Warbrook House (Historic England)

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HCC Site ID: 1133 Parish: Eversley
Designations: HE II* Area: 14 ha
Access: No Public Access Ownership: Conference Centre/ Corporate

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Location and Site

Warbrook House lies about eleven miles south of Reading and 2.5km west of the village of Eversley Cross on the A327, Reading to Farnborough road. The house was built on what was originally heathland, an expanse of low, flat acidic land which was part of Eversley Common. Its extensive design links Warbrook out into the landscape and countryside, beyond the estate and the modern ownership boundaries. The water table lies close to the ground surface and the site is crossed by a network of ditches and small streams.
Warbrook House (Grade I) sits at the centre of the landscape (Grade II*), aligned with James’ east to west axis and, prior to the alteration of the drives, the major north to south axis (English Heritage).

Historical Development

John James (c1673-1746) was an architect with a successful and lucrative career in which he succeeded Wren as Surveyor to the Fabric of St Paul’s in 1723. In 1724 James purchased land at Warbrook which enabled him to implement for himself his ideal country-house estate using the theories propounded by Dezallier d’Argenville. After his death in 1746 the Warbrook estate passed through a rapid succession of ownerships and tenancies: Comyns, Nares, Bishop and Mickelthwait are all names associated with the property up to 1838 (English Heritage 2004; Tipton 2013). James’ layout of field boundaries, axial drives, and canals seems to have changed little during this period and the 1810 OS and 1826 Greenwood maps in particular show the long tree-lined avenues stretching far beyond the present confines of the estate.
Augustus Stapleton, Private Secretary to Lord Canning, acquired Warbrook in 1838, introducing changes during his period of residence which made the grounds more informal and private. The most significant changes were the closing of the major north to south and east to west drives and the construction of a new lodge on Reading Road. Ancillary buildings south of the house were removed and Warbrook Farm was laid out on the north-west boundary of the estate (1842 Tithe map).
In the 1920s the Stapletons sold the estate to the artist William Ranken who with Albert Richardson undertook extensive restoration work to the house (Architectural Review 1923).
Mrs Isabelle Humphreys-Owen bought the property around 1934 and made substantial alterations to the house, commissioning Lord Gerald Wellesley and Trenwith Wells to build an extension to the north and a double-height sleeping loggia to the south (Hussey,Country Life 1939). William Wood of Taplow was employed to make changes to the formal gardens, creating a sunken garden and an octagonal lily pool garden (Wood, Recent Work 1935). After her death the estate was sold to the Hon. Anthony Berry who modernised the house and replaced the lily pool with a heated swimming pool (NMRC sales 1976).
The site underwent major changes in the late-twentieth century with the conversion of the house to a conference and business centre. This has involved major building additions by Robert Adam (1982) and the introduction of service areas and other facilities. A Landscape Conservation Plan was prepared in 1991 by Kim Wilkie Associates. Between 2007 and 2011 the long east-west vista from the house was restored in collaboration with the local parish council (Warbrook files). The estate remains (2013) in private corporate ownership.

Current Description

The site is approached from the north-east corner of the park past a nineteenth-century lodge along an avenue which crosses the line of James’ great north-south axial drive. The avenue sweeps into the east courtyard in front of the mansion where a sundial (signed on the plate ‘Will. Collier London’) stands beside a small ‘ha-ha’. From the front steps the vista across ‘the Great A’ and Eversley Green to the east can now be appreciated. Where the newly-opened vista crosses the park boundary there are some remnants of a balustrade from the old Waterloo Bridge which was placed there in the mid-twentieth century. Despite several drainage ditches parts of the parkland suffer from flooding.
On the south side of the house below a modern conservatory sits the William Wood sunken garden. A gravel path leads past this garden and an old well-head towards the lily garden which is now a grassy plot. There are vestigial remains of climbing plants along the south face of the protecting wall and some shrubs and specimen trees adorn the south and east edges of the garden. The great parterre to the west of the house is enclosed within the north and south arms of the main canal. John James’ main canal is a feature of the landscape: it is well-maintained and from certain points the house is reflected in its waters. At the west end of the canal the stone parapet (also Waterloo Bridge) has crumbled away and the remaining balusters are leaning precariously. A path circles the northern woodland glade back to the parterre but the north-west axial walk has disappeared in the undergrowth. The north arm of the canal is clean and the edges are well-defined.
The trees and scrub in the Great A had obscured the view of the house from the main road and in 2007 a programme of clearance was undertaken with the cooperation and assistance of the local parish council; the land was drained, footpaths renewed and once the old avenue was opened up forty-four new oak trees were planted along its borders. The Great A is designated as a Village Green and it is used as a recreational space by local residents. The restoration work was completed by 2011 and a good view of the Warbrook mansion can now be seen from the roundabout on the A327 (Tydey 2013).

Summary and significance

The Warbrook garden and landscape is a unique example of John James’ early-eighteenth-century domestic architecture and garden design employed in his creation of a house and garden for his own personal use. The John James legacy is still present in the canal system, the woodland groves and in the newly-restored east-west axial vista across the oak-treed parkland. Twentieth-century additions by William Wood typify the taste of the 1930s.  The Wood sunk garden, the lily garden and the herbaceous borders are partly present but have suffered from simplification in the interests of easier management.
This is an important Grade II* landscape, currently on the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register, which deserves to be further restored.

HGT Research: January 2013

References

Books and Articles
Architectural Review May 1923 Vol. 53 pp. 150-155
Hussey, C. in Country Life Volume 85, March 1939, p.250-254
Wood, W. Recent Work 1935 Lindley Library, London
Maps
HRO: Tithe map Eversley; 21M65/F7/81/1 and 2
Ordnance Survey 1810: Margary 1981 The Old Series Vol. III. Sheet 12
Greenwood 1826: http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/webmap/hantsmap/hantsmap/hantsmap.htm
Ordnance Survey maps 1871, 1896, 1911 from HGT/HCC datasets
Ordnance Survey 1932 www.old-maps.co.uk/maps.html
National Monument Record Centre (NMRC) Swindon
1976 Sales particulars, John D Wood . Parish boxes
Electronic Sources
English Heritage: http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/results.aspx
Eversley Parish Council:
http://www.eversleyparishcouncil.co.uk/Core/Eversley-PC/Pages/Recreation_Facilities_1.aspx

Personal Communications
Peter Tidey (Eversley Parish Council) who organized the restoration of the Great A; 06/01/2013
Tipton, P. A summary of the early owners and occupiers of Warbrook


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