Rousham House

Rousham House

Rousham House is a Jacobean style country house in Oxfordshire, England. The house has been in the ownership of one family since it was built.

The manor of Rousham was purchased during the 1630s by Sir Robert Dormer. He immediately began construction of the present mansion; however, work was halted by the start of the civil war. The Dormers were a Royalist family, and so the house was attacked by Cromwellian soldiers who stripped the lead from the newly completed roofs.

In 1649 the estate was inherited by Robert Dormer's son, also Robert. He left the house much as his father had created it, repairing only the ravages of the civil war. However, he did more to restore the family fortunes by marrying twice, each time to an heiress. His second wife was the daughter of Sir Charles Cottrell, a high-ranking courtier of King Charles II.

It was the grandson of Rousham's builder Colonel Robert Dormer who after inheriting in 1719 began the huge transformations in the gardens that we see today. Initially he employed Charles Bridgeman to lay out the gardens in the new and more natural style that was becoming popular. Bridgeman's layout of the garden was completed circa 1737. Rousham was then inherited by Colonel Dormer's brother, General James Dormer. It was he who called in William Kent to further enhance and carry forward the garden created by Bridgeman. This Kent did with considerable success over the following four years.

At this time Kent was also embellishing the house itself, with castellations and two wings containing a drawing room and a library. Kent's interiors were altered a century later. The hall, the principal room of the house, has survived alteration by successive generations unscathed, and remains as completed in the 17th century. Kent's exterior work is today almost as built, though in 1876 the original octagonal paned glazing was replaced with innovative large sheets of plate glass, during a heavy-handed restoration of the house by the architect J P St Aubyn. The house contains fine collections of Jacobean and 18th-century furniture, paintings and statuary, all displayed in a domestic setting.

The gardens, created by Bridgeman and then Kent, are situated in a curve of the River Cherwell. Bridgeman had laid out the skeleton of the garden, with meandering walks through the woods, and pools of varying degrees of formality. Kent's theme was to create and transform the natural landscape created by Bridgeman into an Augustan landscape to recall the glories and atmosphere of ancient Rome. Thus the Roman Forum was to be recreated in the verdant English countryside.

Away and unseen from the mansion, Kent's garden rambles past classical temples, follies and statuary representing the spirit of that era, dying gladiators, a horse being savaged by a lion and other statues depicting similar themes. Paths lead through woods where the abundant water from the Cherwell is fully utilised: small rills lead to larger ponds and formal pools, classical statuary of Roman Gods and mythological creatures are cunningly positioned to catch the eye as one progresses from a cascade to the cold bath and on to the next temple or arcade, each set in its own valley or glade, a string of picturesque events.

Among the most revealing and thought-provoking of the follies is a grotto with a small cascade with the inscription: "In Front of this Stone lie the Remains of Ringwood an otter-hound of extraordinary Sagacity":this shows that while the English squire who created this garden attempted to achieve Arcadia, his interests and loves remained hunting and hounds.A separate garden closer to the house evokes the spirit of the Tudor and Stuart eras of English gardening. Box-edged beds and borders of old roses and herbaceous plants are surrounded by walls of ancient red brick; here an historic circular dovecote still retains its doves and close by through a small gate is the parish church, where generations of Cottrell-Dormers are buried. One memorial in the church commemorates three sons of the family killed in the fighting of World War I.

The Cottrell-Dormer family still live at the house, and keep the garden and estate so uncommercialised that no book exists to guide the unwary tourist, and no shop sells colourful postcards or souvenirs. A visit to Rousham today is very similar to one enjoyed by a visitor in the 18th century. While the gardens and buildings are in a superb state of repair, they are not manicured, one does not feel afraid to tread on the grass or to pause for thought on a rustic bench; in such a state the spirit of the 18th century lingers on at Rousham.

External links

* [ Rousham House and Garden - information on garden history, design]
* [ Official Rousham house website]

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