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The history of Chastleton House

Carved panelling and furniture in the Great Hall at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire
The Great Hall at Chastleton House | © National Trust Images/Peter Greenway

Owned by the same increasingly impoverished family for nearly 400 years, Chastleton has remained a time capsule and hidden treasure-trove for generations. From the early days of this lavish house to its association with the game croquet, discover how the Whitmore-Jones family and their interests influenced the fate of this 17th-century country house.

The building of Chastleton House

Perhaps one of the finest remaining country houses of the early 17th century, Chastleton was built between 1607 and 1612 as a statement of wealth and power by prosperous wool merchant, Walter Jones.

Despite the Jones family having found success and riches in the booming cloth industry, Walter Jones fabricated a grander ancestry for himself, and Chastleton was built to demonstrate how far its owner had climbed the social hierarchy with its sophisticated architecture, lavish interiors and advanced garden layout.

Over the next 400 years however, the family become increasingly impoverished, and Jones’ heirs never rose above the status of country gentry. Family legends tell that Irene Whitmore-Jones, owner of Chastleton in the 1930s and 1940s, was fond of telling visitors that her family had lost all their money ‘in the war’, by which she meant not the recent world war, but the Civil War 300 years earlier.

Carved panelling and furniture in the Great Hall at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire
The Great Hall at Chastleton House | © National Trust Images/Peter Greenway

A state of suspension

Irene Whitmore-Jones was just one of the remarkable women who kept Chastleton going, managing the estate as widows or spinsters for 120 of its 400 years. Barbara Clutton-Brock was the final chatelaine in this tradition, living at Chastleton for 15 years as a widow. Barbara left Chastleton in 1991 after it was bought by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. By then, the house was in fragile condition, but retained much of its furniture and original contents.

Eventually, Chastleton was handed over to the National Trust, who chose to preserve the house and gardens rather than restore them. The intention was to retain as far as possible the romantic air of decline which hung to the building.

An extensive six-year preservation project followed, which included replacing the roof, making the building structurally sound and stabilising the interiors. Where it was judged safe to do so, decoration and furniture were left alone. Today we endeavour to maintain the feeling of peace and calm in this corner of the Cotswolds: to let the place speak for itself and for you to imagine the stories of the past.

Croquet and Chastleton

An interesting part of Chastleton’s history is its association with the game of croquet. In fact, Chastleton is the unlikely place where the rules of croquet were properly codified by Walter Whitmore-Jones, who was born and lived here in the 19th century.

Walter’s biography reveals that he left his Oxford University degree, and a position in the government’s war office, to try his hand at inventing various objects and games.

View from the roof over the croquet lawn with people playing at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire
View from the roof over the croquet lawn at Chastleton House | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

After creating several games with little success, Walter eventually took up croquet and had the lawns installed at Chastleton. Realising there were no standard rules for the game, he set about creating new rules and tactics for croquet, which were published in The Field in 1869, the world’s oldest country and field sports publication.

During his life, Walter founded the All England Croquet Club along with J. H. Walsh, the editor of The Field, and later the National Croquet Club. Due to disagreements, Walter eventually stepped away from the world of croquet, and sadly died of throat cancer at the young age of 41.

Browse the timeline below to learn more of the family history of Chastleton.

A timeline of the Chastleton's residents


Walter Jones, the first owner of Chastleton House 

The land and the previous house that stood here had been owned by Robert Catesby, leader of the Gunpowder Plot. Walter Jones purchased the property in 1602, but didn’t take full ownership until May 1606. The following year, construction started on a new building and by 1612 it was complete. 

Walter's family, originally from Wales, had been in the wool trade, but Walter trained as a lawyer, served as a Town Clerk in Worcester and as a Member of Parliament. In buying Chastleton, Walter became a landowner, marking his move into the lowest level of the aristocracy.  

Visitors in the garden at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

Discover more at Chastleton

Find out when Chastleton is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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Discover a series of discrete spaces in Chastleton’s romantic garden, where you’ll find a productive Kitchen Garden, historic croquet lawn and neat topiary.

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Chastleton's collections 

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Chastleton House on the National Trust Collections website.