The precise descent of the manor of Diddenham Court (sometimes called Diddenham Place or Manor)
at Grazeley is difficult to trace. In the 13th century the De Diddenham family held it from their overlords, the Longspée Earls of Salisbury, and, evidently, took their name from the place.
From at least the 1420s, it was the main residence of the Woodcock family who also owned the adjoining manors of Moor Place and Hartley Pellitot,
all in Shinfield parish. They seem to have risen through the ranks of society by making good marriages. In 1548, George, married Anne the daughter of William
Hyde, subsequently the county MP and sheriff, from South
Denchworth. Their grandson, Thomas, appears to have really hit the big time when, in the 1620s, he married Mary, an heiress of a younger branch of the Barker family from
Sonning. The family had taken on the lease of Ansty Hall, near Coventry, in Warwickshire from
St. George’s Chapel, Windsor and Thomas and Mary inherited this shortly before his death in 1640. While his eldest daughter and co-heiress, Anne, and her husband, Richard Tayler, lived in luxury at Ansty (their son, Edward, built the present house in 1678), Diddenham and the other Berkshire manors seem to have been taken on by Thomas’ nephew, Samuel, although the Taylers retained an interest in the property. His eventual heir was his daughter, Mary, the wife of John Spier of Moulsford, and she probably lived here during her widowhood after 1674. In 1702, the estate was sold to Sir Owen Buckingham of
Erleigh Court and subsequently passed through a number of hands, becoming a mere farmhouse rented out to tenants.
We know relatively little of the original house of Diddenham Court. Woodcock Lane, now a footpath, running alongside the Riseley Bypass, was once a great avenue of lime trees planted by Thomas Woodcock as the main entrance drive to the house. It stood alongside the Foundry Brook, some way east of the present Victorian building at Diddenham Manor Farm, as shown by this description of 1843:
“By following the course of Woodcock Lane – a pretty green lane, leading through some finely-planted woods – we come directly to [Diddenham Court, an] old manor-house [in] Shinfield. This building is remarkable for little else than its beautiful situation on the banks of a picturesque stream, and for being the only description of manorial residence [remaining] in the whole parish. It is a plain excellently built mansion, and is now used as a farm-house. At one angle of it stands an elm, greatly admired for its size and beauty – indeed the whole scenery around it is singularly beautiful. Few traces are left of its former grandeur: there are, however, remains of the fish stews, and of other accommodations which, in former days, were found only in the houses of the great.”
The medieval fish ponds, which stood just to the north of the house, still survive and remind us of the days when these were a necessity for large households, like the Woodcocks’, needing a supply of fish for Friday night dinner. The core of the house may have been Tudor in origin, but the pilastered façade shown in the illustration was probably Mary Spier’s attempt to impress her neighbours by modernizing the building in the 1690s.
Sometime in the 1850s or 60s, the old house was demolished and a new one erected nearer the road, slightly westward. Perhaps the adjoining brook had caused problems with flooding.
Old Diddenham Court no longer stands. The
present Diddenham Manor Farm can
be seen through it's gates in Grazeley Road.