P R O F I L E
In the thirteenth century the area, with the parish church, was part of the holding of the Abbess of Godstow. On the site of the present Wycombe Abbey was a large manor house known as 'Loakes House' which until 1700 was the seat of the Archdale family, when Thomas Archdale sold it to Henry Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne. Lord Shelburne sold his estates in the area in favour of more extensive lands that he owned elsewhere. Loakes House was purchased at auction by Robert Smith, 1st Baron Carrington in 1798. He then employed the architect James Wyatt to transform Loakes House into the present Wycombe Abbey as we see it today.
As an architect James Wyatt captured the romantic spirit of his era, creating a gothic ecclesiastical style. The castellated three floored central block has turrets on each corner, and is seven bays wide, with sash windows. On the ground floor they are ogee topped in the ecclesiastical manner. There is a slightly incongruous bay oriel window in the centre of the second floor. Attached, by a two floored wing: is a chapel-like block clearly indicating the architect's intention to emulate an abbey; this wing is completed by statues in niches on the external wall in the medieval catholic manner. The whole composition is an echo of the house's larger sister at Fonthill. Like Fonthill Abbey, the whole structure was intended to imitate one of the older country houses genuinely converted from an old abbey or monastery. The final stage of the transformation was the renaming of Loakes House. The result is that Wycombe Abbey is a prized example of the romantic gothic style.
Wycombe Abbey is now an independent girls' boarding school that was founded in 1896. It is academically considered one of the top schools in the United Kingdom.
The Grotto circa 1920
The Grotto site in 2014The grotto is located in a public park that was once part of the Wycombe Abbey estate adjacent to the school. Known as The Rye and Holywell Mead, this substantial area of land includes The Dyke, a linear canal that was part of the original landscaping by Capability Brown. The Rye and Holywell Mead was gifted to Chepping Wycombe Corporation, a precursor of the District Council, by the Marquis of Lincolnshire in 1923. Holywell Mead was formally purchased by the Borough Council in 1937 following a ten year period when the land had been declared public open space. Earlier use included grazing and watercress beds. Now it includes a sports facility and extensive waterfowl on The Dyke. The water source for The Dyke is a lake in the school grounds, in turn fed from a local Holywell spring. At the end of the canal furthest from Wycombe Abbey School, there is a dam and waterfall. Adjacent so this, overlooking the public park was once a grotto. It comprised natural stone construction providing shelter and a resting place for those wandering along the Wendover Way, a footpath and cycleway that runs the length of The Dyke. Inside the grotto were seats. Today it is hard to distinguish where the grotto once stood. It has been partially demolished and the entrance sealed up using flints and the local original stonework. Now covered in ivy it looks just like part of the bank alongside the footpath.
To find the grotto site go to the boat house end of The Dyke and walk along the waterside footpath to the other end of the linear lake. Alternatively park in the sports centre which is adjacent to the canal and walk to the left as you face the waterway until you reach the falls. Refreshments and toilets are available in the sports centre.
Click map to enlarge
GREAT BRITISH GROTTO GRADING
Access all Year, Access on Foot, Entry Fee, Grotto - just one, Part of a larger tourism attraction, Restaurant/Food, Toilets
Park or Garden, Urban
England - Central
THE FEATURES PRESENT
GRADED ZERO - no grotto survives