Fawley is a village in the south western corner of Buckinghamshire. It sits on the border between Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, about seven miles west of Great Marlow and north of Henley-on-Thames.
The village name is Anglo Saxon in origin, and means 'fallow-coloured woodland clearing'. It was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Falelie. There are two other places in the country called Fawley.
Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, a prominent Member of Parliament in Cromwell's day was from Fawley. In 1642 he allowed soldiers fighting in the English Civil War to stay at the manor house in Fawley, however they were quite raucous in their behaviour, and they completely destroyed the contents of the house. In 1684 the house was completely redesigned, following a design by Sir Christopher Wren.
The parish church, which was rebuilt in 1748, is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. It has a Tree of Life stained glass window designed by the artist John Piper, who lived nearby in Fawley Bottom and Patrick Reyntiens.
Fawley Court stands by the River Thames, north of Henley-on-Thames, on a site that has been occupied for around a thousand years. The name "Fawley" comes from the Old English word for fallow deer. It is located about half way along the Henley Royal Regatta course.
After the Norman Conquest, Fawley Manor was given by William I to his brother-in-law, Walter Gifford, who was one of the leading compilers of the Domesday Book.
In 1616, Fawley was sold to Sir James Whitelocke, a judge who also bought Phyllis Court and Henley Park. His son, Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, was a parliamentarian and also a judge. During the Civil War, Fawley was the scene of fighting between the Roundheads and Royalist troops commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Since Bulstrode Whitelocke was a Parliament supporter, the Royalist soldiers ransacked Fawley Court.
The main house was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, and is regarded by architecture historians as one of his most successful designs for a formal residence.
During the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William III of Orange stayed in the house during his march from Torbay to London.
In the 1770s, the grounds were dramatically landscaped by Capability Brown, and the architect James Wyatt worked on new rooms in the house. He also designed the nearby Temple Island. Both George III and George IV visited the house.
Fawley Court was sold to the Scottish banker Edward Mackenzie in 1853. He enlarged the house, adding the east wing.
The house was requisitioned by the Army in World War II, and was used as a training camp, leaving it in a poor state after the war.
In 1953 the house and surrounding park were purchased by the Congregation of Marian Fathers, to be used as a school, Divine Mercy College, for Polish boys. At its peak the school catered for 150 boys, aged 9 to 19, mostly the children of Poles displaced during the Second World War who had found refuge in Britain.
The house was severely damaged by fire in the early 1970s, but was rebuilt with the help of donations from the Polish community overseas. A modern church was also bulit on the grounds, funded by Prince Stanislaw Albrecht Radziwill who died in 1976 and was interred in the church's crypt.
The school closed down in 1986 due to a lack of students of Polish origin, and the Marian Fathers converted Fawley Court into a 'Retreat and Conference Centre'. In 2008 the Marian Fathers, to the chagrin and dismay of the older members of the Polish Community in the UK, put the estate, considered by some to forming part of the Polish community's history, roots and heritage in the UK, on the market by informal tender. They had deemed that there was no longer any missionary need to fulfill and that the proceeds of the sale could be better applied elsewhere. The Polish Community is following developments closely with bated breath.