Nuneham is steeped in history. Its natural landscape has been enhanced and shaped by some of the most important and influential thinkers and designers.
History of a settlement at 'Newnham' dates back to an age long time passed. The area has been occupied since at least the middle Iron Age. Under the custodianship of the Harcourt family, the Estate really began to form and to flourish. It was in Georgian times that the Estate landscape became one of the most important in the country.
The First Earl Harcourt was able to turn his attention to the design and development of Nuneham House, its gardens and Nuneham Park which was enabled through his wealth and royal connections. This even included demolishing and moving the entire village of Newnham Courtenay in 1760 and rehousing residents in a newly built village - what we now know as Nuneham Courtenay village.
It is clear that the development of Nuneham was at the forefront of architectural design, innovation and fashion. Influential characters involved in this included William Whitehead (the Poet Laureate), Stiff Leadbetter (important for his Palladian villa designs), James Stuart (known for his design principles using the Greek orders) and William Mason (the poet, painter, musician and gardener) who designed the formal flower garden in collaboration with Lord Harcourt. The latter at Nuneham has been cited as the first of its kind.
When the Estate passed to the Second Earl Harcourt, he continued with improvements to the house, gardens and park. Works were done under the appointment of William Mason and Lancelot (Capability) Brown. The family's royal connections continued and the Royal Family stayed at Nuneham in 1785, 1786 and the 1790s.
Later, under Edward Vernon-Harcourt (Archbishop of York), W. S. Gilpin was appointed and further changes to the landscape were carried out. Some are still seen today in the context of the historic Estate landscape - including the pinetum (now part of the Oxford University Arboretum) and works to the kitchen garden.
1940 marked the end of the era of celebrating Nuneham. The Estate was requisitioned during the Second World War as a base for the Air Ministry. Then in 1948, the Estate was sold to the University of Oxford and the historic traditions of private estate management were largely lost. A number of landscape changes were put in place which are evident today.
In 2017, the Estate again changed hands to its current owners. The new custodians are very aware of the history of Nuneham and the important contribution that the Estate can make in the present day as a place for people to make their homes, to work, to enjoy the natural landscape and to share in the history of Nuneham. Please follow our news page to be kept up to date with plans and events at the Estate.