Hungerford Park, one of the large country manorial estates to the east of Hungerford, has a history dating back to Simon de Montfort in 1246 when it was called Buteley or Balteley Wood and was part of the Savernake Forest. Populating the land with gifts of deer from King Henry II, he developed it into a deer park. There may also have been a hunting lodge. After his death in 1265, the park reverted to being royal property.
In 1400 the estate, was given to Sir Walter Hungerford who had been a distinguished knight during the reigns of Henry IV, V and VI.
When Edward IV became king in 1461 , the manorial rights reverted to the crown and he gave the estate of Hungerford Park to the Duke of Somerset.
By 1586, the property was in the hands of the first Duke of Essex and the park had fallen into a state of disrepair with only 66 deer on the land. Queen Elizabeth I granted Hungerford Park to her favourite, Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex. He renovated the old lodge and expanded it into a mansion.
In 1591, the tenancy of Hungerford Park was granted to the Earl of Essex’s steward, Henry Sadler and his wife, Philippa who renovated the 300 acres of parkland and planted many oak and ash trees, arranged in coppices. At the same time, the Sadlers organised the building of a new mansion house which contained a large servants’ hall named ‘Queen Elizabeth’s Room’. Following court intrigues in London, the Duke of Essex was executed for treason in 1601.
By 1663, the property must have been further extended since it contained 21 hearths, suggesting that the mansion contained 21 heated rooms.
We know from old maps dating from 1766, when the house was owned by Isaac Renou, that the main house then consisted of a large east-facing structure with two wings resting amongst tree-lined avenues and formally laid-out gardens and orchards. However, following Renou’s bankruptcy, the Hungerford Park Estate was sold to Charles Dalbiac, a Protestant Huguenot whose father had fled France as a child hidden in a hamper, presumably with a large amount of money. Sometime around 1780, Charles Dalbiac pulled down the old house at Hungerford Park and built a new elegant villa in the Italian style, set in pleasant grounds of “a neat and agreeable appearance.”
In 1796, the estate was bought by John Willes, the Sheriff of Berkshire, who was to start a dynasty that was associated with the estate until 1908. During his occupancy, John Willes rebuilt the ancillary buildings around the house and erected the only extant associated structure, the wellhouse. This is a charming little red-brick octagonal building, with side chambers, in a muted classical style, standing over an 111ft deep well. Within its gable, it sported a sculptured arms of Elizabeth I, probably the one that graced the wall of the original house. The whole is sadly in need of restoration. Willes also had new kitchen and pleasure gardens laid out.
Colonel Humphrey Jeffreys Walmesley bought the estate in 1908.
In 1928 he sold it on, as part of the great Inglewood Estate sale, to the shipping magnate Alfred George Turner (AGT).
In 1934, AGT made a number of alterations, including the addition of a grand ballroom.
The Turner family, which included four daughters, was famous for giving frequent lavish parties for as many as 65 invited guests. They usually had a specific theme and ended with spectacular firework displays which lit up the whole neighbourhood. The most famous was perhaps the “Golden Ball” when the walls were draped in gold fabric, the dining table decorated in gold, and the guests sat on golden chairs.
It is said that for one particular party, a special train was chartered from Paddington to bring all the drinks! The top photo dates from this time (1935).
After AGT’s death, the estate was sold to Lord Howard de Walden from Avington Manor.
Sadly, the main house was left unoccupied for a number of years and fell into such a state of disrepair that the ballroom was used as a cattle shelter.
Despite being a Grade III listed building (a grade that no longer exists), the house and almost all associated buildings were demolished in 1960.
Only the imposing gates and lodges remain today and remind us of the estate’s former glory.
Of course, in this day and age such an architectural travesty would never have taken place; however, all is not lost as planning permission was granted in 2010 for a new mansion to be built on the former site.
Ten years later, however, this has yet to come to fruition.
The gates to the Recreational War Memorial in Bulpit Lane and some of the sports trophies displayed in the trophy cupboard at Hungerford Club were kindly donated by AGT.
Dr Jimmy Whittaker