Caversham Park is a Victorian stately home with parkland in the suburb of Caversham, on the outskirts of Reading, England. Historically located in Oxfordshire, with boundary changes it became part of Berkshire in 1911. Caversham Park was home to BBC Monitoring and BBC Radio Berkshire.
View from the south east
Location within Reading
|Former names||Caversham Manor|
|Status||Grade II listed|
|Location||Caversham, Berkshire, UK|
BBC Radio Berkshire
The park is listed as Grade II in the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
The history of Caversham Park goes back to at least Norman times, when Walter Giffard, a distant relative of William the Conqueror, was given the estate after the 1066 conquest. The estate, then Caversham Manor, was a fortified manor house or castle, probably nearer the Thames than the present house. The estate was registered in the Domesday Book, in an entry describing a property of 9.7 square kilometres (2,400 acres) worth £20. The estate passed to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and Protector of the Realm, in the late 12th century. Marshall, who in his final years acted as de facto regent under the reign of a young Henry III, died in Caversham Park in 1219.
Later it was occupied by the Earls of Warwick. In 1542, it was bought by Sir Francis Knollys, the treasurer of Queen Elizabeth I. However, he did not move here until over forty years later, when he completely rebuilt the house slightly to the north. Sir Francis' son, William Knollys, the Earl of Banbury, entertained Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Anne of Denmark here.
A description of an entertainment at Caversham for Anne of Denmark in April 1613 written by Thomas Campion was printed in 1613. She was met by a 'Cynic' dressed as a wildman who debated with a 'Traveller' in elaborate costume. These two rode the short distance to the park gate and were met by two park keepers and two of Robin Hood's men, who sang for the queen in her coach. The entertainment continued in the hall of the house after dinner and concluded with masque dancing.
Later Caversham became home to the Royalist Earl of Craven. During the Civil War, the house was confiscated and used to imprison Charles I. Following the Civil War, the Elizabethan manor house was demolished because of its poor state of repair and rebuilt by Lord Craven after 1660, probably with William Winde as the architect. The estate was sold in 1697, passing by the 1720s into the hands of William, first Baron, and later Earl, Cadogan (d 1726).
William Cadogan, 1st Earl Cadogan started to have the house rebuilt in 1718. A friend of the Duke of Marlborough, he tried to rival the gardens at Blenheim Palace. A plan of the 1723 design was published by Colen Campbell in Vitruvius Britannicus III, 1725. The house burned down in the late 18th century and was replaced with a smaller house. This was enlarged by Major Charles Marsack in the 1780s, in the Greek temple style, with an impressive Corinthian colonnade. Marsack was High Sheriff of Oxfordshire for 1787.
This house also burnt down in 1850.
In his Observations on Modern Gardening of 1770, Thomas Whately described the approach to Lord Cadogan's Caversham as examplary, an artful solution to its restrictive setting "confined within a narrow valley, without views, buildings or water", He praises the unequivocal statement of being a road to a grand house: "The approach to Caversham, though a mile in length, and not once in sight of the house, till close upon it, yet can never be mistaken for any other way than it is". "Crossing the whole breadth of a lovely valley; the road is conducted along the bottom, continually winding in natural easy sweeps, and presenting at every bend some new scene to the view ... insensibly ascending, all the way". It finally "rises under a thick wood in the garden up to the house, where it suddenly bursts out upon a rich, and extensive prospect, with the town and the churches of Reading full in sight, and the hills of Windsor forest in the horizon."
In April 1786, Thomas Jefferson, the future third President of the United States, visited Caversham Park and other places described in Whately's treatise in search of inspirations for his own gardens at Monticello and other architectural projects. An astute observer, Jefferson's account in his Notes of a Tour of English Gardens reads like this:
"Caversham. Sold by Ld. Cadogan to Majr. Marsac. 25. as. of garden, 400. as. of park, 6 as. of kitchen garden. A large lawn, separated by a sunk fence from the garden, appears to be part of it. A straight broad gravel walk passes before the front and parallel to it, terminated on the right by a Doric temple, and opening at the other end on a fine prospect. This straight walk has an ill effect. The lawn in front, which is pasture, well disposed with clumps of trees."
Jefferson undertook the tour in the company of John Adams, his close friend and predecessor as US president. Adams' observations are far more general. However, he gives a fuller account of the route they were taking: "Mr. Jefferson and myself went in a post-chaise to Woburn farm, Caversham, Wotton, Stowe, Edgehill, Stratford upon Avon, Birmingham, the Leasowes, Hagley, Stourbridge, Worcester, Woodstock, Blenheim, Oxford, High Wycombe, and back to Grosvenor Square... The gentlemen's seats were the highest entertainment we met with. Stowe, Hagley, and Blenheim, are superb; Woburn, Caversham, and the Leasowes are beautiful. Wotton is both great and elegant, though neglected". He was damning about the means used to finance the large estates, and he did not think that the embellishments to the landscape, made by the owners of the great English country houses, would suit the more rugged American countryside.
The present building, inspired by Italian baroque palaces, was erected after a fire in 1850 by architect Horace Jones who much later also designed London's Tower Bridge. Its then owner William Crawshay II, an ironmaster nicknamed the 'Iron King', had the house rebuilt over an iron frame, an early example for this technique. Jones inserted his seven bay block between two colonnades of 1840 by John Thistlewood Crew (called J. T. Crews by Pevsner and English Heritage) which apparently survived the fire.
During the First World War, part of the building was used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. In 1923 The Oratory School bought the house and about 120 hectares (300 acres) of the estate's remaining 730 hectares (1,800 acres). The principal of the school was Edward Pereira. The legacy of the estate's days as a school remain with a chapel building and graves for three boys, one of whom died in World War II in 1940, the other two having died from accident and sickness in the 1920s.
When approaching Reading via the A3290 (formerly part of the A329(M) motorway) northbound near the A4 junction, Caversham Park is a clearly visible landmark dominating the wooded hill on the opposite side of the Thames.
With the onset of the Second World War, the British Ministry of Health requisitioned Caversham Park, and initially intended to convert it into a hospital. However, the BBC purchased the property with government grant-in-aid funds, and moved its Monitoring Service into the premises from Wood Norton Hall, near Evesham in Worcestershire, in Spring 1943. The nearby estate of Crowsley Park was acquired by the BBC at the same time, to act as the service's receiving station and continues to function in that role. In 1945 1,000 people were working at the site.
In major building works in the 1980s, the BBC Architectural & Civil Engineering Department restored the old interior, removed utilitarian brick buildings put up alongside the east side of the mansion during the war, converted the existing orangery for use as a canteen and editorial offices, and built a large new two storey west wing housing the listening room. This included a new glazed atrium facing the original stable block. A further major building project in 2007–08 saw the west wing converted to house all of Monitoring's operational staff.
A large 10-metre (33 ft) diameter satellite dish was erected in the grounds in the early 1980s. It was later painted green (rather than white) to reduce its obtrusiveness. Shortwave aerials in front of the house were removed.
In the 1980s, the formal name of the service was shortened to "BBC Monitoring".
In 2016 it was announced that BBC Monitoring would move to London with the loss of a number of jobs. In late 2017 the BBC announced it was selling the Grade II-listed Caversham Park estate in an effort to save money on property costs. The BBC finally left Caversham Park after 75 years in November 2018.
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- Whately 1770, p. 142.
- Jefferson 2008, p. 370.
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- Adams 1851, p. 394
- G. C. Boase, Jones, Sir Horace (1819–1887) rev. Valerie Scott, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004 (Subscription required)
- Royal Berkshire History: Caversham Park
- Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600–1840, London 1978, p. 240.
- Caversham Park Archived 22 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine on Past Scape, English Heritage
- "Pick of the Past: Caversham Park Village 1970". Get Reading. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
- "Friends of Clayfield Copse". Econetreading.org.uk. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
- "Caversham Park: End of an era for BBC listening station". BBC News Online. 7 July 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
- "BBC Berkshire last to leave Caversham Park". BBC News Online. 20 November 2018. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
- Adams, John; Adams, Charles Francis (1851), The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: Autobiography, continued. Diary. Essays and controversial papers of the Revolution, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, 3, Little, Brown, p. 394
- Jefferson, Thomas (2008), Oberg, Barbara B.; Looney, J. Jefferson (eds.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Digital ed.), Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, p. 370, retrieved 14 August 2012
- Whately, Thomas (1770), "Chapters XLV & XLVI", Observations on Modern Gardening (Second ed.), London: T. Payne, pp. 138–144
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