Sunninghill Park
Sunninghill, Berkshire

Sunninghill Park started out as the lodge of Battles Bailiwick, one of the eastern divisions of Windsor Forest, when it was emparked during the reign of King Richard II. During the Wars of the Roses, the keeper was the Yorkist, William Staverton, who also held Cranbourne Chase and Swinley Park; but the Lancastrian Henry VII, unsurprisingly, dismissed him. Henry Jewett was appointed in his place and the house at Sunninghill became known as Jewett’s Lodge in his honour. King Henry VIII signed one of his first official documents as king while out hunting from the lodge in 1509.

The King apparently decided to have the old medieval building rebuilt two years later, as a typical Tudor courtyard house with a large gatehouse entrance on the south side, as shown on Norden’s Map of 1607. It stood on the hill, actually in Winkfield parish, above the later house, overlooking two ponds now incorporated into the lake. It had a fountain on the lawn and was approached by the still extant lime avenue. During the later Tudor period, Sir Henry Neville, a younger brother of Lord Abergavenny, was appointed Keeper of Sunninghill Park and Swinley Park, as well Riding Forrester of Fiennes Bailiwick. Thus began the long held connection of our county with this branch of that great family. Before, he purchased Billingbear Park, Sir Henry resided at Sunninghill. After his death in 1593, his son, Ambassador Neville used the place as a hunting lodge, which, of course, is what it was designed for, the park being home to 260 fallow deer. He also held the Mote Park in Windsor and Battles Bailiwick. By 1598, he was allowing his brother, Edward Neville MP, to live at Sunninghill with his ever growing family. The ambassador died in 1615 and, after four years of legal wrangles, his son lost the keepership to the Prince of Wales’ tutor, Alexander Livingstone.

In 1630, Charles I’s empty exchequer led to many of his lands being sold off, including Sunninghill Park. It was purchased at a very good price by the Hon. Thomas Carey, a younger son of the Earl of Monmouth who was Groom of the Bedchamber. He only lived there for four years before his death. In his will, he left Sunninghill to his three daughters (one of whom died shortly afterwards), insisting that the estate be “converted to the best profit that could be made thereof by good husbandry and not used for pleasure” - and so the park’s hunting days were over. It eventually came into the hands of his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, whose “lips and eyes, made all hearts their sacrifice”. She married the Viscount Mordaunt who was Constable of Windsor Castle and Keeper of the Forest and Great Park. He was accused of treason during the Commonwealth, but Elizabeth narrowly saved him from the block by using her womanly charms on the forty judges.

The Mordaunts don’t appear to have lived at Sunninghill however. They rented the house to Mr. Thomas Draper and finally sold it to him for £3,300 in 1654. Draper then pulled down the old Tudor house, which had been left empty for much of the Commonwealth period, and built himself a new home on the lower ground. This had no view, but was apparently a more convenient location where flat lawns in the Dutch style could be laid out. It was a red brick building, in the bend overlooking the lake, with two wings extending towards the water. At the Restoration, Draper was created a baronet and the King, Charles II, and his brother, the Duke of York, visited him at Sunninghill eight years later, for dinner and a hunting party. Sir Thomas had two daughters: the eldest, Mary, married John Baber, the son of the King’s Physician; while the youngest, Elizabeth, married Sir Henry Ashurst Bt of Ashursts in Sunninghill; but, after his widow’s death in 1717, the eventual heir was their grandson, John Baber Junior.

John Baber was resident at Sunninghill Park for many years, but four years after his death in 1765, his son, Thomas Draper Baber, sold the estate to Jeremiah Crutchley, upon his coming of age; although the Babers continued to hold property in the parish until at least 1827. Crutchley pulled down the two wings and had much of the house rebuilt by James Wyatt. He became MP for Horsham, and then a couple of Cornish constituencies. He was also a great friend of Dr. Johnson who visited him at Sunninghill in 1781. He later wrote that he had “never been happier in my life than in those two days”. Crutchley died in 1805, when Jane Austen’s brother, Henry, considered marrying his widow. The place was inherited by his nephew, George Henry Duffield, who took the additional name of Crutchley. His younger brother, Thomas Duffield, lived at Marcham House in the north of the county. George again undertook considerable remodelling of the house at Sunninghill. It passed to two of his sons before his grandson, Percy Edward Crutchley, sold the place to Philip Ernest Hill in 1936.

The park was purchased by the Crown Estate from the estate of Philip Hill in 1945. It was planned as a new home for Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, but the building was gutted by fire during repairs, on 30th August 1947. As with so many country houses of the time, the decision was made to pull it down rather than face the expense of restoration. In 1986, a 5 acre area at the Home Farm in the northern Winkfield part of the park was purchased directly by the Queen There, she had Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith, her Balmoral Estate Architect, build a new two-storey red-brick Tesco-style supermarket Sunninghill Park  for her second son, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, and his family. He lived there between 1990 and 2004, when he moved into the Royal Lodge following his grandmother's death. The house was sold in 2007, for a reported £15m to an offshore trust in the British Virgin Islands. The Press have speculated that the most likely owner is a Kazakh billionaire. The building is unoccupied and has since become derelict.

The old Sunninghill Park no longer stands. The present Sunninghill Park is a private residence, currently unoccupied. 


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