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History of Dorneywood


Situated near Burnham Beeches, Dorneywood was once part of the Dorney Court Estate. It is now owned by the National Trust and leased to the Dorneywood Trust. It is available for the use of a senior member of the government (in recent times the Chancellor of the Exchequer) as a weekend retreat.

The village of Dorney, from which Dorneywood takes its name, lies by the Thames four miles to the south. There have long been settlements at Dorney (the name is Old English for ‘island of humble bees’).

Dorney Court

Dorney Court


Dorneywood was the upland farm belonging to Dorney Court, which lies on the edge of scenic Dorney village. The oldest parts of Dorney Court (left) are early Tudor dating back to about 1500.


Since 1624 the Grade 1 listed house Dorney Court has belonged to the Palmer family and it continues to be their private home. Dorney Court is open to the public during August, the May bank holidays and at other times for tours by arrangement.  Please see for details.


Dorney Court is often used for filming and has featured in Midsomer Murders, Morse, Endeavour, period dramas and a wide range of feature films.


There appears to have been a house on the Dorneywood site since the sixteenth century. The current house is later, probably Georgian, and was occupied by a succession of tenants – though the Palmers farmed the land for a period in the 1830s. Following the departure of the last of the tenants in the 1890s, Charles Palmer took back the management of Dorneywood, at some point converted and extended the Georgian farmhouse into a ‘gentleman’s residence’.

Dorneywood House

In the early 1900s Paget Toynbee, an expert on the works of Dante, occupied Dorneywood. In 1910 a fire destroyed part of the Dorneywood house.  The Palmers sold Dorneywood house and farm to Lord Courtauld-Thomson in 1919. After acquiring the estate Lord Courtauld-Thomson extended it by judicious purchase of adjacent parcels of land. Lord Courtauld-Thomson refurbished the house and added an east wing in the 1920s.

During the Second World War Dorneywood became a leisure retreat for officers in the Commonwealth armed services. In 1942 Lord Courtauld-Thomson decided that, on his death (which occurred in 1954) the house, with a small endowment, should pass to the nation for use by a senior member of the government. One of the first ‘residents’ was Sir Anthony Eden; and there have been a succession of famous names using the property since.

Dorneywood was most famously in the news in 2006 when John Prescott was photographed playing croquet on its lawns. The press had been briefed that Mr Prescott was running the country whilst the Prime Minister was away in Washington.

Further information about the Palmer family and Dorneywood can be found in "Dorneywood" by J. N. P. Wilson.

The House

The first record of a house at Dorneywood farm dates back to the 16th century, but nothing is known of its size or style.

In the 1890’s, the Georgian farm house was converted into a manor house, but fire destroyed part of the house in 1910.

In 1920, the new owner, Lord Courtauld-Thomson added an east wing. The House now comprises 21 main rooms, including eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms.

The house is decorated and furnished in the style of the 1930’s and 1940’s, with a widely varied collection of furniture, paintings and books, largely as it was on Lord Courtauld-Thomson’s death. The Grade II listed barn contains a squash court and a billiards and table tennis room. There is a mixture of 16th and 20th Century accommodation and garaging on site used by members of staff employed by the Dorneywood Trust.

Modern Significance


Dorneywood fulfills a similar role to the houses and estates at Chequers and Chevening, providing a country-house residence for a Minister of the Crown.


If the Prime Minister of the day were to decide that Dorneywood was no longer required in this role then, under the provisions of Lord Courtauld-Thomson’s estate settlement, use of the house would be offered to the American Ambassador or to the Lord Mayor of London.

In making his gift of the land at Dorneywood to the nation, Lord Courtauld-Thomson was adding to the protection of the rural estate in Buckinghamshire by creating, together with the adjacent Burnham Beeches, an area of some 615 acres that would safe guard the land from further urban development spreading north from Maidenhead and Slough.

The partnership between the Dorneywood Trust and the National Trust ensures the material future of the house, garden and surrounding land are secure under the settlements made by Lord Courtauld-Thomson.

Listed Buildings at Dorneywood taken from British Listed Buildings

Cart Shed and Barn, Dorneywood, Burnham, Buckinghamshire (Grade II)

Open former cart shed incorporating a dovecote in the south gable. Probably C18. Timber-framed; weather-boarded; old tile roof. The back, i.e. south, wall incorporates late C19 armorial stained glass relating to Lord Courtauld-Thomson. C16/C17 barn, T-shaped and now housing a billiard room and squash court. Low brick base; weather-boarded; old tile roof with a weathervane on the west gable and another, in the form of a galleon, on the south gable. A rainwater head inscribed LW 1788 at south-east-corner.

Listing NGR: SU9382784874

Cottage, Dorneywood, Burnham, Buckinghamshire (Grade II)

C17. Formerly Dorneywood Farm Cottage and originally two cottages, much restored. Timber-framed; red blue brick nogging; hand made tile roof. Modern square leaded light casements in oak frames. East elevation with two dual-light casements, a board door with timber hood on brackets and another dual-light window. To the right a recessed part with exposed timber-framing. To the right again, a modern extension. West elevation: two storeys plus attic with four gabled dormers. First floor with one tri-light and two dual-light windows, a modern timber- framed bay window and one smaller glazed bay window. Ground floor with two dual-light and two tri-light casements. On left hand, modern addition built in old bricks.

Listing NGR: SU9385984866

The Cottages
The Cottages

Dorneywood, Burnham, Buckinghamshire (Grade II)

Originally the C18 manor house was partly destroyed by fire in 1910 and later rebuilt and restored. Presented by Lord Courtauld-Thomson to the nation as a residence for the Prime Minister, 1942. Seven bays wide, the centre three recessed and of two storeys plus attic, the outer ones are later additions and of three storeys. Red brick; tiled roof. All windows sashes with glazing bars and segmental heads. Central door with unfluted Ionic columns and pediment. To the East, a single-storey addition known as the Conference Room; to the West, a kitchen wing of two storeys. Interior with inner porch decorated by Rex Whistler: Ave silvae Dornii; three marble and one wooden C18 chimney pieces; staircase with Chinese fret balustrade. CL, 7th and 15th December 1951.

Listing NGR: SU9381984816

Gazebo, Dorneywood, Burnham, Buckinghamshire (Grade II)

C18. Square plan with tiled pyramidal roof with stone ball finial. Modillion cornice. Brick steps up to door. Two modern sash windows.

Listing NGR: SU9381684848

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