Astride the western edge of Kingston House estate lies Court Close Copse. It is a narrow belt of woodland just five minutes walk across open parkland from the house itself. For some years it has been an unfrequented part of the estate, largely due to the almost impenetrable tangle of choking brambles, stinging nettles and undergrowth.
The age of Court Close Copse is not clear. It is not shown on the John Rocque map of 1761 but by 1806, the Kingston Bagpuize parish ‘enclosure’ map marks it as a plantation lying west of pastureland called Court Closes. On the 1806 map, a tight cluster of buildings on the southern side of Rimes Lane, immediately to the west of the church (also shown on the John Rocque map) suggests that the parkland on the west side of Kingston House had, at that time, not yet been fully extended to include this area. By the time of the first Ordnance Survey map (1830), these buildings had disappeared.
The eastern side of the copse is also bounded by a deep ditch, again, no doubt designed with drainage in mind. Within the copse itself, elongated depressions hint at other drainage measures in the past.
Some years ago, taking advantage of government grants, the copse was extensively thinned and hardwood saplings were planted protected by green plastic tree guards, many of which can still be seen today. This planting has been of mixed success, perhaps in part because of the wet environment (standing water can still be seen in the wood after heavy rain) and also because of damage by squirrels and deer and the invasion of unimpeded undergrowth.
An active woodland management program, now being driven forward by Virginia Grant, has been in operation on the estate for some years. This includes improving the amenity value of the trees within the parkland, trimming back or felling dying trees and, where appropriate, ensuring that the avenue-style prospects are maintained in parkland that is now over 200 years old.
Deeds of sale suggest that a building on the site of the present Kingston House was already standing in the 1660s although the present building using the same foundations is not recorded until circa 1710, some years before John Blandy moved in. A parkland surround to the house, appropriate to its status, was laid out in the 18th century but the most radical redesign of the area surrounding the house, including its approach drives, took place in 1865. It is thought that the four Wellingtonias that dominate the eastern prospect from the house were planted at about this time, even though only introduced to England in 1853. The tallest Wellingtonia is today some 150 foot (45m) tall.
This program of woodland management was started on the East Park. The opening up of Court Close Copse marks an extension of this work to include this westernmost part of the estate. Currently the plan, already well underway, is to clear undergrowth and trim overhanging branches on the left within Court Close Copse to allow visitors safe access to this quiet woodland area where there is an abundance of nature to observe.
Court Close Copse and a detached extension to the south called Oakbedding Copse, were probably planned as an aesthetic backdrop for the view westwards from the big house, marking the edge of the West Park. In the case of Court Close Copse, the badly drained quality of the land might also have been a consideration in choosing woodland. The western edge of Court Close Copse is marked by a small stream, which at some time has been straightened and artificially deepened. Once the copse would have been on the flood plain of this small stream which still drains into the Ock and eventually to the Thames.
This is not a formal nature trail but an area of woodland where you may wander at will making a self-directed exploration of the wood, controlled only by the two access points across the ditches as shown on the cover map. In the reserve you may observe but are asked not to pick. You are free to walk across the parkland to this copse whenever the gardens are open.
In Court Close Copse, you should notice