some distance to the West of it that peters out in the Park: these are very probably the Old & the New Roads.  After the Inclosure Award in 1826 the Park Road only continued in use.