Its spoken about as the most anticipated and most sort after ticket in town! This year we have had more customers, of my business ComXo, and more friends and colleagues than ever before cancel other events and postpone their holidays to get to it. It is of course the ComXo Shakespeare in the woods and this year we are celebrating our 10th production with Much Ado About Nothing.
Let me colour in the picture a little. If any of you have been to Legoland you will recall the long drive up the hill towards the car park. To the right of that road is mass of woodland that hides a very historic property. The land is on a high promontory of the Thames Valley that juts out towards London. I am told that if you stand in a particular spot you can in fact see 6 counties just by turning your head.
Because of this it has long been held as a strategic site and I suspect that as long as there have been people living in the area it has been lived on. What we know for sure is that it was both an Iron Age fort and a Roman Encampment, in fact the symbol adopted by the Royal Society of Antiquities is that of an Roman lamp found on the site in the 1800’s.
Following that it became a hermitage for over 500 years and thereby a place of pilgrimage. After a concession given in the middle ages by the Pope you could be absolved of your sins if you drank from the holy well on the site on three specific days of the year. Sadly the well has long been lost and thereby I suspect easy penitence.
As part of the Royal estate from William the Conqueror’s time it became a royal residence and was lived in by The Duke of Gloucester, George III brother and then for the next 150 years was rented, bought and borrowed by almost anyone who was anyone. Three British Prime Ministers, The Harcourt family, The Waldegrave’s and lastly Sir Francis Tree Barry.
It was after this that the property took a turn for the worse and following the First World War along with almost 20,000 country houses fell foul of a change in life style and taste. After 5 years on the open market without a flicker of interest American developers following the fashion of building huge country houses in Newport and the Hamptons took the roof off and extracted the interiors.
It was at this point that my grandfather himself a young entrepreneur decided to buy the derelict house and pleasure gardens with the dream of rebuilding it as a home for his family. Sadly at the end of the second World War he was approached by the local garrisons who asked him to allow their troops to practice their drills for the D-Day landings. The damage it sustained from live ammunition meant that for safety the rest had to be pulled down.
What is left is a rather romantic ruin and the most beautiful gardens filled with flora and fauna from its royal past. The grounds have been a passion of mine for my entire life as they have served as the backdrop for my childhood, a party venue for my youth and now as my tastes change for Shakespeare.
Coincidently I discovered a month back that the property also had a role in the history of one of my most important customers, global law firm, Herbert Smith. Sir Francis Tress Barry was Herbert Smiths brother in law and his first and most profitable customer.
When we sit down in a few weeks time the ruins will become a stage and the audience will be transported back in history…it is at that moment I like to ponder how so much of Britain’s history has actually passed under our feet.