Danesfield House that we see today was completed in 1901 as a family home for Robert William Hudson. The house is the third property to have been built within this glorious setting, amidst 65 acres of formal gardens with outstanding views over the River Thames and the Chiltern Hills beyond.
Robert Hudson had inherited his fortune from his father Robert Spear Hudson, the Victorian soap magnate, and manufacturers of “Sunlight” soap. His first determination was to rebuild the property and employed to assist the build in the style of the Italian Renaissance was Romaine Walker, FRIBA. The house was finished with such disregard of expense that it became an architectural show place, faced with locally quarried rock chalk with imposing terraced gardens overlooking the river.
Originally some 4,000 years ago, the site was reputed to have been a resting place of nomadic tribes who paused to hunt nearby land and fish in the then untamed river. If you stand on the crest of the bank between the present house and the river and look west there is a steep ravine directly in front of you which is the remnant of the ramparts of a prehistoric fortification. Because of the ample game and the discovery of flint within the chalk based cliffs, the site became a settlement throughout the ages and although not named “Danesfield” until many years later, this name originated from the Danish adventurers who made an encampment here. The next recollection of the estate is the transfer of land ownership in 1664 to an Edmund and Margaret Medlycott, they built what is assumed to be the first property on the site, known at that time as “Medlycotts” and there they lived with son James for over 60 years. Very little is known about the family and their name seldom occurs in any local record.
In 1725 James Medlycott, or his executors, rented “Medlycotts” to a Mrs Morton, whose son John was to be the creator of the first Danesfield House. John Morton purchased the estate freehold in 1750 completely rebuilding the house and naming it Danesfield. At this time John Morton was a Barrister appointed as Attorney General to Queen Charlotte, he was also a contemporary in Parliament of William Pitt, as MP for Abingdon (1747-70), New Romney (1770- 74) and Wigan (1775). The estate was not as large as it is now until John Morton later purchased land surrounding the property. After his death, his widow continued to live at Danesfield for some years, but eventually sold the estate in 1787 because of financial difficulties.
The new owner was Robert Scott- Murray of Wimpole Street, London, the heir to a fortune made in the world of commerce. He rebuilt the house erecting a roomy building of the classical Georgian type, which remained standing for more than a century. Robert Scott - Murray died in 1808 and is buried at Medmenham. The property remained with his descendants – most notably his nephew, Charles Robert Scott-Murray, whose conversion to the Catholic faith in 1845 saw the erection of a Roman Catholic Church at Marlow and subsequently, a domestic Chapel at
Danesfield. It was Charles who diverted the Marlow Road away from the river to its present route and constructed the footbridge over the Henley Road that can be seen today. He died in August 1882 and was buried in the founder’s tomb of the Church he had built in Marlow and the estate was passed to his son. A period of agricultural depression had set in and the value of land was on the wane. The house was let to successive tenants, who came principally for shooting and was eventually sold in 1897 to Mr Robert William Hudson who upon completion of the new mansion in 1901 demolished the old house and chapel. Robert William Hudson’s work was scarcely completed when he decided to sell.
Following Hudson’s sale of the house it was then owned for a short time by a property speculator, Mr Hossack who passed it on a couple of years later to Mrs Arthur Hornby Lewis, who made many changes to the interior of the building and the layout of the gardens. Mrs Hornby Lewis died in 1930 and because she was so attached to Danesfield made the request to be buried in the grounds, this wish was observed. When her trustees found it difficult to dispose of the estate with the deceased owner still resident, permission was sought to transfer the coffin to Hambleden cemetery in 1938. A period of financial depression led the trustees to seek permission to sell the estate. It passed to Mr Stanley Garton, who made preparations to take up residence, renovating the house and improving the amenities. They had hardly settled in before war clouds began to gather. When trouble was imminent, Colet Court School was evacuated from Hammersmith to Danesfield with an influx of approximately 80 boys.
As war proceeded Danesfield was requisitioned as a base to develop the intelligence Section of the Royal Air Force (Reconnaissance and Photography Section) in 1941, Mr Garton moved to Kingswood and Colet Court School departed. The property remained in the hands of the RAF until 1977 when it was sold to Carnation Foods to be used as their Corporate Headquarters.
Danesfield House Hotel opened on the 1st July 1991 as a luxury country house hotel with a charm and character that cannot be compared. It is a property with a most unusual history and when walking around the grounds it is easy to imagine the strange events that must have taken place over the centuries.
An impressive tree lined drive of Hornbeams under the Clock Tower is the first display of the magnitude of the 65 acres of parkland and formal gardens surrounding the house. The gardens have been restored and renovated from the middle of 1989 until the present day, a variety of beautifully tendered and most unusual plantings now flourish and can be found. Covering many part of the houses exterior is a masterfully pruned Wisteria, flowering in a purple cascade during May and June. On walking out onto the terrace you will see formal gardens, consisting of towering Yew topiary and box hedging filled with varieties of English and French Lavender, of which there are five different varieties within the grounds. Central to this formality a three tier fountain, a cherubim standing on an oyster shell tops this magnificent centre piece.
Walk past two original waterfalls to viewpoints overlooking the River Thames, the waterfalls were created from Pulhamite rock. Pulhamite artificial rock was the invention of James Pulham of Pulham and Sons founded C1830. Known for the construction of rock gardens, follies and grottos, they also manufactured a wide range of garden ornaments that can be found at Danesfield, to include two fountains, stone walls and benches along with terracotta objects – two large
terracotta urns can be seen in the house’s Grand Hall today. Pulham and Sons work can also been found at Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House.
A Corsican Pine is another one of the more unique trees at Danesfield, more commonly native to the Mediterranean and southern Europe. Further into the gardens enjoy the tranquillity of the formal Italian garden, fine box topiary surrounds the Koi fishpond overlooked by two beautiful Acers. You may notice a perfectly cut straight line in all of the Yew hedges; this is due to the local Muntjac and Fallow deer nibbling just as high as they can reach.