With brutal timing just when World War 2 ended, a divisive “iron curtain” shuddered down on Europe. And to add to the Nazi forced exodus, another class of refugee was born – stranded Poles, who fled Stalin’s Soviet expansionist communist reign of terror. From the late 1940s, throughout the 1950s and onwards, many of these displaced Poles, Britain’s wartime allies, now in exile, saw in Fawley Court their haven, which today is our special idyll…
And so to another, serene, more peaceful age, Georgian England… Throughout much of 1771, and particularly in October, Lancelot Capability Brown (1717-1783), England’s great gardener, horticulturist, and landscapist, would have started his busy day knowing ah ha, today there is much to do at Fawley Court, Bucks. And so there was. Decisions on seeding, lawn layout, turf and soil banking, vistas, water ornaments, and of course tree planting. All of this required his expert attention.
Nothing was beyond Capability Brown, a genius arborist; his naturalist landscapes would mostly enjoy the presence of hardwood trees, such as elms, oaks, or beeches (which love the Chiltern soil). Interspersed with these would be ashes, lime, possibly mature Scots firs, and a few (Lebanon) cedars for “emphasis”. All of these he planted at Fawley Court, some remain on view to this day.
Otherwise Capability Brown shunned the then fashion for exotic tree imports, be it from China or North America. Hence Fawley Court’s famous China tree (by the statue of Chronos) – the only other example today being at Kew Gardens – was a later addition.
Known as Capability, because he saw all land as capable of being landscaped to the command of his gardening craft, Lancelot Brown left his mark on some 120 gardens, estates and country houses around England, (he refused commissions in Ireland, on the grounds that he had to finish off England first). His more famous works are to be found at Kew Gardens, Hampton Court, Blenheim Palace, Syon Park and the lesser known Caversham Park.
At Fawley Court during 1771 Capability established a strong bond with Sambrook Freeman, the then owner, and laid out the Fawley Court grounds with his usual taste, and that they contained a menagerie, and most elegant dairy. Such was the quality for example of grasses and lawns at Fawley Court, that in 1771-1772, Capability bought from S Freeman of Fawley Court 1,120 lb of Dutch clover seed, to be used for seeding the valley and rising mounds at the Milton Abbey estate in Dorset, where he had a commission.
Today, as we go on one of our Public Rights of Way walks through Fawley Court’s (Marlow Road), North or South Lodge entrances, we pass by the splendid fifteen foot high wrought iron piers, each one which should carry a bronze stag’s head. (Embarrassingly, someone has recently put up the most hideous, unaesthetic, philistine gates – how declasse! There is just no accounting for poor taste…).
The paths from the entrances converge before the lawn and stone balustrade in front of the beautiful main red brick building, now thought to be designed by Inigo Jones (1573-1652), rather than Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). But perhaps it was neither, and simply our own Lancelot Capability Brown, and James Wyatt (1746-1813), threw their hats in the ring, and had a go…
You can go to your left passing near the established Toad Hall Nursery, the Water Tower (when was that sold, for how much, and to whom?) or otherwise past the brick barn and stables. Alternatively passing that strange walled alley, you join the path with the flint buildings, (what should today be St Faustina Kowalska’s Apostolate Centre), and carry on circuitously, passing the magnificent vistas made up from years-old Yew hedgerow, (from whence again, a lovely glimpse of the main building), ending up by the left side of Capability’s ornamental waterway. (Here again some philistine has been at work, and placed a gate very recently – you can tell by the fresh jubilee clips, and shining cross-head screws, thus sabotaging sixty years of public walks).
You can in fact reach this same spot walking from the South Lodge route, passing the now famous Blessed Cardinal Newman statue, by the main building, and then walking either side, unchallenged, of the splendid waterway, to join another public footpath alongside the Thames. The public route through Fawley Court to the river has been enjoyed by thousands for sixty years during Henley Royal Regatta week.
From the river you can espy the marvelous little stone bridge (a mini Venetian Rialto) – with public footpath beneath it – which leads to the derelict, listed boathouse. (To your left is the important SSSI; fifteen acres of a Site of Special Scientific Interest which guards the rare Loddon Lily flower!). From here, crossing back on the wooden public footbridge, there has traditionally been access to St Anne’s Church, and the burial ground opened in 1961. Again, thousands, for sixty years, have enjoyed public walking rights every Zielone Świątki, (Whitsun), both to the church and main building.
Walking on from St Anne’s you have of course Fawley Court’s marvelous parkland, which we have all enjoyed as of right, (especially the path with M Sawicka’s moving Stations of the Cross). In the midst of an opening is the famous China tree. Not far from this is the eight foot statue of Chronos (Time), behind which nestle Brother Czesław’s famous crimson rhododendrons.
Here a mention of our beloved Brother Czeslaw Banaszkiewicz, a war veteran, must be made. Often, singlehandedly, for half a century, taking over from Lancelot Capability Brown, he maintained Fawley Court’s parkland and lawns. Eventually, his back bent double from crippling arthritic spondylitis, Brother Czeslaw would still persevere – Fawley Court’s parkland, lawns, main building and St Anne’s church, his and our IDYLL, which meant everything to him.
Finally, it is well known that Kenneth Grahame, author of the famous children’s book, The Wind in Willows based his animal characters on the area around Fawley Court and up the river Thames to Cliveden. And as his character Badger says; We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait,and are patient, and back we come. AND SO IT WILL EVER BE.
Mirek Malevski, Chairman FCOB