Pick of the Month

 
Here is our recommendation for the best place to visit this month.

 Stonor Park, Oxfordshire

The Stonors of Stonor

There are very few houses in the land which are known by the names of their owners and have been in the same ownership since the Norman Conquest or thereabouts. Stonor Park is one.

The Stonor family arrived when Robert de Stanora took up residence in the 12th century and they have been here ever since. The Stonor family’s long history at Stonor Park is particularly unusual because the family did not conform and avoid conflict with the Crown, rather the opposite. From the Reformation until the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829, the family were staunch adherents to the outlawed Catholic faith. The result is that though the family survived for many centuries they were impoverished by heavy fines and unable to indulge in extravagant building works. Several members of the family went into voluntary or enforced exile with the result that Stonor Park today is both a little changed English house with a rather secretive air and a haven for collections of art from other parts of the world.

Pagans and Recusants

Religion started early in this hidden valley. In the garden is a prehistoric stone circle, one of these ancient stones was even incorporated into the 13th century chapel, linking paganism and Christianity. The chapel is the heart of the house, one of very few chapels where mass has been celebrated continuously. Stonor’s catholic history is significant.

Saint Edmund Campion was here in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, setting up a printing press in the attic for the dissemination of pamphlets in the hope of rekindling the fires of Catholicism. Campion was captured and hung, drawn and quartered and the elderly Lady Cecily Stonor who had sheltered him was imprisoned.  Rather tartly, in her cross examination, she pointed out that in her long life, she had been born a Catholic, asked to renounce her faith under Edward VI, re-embrace it under Mary and now repudiate it again. She refused.

Today the chapel is still a place of worship, the Gothic interior dates from around 1796 and is enhanced by a series of stained glass windows that were a gift from the author, Graham Greene.

Architecture & Variety

You can still find parts of the earliest house here, the 13th century building was adapted by Tudor Stonors into an E-shape building improved with a Georgian façade in mellow brick with Gothick flourishes.The interiors are varied, with a fine collection of tapestries, a collection of Nepalese bronzes, and displays of contemporary ceramics.

Transatlantic connections

A collection of early American furniture sits with 18th century charts of the seas around Rhode Island linking Stonor to the William Watts Sherman House in Rhode Island, now a US National Historic Landmark; William Watts Sherman was the present owner’s grandfather. 

HIGHLIGHTS

The Shell Bed

Shell shaped furniture enjoyed a brief vogue under William & Mary and the Shell Bed at Stonor dates from this period. It is something extraordinary, surrounded by oyster chairs.

To quote Simon Jenkins - 

“the Walrus and the Carpenter seem about to dine”. 

The Library


The largest collection of Catholic literature in Britain, the library preserves many ancient church books, prayer books, books of hours, missals and bibles which would otherwise have been lost. The room is filled with Baroque figures of saints, which give it a rather European air.

The Study

The current owner, Lord Camoys’ Study houses an important collection of Old Master drawings which sit well with a pair of 17th century Venetian globes showing a world before Australia.

The Gardens

Spring is the perfect time to visit to see the Italianate Pleasure Gardens come to life and enjoy the varieties of daffodils and narcissus in Grandmother’s Garden. Spring bulbs and blossom are also at their best in the Walled Kitchen Garden and there are extensive walks to enjoy through the Arboretum and up to the View Point above the house.