Welford Park
Welford, Berkshire

Welford Park was originally the site of a monastic grange that was granted to Abingdon Abbey way back in Saxon times. The house was known as 'Farm Court' and was run on behalf of the monks by a bailiff. Tradition suggests that the Abbey herbalist took a special interest in the estate and it was he who planted the snowdrops for which the place is famous today. They are known to have medicinal properties, although there seems to be little evidence that this was known to the Anglo-Saxons

After the Dissolution, King Henry VIII is believed to have turned the estate into a deer park, but it was quickly granted on a long-term lease to Sir Thomas Parry Senior, one of Cromwell's commissioners helping to remove the monasteries. He later became Cofferer to Princess Elizabeth and then Controller of the Royal Household, when she became Queen. So he, unfortunately, spent much time away from his country estate. Shortly before his death in 1560, he was given nearby Hamstead Marshall Park as well, and his son built a fine new residence there. Welford was used as a Dower House for his mother. She is buried in the adjoining church of St. Gregory.

The present Welford House was built by the Oxford master mason, John Jackson, around 1652 for Richard Jones, the grandson of Sir Francis Jones, Lord Mayor of London, who had purchased the property in 1618. It was originally a red brick U-shaped building of two-storeys with large gables and the main entrance on the east front facing the church and the courtyard between the two wings. Richard Jones' only daughter and heiress, Mary, married John Archer in 1680 and, soon afterward, they had the gables removed and an extra storey added to the house, topped by the present hipped roof. They also decorated the rear (now the front) facade with ionic pilasters. Their only daughter, Eleanor, married another (unrelated) Archer, Thomas Archer the architect. They had no children and so, when John Archer died in 1706, as his wife had no remaining family, the estate was inherited by his  niece, Eleanor Wrottesley and her husband, William Eyre, who was obliged to change his name to Archer. They too were childless. So, when Eleanor died in 1720, William kept Welford and it later passed to his son by his second wife, the heiress Susanna Newton, who brought the Cuverthorpe estate in Lincolnshire to the family. It was presumably William who had the formal gardens laid out in the early 18th century. They are thought to have been by Stephen Switzer. William Eyre Archer's grandaughter was another family heiress, Susanna. In 1770, she married Jacob Houblon of Hallingbury Place in Essex, a collateral descendant of Sir John Houblon, the first Governor of the Bank of England. Part of the bride's wedding dress is preserved in the house. The couple's son, John, added the named Archer to his own and the family of Archer Houblon, who lived at Welford Park for many years, was born. 

It was in the late 18th century that the service accommodation was added to the north side of Welford House. The portion now occupied by the coffee shop is still called the laundry. The other section housed a river powered electricity generator in the early 20th century. During the 1800s & 10s, with the family holding three large properties, they were able to rent out Welford Park to Rev. John Robinson. By the 1830s, however, the Archer Houblons were back. Shortly before his death in 1831, John Archer Houblon employed Thomas Hopper to make major alterations at the house. The entrance front was switched to the west side, as at present; and, on, the old entrance front, a large two-storeyed grey brick bow-windowed extension was added between the two wings to become the present dining room with bedrooms above. John's eldest son, another John, inherited Hallingbury Place and his younger son, Charles, inherited Welford Park. Under the terms of his great grandfather's will, he reverted to the surname of Eyre. He continued to use Hopper's services to relocate the staircase to the main entrance axis around 1840. From 1860, the head gardener at Welford was Charles Ross, a man who made the estate famous in fruit-growing circles for his development of many fine varieties of apple. The most successful was the 'Charles Ross' (1886) - obviously named after him - but there were others relevant to the local area: the Welford Park Nonsuch (1871), the Houblon (1901) and the Charles Eyre (1911). Charles Eyre's son, George, reunited the three estates once more upon the death of his childless uncle in 1891, and he also returned to the Archer Houblon name.

In the late 1890s, the Archer Houblons rented out Welford Park to a Scotsman, Capt. Albert Henry Joseph Carstairs. He lived there with his wife, Frances Evelyn Bostwick, an American heiress, and, from 1900, with their only child, Marion Barbara, who grew up to become the eccentric speed boat racer, 'Joe' Carstairs. However, the Captain was called away to serve with his regiment in South Africa. At first, the relationship seemed to survive the distance, with Mrs. Carstairs even travelling to Bloemfontein to nurse her husband when he contracted typhoid fever. Later though, she met a man named Francis Francis in Germany and the two quickly became lovers. In May 1901, Captain Carstairs returned to Welford amongst great celebrations from his friends, but the servants and estate workers must have known the storm and scandal that was soon to descend. Mr. Francis had stayed with Mrs. Carstairs unchaperoned on a number of occasions. She would not give him up and divorce proceedings were swift.

In the early 20th century, the appropriately named archery club, the Welford Park Archers, met in the park. Amongst their number were the five-times and youngest ever Wimbledon Ladies' Singles Champion, Lottie" Dod (1871–1960) and her brothers, Willy & Tony (from Newbury). Lottie won a silver medal for archery in the 1908 Olympics, while Willy won gold, but they lost interest in the sport after the club was wound up in 1911.

In the early 1920s, Welford Park was rented to Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Patteson Cobbold (later Cobbold-Sawle) DSO (1869-1965). The son of John Patteson Cobbold, MP for Ipswich, he attended Philberd’s School in Holyport before joining the army and serving with the 60th Rifles in India. He explored the Pamir Mountains, north-west of the Himalayas in 1897–8, whilst secretly spying on the Russians, and recorded his experiences in his ‘Innermost Asia: Travels and Sport in the Pamirs’ (1900). He later served in Ethopia and South Africa, where he was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant General.

George's son, Henry Archer Houblon eventually found his other mansions too large and, in 1923, he moved back to the more manageable Welford Park, while  Hallingbury and Culverthorpe were sold (and unfortunately the former was subsequently demolished). He had the present formal gardens laid out on the south side of the house on the site of an 18th century bowling green. Following the family tradition of passing to heiress, in 1954, the Welford estate was inherited by his niece, Aline Wilson, the wife of John Lavallin Puxley, a descendant of the Wroughtons of Woolley Park in Chaddleworth. She gifted the house to her son, James Puxley, in 1997.

Welford Park is a private residence. It is open to the public for booked tours only on a restricted number of days in the Summer. Its gardens and the famous Snowdrop Woods are however open to the public every Spring. A back view of the house can always be easily gained from the adjoining churchyard. 


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