Medmenham CampRockery built into Danesfield Camp rampartA number of prehistoric artefacts have been found in Medmenham parish. Many of them are not more securely located than at this parish level, such as the 18 flint cores, 48 flakes, a scraper and 4 burnt flints found on the ground surface somewhere. Thankfully others are better provenanced, the oldest being a Lower to Middle Palaeolithic axe found in a gravel pit at Medmenham Camp.


Two Iron Age hillforts are known in Medmenham, both next to the Thames. One is Danesfield Camp which has a country house, now a hotel, inside it, and the other is Medmenham Camp or Bolebec’s Castle as it is also known. Neolithic flint tools have been found at both and Middle Iron Age features, including a ditch, pits and post-holes, were found in excavation at Danesfield. Various prehistoric artefacts have also been dredged from the stretch of the river that goes through this parish. The Roman period is only represented by finds of coins from the river. There is also a possible Bronze Age ring-ditch, the ploughed out remains of a barrow, near Medmenham Abbey.

Photograph of Medmenham Abbey from the Oxfordshire County Archives


Medmenham Abbey was established in the ninth century and during digging to put in heating, various foundations of ancillary buildings and a church were found. There was also a cemetery where some early cremation burials, ninth to tenth century, had been buried where they were burnt. There were also some eleventh to twelfth century inhumations attached to the abbey. The abbey was dissolved in the sixteenth century and turned into a country house, reusing some of the medieval stonework.


The Lordship of Medmenham is recorded in the Domesday Book, assessed at 10 hides, equivalent to 2442 acres today.  Domesday also records other things about the parish in the eleventh century AD, such as a weir and a fishery on the river.  A farmstead at Danesfield was recorded later in the eleventh century. The Saxon settlement became a Norman village in the control of Sieur Hugh de Bolbec.  It passed through the ownership of many nobles including Hugh de Vere, William de Warenne and Richard FitzAlan.  Geoffrey Pole held the manor and rebuilt Bockmer House in the mid-fifteenth century.  This became the home of the Lord of the Manor for more than 200 years following the elimination of the Pole family by Henry VIII.  John Borlase purchased the manor of Medmenham in the mid-sixteenth century and it passed through his family including Sir William Borlase, whose will included the funds to establish an almshouse for the benefit of the poor of Great Marlow, Little Marlow and Medmenham.  This foundation evolved into the Borlase School in Marlow.  Upon the death of Sir John Borlase IV in 1689 the ownership of the manor passed to 'Old Squire Warren and then through 2 generations to Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, ending on his death in 1822.


St Peter's and St Paul's church

The church of St Peter and St Paul which was built in the twelfth century comrised a nave and tower.  It was extended in the fifteenth century, with a new chancel, tower and windows.  The present roof is from this time.  Further restoration took place in the nineteenth century and buttresses were added.


Other medieval records exist for Wittington Farm, which is recorded from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century.  The Wittington estate possesses title deeds which extend backwards unbroken for over 800 years.  The current house was built in 1898.  The chalk cliffs at Wittington provided building material for Medmenham Abbey and Windsor Castle. 


Medmenham Mill is recorded from the twelfth to the eighteenth century, though the mill house is eighteenth to nineteenth century.  The first weir and flash lock at Medmenham was probably constructed in the fourteenth century.  A replica lock winch can be seen on the riverbank today.  A pound lock at Hurley was opened in 1773.  A typical toll was threepence for 5 tons.  The Thames Navigation Commissioners bought the lock in 1840 but revenues declined significantly with the opening of the Great Western Railway.


Hollywick’s Farm was a grange (a farm attached to a monastery) for Medmenham Abbey in the medieval period and had its own chapel. The Manor House also dates back to the late medieval period, the fifteenth century, though it has been changed in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries and a sixteenth century source lists three dovecotes.  Some other houses in the village date back to the sixteenth century, such as Medmenham Gates, but most date to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


The growth in population during the eighteenth century resulted in increases in the price of food and land.  Sir William Borlase appropriated 25 acres from the common and other land was enclosed without an Act of Parliament between 1790 and 1840.


The Medmenham Overseers were charged with the responsibility of looking after the poor or ill of the parish.  They paid pensions to the widows, found work for the unemployed and apprenticed poor children to useful trades, thus minimising the problem of the unemployable.  They did their best for the unsuccessful and the unfortunate.  This was the parish system of social security.  The money was raised by a 'rate' on the more fortunate of the parish.  In 1773 the amount raised was £235 15 shillings and sevenpence.  By 1800 this had risen to £458 6 shillings and sixpence. The rate was set each year at a vestry meeting around Easter at which all parishioners were entitled to attend.  The meeting appointed Overseers to administer the help to the needy during the coming year.  With a close-knit community the Overseers would know everyone in the parish and would be able to assess their needs.


The first school in the village was opened in 1825 by the Lord of the Manor, Dr Lee.  A smal school supported by the Scott-Murray family was established near Medmenham Gate.  Robert Hudson replaced these inadequate schools with a purpose-built school in 1900.


There is good legal ground for the presumption that the Medmenham ferry originated in a royal grant or franchise to the abbey.  Foot passengers, horses and vehicles had crossed the river here from time immemorial.  This is where the Thames towpath crosses from Buckinghamshire to Berkshire.  In 1898 Robert Hudson claimed ownership of the ferry but lost jis claim to Lord Davenport's successful defence of the public right of way.  A monument at the ferry commemorates Lord Davenport's efforts.  The last ferryman, Harry Gutteridge, retired in 1947/8.First World War practice trenches in Pullingshill Wood


Prior to the First World War, local army manoevres included bridging the Thames at Medmenham and later the digging of First World War practice trenches in Pullingshill Wood which can still be seen.


In 1941 Danesfield was requisitioned for use as the Photo Intelligence and Interpretation Unit.  Aerial phhotographs, which were taken of most of occupied Europe every fortninght, were analysed and formed the basis of intelligence reports on the progress of the air and land war.  Some 17,000 people worked at RAF Medmenham.  In 1977 the house became the headquarters of Carnation Milk.  The grounds were used as a Military Police Training School until 1994.  Since then, the house and gardens have been returned to their former glory as the romantic and picturesque Danesfield Hotel and Spa.


Many thanks to Martin Blunkell who updated this page in 2021.