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Visit to Hardwick House, June 2014

Hardwick House is a fine Elizabethan/Jacobean Manor House, situated between Mapledurham and Whitchurch, close to the Thames.

Following an interesting earlier evening lecture about the Rose family, who have owned Hardwick House since the end of the nineteenth century, and their participation in the Boer War, members had asked if it would be possible to have a visit to the house. This took place on 17th June on a perfect summer’s day.

The house is now owned by Sir Julian Rose whose daughter Miriam took our party of 18 round the house. In 1066, at the time of the Battle of Hastings, Hardwick and its lands were owned by Wigod the Saxon Lord of Wallingford. In the early 16th Century all traces of this Saxon building vanished when a Tudor mansion, now known as Hardwick, was built over it.

We began our tour with a look at the garden and the outside of the house. The grounds extend to the river bank which can be seen from the back of the house. While we were in the garden Miriam told us of the house’s connection with The Wind in the Willows and Mr Toad of Toad Hall. The house was rented from 1870 by Charles Day Rose who was very interested in horse racing, real tennis, cars and planes and under his wife Eliza’s influence Hardwick became a magnet for the literary community of the day.

Among the regular visitors to the house were Henry James and Kenneth Grahame. It is likely that the ebullient character of Toad was an affectionate pen portrait of Graham’s friend Charles. Like Toad, Charles was a larger than life personality and Toad Hall is described as “A handsome and dignified
old house of mellowed red brick with well kept lawns reaching down to the water’s edge.” In 1913, after going for a flight in an aeroplane at Hendon aerodrome, Charles Rose suffered a fatal heart attack, possibly brought on by the excitement of the flight. From the garden we entered the vaulted cellar, cold and dark, useful for storage. Also in the garden we came to the Real Tennis court, one of two built here by Charles, still regularly used by the local
community. We were led round the inside of the house where many of the rooms are not in regular use any more.

We mounted the splendid Jacobean timber staircase in the central hall to find family portraits on the walls and a magnificent plaster ceiling. An impressive reception room with a charming view of the surrounding land was off the landing. Miriam told us that Hardwick Estate is now organically managed and run by her father, Sir Julian Rose. She and her brother are very interested in conserving the estate and hope that this can be achieved through using the house and grounds for various activities and by a fund-raising trust in the future.

Elizabeth Toms