PEOPLE who visit Castle Gardens may know that they are on the site of a great medieval castle destroyed by Oliver Cromwell after the Civil War. But perhaps they are less aware that a second ‘Wallingford Castle’ has come and gone too – the huge Victorian mansion – built by 1840 but demolished as too dilapidated in 1972. The descendants of the Hedges family who built and owned this new ‘castle’, generously gifted the grounds to Wallingford Town Council in 1977, enabling them to be used as a beautiful public amenity.

The Victorian house was built in the original castle’s middle courtyard and its large western terrace dominated the top of the steep slope that faces visitors entering the gardens today. The house was built in a mock Jacobean style by the architect/builder, John Plowman of Oxford, under strict instructions from John Kirby Hedges, who oversaw every aspect of the work and later created attractive landscaped gardens, incorporating the ruins of the old priest’s house and planting many beautiful trees that still survive today.

The site for the house had been purchased by John Kirby’s father, John Allnatt Hedges. The medieval ‘Clerks’ Lodging’ also still existed then, but it was demolished to make room for the new mansion (no planning laws to concern them then!). A few things were salvaged to use in the new house, including the ‘wind-up jack’ to turn a spit for roasting meat in the kitchen, and the ‘visible bell at the top of the house’; an old well was preserved, and materials were reused from former stables and a coalhouse.

The building was estimated to cost £2,614. All the windows and glass doors on the ground storey and those on the west, north and south fronts of the ‘sitting room floor, excepting the servants’ apartments’ were to have ‘proper shutters’. Many details, including the size of the scullery, and arrangements for passageways and privies, survive as scribbled notes in papers now preserved in the Berkshire Record Office.

Difficulties were encountered in getting the house built because many local workmen were engaged in erecting the new County Courts in Oxford, but it was eventually completed by 1840. That August, John Allnatt Hedges gifted the land ‘with the Mansion House, lately erected’ as a wedding present to his son John Kirby Hedges and his new bride, his cousin Sophia Cassandra Hedges.

By 1858, J.K.Hedges had managed to purchase all the remaining lands of Wallingford Castle that had been sold in lots by the Crown and Christ Church College, Oxford in 1817-19. He spent years researching its history and writing a two-volume History of Wallingford. He re-routed a public right of way through the castle to be out of sight of his house, by forming the present deep Castle Lane. He also modified a route from High St into the castle grounds, marking the entrance with two grand pillars (still to be seen) and bringing the carriages of guests on a scenic route round the grounds to the entrance of his house (near the present gate linking Castle Gardens and Castle Meadows). The route was marked by iron railings, a few of which still survive today.

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