Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location

 
Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
Wittington House Estate          k
   Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
Contents
    3    Welcome

    4    People & History – meet key figures that have influenced the house and estate

    6    Buildings & Architecture – powerfully built: from Iron Age forts to hi-tech offices

    8    Landscape & Nature – working with the natural world

    10   Leisure & Community – attitudes that help make this place different

    12   Building the Future – protecting our environment, using technology in smarter ways

    14   About SAS

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Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
Welcome
SAS UK bought the Wittington estate in 1985. Since then, the grounds and
buildings have undergone a series of remarkable transformations. SAS UK is
proud to be the trusted custodian of this amazing site and its rich history.

In parallel with the evolution of SAS software, numerous projects at Wittington
have led to everything from the reappearance of long-lost landscapes and the
restoration of 18th century industrial archaeology to the rise of gleaming energy
efficient buildings, the eco-friendly processing of bio-fuels and more.

None of this is obvious until you drive through the gates.

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Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
People & History
    People have been here since at least the Iron Age: Danesfield Hill Fort, built over 2,000 years ago, is
    on the estate’s western edge. Numerous Roman coins and artefacts have also been dredged from the
    river. According to the house’s first owner, there was evidence of a Saxon settlement too, and that the
    Wittington name – which had many variants down the centuries, such as Wydendon and Whittington –
    is Saxon in origin.

    We do know for certain that in the centuries following, many people came here to carry out diverse
    activities such as chalk quarrying, providing materials for the 13th century Medmenham Abbey, while
    many more simply passed through going about their business. For instance, with the Thames an
    important freight route, the remains of a flash-lock capstan were discovered in the 1970s. Fully restored
    in 1999 and maintained by SAS UK, this hauled barges upriver by the weir. This capstan is unique in
    England.

    More modern developments started in 1897 when Hudson Kearley MP1, Lord Devonport and later
    Minister for Food during the Great War, bought the land that’s now the basis of the estate. He
    commissioned celebrated architect Sir Reginald Blomfield to design Wittington House in 1897, asking
    him in 1908 to completely remodel and enlarge the building. In the 35 years following, work in the
    grounds employed hundreds of local men, particularly important with high unemployment after the
    Boer Wars. The fame of the gardens spread, so much so that Queen Mary, the present Queen’s
    grandmother, paid a visit in 1931.
    1
        Member of Parliament

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Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
Writing in the 1930s, Lord Devonport commented that the house had seen “at one time or another most
of the leading Englishmen of the last quarter of a century: prime ministers; governors; men who held
commanding positions during the Great War; famous artists and architects; leading men of affairs and
business men – even, on occasion, royalty – have been among our guests.”

In 1934 the Canadian industrialist Garfield Weston, owner of Associated British Foods, bought the
site. The Salvation Army took the house from 1948 for a peppercorn rent2, running an Eventide House
for elderly ladies. Over the years, the grounds became overgrown and the house fell into disrepair.
However, yet another group of residents was about to open a new chapter in Wittington’s history. SAS
UK arrived in 1987 with just 11 employees.

SAS bought the land next door in 1997 to support its continued growth, adding yet more illustrious
former residents including the RAF’s Bomber Command and Photographic Intelligence Unit, with former
visitors now including Winston Churchill. Ammunition and ordnance continue to be found in this area,
including a large casing for a prototype of Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bomb3.

2
    A nominal rent intended to demonstrate that a property is leasehold and not freehold.
3
    The original bouncing bomb was used during World War II to bounce into dams and explode underwater.

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Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
Buildings & Architecture
    A stroll around our home is a fascinating journey through time.

    Visitors at the gates are presented with open lawns and wild meadows running down to the sweeping
    galleries and curves of the gleaming Upper Wittington site, opened in 2002. This energy efficient 10,000
    square metre building, on former Ministry of Defence land, includes dramatic open spaces and a three-
    storey atrium, and has eco-friendly features that include grey water recycling.

    Walk for two minutes and you reach Wittington Court, an elegant fusion of old and
    new. This single-storey building inside the original house’s walled garden, which
    includes training facilities and offices, won a prestigious design award.

    Close by is the Stable Block, a Grade II building sensitively remodelled and
    enlarged as a restaurant and offices, including a large glazed extension and
    freestanding gallery.

    Finally, you arrive at the old house, only 150 metres from the Thames. Carefully
    restored since 1985 without major external alteration, this remains the heart of
    SAS UK.

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Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
A sprig of tea carved in the crest over the main door is an immediate reminder of original owner Lord
Devonport, who made his fortune in tea. Numerous notable features in the house include an amazing
chimneypiece from the former home of William Wilberforce, the member of Parliament who led the
abolition of slavery. Visible in the library is the coat of arms of second owner Garfield Weston, along
with elaborate panelling and unusual carvings of people both famous and infamous – including George
Bernard Shaw and Adolf Hitler.

Other buildings on the estate mimic the main house’s style, including the summer-
house, a boathouse with terrace that’s often opened for summertime events, and a
lodge at the gates.

As with most country houses, you may hear rumours of a ghost: a ‘grey lady’ who
could be a former resident from the building’s time as a retirement home. Staff report
odd occurrences on the first floor in the east wing; strange feelings, an office that
never gets warm, and at least two shipments left for collection that disappeared –
and were never found. In the early 80s the estate manager caught the image of a
mysterious figure in a photo, staring down from an upstairs window in what should
have been an empty house…

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Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
Landscape & Nature
    This 110-acre estate lies in south Buckinghamshire, by the Thames and with the Chilterns Area of
    Outstanding Natural Beauty to the north. The region is characterised by quiet valleys, magnificent
    beech woods and a rolling chalk landscape; our riverside has one of only two sets of chalk cliffs on the
    Thames.

    We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Lord Devonport, who was very proud of the garden he created
    “where no garden was before,” he wrote. “It was nothing but poor agricultural land – gravel and chalky
    soil – and the fields were literally sown with thousands and thousands of flints… we had to engage
    an army of stone-pickers.” For 35 years he studied, planned and planted, with his efforts rewarded
    by two features in Country Life and royal recognition when Queen Mary visited in 1931. Of that day,
    Lord Devonport wrote: “The flowering cherries were a mass of bloom, and the rock garden, which by
    then had become one of the finest in England, was looking its best…” This remarkable rock garden
    had been his “chief task and also my chief pleasure.” Constructed in 1912 using stone imported from
    Derbyshire, its cost would have been prohibitive just 20 years later.

    Other work included the bold planting of herbaceous borders, a rose garden, kitchen garden, planting
    rare trees, a golden privet hedge believed to be the longest of its kind in England, water meadows, and
    the informal ‘undercliff’ garden with its curious ‘Smuggler’s cave’.

    After being famous for so long then spending years in decline, the last two decades have seen the
    gardens make a significant comeback. As Devonport himself said, “What garden is ever finished?”

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Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
SAS UK has overseen the renovation and replanting of herbaceous borders, rhododendron beds, lawns,
18-acre nature meadow, tree-planting to fill gaps, replacing Victorian irrigation, and complete restoration
of the magnificent Rose Garden that had totally disappeared. Much of this was back breaking work –
for instance, revealing terraces by digging out huge quantities of rubble, dumped during World War II
following the very rapid excavation of a bomb shelter.

Work is continuing to re-establish the arboretum, which had become wild woodland. With the help of
generous benefactors and working with the National Tree Council, local universities, the
current Lord Devonport and experts in the field of arboriculture, this involves the careful
planting through the valley of different trees to represent the huge migratory journey of the
Monarch butterfly – south from Canada through North America to Mexico – as well as
installing specially-commissioned wood sculptures. Each tree also has a label explaining its
medicinal uses. Allowing the site to rest after clearance revealed unusual small orchids.

The estate is home to deer, badgers, voles, stoats, ferrets, rabbits and bats – the latter
being carefully removed then reinstated during building work at the Stable Block. Feathered
residents include barn owls, buzzards, red kites and a family of geese that, oddly, nested
high in a 400-year-old oak. The river contains all varieties of coarse fish, with pike of varying
sizes and eel (as long ago as 1086, the local fishery accounted for 1,000 eels). The wildflower
meadow, which came to fruition in 2008, also attracts insects and rare butterflies.

Natural processes continue to shape the landscape and we are especially wary of river erosion: repairing
banks as soon as they are damaged to minimise loss of our precious riverfront.
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Wittington House Estate - Past, Present and Future: A Unique Location
Leisure & Community
     There’s an atmosphere of professionalism around the estate, plus a sense of
     community. From its days as an Iron Age fort, through its years as a country
     house and right up to the hundreds of SAS specialists now based here,
     Wittington has been always been a community in some shape or form.

     When Lord Devonport had the property in the early 1900s, he employed 18 outdoor staff that, with their
     families, added up to 50 people. And that’s without allowing for household staff, the family itself, visitors
     and guests. The house was regularly used for entertaining. For example, evocative images from 1936
     show the Weston family entertaining staff from the Slough biscuit factory.

     Visit these days, and you may see social events like the SAS UK Summer Party or Bonfire Night
     celebrations.

     Given the beautiful surroundings, it’s no wonder walkers have visited the area for decades; a public right
     of way runs through the gardens, with a four-mile path leading from the main road to the Thames and
     riverside before rejoining the road. Wanting privacy and to protect his property, Lord Devonport built a
     150-metre tunnel that, to this day, runs directly beneath the lawns. While the public still doesn’t have
     unfettered access, we’re a bit less private these days, and are delighted that local schools and charities
     use the grounds for fund-raising and educational activities.

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In fact, each year the SAS riverbank plays host to the SAS Hurley Classic, a freestyle canoe and
kayaking competition which takes place at Hurley Weir.

SAS people also enjoy the grounds, which have echoed to the sounds of informal football and basketball
games, and more recently to a game of cricket, particularly in the summer, since we invested in restoring
the cricket pitch and in building a new pavilion* for use by employees, the local cricket team and local
scout group.

This is what we mean when we say SAS UK is a community itself – and that we’re proud of the role we
also play in our local and wider community.

* The pavilion is dedicated to the memory of Phil Bond, Managing Director of SAS UK from 1985 to 2004.

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Building the Future
     Wittington has long been a place of innovation. For instance, a Pelton wheel ran at Hurley Weir from the
     1930s to power bankside batteries, with a 110-volt current piped to the house. This meant Wittington
     was the first house locally to have an electric washing machine. Stories remain of
     household staff having to traipse down to the river late at night to start up the wheel,
     powering the washing machine to the delight of late night revellers in the main house.

     The most recent custodian of the site, SAS UK, has long been an innovator in
     providing technology that helps organisations perform better: from statistics, decision
     support and executive information systems (EIS) in the late 70s and 80s, through
     data warehousing and ever-more powerful analytics in the 90s, to today’s world of
     innovative business solutions. However, we’re also conscious of ‘the bigger picture’
     and the role we can play as a responsive corporate business.

     Closer to home, as well as ensuring eco-friendly buildings and protecting our local
     flora and fauna, the last few years have seen SAS UK take part in a wide-ranging
     annual energy awareness event, the ‘100 Days Carbon Campaign’. This involves
     measuring energy usage and outputs in key areas such as lighting, office equipment,
     small power devices like microwaves and stationery. We’re very pleased that, as an
     organisation, we are controlling and actually reducing our carbon emissions.

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Our estate team is dedicated to environmentally friendly composting, we use grey water for irrigation,
and our waste cooking oil is turned into bio diesel fuel.

At the same time, our Bio-Bubble sewage treatment system produces an increasingly precious resource:
water. This energy efficient low-carbon-footprint system produces 150 cubic metres of water per day in
two 12-hour cycles – about 33,000 gallons each day. We don’t use any mains water for the grounds. So
if you visit during a dry spell and see our lush green lawns,
you might spare a thought for how much potentially
good water other people are pouring down the drain.

We have also converted an area of wasteland into 18 individual
allotment plots for employees to cultivate and grow their own
fruit and vegetables.

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About SAS
     SAS is the leader in business analytics software and services, and the largest
     independent vendor in the business intelligence market. Through innovative solutions
     delivered within an integrated framework, SAS provides a flexible and straightforward
     path for organisations to achieve their key objectives and gain maximum return from
     their information assets. We have more than 13,000 employees in over 50 countries
     and 400 SAS offices.

     Our company values are at the heart of everything we
     do because they are the principles upon which SAS was
     founded and define the type of company we are, namely:
     Approachable; Customer-driven, Swift and Agile;
     Innovative and Trustworthy. These values are an integral
     part of the software we create and our interactions with
     customers, fellow employees and business contacts.

     The philosophy behind SAS’ corporate culture since 1976
     is that satisfied employees create satisfied customers. So,
     whether they are based in Marlow or our offices in Dublin,
     London, Manchester, Glasgow and East Kilbride, our people
     work in environments that foster and encourage the integration
     of the company’s business objectives with their personal needs.

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With enviably low employee turnover, we reap the rewards of employee loyalty. Our
customers reap the benefits of the most talented minds in the software business.

One of the things that makes visiting SAS UK a memorable experience is that so
much is packed into this site between the river and the road: so much history, so
many memories, so many contributions from so many people – and so much more
we can do in the future.

This is such a unique place that when people leave through the gates, they can’t wait
to come back. Under the care and protection of SAS UK, the Wittington estate is far
more than just a place to work.

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SAS UK & Ireland             Wittington House                 Henley Road             Marlow          Bucks SL7 2EB                +44 1628 486933                www.sas.com/uk
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