A little History of St. Leonards Hill
The real history of St Leonards starts wtth Domesday, although Roman remains have been found from time to time. William the Conqueror gave the Manor of Losfield to the Seneschal of Windsor Castle.
A Manor did not always mean a house and in this case it was woodland for pigs.
It later held a chapel for a mediaeval Hermit which was named after St Leonard. The field below the summit (now a car park) was always known as Hermitage Meadow and known to have a well which never dried up. It was then part of the estate of William de Brocas who gave his name to the grass in Eton along the Thames above the bridge at Windsor. As part of Clewer Parish the Chaplain was also the Chantry Priest for Clewer Church, whose duty was to say daily prayers for the Soul of Lady Mary Brocas (1385). The resident priest now performs this office. William the Hermit of Losfield was given indulgencies to give to the Pilgrims who travelled from holy place to holy place collecting indulgencies, thought to reduce the time spent in Purgatory on their way to Heaven !
Since then this unique place overlooking Windsor Castle has had many Royal connections. As a part of Windsor Forest it was always the favourite hunting ground for Kings and at some time a hunting Lodge or Keepers Cottage was built on the summit of the hill and could be seen for miles around. It was the home of William Pitt (1756-61) and purchased by the Duke of Gloucester (1763) who rebuilt and enlarged it and renamed it Gloucester Lodge. He bought The Hermitage, now Legoland for his wife Maria ( Lady Waldegrave) and renamed it Sophia Farm in honour of the birth of his daughter Sophia.
It is here that it is thought that the mediaeval lamp was found ‘under a stone’ and its image is used as the logo of The Society of Antiquaries.
Later residents of Gloucester Lodge were the Harcourt family. The Harcourts of Stanton Harcourt moved the whole village in order to redesign the estate in the fashionable style of Capability Brown. The Harcourts of St Leonards endowed Clewer Green School and subsequent owners have been trustees, a tradition which continues to this day.
Francis Tress Barry purchased Gloucester Lodge in 1869 with the proceeds of the San Domingo copper mine in Northern Portugal and as Baron de Barry.set about turning a modest Georgian building into an Italianate mansion.. He presented Windsor Council with the land for Alexander Gardens in Windsor, the other side of the river to The Brocas to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII and Alexandra. He was made a baronet by Queen Victoria and was MP until he died in 1907 Unfortunately when Lady Barry died in 1923 there was no sale for a huge mansion needing many servants and the house was stripped and the contents were sold piece meal. There are at least 9 fireplaces in America. The estate was divided into building plots and became The St Leonards Hill Estate.
In 1941 Reg Try, needing an investment for the £11,000 paid by the Government for half the fleet of Windsorian Coaches, purchased the last 35 acres which included the ruined mansion. It became more ruined when the Army used it for small munitions practice. Tress Barry had planted fully grown Camellia bushes from Portugal rather than in a conservatory and when Reg found these growing on the land Camellias became his passion and he grafted and grew seed to produce prize winning bushes, which he showed at the Chelsea Camellia Show which included a new variety. Windsor Princess. He was Judge at the American Camellia Society and was presented to The Queen Mother at the Royal Windsor Rose Show, displaying couriered blooms from all over the world including Japan, where they originated. Reg’s Grandson Andrew has reactivated the Show in the grounds of St Georges School.
Although the Mansion is a mere shadow of its former self family events have put the life back into the last of the estate. It is a romantic backdrop to the Shakespeare that is staged by Andrew and the Ancient Oak tree lends itself to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Andrew’s son Ptolemy is the 6th generation of the Try family which came to Clewer circa 1881. A new chapter in The St Leonards Hill Saga begins.