The House after the Grenvilles
The Grenvilles lived at Wotton until the third Duke’s death in 1889 when the family let Wotton to a succession of tenants.
In 1929, Michael Beaumont (MP for Aylesbury from 1929 to 1939) bought Wotton, which his father had been renting from the Grenville family since 1910, and engaged A S G Butler, a follower and biographer of Lutyens, to remodel the interior and give the house a more conventional Georgian appearance. Butler systematically obliterated all traces of Soane, including the ‘Tribune’. Arches were squared off and Soane’s delicate cornices and incised reed mouldings. Covered over classical pilasters and columns were added and doorways embellished with pediments and fluted surrounds. On the first floor he built a small sculpture version of Soane’s tribune with 4 round columns supporting a baldaquin.
In its 1949 series on Wotton, Country Life stated that these alterations were made following a second fire, and the story has been repeated by Pevsner (at least in his first edition) and other authorities. In fact, Major (as he had become) Beaumont wrote to Country Life a month after the articles appeared denying that there had been a fire in his time, but his letter was long overlooked.
Following the evacuation from Dunkirk in the Second World War the grounds were taken over by a unit of the Canadian army; and some of the concrete bases of their Nissen huts are still clearly visible. The Beaumonts continued to live in the house.
In 1947 Major Beaumont sold the Estate, which then included the villages of Wotton Underwood and Dorton. The family moved to Ireland taking with them, among other objects, the Drawing Room fireplace, the built-in oak panelling in the Cellar and the Chinese Tea House (from the Pleasure Grounds).
The new owners, the Merchant Venturers of Bristol, lost no time in breaking up the Estate. The South Pavilion was sold and between 1948 and 1955 the main house together with the Clock Pavilion was home to three boys’ Preparatory Schools in quick succession. When the last school closed in 1955, no buyer could be found and the house quickly became derelict. The copper roof was progressively stripped and with the interior open to the skies the rains brought down ceilings and left pools of water on the floors. In 1957, when Mrs Brunner happened on the scene and bought the House, it had been sold to a demolition company which was negotiating with Bucks County Council for permission to demolish it and build a housing estate on the site.
The new owners, Mr and Mrs Patrick Brunner engaged Donald Insall Associates and with the aid of a grant from the Historic Buildings Council over the next four years reinstated most of the Soane interior. Most of Butler’s embellishments were removed, but the door surrounds in the Saloon, the marble floor in the hall and the baldequin on the first floor landing. But the Tribune was left unrestored probably on account of the expense. On Mrs Brunner’s death in 1998 her daughter, April Gladstone, inherited the house and in 2010 she and her husband David engaged Ptolemy Dean Architects to complete the restoration of Soane’s interior design including the Tribune. This work was completed in April 2015 and the house is now very much as Soane left it.