Hartwell House

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Hartwell House
Hartwell House, Bucks.jpg
Hartwell House
Location: 51°48’18"N, 0°50’48"W
Village: Hartwell
Country house
Owned by: Ernest Cook Trust

Hartwell House is a country house in the village of Hartwell in Buckinghamshire. The house is part of the Hartwell Estate owned by the Ernest Cook Trust, and since 2008 has been leased to The National Trust. It is a grade I listed building,[1] and is currently used as a hotel.


The house is in Buckinghamshire, about two miles north of the village of Stone along the A418 and some three miles from the centre of Aylesbury, the county town.


The estate is listed in the Domesday Book, at which time it belonged to William Peverel, an alleged illegitimate son of William the Conqueror.

The core of the present house was constructed in the early 17th century for the Hampden family and then the Lee family. The Lees, an old Buckinghamshire family, acquired Hartwell c.1650 by marriage into the Hampdens. Confederate General Robert E Lee and the actor Sir Christopher Lee are amongst their descendants.

Between 1809 and 1814 the owner of the house, Sir Charles Lee, let the mansion to King Louis XVIII of France. The arrival of the impoverished king and his court at Hartwell was not a happy experience for the mansion, with once grand and imperious courtiers farming chickens and assorted small livestock on the lead roofs. The King signed the document accepting the French Crown in the library of the house, following the defeat of Napoleon.

In 1827, Dr John Lee, an astronomer, inherited the house from the unmarried Revd Sir George Lee and during his ownership, the British Meteorological Society, now the Royal Meteorological Society was founded in the library in 1850. Revd Nicholas Lee inherited the house when his brother, Dr John, died on 25 February 1866 at Hartwell. William Henry Smyth describes the house and the Hartwell Observatory established there, in Ædes Hartwellianæ: Or, Notices of the Manor and Mansion of Hartwell (1851).

The house remained a private residence until 1938, when, at risk of demolition, the estate was acquired by the philanthropist Ernest Cook and the contents sold off by public auction. The estate passed to the Ernest Cook Trust when it was founded in 1952.

In the 1960s the house became a girls' finishing school, then it was let in the 1980s to be run as an hotel. The house was converted and became part of the Historic House Hotels group. Its proximity to Chequers means that it has frequently been the host of international and Government summits and meetings.


The Jacobean north front of the house, is constructed of ashlar and has a projecting porch with a bow window above. At each end of this facade are two flanking canted bays each with a double height oriel window. Immediately each side of the porch are two large windows of the hall inside. Hiding the roofscape is a parapet with vases erected in 1740.

Between 1759 and 1761, architect Henry Keene substantially enlarged and "Georgianised" the house, and built the east front with its canted bay windows and a central porch in the Tuscan style. Inside, the great hall has stucco panels, and three reception rooms with rococo chimneypieces.

The 1980s conversion to a hotel was overseen by the architect Eric Throssell who created a new dining room in the style of Sir John Soane, by enclosing the former 18th century open arcaded porch. The former semi-circular galleried entrance vestibule became an inner hall. Throssel was also responsible for the design and recreation of the cupola crowning the roof.


The 90 acres of gardens at Hartwell were laid out by Capability Brown c.1750. The North Avenue is a grand vista through trees planted in 1830, sadly today terminated by the ever encroaching town of Aylesbury. The gardens are reminiscent of nearby Stowe, with statues, an obelisk and ornamental bridge.

Egyptian Spring

The Hartwell Estate currently covers 1,800 acres of farmland surrounding Hartwell House.

Hartwell's Egyptian Spring is a folly built in 1850 by Joseph Bonomi the Younger, an Egyptologist. It is an alcove seat on the western side of Lower Hartwell opposite a small spring. The stone pylon bears the Greek inscription ΑΡΙΣΤοΝ ΜΕΝ ΥΔΩΡ, translated as "Water is Best"[2] attributed to Thales.

Acquisition by The National Trust

In September 2008 the National Trust acquired a long lease of the house from the Ernest Cook Trust (until 2111).[3] The gift had been under discussion for almost 30 years and in 1997 the National Trust accepted restrictive covenants over all three properties. The house and grounds was gifted the Trust by the directors of Historic House Hotels.[4] The house continues its present use as an hotel under the existing management of the Historic House Hotels. Three National Trust directors joined the Historic House Hotels board and all profits will go to Trust funds to provide for the long-term care of the three houses.

Public access

It is envisaged that arrangements will be put in place for the gardens and grounds of the hall to be open to visitors, along with tours of the ground floor rooms.[3]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Hartwell House)