Winslow Hall

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Winslow Hall
Winslow Hall - - 1773210.jpg
Grid reference: SP770276
Location: 51°56’29"N, 0°52’48"W
Village: Winslow
Built 1700
Town house
Owned by: The Hon Christopher Gilmour

Winslow Hall is a country house, now in the centre of the small town of Winslow in Buckinghamshire.

The house was built in 1700. It was sited in the centre of the town, with a public front facing the highway, but it began to take on the aspect of a country mansion, as it had a garden front that eventually commanded 22 acres , thanks to William Lowndes' gradual purchase of a block of adjacent houses and gardens from 1693 onwards.[1]

The architect of the mansion has been a matter of prolonged architectural debate: the present candidates are Sir Christopher Wren or a draughtsman, whether in the Board of Works, which Wren oversaw, or a talented provincial architect.


Winslow Hall was built in 1700 by William Lowndes, Secretary of the Treasury, according to the almost contemporary report of it in Kip and Knyff's Britannia Illustrata of 1708, though there is no mention of an architect.

Howard Colvin wrote that the house was probably designed by Sir Christopher Wren,[2] but he found the case not proven. George Lipscomb was less cautious about identifying the architect: he notes the "commodious plain brick edifice with a flight of several steps to the door over which is the date of its erection 1700 and the name of William Lowndes" and adds confidently, "for whom it was designed by Inigo Jones".[3] Inigo Jones though died in 1652, almost fifty years before the hosue was built. Pevsner feels the house was in "all probability" designed by Wren.[4]

Sir Christopher Wren is thoroughly plausible: In a ledger book discovered in the early twentieth century detailing work on the house, scattered among the payments made to stonemasons and bricklayers, and for the carpentry to Matthew Banckes, are alterations in payments to craftsmen, authorised by 'St. Critophr Wren Surveior Gen' [sic] The account book is complete and detailed and yet records no payment to Sir Christopher Wren himself. William Lowndes (the owner) and Wren knew each other, they served on a committee together in 1704.

The master carpenter documented at the house was Matthew Banckes, who had been Master Carpenter in the Office of Works since 1683, and was Master of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters at the time the house was built. Banckes often acted as surveyor at works by Wren, including six of the City churches and at Trinity College Library, Cambridge.

Design and grounds

Winslow Hall as designed

The design concept is extreme symmetry, pushed to the utmost extent. The original plan of the house was very simple, a main rectangular block, three floors high, 7 bays long, 5 bays wide. The fenestration is of symmetrically placed sash windows. The three bayed central section is crowned on both principal facades by a pediment containing a round window. The central front door led to a narrow passage the width of the house ending with a door onto the garden at the rear. To the right at the front was the dining room, to the left the hall. Passing along the passage, towards the gardens, were on the right the library and on the left the withdrawing room. Symmetrically placed in the centre of each end wall of the house were staircases. Flanking the house were two wings, on the west a large kitchen and service range and on the east connected by a covered way a brew-house and laundry. These two wings have now been altered and in one case removed. The interiors of the house have too been altered over the centuries, however much original panelling remains.

It is recorded that the builders used in all 111 oak trees which cost a total of £221:19s:2d. The bill for cutting "Mr Lowndes name and the date of the year over the door" ('1700', and visible from the road today) was £5. The total cost of building the house was £6,585:10shillings and 2.25pence.[5]

The front door faces the main Aylesbury to Buckingham road and is within a few yards from the road, something very rare in a country house; one other instance where this happens is Aynhoe Park in Northamptonshire.

William Lowndes bought his original house in 1685, and gradually acquired his neighbours' properties during the 1690s, e.g. "a brick house standing near the street pulled down to build my new house", and demolished houses on the other side of the road to improve the view.[6] Hence Winslow Hall is almost unique as both a town and a country house. Thus it is even more remarkable that it has survived largely unaltered, escaped conversion to institutional or office use, and remains today (2014) an inhabited house.

Occupational history

The house was occupied by William Lowndes and his family until his death in 1724, and continued to be occupied by his descendants until 1848, when it became Dr Lovell's School (previously located in Germany).[7] Unusually, for the era, the boarding school was co-educational, housing 32 boarders. The school moved to Aspley Guise in 1862. From 1865 to 1868 Dr Theodore Boisragon used the house as a private asylum for lunatics.[8] It was then let until it was sold to Brigadier Norman McCorquodale in 1898. In 1942, the mansion was purchased by the Northampton Glass Bottle company, but requisitioned for war use, it became the offices of RAF Bomber Command for the duration of the Second World War, following which it was left in poor condition.

The house was listed as a Grade I building in 1946, but was bought by contractors for £8,000 in 1947 and, like many country houses, came under threat of demolition. Reprieved, it was bought by Geoffrey Houghton Brown, and became an antiques showroom. The house again changed hands in 1959 and was bought by diplomat Sir Edward Tomkins. Tomkins and his wife restored the house and improved the five acres of garden to the rear (south) by planting specimen trees and shrubs.

Sir Edward offered Winslow Hall for sale in May 2007, just four months before his death. The architectural commentator Marcus Binney reporting the sale of the "ultimate trophy house" and surroundings 22 acres, in The Times, attributed the design of the house to Wren without any reference to the doubt concerning the architect.[9]

In October 2007 there was speculation in the British press that the house was to be purchased by the former Prime Minister Tony Blair.[10] However, the exposed and highly visible location of the mansion (both neighbouring houses and a very busy main road are within 20 metres of the property) suggest that the security implications render the house unsuitable for a high profile public figure.

Winslow Hall was sold again in 2010 to The Hon Christopher and Mardi Gilmour, son and daughter-in-law of the late Baron Gilmour,[11] but only moved in at the start of 2012 after much repair work.[12]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Winslow Hall)


  1. Winslow History – Winslow Court
  2. Colvin 1995, s.v. Matthew Banckes, Sir Christopher Wren, based on material presented in The Wren Society, xvii, 54-75.
  3. George Lipscomb (1847). The History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham. J. & W. Robins. 
  4. Nikolaus Pevsner: The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, 1960; 1994 Penguin Books ISBN 978-0-300-09584-5page 297
  5. All figures and statistics in this section are from Records of Buckinghamshire
  9. "The ultimate trophy house". The Times. 11 May 2007.  Bricks and Mortar Supplement, p 15
  10. Gordon Rayner; Anna Tyzack (11 October 2007). "Inside the Blairs' 'new home' at Winslow Hall". The Daily Telegraph. 
  11. "Town's big day out fields sunny smiles". Buckingham and Winslow Advertiser. 2 September 2010. 
  12. Nick Curtis (24 July 2012). "Let’s put on an opera right here!". London Evening Standard. 
  • Records of Buckinghamshire, Vol. XI - No 7; published by The Society, Aylesbury 1926
  • Colvin, Howard, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840 3rd ed. (Yale University Press) 1995: s.v."Matthew Banckes", "Sir Christopher Wren"
  • Nikolaus Pevsner: The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, 1960; 1994 Penguin Books ISBN 978-0-300-09584-5