Historic gardens, archeology and a community observatory open to the public at Hanwell Castle, near Banbury this month

The wonderful, historic gardens at Hanwell Castle can be enjoyed next weekend, September 25 - 26, when the grounds' owners hold a Stars and Archeology open event.

By Roseanne Edwards
Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 4:00 pm
The glorious grounds of Hanwell Castle, which include three giant Redwood trees
The glorious grounds of Hanwell Castle, which include three giant Redwood trees

Hanwell Castle has its own observatory whose outdoor telescopes are made available to the community, offering some incredible opportunities to see the heavens.

The grounds of the castle are beautiful with exotic trees, including three giant Redwood trees, and many shrubs. Visitors will also be able to see the very unusual medieval fish ponds that will be a major draw. An ongoing archaeological dig continues to expose items from the 17th century.

The castle grounds have royal history with visits by James I and Charles I.

Sir Anthony’s ‘House of Diversion’ - 50feet/15metres across and dating from 1660 – 1675. The owners had no idea it was there until excavated during restoration of the grounds

The organisers are owners Dr Rowena Archer, an Oxford Professor and lecturer in Medieval History and her husband Christopher Taylor, a Professor in Astro Physics.

Rowena Archer said: "Recent archaeological evidence around the Castle itself shows occupation of the site in Roman times but we have no idea whether occupation was then continuous.

"The massive fishpond system, nearly half a mile long, is almost certainly medieval but the upper half nearest the house was clearly quite extensively modified as a formal decorative landscape in the 17th century. That was the time of Sir Anthony Cope, 4th baronet, whose work is the main focus of the current archaeology in the grounds by Polyolbion Archaeology.

"Astonishing finds include over 60 17th century garden urns - none has survived anywhere else in the country.

Hanwell Castle grounds - looking across the lake from farside. The tower is the only survivor of the four built in 1500-1520, the others having been demolished ca. 1780

"The manor was granted to the Copes - to William, Cofferer to Henry VII - in 1498 and the building of the house, 'Hanwell Hall' then began. William died with the house unfinished in 1513 and his heir completed it soon after.

"The house was a classic Tudor courtyard design, with a square quadrangle enclosed by ranges of buildings on all four sides and having four nearly identical towers at the corners, stone built but faced with brick, the latest fashion of the time. This is the earliest major brick building in Banburyshire.

"The house was still completely intact and in good state in the summer of 1776 but was mostly demolished shortly afterwards - why remains a mystery. A solitary southwest tower and connecting south range of the original work remain, plus some new late-eighteenth century additions.

"The Copes never lived here again but in 1902 George Berkeley, of the Berkeleys of Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, moved in as tenant with his wife Caroline, a diamond-mine heiress. They spent a great deal on the restoration of the house and on extensive ornamental tree-planting in the grounds, much of which remains and has been supplemented over the last 38 years by us," said Dr Archer.

The 121⁄2-inch telescope (and Beano the Corgi) - smallest of the three permanently-mounted telescopes at Hanwell

Further information about the archeology can be found at www.hanwellobservatory.org.uk and www.polyolbion.org.uk

The weekend opening times are from noon - 6pm on Saturday and from 10.30am - 6pm on Sunday. Visitors will be able to enjoy the woodland walk, follow the archeology trail, visit the community observatory and meet the Sealed Knot Society. Teas will be available in the garden at £3 each. Entry is £5 (adults); under-18s £2 and under fives enter free. Dogs are not allowed.

The Moon showing Crater Theophilus at sunrise - the central mountain is visible. The picture was taken with a hand-held camera through a 4-inch telescope at x100 (cropped)