Swinbrook House, past and present

The present Swinbrook House, sited well above the village on the road to Shipton, was said to be built on the site of a ‘Fine Georgian House’ in 1925/26 by Lord Redesdale, to provide a house large enough and suitable for his seven children – six girls, one son and his wife, Lady Redesdale formerly Sidney Bowles. To quote Jessica Mitford in her book ‘Hons and Rebels’, Swinbrook House was:

‘ A large rectangular grey structure of three storeys. Its style is neither modern nor traditional nor simulated antique; it bears rather the utilitarian look of frankly institutional architecture. It could be a small barracks, a girl’s boarding school, a private lunatic asylum, or in America, a Country Club.’

In 1935, Lord Redesdale’s money problems became so serious that he had to let   Swinbrook House to Duncan and Pamela MacKinnon and three years later sell it and its estate to them. The MacKinnon family are still the present owners.

However, the site on which Swinbrook House was built had a much earlier history. One could start with the Romano-British Greyware found in its vegetable garden or pieces of flint taking it back to even earlier times. Or it may be best to concentrate on its importance in the history of Wychwood Forest, which being a Royal Forest and Hunting Ground for the Norman kings, was well documented from 1084 (Domesday) until 1857 when much of the Forest was cleared.                

South Lawn Lodge, on the site of the present house was one of the five Wychwood forest lodges for the Forest Ranger and Keepers of the Forest Walks. It was a prestigious dwelling    used originally by the Launder of South Lawn and later by people of the gentry class.  Throughout its ownership by the Crown, repairs to the Lodge and names of its custodians and occupants were well documented. For example, in 1792, the Duke of Marlborough was the Ranger of Wychwood and appointed the Keepers of its five Walks and allowed such salaries as he saw fit.

South Lawn Lodge buildings and land was one of the seven new farmsteads created by the Crown at the time of deforestation in the 19th century.                    In 1889, the 2nd edition OS map shows the outline of a large house, roughly rectangular,  orientated slightly NE-SW with two bay windows at the NW corner.  South Lawn House, was described as a  ‘Fine modern mansion of stone, pleasantly situated on rising ground and surrounded by  Woodland’ (reference Kelly’s Directory of Berks Bucks and Oxon 1899. p.131).   Presumably it was this stone building that Lord Redesdale bought and altered in 1925/26.

Pauline Holdsworth

With thanks to Beryl Schumer

April – May 2022