Ockwells Manor
Bray, Berkshire

Ockwells Manor is the most magnificent medieval secular building in the county. It survives almost completely intact from its original erection for Sir John Norreys perhaps as early as 1446, but certainly by about 1450. Building work was not completed until 1466. The timber-framed house has finely carved woodwork, especially the gables and patterned brick infill, and was probably built by craftsmen from Eton College. It forms the west side of a large courtyard, with its surviving gatehouse and stables on the south and barn and dovecote to the west. The chapel (unfinished at Norreys' death) and additional accommodation have, unfortunately, been demolished. The manor house is  an extremely fine example of a medieval hall house with a central hall rising to the roof, flanked by the lord's parlour and solar on the north side and another set of apartments, either for servants or a additional family member, to the south, on the far side of the original screens passage. This latter position was the standard location for the pantry and the buttery but, at Ockwells, these are to be found on the far side of a small cloistered inner courtyard behind the hall, alongside a kitchen which once reached to the rafters. The fold-away serving hatch in buttery is a fascinating survival. The cloister is two-storied, thus allowing access to all the rooms on the first floor. The hall is over 40 ft long and houses the building's most famous feature, its superb heraldic glass installed by the builder. This displays the great Lancastrian connections of which Sir John was so proud. The arms of:

  • Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick
  • Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset
  • Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England
  • John De La Pole, Duke of Suffolk
  • King Henry VI
  • James Butler, Earl of Ormonde & Wiltshire
  • Abingdon Abbey
  • Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury
  • Sir John Norreys (and his first wife)
  • John Wenlock, Baron Wenlock
  • Sir William Laken
  • Sir Hugh Mortimer
  • Sir Richard Nanfan
  • Sir John Norreys (and his second wife)
  • Sir John Langford
  • John Purye
  • Richard Bulstrode (Norreys' nephew)

They must have been somewhat more embarrassing to him when he was forced to switch his allegiance at the fall from power of King Henry VI during the War of the Roses.

The manor had originally been given to Sir John's ancestor, Richard le Norreys, Queen Eleanor's chief cook, in 1283. After Sir John's death in 1466, his widow, Lady Margaret, retained Ockwells, even after she married John, Lord Howard. He was Treasurer of the Royal Household and liked living in Bray because it allowed him to be close to Edward IV and then Richard III at Windsor and Westminster. The couple eventually became Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. The Norreys family continued to live at Ockwells until 1517 when Sir John's great-grandson and namesake had to give it up as punishment for murdering one John Enhold of Nettlebed (Oxfordshire)! The place was subsequently owned by Sir Thomas Fettiplace and his family, and then the Days. By the late 19th century, the house had almost fallen into ruin. Concerns about its fate led to the founding of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings by William Morris. It was saved by Sir Stephen Leach in 1889 who began a programme of restoration, later completed by Sir Edward Barry.

Ockwells is a private residence and not open to the public. The side of the building can be seen from surrounding footpaths and the gatehouse can be glimpsed through the main entrance.

  

    Nash Ford Publishing 2002. All Rights Reserved.