4 Jun 2015

Fyfield and Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Before we went down to see our family in Berkshire we spent some time in south Oxfordshire and stayed at the very interesting Fyfield Manor Hotel as bed and breakfast guests and had an evening meal at The Red Lion in Britwell Salome.
A lime tree walk drive with rooks cawing overhead, bluebells, a water wheel in the woodland area, two ponds and a stream running through the grounds - it was a delightful way to spend an overnight stay and then wander in the garden after breakfast before going on to the nearby village of Ewelme. Fyfield Manor would have been worthy of one of those television programmes such as The Restoration Man and our hostess was lovely and very welcoming. You can see more on the website if you wish and read the story of the restoration of the building and ethos of living there. For example, the woodwork was impressive.

I've been planning this part of our trip for a while as I wanted my husband and I to spend some extra time in this area on my birthday before going on to Reading by way of Henley and Sonning-on-Thames.

The Wind in the Willow characters - Ratty and Toad

The first thing you notice when you come into Ewelme is the brook that runs alongside the lane, the small ponds and watercress beds and the large pool in the centre of the village. Ewelme is said to have derived the name from the Saxon Aewhylme which describes the abundant water whelming up from underground springs.

The King's Pool, so called because Henry VIII is said to have taken 'a dip' in it during a visit to Ewelme with his new bride, Katherine Howard.
There were probably many other royal visits to the village by other Tudors.

Going back to earlier times, Geoffrey Chaucer was connected with Ewelme as his son, Thomas and his daughter-in-law, Matilda Burghersh, lived at Ewelme Manor and the poet would most likely have visited and found the place a welcome, quiet retreat away from London life. Geoffrey Chaucer had met and married Phillipa Roet, a Flemish lady who was one of Queen Phillipa's attendants. He had become a favoured member of Edward III's court. (Phillipa Roet's sister, Katherine, became the third wife of John of Gaunt, King Edward III's third son. Their romance is written about by Anya Seton in the novel 'Katherine'). It is believed that John of Gaunt visited Ewelme with his wife, Katherine, as he was Thomas Chaucer's godfather. Through royal patronage Thomas rose to become Speaker to the House of Commons.

Thomas and Matilda had a daughter, Alice. She was betrothed at the age of 11 to a nobleman who died before she reached maturity. She then married the Earl of Salisbury and after she was widowed married the Earl of Suffolk (William de la Pole) who later rose to the rank of Duke. Finding favour with Henry VI  he was appointed Lord Chancellor and Alice became lady-in-waiting to Henry VI's wife, Margaret of Anjou. In a turn of events her husband lost favour in the Plantaganet intrigues of the day and was killed whilst Alice survived and remained a wealthy and influential woman.
However, before this, the Duke and Duchess lived on their estate in Ewelme where they enlarged the manor house, improved the surrounding land, rebuilt the church and founded the almshouses and school.

The village stores and one of the pretty cottages in Ewelme

The church of St. Mary the Virgin is situated on a hill and looking over the churchyard wall there's a view of the almshouses, the walled kitchen garden, the school and fields below.

Jerome K. Jerome, who lived in Ewelme, the author of 'Three Men in a Boat', is buried in the churchyard.

From the west door of the church a covered corridor leads to the Almshouses of St. John's Hospital or 'God's House at Ewelme'. The elderly residents can walk under cover from their living quarters into St. John's Chapel for daily services. If you've ever read Anthony Trollope's novel The Warden the basic system for living in almshouses under a similar foundation trust will be familiar, although this will have been up-dated for modern times, of course.

Tudor oak canopy font cover.  A Tudor rose, also carved in wood, holds the hanging weight above and is inscribed with the date of 1513.

A corbel head on the arch next to the font is said to resemble Edward III.

The Chapel of St. John the Baptist

The ceiling is of Spanish chestnut wood with angel carvings.

The East window is made up from fragments of medieval glass.

The floor tiles are original and bear the Burghersh and Roet arms of a double-tailed lion and wheel (yellow on red background)

A corbel head bears the same lion and wheel motifs.
The Christogram, IHS, (Iesus Hominus Salvator -Jesus, Saviour of Men) decorates the walls.

The Chaucer Tomb (above) The monument to Thomas Chaucer and Matilda Burghersh is of grey marble and decorated with many family coats of arms. On the top are full length brasses of the couple.

The tomb of Alice, Duchess of Suffolk (above)

It is usual for a woman to have a small dog at her feet on a carved effigy, but in Alice's case it is a lion which emphasises her important standing as does the fact that she wears the badge of the Order of the Garter on her left wrist (not shown).

The tomb is of alabaster and believed to be of Italian craftsmanship. On either side of the tomb are eight angels holding painted shields showing the arms of the many noble families with whom Alice was connected. More angels decorate the canopy above and are some of the earliest known examples of angel figures in English wood carving. Alice's head rests on a pillow supported by angels.

The entrance to the Almshouses. The garden and cloisters are open to the public.

Ewelme School (above and below) The entrance with architectural details of a trefoil motif, high arch and step gables suggests that a Flemish architect might have been involved in the work.

* The historical information about Ewelme is mainly taken from a booklet written by Miss E.M. Prister Cruttwell, daughter of the Rector 1901-11

In the lane opposite is Ford's Farm