Britwell

Britwell is from old english beorhtan wiellan meaning 'bright, clear well'.   In the 14th century it was known as Bruttewelde.   The name is said to refer to a well in the garden of 24 Green Lane in Burnham.  The small building surrounding it is Grade II listed.  Water was pumped from here to Britwell Manor, later Britwell Court and now known as Grenville Court.   A well, which has existed since the Middle Ages, but dried out in the drought of 1788, can be seen in the gardens at Grenville Court.     

Britwell Manor is first mentioned in 1338 in the possession of Edmund de Bereford.  The estate was carried in marriage to the Attegate family of whom Thomas (Atte)gate is mentioned in connection with Britwell in 1484. 

His daughter and heir Alice Gate married Robert Woodford, son of Sir Ralph Woodford of Ashby Folville.  In 1523 they settled Britwell and 200 acres of land on themselves for life with reversion to their son Thomas Woodford and Elizabeth his wife.

Brightwell or Britwell was formerly in the county of Buckinghamshire.  Under the 1972 Local Government Act, it was transferred to Berkshire to form part of the borough of Slough.  The former agricultural land belonging to the manor is now a larger residential estate. It was created to provide homes for Londoners displaced after the Blitz.    

Grenville Court
Grenville Court

Thomas was succeeded in 1545 by his son and heir James. He died some time after 1588, in which year Britwell was settled on his wife Katherine for life with reversion to their son Robert.

Katherine Woodford died two years later and the lands and manor house, then called Britwell Place, reverted to Robert. He died in 1599, leaving a young son John and a widow Ursula, afterwards wife of Hugh Holland, with whom she lived in the mansion house. 

By his will Robert had given his friends power to sell his lands in Britwell, and they were apparently conveyed by John Woodford and others to Anne, widow of Sir John Hart. 

At the beginning of the last century, Lord Grenville lived here.  He was a cousin of the Prime Minister William Pitt.  There have been frequent changes in ownership but it is significant that the owners' names are commemorated on Britwell Housing Estate including a Woodforde Way.  Lord Boston lived in the house until his death in 1822 after which it became a small preparatory school.

The modern Brightwell Court
The modern Brightwell Court

It was as Britwell Place that William Henry Miller bought the estate in 1830.  Miller was a collector of rare books.  He started what came to be known as the Britwell Library.  He died in 1848, leaving the house to the Misses Sara and Ellen (Emma) Marsh.

When the last surviving sister died in 1862, the inheritance passed to William Miller's nephew, Samuel Christy who, in succeeding, took the Scottish form Christie and adding Miller, thus becoming the first Christie-Miller.  He also took over his Uncle's Arms which can be seen on the West wall of the Library Wing.

The Library also has a crest on the South Wall showing a right hand holding an open book.  The increasing collection of rare books was housed in a magnificent library built in 1864 which, with the provision of steel doors and mains water hydrants, was intended to be fire-proof.

Samuel had only one son who unfortunately predeceased him but, on his death in 1889, the estate came to his nephew, Wakefield Christy, who also took the surname Christie-Miller in 1890.  He added the south-east block and the main staircase between 1893 and 1896.  The property passed to his son, Sydney Richardson in 1903.  The entire estate, including the famous library, was sold in 1919 (1920).  

From 1920 to 1981, it was the home of a community of nuns known as the Congregation of the Servants of Christ.   Some of the large upper rooms were divided into cells to accommodate about twenty sisters and oblates.  Most of the west wing next to the coach houses was adapted for use as a guest house to serve permanent guests and a steady stream of Retreatants.

The Community looked forward to the building of a permanent chapel and this was made possible by a benefaction.  Sir Ninian Comper was the architect who designed the chapel, built on the east wing of the House and consecrated in 1935.  It contrasts with the Georgian front which it adjoins and is built of brick and stone.  The rest of the house is a mixture of periods and styles.

In 1981, the sisters joined a Benedictine nursing order and moved to Edgware in October 1989.  The property was purchased, refurbished and re-named Grenville Court.

The North Front has a stone porch in the Jacobean style with a pierced balustrade.  It adjoins the part of the house containing the Woodforde Cells, a range of rooms on the second floor commemorating a duaughter of Thomas Woodford, Elizabeth, who chose to serve as a nun.   A walled garden, formerly known as Elizabeth Woodforde's Garden, is now a car park.  One of the rooms overlooking this location is known as Elizabeth Woodforde's Garden Room.

The property was extensively refurbished by the Riordan Group and used as offices.  Grenville Court is recognised by English Heritage and is a Grade II listed building.