Hardwick Estate has a long and fascinating history including a role in the English civil war, and as one of the inspirations for Wind in the Willows.
At the time of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Hardwick and its lands were owned by Wigod, the Saxon Lord of Wallingford. The Doomsday book records a dwelling on the current location of Hardwick House, whose cellars are believed to originate from this era.
In the thirteenth century, the house and grounds passed into the hands of a Norman French family called the de Hardwicks, and in 1527 the Estate was purchased by Richard Lybbe, a wealthy landowner with links to the royal family, who built the Elizabethan manor – Hardwick House. The family’s royal connection made them a target for Oliver Cromwell’s republican army during the civil war, and Hardwick was attacked and ransacked. Later, when King Charles I was imprisoned in Oxford he visited Hardwick to drink ale and play bowls on a green on the Estate.
Sir Charles Day Rose bought the Estate in 1909, having rented it since 1871 after the Lybbe Powys’s fell on hard times. He was a banker, sportsman and Liberal politician thought to be the inspiration for the character Mr Toad in Wind in the Willows, which was written by his banking contemporary Kenneth Grahame who lived in Pangbourne. As Liberal Member of Parliament for Newmarket and Cambridge he became a supporter of David Lloyd George’s ‘people’s budget’, advocating redistribution of land, and abolition of the House of Lords. The enormous wealth which he amassed via mining and railway investments in North America, India and Africa was spent on his passion for sports. At Hardwick he built a race horse breeding stud farm which turned out several Derby winners, and two Real Tennis courts, one of which is still an active club. He was also a pioneering motorist, yachtsman and aviator.
The Rose family continue to own and manage the Estate to this day. In the 1950s and 60s Sir Charles Rose placed emphasis on Hardwick’s forestry, and it became one of the first English woodlands to experiment with planting Thuja Plicata (Western Red Cedar), alongside high grade Beech for furniture making, winning several awards.
In 1975 the farmland was converted to organic status by Sir Julian Rose, the present Estate owner, and his mother Phoebe, and by 1983 Julian was running a thriving organic mixed family farm including a Guernsey dairy herd producing unpasteurised milk, as well as beef, woodland pigs, sheep, chickens, and arable. An award winning farm shop was established at Path Hill selling produce from the farm and its neighbours, and the raw milk, cream and bacon won national awards on a number of occasions. The now renowned horticulturalist Iain Tolhurst and his family took over the Estate’s historic market garden at the same time, producing high quality organic veg. Sadly, increasing government regulation, supermarket dominance, as well as the BSE and foot and mouth crises put the farm shop out of business, and Julian instead focused his energy on campaigning to save what he calls ‘Real Food’ and the family farms that produce it, from the forces of mechanisation and corporate agriculture.
There are several books and films with more information on Hardwick’s vivid history:
The Real Mr Toad: Merchant Venturer and Radical in the Age of Gold by Michael Redley is a mini biography of Sir Charles Day Rose documenting his role in shaking up Edwardian society, as well as the sadness and intrigue in his private life.
The booklet is available from the Bell Bookshop in Henley, Garlands in Pangbourne, and the Hardwick Estate Office for £7.
William Barefield Hutt, whose family lived and worked on the Estate from around 1900 until the 1970s, wrote a series of memoirs including Hardwick, which details his family’s experiences working for Sir Charles Day Rose as well as latterly. It can be purchased from the Whitchurch and Goring Heath History Society for £8.
Hardwick’s Real Tennis Court is administered by The Friends of Hardwick Tennis Court. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org