Shaw House
Shaw-cum-Donnington, Berkshire: Part 2

The Civil War

During the Civil War, Shaw was the home of Thomas Dolman's son, Humphrey. He seems to have walked the tightrope between the the two sides, but was basically a supporter of Parliament. In October 1644, the Royalist army arrived at Newbury on the march to Oxford. Fearing an impending attack on London, the Roundheads moved to intercept them there. The Royalist, Colonel Sir George Lisle, was send to fortify the area around Shaw House. Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Page commanded the musketeers and pikemen at the house itself. Humphrey Dolman was not in residence at the time, but his eldest son, Thomas, was an active Royalist and welcomed the forces. On 27th, the house was attacked by the Earl of Manchester as a diversionary tactic, as the rest of the Parliamentary army, under William Waller, marched north to outflank the Royalists at Speen in the west. There was bloody fighting in both villages and, at what became known as the Second Battle of Newbury, each side lost about five hundred men. The walls of Shaw House are such that would be well suited to withstand a siege and an assault, being in many places six feet thick, as shown by the deep recesses in the windows. The roof, too, is a veritable forest of timber; and the foundations of the house and cellars look as if they had been constructed by their founder to last for all time. They are said to have been used as dungeons for soldiers captured during the siege. Like the local tradition which states that there is an underground passage to the Royalist stronghold at Donnington Castle, the story is unlikely to be true. In the end, it seems the Parliamentary attack had come too late in the day. As night fell, the King's forces withdrew to Wallingford. Neither side really won the fight and, in the following days, the Roundheads took their revenge by ransacking  Shaw House and stripping it bare.

In the wainscot of the south-facing bay window in the former best bedroom, there is, let into the wall panelling, a brass plate perforated at a spot where a bullet-hole may be seen. This is said to have been the work of a Roundhead soldier, who aimed at King Charles I when he was dressing himself at the window, on the morning of the Second Battle of Newbury when the house was heavily under siege. The plate was probably installed by the 18th century historian, James Pettit Andrews, whose father purchased the house when he was fourteen and whose brother, Sir Joseph, lived there throughout his later life. James was very keen on the house's history and persuaded his brother to rename several of the rooms: Queen Anne's Room, the Cromwell Room and this room was (and still is) the King Charles Room. He may also have acquired the Civil War trinkets that were still on show in the house in Victorian times. Unfortunately, the story seems to be totally apocryphal, for Charles was one of the few monarchs who never visited Shaw. During the famous battle, he was kept in Newbury town centre, far from the front line. Andrews was presumably rather quick to accept local oral history; but, who knows, the hole-in-the-wall may really have been shot at a prominent Royalist in the manner described. It just wasn't King Charles.

The Refitting of 1700

At the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Thomas Dolman was knighted and Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York, visited him at Shaw, where they reminisced about the battle at which they had both been present. After Charles' death, the Duke became King James II, but Sir Thomas disagreed with his Catholic policies and withdrew to country life at Shaw. However, there was a warm welcome at the house for the King's Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange, when he visited on his ride from Torbay to London to take the Throne as King William III. After Thomas' death, the family spent still less time in London and his son, another Thomas, decided to upgrade the old Elizabethan house to incorporate the latest architectural styles, perhaps in anticipation of  another Royal visit. He removed the screens passage and reduced the height of the hall by inserting a suite of rooms above, forming the existing first storey. He changed the windows so that the facade was no longer symmetrical. Then covered the walls of the hall and other rooms with painted oak panelling and created the present grand exit from the hall, with central doors to a handsome new staircase of polished oak, not dissimilar to a contemporary example in Kensington Palace. Sadly, the decorative newel post finials have long since disappeared, but there is a fine plaster ceiling above featuring profiled busts representing the four seasons. There was one part of the house which Thomas Junior did not change, however. The parlour and the 'Old Queen's Room' which had played such an important role in his family history were kept exactly as they had always been. Queen Anne did indeed visit the Dolmans on her return from Bath in October 1703, but she stayed in the plush new apartments rather than the Old Queen's Room. The state bedstead in which she was said to have slept was long preserved in the house. Thomas Dolman was knighted in Westminster a week later. He was obviously a man who was proud of his heritage and, having no children of his own, he made extreme arrangements in his will for the preservation of his family estate. When he eventually died in 1711, Shaw was inherited by one of Thomas' few remaining relatives, his niece, Dorothy. Unfortunately, she had married a certain John Talbot, a spendthrift who was deeply in dept. Thomas' worst fears were realized and the estate was sold. 

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All photographs taken by kind permission of West Berkshire Council

   

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