Ditchley ( Ditchley Park or Ditchley House) is a stately home situated about a mile north of the town of Charlbury in Oxfordshire.

The area was once the royal hunting ground of Wychwood Forest, while the name Ditchley derives from Grim's Ditch which passes through the house. The remains of two Roman villas exist with the grounds. The site was first occupied by a timber-framed structure which was constructed for Hancock Lee but which later burnt down. In September 1603 James I dined with Sir Henry Lee at Ditchfield. The present house was erected in 1722 for George Lee, 2nd Earl of Lichfield and was designed by James Gibbs. Occupants of the Ditchley estate have included:
  • Sir Francis Henry Lee of Ditchley, 4th Bart of Quarendon
  • Charlotte Lee, Countess of Lichfield, illegitimate daughter of Charles II
  • Viscounts Dillon

Tree family
In 1933 after the death of the 17th Viscount Dillon, Ditchley was bought by Anglo-American Ronald Tree and his wife, the celebrated decorator Nancy Lancaster. It was the decoration of Ditchley which earned Nancy the reputation of having "the finest taste of almost anyone in the world." She worked on it with Mrs Bethell and the French decorator Stéphane Boudin of the Paris firm Jansen. In November 1933 Ronald was elected MP for Harborough, Leicestershire. Tree and his wife Nancy were among those who saw the Nazi threat, and had invited Winston Churchill and his wife to dinner on numerous occasions from 1937.

On the outbreak of war, the security forces were concerned by the visibility of both Churchill's country house Chartwell - its high geographic location, and the fact it was south of London, making it an easy returning-home target for German aircraft - and the Prime Minister's retreat of Chequers, which had an entrance road which was clearly visible from the sky. Churchill had use of the Paddock bunker in Neasden, but only used it on one occasion for a cabinet meeting, before returning to his Cabinet War Room bunker in Whitehall. However, this created additional difficulties on clear nights when a full moon was predicted - so the authorities looked for an alternative site north of London. Tree offered Churchill the use of Ditchley, which thanks to its heavy foliage and lack of a visible access road made it an ideal site. Churchill first went to Ditchley in lieu of Chequers on 9 November 1940, accompanied by Clementine and his daughter Mary. During visits to Ditchley, Churchill negotiated part of the Lend-Lease agreement with United States Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, and had exiled Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš as a guest. By late 1942, security at Chequers had been improved, notably including covering the road with turf. The last weekend Churchill attended Ditchley as his official residence was Tree's birthday on 26 September 1942. Churchill's last visit was for lunch in 1943 In June, 1994, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher and British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd unveiled a bronze bust of Churchill, which stands in a prominent position to highlight the role that Ditchley Park played during a critical phase of World War II. During filming of the 2009 movie 'The Young Victoria' Ditchley stood in for Buckingham Palace, in particular Victoria's sitting room.

Shortly after the end of the war, Tree divorced Nancy and married Marietta Peabody Fitzgerald, an American woman he had met while working for the Ministry of Information. Marietta moved into Ditchley, but found English country life not to her liking. Noticing his wife's upset, and short of money, Tree sold Ditchley to Sir David Wills, descendant of the tobacco importing family, W. D. & H. O. Wills of Bristol; and moved with his family and butler Collins to New York. In 1958 Wills set up a trust called the Ditchley Foundation, which aims to promote international (especially Anglo-American) relations, and which still owns the house today. Col. Richard Lee, the founder of the famous family in the Northern Neck of Virginia in the American Colonies, was descended from the Lees of Ditchley. His son, Hancock Lee, named his home "Ditchley" in Northumberland County, also in the Northern Neck of the Virginia Tidewater.

Building Activity

  • Georgi Sokolov
    Georgi Sokolov activity.buildings_person.create
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com