Binfield House was built in 1776 by Francis Wightwick on land that was later to become Terrace Road North, Forest Road and Wicks Green.
As the house was located close to a number of prestigious country houses inhabited by wealthy aristocrats, Francis Wightwick, who lived in Waltham St Lawrence, probably built the property with the intention of renting it out rather than for his own occupation.
Constructed in the ‘Gothick’ style, similar to Horace Walpole’s house at Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham and named after its builder, ‘Wightwicks’ was relatively modest in style; just three bays wide, one room deep, two storeys high and with a central entrance and a staircase at the back of the entrance hall. Today, the house is much larger and has become an important historic listed building.
The house was rented out soon after completion and the income used to support four fellows and three scholars at Pembroke College, Oxford.
One of the first people to rent Wightwicks was a Mr Tyler, who moved into the house in around 1780 and lived there for the next seven years until, sadly, his wife died in childbirth.
The tenancy then passed to William Graham and his wife, Catherine Macauley Graham. Catherine was a radical and something of a celebrity in her day being the first Englishwoman to become a historian and, during her lifetime, the world’s only female historian.
Catherine died in 1791 and the house was occupied by a succession of tenants over the years.
There is a memorial to Catherine in All Saints Church, Binfield, which you will be able to see should you visit the village.
On the death of Francis Wightwick, his nephew (who bore the same name) inherited the house and on his death in 1843, the house and 17 acres of land passed into the ownership of Pembroke College, according to the terms of the original Francis Wightwick’s will.
The college continued to rent the property and it was here that John Taylor Collins opened an ‘Academy for Young Gentlemen.’
By 1871, the house was still being used as an educational academy – the school, run by William and Louisa Beechey, catered for 25 boys between 6 and 14.
In the last decades of the 19th century, the property underwent a series of significant changes.
Now renamed ‘Binfield House,’ the building was extended with two further bays being added to the original three. The former outbuildings were demolished and a conservatory/glass house constructed along with a large, two-storey, Arts & Crafts building which was possibly intended to accommodate servants. The walled garden was created along with greenhouses, store rooms and a large circular pond.
In 1882, the Masters and Fellows of Pembroke College were also granted permission to re-route part of Wicks Green further away from Binfield House and to close the footpath through part of the garden to Binfield House between what is now Terrace Road North and Wicks Green.
The overall result was a more substantial house in an attractive setting with all the service buildings that would have been expected in a gentleman’s residence of the period.
In 1928, Pembroke College decided to sell Binfield House.
The purchasers of Binfield House were the highly decorated Major-General Sir Alfred William Fortescue Knox and his wife, Lady Edith Mary Knox. Alfred Knox was a career officer in the British Army. Born in Ulster in 1870. As a fluent speaker of Russian, he became military attaché to Saint Petersburg in 1911 and remained in the role until after the Bolshevik Revolution: in fact, in 1917, he witnessed the taking of the Winter Palace by the Bolsheviks. Knox was knighted for his military service and, at the 1924 General Election was elected Conservative MP for Wycombe, serving in the House of Commons until 1945.
Rebuilding and extending under the supervision of Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day.
On taking possession of Binfield House, Sir Alfred and Lady Knox set about rebuilding and greatly extending the property. They employed Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day, an architect credited with designing some of the most revolutionary 20th century churches in England. The architect made changes to create a larger, more integrated house with ten bays rather the previous five. Respecting the Gothic style of the front elevation and, where necessary, reinstating or copying the ogee style windows, he designed interiors with neo-Georgian detailing including heavily moulded cornices and highly decorative fireplaces.
The conservatory and Arts & Crafts block were demolished and replaced by a two-storey brick building with ogee windows to match those of the original house. The Gothic main entrance porch was removed and a new, large and prestigious entrance hall was created. A new staircase with a metal balustrade at the back of the house was created and the battlemented balustrade and the original chimney stacks were removed and replaced with a taller brick parapet and plain, almost square, brick chimney stacks.
In 1940, during the Knox’s ownership, two sticks of bombs fell on Binfield House, the first within the garden and the second further from the house – but, fortunately, no one died as a result of the attacks.
Lady Edith Knox died in 1959 and General-Major Sir Alfred Knox in 1964 and in 1974, Binfield House which was then an 11-bedroom property set in a 10 acre site was put up for sale.
Bracknell District Council bought the house and land which included the northern part of the garden beyond the ha-ha, the walled garden and two lodges – Binfield Lodge and Pelham Lodge fronting Terrace Road North. A surgery and a further detached house was built next to Pelham Lodge.
The walled garden began to be used as a council nursery in 1974. Most of the old greenhouses fell into disrepair but evidence remained that the garden was once extremely productive.
In 1980, work was carried out on the interiors of Binfield House to provide self-contained flats as sheltered accommodation for the elderly. Whilst the exterior of the house was left largely unchanged, the conversion involved the removal of various outbuildings including the garage block/stables which dated back to the mid-19th century. The stables were replaced by a row of single storey cottages.
In 2008, the ownership of Binfield House was transferred to Bracknell Forest Homes but the council retained some of the land including the walled garden and continued to use this as its plant nursery.
During this period, the single-storey housing was removed and replaced by two terraces of two-storey houses.
When Beechcroft acquired Binfield House in 2020/21, it had been vacant for at least two years.
Now, the original house is being carefully converted into just 9 one and two-bedroom apartments with nine new properties constructed in the grounds and complementing the original building. Designed for the over 55s, the homes at Binfield House are of a high standard and Beechcroft has retained and enhanced original features. The landscaped grounds, extending to three acres, are professionally maintained – and this historic house has been given a new lease of life.
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