Warbrook House, Reading, England
Record Id: 3419
The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):
John James (around 1673-1746), surveyor of HM Works, is well known for The Theory and Practice of Gardening, published in 1712. He translated this from a French book by A J Dezallier d'Argenville (1680-1765) and the two hundred subscribers who contributed towards the costs of its production included many landowners whose own landscape gardens subsequently became renowned and influential. After a successful and lucrative career in which he succeeded Wren as Surveyor to the Fabric of St Paul's in 1723, James purchased land at Warbrook in 1724. This enabled him to fully implement his ideal of a country estate using the theories propounded in d'Argenville's text and his experience gained through his various architectural commissions and appointments. The latter included Orleans House, Twickenham for James Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland under William III, and Appledurcombe, Isle of Wight (see the description of this site elsewhere in the Register) for James Worsley, and between about 1700 and 1705 he was working at nearby Herriard Park (see the description of this site elsewhere in the Register) for Thomas Jervoise.
Following the loss of his son and wife in the 1730s and financial loss after the failure of his brother's printing business in 1738, James moved back to Greenwich. After his death in 1746 the Warbrook estate was sold to maintain his widowed daughter-in-law. The ownership passed through a rapid succession of ownerships: James Comyn, then Sir George Nares and his son, and, during the late 18th century, John Bishop. James' layout of field boundaries, axial drives, and canals seems to have changed little by the mid-19th century (Ordnance Survey), with many of these features surviving into the mid-20th century.
Augustus Stapleton, Private Secretary to Lord Canning, acquired Warbrook in 1838, introducing changes during his period of residence which made the grounds more informal and private. The most significant changes were the closing of the major north to south and east to west drives and the construction of a new lodge on Reading Road. Ancillary buildings and stables (and possibly a farm) south of the house were removed and Warbrook Farm was laid out on the north-west boundary of the estate.
During the early 20th century the house was let to Lady Glass. In the 1920s the Stapletons sold the estate to the artist William Ranken who undertook extensive restoration work to the house, but the gardens seem to have remained unchanged (Architectural Review 1923).
Mrs Humphreys-Owen bought the property in 1939 and made substantial alterations to the house, commissioning Lord Gerald Wellesly and Trenwith Wells to build an extension to the north and a double-height sleeping loggia to the south. The work included changes to the formal gardens, a sunken garden, and an octagonal lily pool.
The site has undergone major changes in the mid-20th century with the conversion of the house to a conference and business centre. This has involved major building additions and the introduction of service areas and other facilities. The site remains (1999) in private corporate ownership.