AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
Rotherfield Greys is a ribbon-like village two miles west of Henley-on-Thames spanning the southern end of the Chiltern Hills. Beginning with the Church and convivial Maltsters pub, it peters out to pasture before reforming two fields later with the village hall and the cricket pitch. Woodland takes over before the village rises again with the cluster of houses known as Shepherd’s Green.
‘Rotherfield’ comes from the Old English Redrefield meaning cattle lands. And cattle lands there still are aplenty, as well as a picturesque mix of sheep grazing, arable and – on the rolling hills – natural woodland. Criss-crossed with footpaths, these woods are a paradise for walkers and ramblers.
Rotherfield Greys can be traced back to 1086, where it is listed in the Domesday book as being owned by the Norman knight Anchetil de Greye. Anchetil (so we’re told) arrived on these shores with William the Conqueror: he was from Calvados country but it is quite likely he chose this corner of Oxfordshire for its flint and chalk mining potential – and thus its similarity to his land ‘back home’.
De Grey knights still welcome visitors to the village each year on-board signs and banners for the village fete in September. While the village’s more famous residents, Sir Francis Knollys and his wife Catherine, rest in more secluded (but distinctly ornate) splendour in St Nicholas’s Church. Catherine Knollys, née Carey, was the daughter of Mary Boleyn (Mary, the notorious sister of Anne, was mistress of Henry VIII). Catherine held the position of lady in waiting to her first cousin, Elizabeth I. It is said both women bore a striking resemblance to King Henry…
At the centre of the parish at Greys Green, the cricket pitch is fringed by attractive brick and flint buildings – the most admired of all being wisteria-clad Forge Cottage. Beyond this, the village drops away into steep woodland and an excellent (when snowy) sledging field before reaching the village’s most spectacular site, Greys Court.
Pride and joy of Rotherfield Greys, this fine Tudor country house is a much visited National Trust property, welcoming visitors in their multitudes to its tranquil grounds and beautiful walled gardens. Built in the 1570s Greys Court, boasts a fine ornamental vegetable garden, a grass maze, Tudor wheelhouse and donkey treadmill. Sir Felix and Lady Elizabeth Brunner bought the property in 1937 and bequeathed it to the National Trust in 1969. It was Lady Brunner who, as National President of the Womens Institute, famously launched the ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ campaign in 1954.