Old Windsor, Berkshire
'The King's Houses in the Park of Windsor' were a complex of buildings in and around the manor house enclosure of Old Windsor: Isolated blocks, including at least a hall, a private-chamber, a chapel, a kitchen and other necessary offices. Their site, near the old South Gate, is an area of rather less than 4 acres between the two western extensions of Virginia Water. It is still known as 'Manor Hill' and the course of the circumjacent moat can be traced without difficulty.
From at least 1246, this manor was a Royal residence for three centuries or more, much favoured by the English Kings as a hunting base in the Great Park. It was much preferred to the more draughty and austere surroundings of the castle, which was still essentially a military fortress; and several events from this era, often described as happening 'at Windsor,' actually took place at the manor rather than the castle.
'The King's Houses' and 'The Queen's Houses' are noted separately in 1248 while, three years later, the chamber and the two chapels wanted painting, the hall required a louvre to carry off the smoke, the window-glass and the wainscoting were defective, and the pictures and images needed restoration. Each chaplain, for there were sometimes two, received an annual salary of 50s.
Edward I made the manor a home for his young children. In 1276, he built a new chamber close to the nursery of his eldest son, Alphonso, then three years old, and had the King's chapel, 'the new Queen's chapel' and the oriel, called elsewhere 'the bay-window,' painted. Shortly afterwards, he ordered many additions and improvements, including cellars and wardrobes, a herb garden, a wall round the stables and the levelling of the courtyard. Philip at Holetye was accused of setting fire to the hall about this time. Prince Alphonso died at the manor, at the age of only ten, in 1284.
The Manor had so far been in the charge of the Constable of the Castle, but Robert Lightfoot, described as custodian of the park-gate in 1266, became "Keeper of the houses in the Park" eleven years later, at a salary of 4d a day. In 1277, the King ordered "the wild bulls and cows of the Park to be delivered to his children for their expenses." He transferred many deer from the Forest of Chute the next year, and in 1281 took advantage of a vacancy in the see of Winchester to have the Bishop's pond at Frensham fished: "forty female and fat bream, twenty other bream, forty great pike and three or four hundred of other sorts of fish" were to be taken and "sent alive in order to stock the stew of the King's Park at Windsor." Not long afterwards Edward gave special instructions that the eyry of falcons should be strictly reserved for his own use. The enclosure of a "conynger" or rabbit warren, at a cost of 2s is also noted.
Towards the end of his reign, the King found the manor a convenient place in which to keep the first Prince of Wales, subsequently Edward II, who was frequently in disgrace, as far as possible out of mischief. A most elaborate statement of the accounts of the Prince's household for the year ending 19th November 1305, during which he came of age, has been preserved. It shows that he spent thirty-three days at the Park, and that the average daily consumption of wine for that period amounted to 20 pints. About 150 lbs. of wax which, like the wine, came from the King's store, were used each week, largely for religious purposes. Other supplies were bought as required, at a cost of £6 or so a day. They are entered under the headings: steward's room, buttery, kitchen, scullery, saucery, hall, chamber and stable. Presents of sheep, poultry, etc are noted in the margin.
A unique roll, at the Public Record Office, contains copies or abstracts of more than 600 of the Prince's letters for six months of the same year. They deal with many different subjects, both public and private, the great majority being in French, but a few, amongst them some to the Pope, in Latin. A considerable number are dated from the Park. The careful way in which they have been registered witnesses to the trouble taken over the Prince's training. The subject-matter not infrequently proves its unfortunate results.
The following literal translations are typical of the series:
"To his very dear lady and mother on behalf of Edward, her devoted son, all reverence and honour. Dearest lady and mother, for that our lord the King, our father, hath granted us most of the valets of our chamber to dwell with us as they were wont to do, (and we know well that it is at your request, for we know your kindness,) promise us, dearest lady and mother, that you will, if it pleaseth you, still work for us and pray our dear lord and father, that he will grant unto us two valets besides those we have, that is to say Gilbert de Clare and Perot de Gavaston. For truly, my lady, if we had these two beside the others, we should be much comforted and eased of the anguish we have endured and still suffer by the ordinance of our said lord and father. My dear lady, be good enough, if it pleaseth you, to have the matter at heart and perform it in the most gracious manner, if you love us. My lady, our Lord keep you. Given at the Park, under our privy seal, the v day of August."
"Edward to my lady Mary, his dearest sister, greeting and great love. Dearest sister, we pray you that you take it not ill, if the tuns of wine that we should send you for the convent, and the organs, that we promised, are not come to you. For we have asked for the wine in London, but our men cannot yet find such as we would send you. The organs are come to [King's] Langley, but were damaged on the road. We have had the fault mended, and they will come to you very soon. Dearest sister, the Lord keep you. Given under our privy seal, at the Park of Wyndesore, the xxv day of September."
"Edward to his much beloved in God, the Abbot and Convent of Reading, greeting and great love. For that our well-beloved John Valemanor, keeper of one of our chargers, hath wounded his hand, and we have heard that there is a good surgeon with you, we pray that you will receive John to dwell at your house until his hand be healed ; and that in the meantime you will find him sustenance, and see that the said surgeon take good care of him for the love of us. For which we shall be specially bound to thank you. Given under our privy seal, at the Park of Wyndesore, the v day of September."
The Prince became Edward II in 1307. The Park continued to be one of his favourite residences and, in 1313, he founded a chantry of thirteen chaplains at an annual salary of £10 each and four clerks at 10 marks, with Thomas of Leicester as Dean, "to celebrate divine service daily for the King's soul and the souls of his ancestors and heirs" in the great chapel of the manor or, as it was more formally called, 'the Chapel of Our Lady in the Park.' Many books were ordered for the use of the new community. Its members could keep all oblations offered at the altar and were to have their meals at the Royal table, or else "competent livery of food and drink" whenever the King, or any one belonging to his family, was at the manor.
A petition to Henry VI, recorded in 'The Proceedings of the Privy Council', shows what constituted "livery of food and drink" rather more than a century later, when Richard Jordan, keeper of the Castle cellars, asked for such a privilege, "to wit a cast of bread at your pantry, a gallon of ale at your buttery, and on the eating day of flesh a mass of meat at noon and another at evening, and on the fifth day at noon a mass of fish."
The little community at the manor must have started its career with the happiest anticipations. The hopes of its members were, however, doomed to early disappointment. Their salaries were charges on the manors of Cippenham and Langley Marish. The arrears of the Dean's £10 a year amounted to £140 in 1328. It is doubtful whether most of the others received anything at all.
On his accession, in 1327, Edward III changed most of the park officials, Thomas of Leicester, the Dean of the Chapel at the Manor, becoming keeper for rather more than a year. He and his companions had difficulties with some intruders from Egham and he resigned in October, when the Park reverted to the charge of the constable of the castle. A lengthy inventory of the kitchen utensils at the manor, taken as a result of the transfer, details a great cauldron fastened to the floor; a great 'chaffer' which weighed 266 lbs, was marked with an 'E' (for Edward) and two crosses, and had a piece out; a great pot of 115 lbs showing an 'E' on the one side and an 'A' (for Alianora, or Eleanor of Castile) on the other, etc.
A report of dilapidations, dated "Monday next before the Feast of St. Margaret, the Virgin," 20th July 1329, mentions defects in the hall, chapels and chambers of the manor proper, as well as in two houses, the Dean's chamber, two soldiers' chambers and the great chapel. All these were within the manor house paling, which itself needed attention. Outside the enclosure, the cowhouse had collapsed and one Adam de Braye's chamber, Maurice's chamber, the great and the small grange and two long stables were in bad condition. The cost of the work required was estimated at rather over £50.
Thomas de Usefleet had succeeded his namesake of Leicester as Dean of the Great Chapel. Only four of the seventeen chaplains and clerks appointed by Edward II were left, the others being either dead or "departed for lack of their wages." Edward III decided to remove the survivors, John de Melton, Andrew de Bodekesham, Peter de Wycle, and Edmund de London, to the Castle, where they "were to dwell and assist the other chaplains already there" at a yearly salary of 100s each. The new scale of pay did not meet with approval, and the four reminded the King, in a quaintly worded French petition, that, when they came to the Park, they had been promised £10 a year, with which they had been "feebly served and still were." Edward increased the 100s. first to 10 and later to 20 marks. At the Castle, to which they moved on 5th March 1331, the chaplains were ultimately allotted a hall, a kitchen, a cellar and 'four sufficient chambers.' Andrew de Bodekesham died the next year and John de Melton became the last Rector of Wraysbury in 1347.
Edward III seems to have been too fond of the Castle to spend much time in the Park and, when there, used Wychemere Lodge, 'the new manor' at Bear Rails just to the north-east, in preference to the old buildings near the south gate. Richard II was, on the other hand, devoted to the Park. He appointed a certain Jack Sparrow to take charge of the 'King's ostriches' at Windsor and it is likely that they were housed at or near old manor. A curious entry in the Rolls of Parliament states that, in 1388, Sir Robert de Bealknap, Chief Justice of the King's Bench, had been summoned to the manor but had left it "in much distress and great fear for his life".
In 1395, King Richard pulled down Wychemere Lodge and used its timber for extensive alterations at the old manor, which are described in a lengthy document of eight membranes. Some of the other materials required came by water to Staines, at 1s a ton if from London, at 8d if from Sheen or Kingston. Cartage from the capital cost 3s 4d a load, from Staines or New Windsor 6d, and from Wychemere 3d. The improvements included a new moat and a new drawbridge. The expenses connected with the latter amounting to £12 6s. 8d. A man named Thomas Prynce received an agreed sum of £289-16s-6d for decorating the walls of five chambers, the two small chapels and the great chapel. This last was 70 feet long and its ornamentation represented stags with gilded horns. Thomas found his own colours and gold.
Henry IV did not like the favourite home of his great rival. He was at the manor on 28th April 1406 however. He should have reached Westminster the night before, but, as he wrote to his Council, "une maladie soudeinement nous survint en notre jambe." He proposed to get to Staines by some means or other that evening, and to come on by water. This, however, proved impossible, and he ultimately directed his "tresreverentz peres en Dieu et treschiers et foiaulx" to transact their business without him.
In 1529, Sir William FitzWilliam, subsequently Earl of Southampton, and his half-brother, Sir Anthony Browne, who used Woodside as a Windsor home, succeeded Sir William Compton as joint-keepers. FitzWilliam occupied the manor house at Old Windsor, which had then ceased to be a royal residence. It became known as 'Manor Lodge,' the centre of Manor Walk, and was the home of the Keeper there of until the time of the Commonwealth when Oliver Cromwell's brother-in-law, Colonel Desborough took up residence. Its position as the finest house in the Great Park was then eclipsed by Byfield House (alias Cumberland Lodge). In about 1710, when the Duchess of Marlborough was Ranger of the Great Park, Manor Lodge was almost completely rebuilt and her ladyship subsequently put the building at the disposal of her favourite grandson, John Spencer (father of the 1st Earl Spencer). The Duke of Cumberland later placed one of his deputy-rangers in residence and his nephew, the Duke of Gloucester, rented the lodge for a short time in 1766. Some repairs were undertaken after the Duke's death, but the place was eventually demolished in 1792. George IV had an extraordinarily opulent Chinese 'Fishing Temple' erected on the site. This fell into disrepair after his death and was finally demolished in 1867. A Swiss- chalet type 'temple' replaced it for some years and was a popular picnic spot with the Royals, but this too was gone by 1936 and the site is now empty.
Edited from T.E. Harwood's "Windsor Old & New" (1929)
The Manor Lodge no longer stands. Its moat is, however, retained within the bounds of Virginia Water.
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