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Rycote Park (also known as Rycote House, Rycote)


The gardens have been restored to reflect the landscape park design of Lancelot Brown towards the end of the 18th century. Views from the house to the lake have been opened up and the lake having been dredged has been returned to its former glory.


Mainly flat, Thame valley with rising slope to west.

Rycote Park having a very long history and being the site of a Tudor palace with a medieval predecessor was frequented by royalty including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Jams I and Charles I. Burnt down in 1745 it was rebuilt by the Berties, Earls of Abingdon in a Georgian Gothic style, and the park landscaped by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, before it was demolished save for a tower in 1799. The stables of the Tudor Palace were retained and extended in 20th and early 21st C when extensive restoration of parkland landscape took place. Also within the grounds is the 15th C chapel.

The house having been restored and extended in the early 20th and early 21st century has attractive formal gardens around it as well as pleasure grounds. Closer to the house are lawns and pleasure grounds as well as formal gardens. There is interesting planting along the pathways to the lake and surrounding area and many new trees have been planted in the areas of woodland and gardens surround the house. There is also a productive walled kitchen garden and glasshouse.


John Goodall ‘Rycote Park, Oxfordshire, Part I' Country Life September 3, 2008

Jeremy Musson ‘A Palace Reborn. Rycote Park, Oxfordshire. The Home of Mr and Mrs Bernard Taylor Part II' Country Life September 10, 2008

Kathryn Bradley-Hole ‘A Landscape Reborn. Rycote Park, Thame, Oxfordshire' Country Life July 22, 2009

Willis, Peter, 'Capability Brown's Account with Drummonds Bank, 1753-1783', Architectural History: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, 27 (1984), 382-91.

Stroud, Dorothy 1950 ‘Capability Brown' page 142 London: Country Life



Elizabeth Banks Associates, Rycote Park, Historic Park Restoration Plan, 2nd Draft, March 2003.


For full bibliography see Rycote Bodleian site.

In addition:

Colvin, B., and Moggridge H., Landscape Architects, Filkins, Letchlade, Oxfordshire Parks and Gardens Review – Stage I, 1997, no.146 Rycote.

Ingamells, John, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travelers in Italy 1701-1800, Yale University Press, 1997.

Knox, Tim, Grimsthorpe Castle, The Grimsthorpe and Drummond Castle Trust, 2003 (revised).

Mowl, Timothy, The Historic Gardens of England, Oxfordshire, (Tempus, 2007), pp. 30-2

RHS Lindley Library, Occasional papers, Capability Brown and his account book, October 2016 Volume 14, Royal Horticultural Society.

Stroud, D., Capability Brown (Faber & Faber, 1975), p 159.

Journals and Magazines

Bradley-Hole, Kathryn, ‘A landscape reborn, Rycote Park, Thame, Oxfordshire’. Country Life, July 22, 2009.

Goodall, John, ‘Rycote Park, Oxfordshire, Part I. The Home of Mr and Mrs Bernard Taylor, Country Life, September 3, 2008.

Musson, Jeremy, ‘A palace reborn, Rycote Park, Oxfordshire, Part II. The Home of Mr and Mrs Bernard Taylor’. Country Life, September 8, 2008.

Phibbs, John, ‘A List of Landscapes attributed to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’, Garden History, Vol. 41:2 (2013), pp. 244-277.

Phibbs, John, ‘A List of Landscapes attributed to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown - Revisions’, Garden History, Vol. 42:2 (2014), pp. 281-6.


These can be seen on Rycote Bodleian site.


None listed on Oxfordshire Heritage Search


See attached pages 11-13 by Ruth Todd, August 2017, unless otherwise stated.


Many listed on Rycote Bodleian site with images of these and engravings.


1881 1st edition available on above website


Add. MS 69795, fol. 25, British Library

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01844 210210

Access contact details

Only Chapel and Icehouse open to public. Other visits by arrangement.

Private tours of Chapel and grounds available.

Open April to September
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays

No coaches please


Off A329 between Thame and junction 7 of M40.


Mr and Mrs Bernard Taylor


1086 Mentioned in the Domesday Book 1449 Chapel consecrated by Quartermains. 1521 Estate sold to Sir John Heron. 1539 Nephew of above Giles Heron sells estate to John Williams Tudor mansion possibly built by Heron but more probably by Williams on site of medieval mansion. 1559 Sir John William's daughter, Marjorie Norreys inherits with husband Henry. 1645 Esate passes through Baroness Norreys (Bridget Wray's) second marraige to Montagu Bertie into the Berite family. 1682 Son of above created Earl of Abingdon. c 1715 Kip and Knyff drawing of Rycote estate. 1745 Fire at mansion killing heir to 3rd Earl. 1760 Willoughby Bertie succeds as 4th Earl of Abingdon. 1760s Rebuilding of mansion in Classical/gothic style.

In the 1770s, Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon (1740-1799) is documented as paying over £3,000, throughout the course of several years, to secure the services of Lancelot "Capability" Brown to landscape the grounds (Stroud, Capability Brown, p. 142)' (From Langley notes ‘Capability Brown‘s work at Rycote comes within a
period of considerable activity locally. Five years earlier, in 1764, he
had begun work at Blenheim and from 1778 he was engaged at Nuneham
Courtenay in a collaborative project with William Mason (1725-1797), the
poet and garden designer’.

1799 Montagu Bertie 5th Earl succeds. 1807 Masion demolished and building materials sold.

Involvement of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown at Rycote Park and family links with others who commissioned Brown

There is clear evidence that Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon, commissioned Lancelot Brown to landscape the gardens at Rycote from Brown’s Drummond’s Bank account and account notebook.1 It would appear that rebuilding of the mansion/palace was taking place in the 1760s and that Brown’s work was underway during the 1770s. Brown’s Drummond’s account receipts from Bertie totaled £2532.17.1 and there is an entry in his own account book of £84 received from Abingdon (no date given). These were very large sums of money and there may have been additional payments.

Willoughby Bertie was born in 1740 and the fire in which his older brother was killed happened in 1745. He participated in more than one Grand Tour and spent quite a lot of time in Italy. He was a patron of music and musical himself. He succeeded his father who left him with considerable debts in 1760. He married in 1768 Charlotte, daughter of Sir Peter Warren, a wealthy heiress with land in Manhatten and they had ten children together. He was very keen on horseracing and stabled race horses at Rycote and appears to have led an extravagant lifestyle. He was described as eccentric and was a risk taker in financial terms. He opposed the abolition of slavery. He continued the restoration of the mansion which his father had started and made the decision to have the gardens landscaped by Brown. In spite of his financial challenges he appears to have settled Brown’s accounts promptly.

There were longstanding family connections between the Berties and the Wenmans of Thame Park. The two daughters of Sir John Williams inherited Rycote and Thame Park on his death in 1559. One of the 4th Earl of Abingdon’s sisters, known as Eleanor, a Catholic, married Philip, 7th Lord Wenman in 1766. Lord Wenman’s father had commissioned Lancelot Brown to landscape his estate before Wenman died prematurely in 1760 and it is assumed work continued after his death. Willoughby Bertie’s great uncle, Robert Bertie, married Catherine Wenman, daughter of the 4th Lord Wenman whose mother’s second marriage was to James Bertie, 1st Earl of Abingdon.

Meanwhile the Bertie cousins at Grimsthorpe commissioned Brown to do work there in Lincolnshire, also in the 1770s. The family connections there were that Montagu Bertie (1608-66), 2nd Earl of Lindsey’s second marriage was to Bridget Wray, (1627-57), Baroness Norreys suo jure, (whose son James Bertie became 1st Earl of Abingdon, 1653-99). Montagu Bertie’s eldest son by his first marriage was Robert, 3rd Earl of Lindsey (1630-1701) whose great grandson, Peregrine, 3rd Duke of Ancaster (1714-78) commissioned Brown to work at Grimsthorpe in the 1770s. He also had an interest in racehorses. Brown is also believed to have worked at Grimsthorpe in conjunction with James Grundy Jnr. c.1745.2

There is no evidence of the actual work undertaken by Brown or his agents at Rycote. The map by Richard Davis (1797) does not show the serpentine lake, although it shows the one at Thame Park which was constructed earlier. It is likely therefore that when surveyed the fishponds had not been altered or the serpentine lake was under construction. The lake at Rycote is typical of Brown’s water features. There is a sluice at the lake outflow. In the middle of the lake there is a Georgian wall across it suggesting that it was possibly used as a dam when the lake was under construction. There is also quite a complex drainage system with a ditch running along the far side of the lake which crosses under the end point of the lake out into a ditch and a T junction which eventually drains into the nearby River Thame. On the far side of the lake there is a series of pools below the level of the lake.

The icehouse, recently restored, close to the chapel is also likely to have been designed by Brown. Beyond the pleasure ground there is evidence of a fosse (a ha ha without a stone or brick facing) also thought to have been a feature designed by Brown.

In terms of trees there are a few veteran trees, as mentioned earlier, which could have been planted during the 18th century landscaping. There are also some Robinia pseudoacacia trees which could be succors of original trees planted by Brown in the pleasure grounds as well as some evidence of poplars in a wooded area. Given the sale of wood in the late 18th century the lack of veteran trees is not surprising.

It also appears that what might have been left of the extensive formal gardens around the palace and shown in the Kip and Knyff engraving were typically indiscriminately removed in the landscaping by Brown.

There is an interesting letter from Willoughby Bertie to Brown, not dated, and in the British Library 3, transcribed in Stroud as follows:

‘I pay so great Deference to your Taste, Prudence, and Judgement, that I never make the least Enquiry concerning the Improvements at Rycot, but shall always be happy to meet you there, or in any other part of the Globe. Transit (a racehorse) behav’d most ignominiously and lost what might have contributed considerably towards the adornment of Oxfordshire.’ The letter shows Bertie placed great trust in Brown’s landscaping abilities and reputation. Bertie was subsequently forced to sell his race horses due to his mounting debts.

When Willoughby Bertie died in1799 he was insolvent and his heir had to address financial challenges at Rycote which ultimately led to its demise in the early 19th century. The site was then used by the family as a shooting lodge and farm after they moved to their estate at Wytham.

13/14th C Manor House, Early to mid 16th C Tudor mansion constructed, 1625, Charles I moves court to Rycote, 1745, Fire destroys mansion. 1760 to 1770s Willougby Bertie 4th Earl succeeds and continues restoration of house and in 1770s employs Lancelot Brown to landscape gardens. 1799 Montagu Bertie 5th Earl succeeds. 1807 Demolition of house and sale of building materials. 1911 Estate sold by 7th Earl of Abingdon. 1935 Estate acquired by Cecil Michaelis. 2000 sold to Bernard, Sarah and Henry Taylor.

People connected with the main site: Giles Heron, 1521, Owner executed 1540 former treasurer to Henry VIII. John Williams acquires site and also Thame Park 1539, Associate of Henry VIII kinsman of Thomas Cromwell. Henry VIII and Catharine Howard, 26/08/1540 Royal vist to Rycote, Princess Elizabeth as Queen Elizabeth, Dudley Earl of Leicester, James I, Charles I, Montagu Bertie,

Historical Use

Associated People
Features & Designations


    Soil Type

    Clay and Tiddington shales

    Underlying Geology

    Not known.


    English Landscape Garden


    • Country House (featured building)
    • Chapel
    • Icehouse
    • Planting
    • Yew Tree thought to be planted c 1135.Oriental plane, Platinus orientallis to have been planted in 1605.
    • Lake
    • Ha-ha
    • Stable Block, Chapel
    • now part of the country house 1500s. Chapel consecrated 1449.
    • Great House
    • Remaining SW tower of palace 1500s and Bake House
    • Glasshouse
    Key Information


    Part: ground/below ground level remains



    Civil Parish

    Great Haseley




    • Jenifer White

    • Buckinghamshire Gardens Trust

    • Ruth Todd

    Related Documents
    • CLS 1/391/2

      Historic Park Restoration Plan: Final Report - Digital copy

      Elizabeth Banks Associates - 2003

    • CLS 1/392

      Historic Park Restoration Plan: Final Report - Appendices - Digital copy

      Elizabeth Banks Associates - 2003