The Domesday Day book records Mapledurham as two manors, one of which, Mapledurham Gurney, was then owned by Lord William de Warenne, son in law of William the Conqueror. This manor was sold in 1491 to Richard Blount of Iver (1459 – 1508) who was Sheriff of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, and whose descendants still own the Mapledurham Estate.
The other manor, Mapledurham Chazey, belonged in 1086 to Milo Crispin, Cantor of the Abbey of Bec, and part of the Honour of Wallingford. It was bought in 1582 by Sir Michael Blount from Anthony Bridges for £900, thus combining the two manors.
The building of the present manor house was started by Sir Michael Blount in the late 1580s, to create a grander house more suited to his position as a high official at the court of Elizabeth I. This eventually replaced the old manor house that dated back to the 12th century.
The manor is built of the rich red bricks traditionally used in the Elizabethan period and displays intricate patterns in the brickwork. A small gable at the back of the house is adorned with oyster shells, this denoted that the manor was a safe refuge for Catholics.
The most famous visitor to the house is undoubtedly the poet, Alexander Pope (1688 -1744), regarded as the greatest English poet of the eighteenth century. He was courting both Martha and Theresa Blount, daughters of the owner of the time Lyster Blount. Pope professed to be in love with the sisters on alternate days, until his fall out with Theresa. Martha was Pope’s favourite and it was rumoured that they were secretly married. One of the reasons that this is highly unlikely is that Pope was rather rotund and only just over 4 ft while Martha was thin and 6 ft tall.
The grounds surrounding the house were formal until the 1730s when new garden ideas were introduced with the help of Alexander Pope and his favoured landscape architect, William Kent. The view down the great avenue was opened up looking towards Reading by the creation of a ha-ha. The grounds are home to a collection of beautiful trees. Either side of the entrance stand two grand evergreen magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), that are said to be among the earliest specimens brought to this country which were introduced from America into Britain in 1734. Close to the house also lies a large old gingko (Ginkgo biloba), reportedly 250 years old, which would make it one of the first imported from its native China. The grounds include two Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum), a huge horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) measuring around 3 metres in girth and two cedar of Lebanon trees (Cedrus libani) growing next to a ha-ha or sunken fence.
Thanks to the present owner, John Eyston, and his mother, Lady Agnes, the house and grounds can be visited and enjoyed by the public.
The Mill at Mapledurham is the only one still working on the River Thames. A mill was mentioned in the Domesday book, but the present building has not been dated any earlier than the 15th century. The Mill was fully restored and brought back into use in 1980 and it is still producing high quality stone-ground flour.
The Domesday Book also mentions a church on site, although the current church, St Margaret’s, was built by the Bardolph family during the 13th Century. The font with beautiful Norman decorations is all that remains from the original church.
For more information on the House and Mill visit www.mapledurham.co.uk
Mapledurham House and the Blount Family by Richard G Williams, published by the Mapledurham Trust in 2004.
The House, watermill and gardens are open Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from Easter – end September. Opening hours: 2pm-5.30pm (last admission 5pm).