Sunbury Court, a fine Georgian mansion overlooking part of the River Thames where pleasure craft and houseboats abound, is but 14 miles from the great metropolis, London. Woven into the fabric of the backcloth which throws into colourful relief this country residence are the gold and silver threads of history and romance.
Preserving much of its old world charm, quiet atmosphere and absolute privacy – features which influenced its selection as venue for the first High Council – Sunbury Court forms part of the neighbourhood and village mentioned in history at the time of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) who ‘confirmed the manor unto the Abbot of Westminster’. In the 16th century its green fields and wooded slopes were included in a grant of land given under the Great Seal of England ‘to one Sir Robert Killigrew, Knight, in the manor of Colkemington’ – now familiarly known as Kempton.
During Plantagenet times (1154-1485), an era of colourful costumes and gallant courtiers, Sunbury itself was a favourite resort of councillors and kings. The manor was a royal palace and tradition has it that Sunbury House was used as an annexe, being renamed Sunbury Court following a disastrous fire. Historical associations are enriched by the close proximity of the beautiful and royal Windsor Castle, a few miles upstream. Almost equally famous, Hampton Court faces the broad river near Kingston-upon-Thames.
Although Sunbury Court has seen few structural alterations, changes in ownership show that it passed from one notable family to another, finally entering the possession of a military colonel in retirement. Coming on the property market, it was brought to the notice of General Bramwell Booth who was seeking some such place for the establishment of a Staff College – a project near to his heart – and purchased it for The Salvation Army at a very reasonable figure in 1925.
Since the first Staff Councils held there, Sunbury Court has been in turn an eventide home, youth centre, scene of continental and Anglo-American training sessions, torchbearer movement headquarters, centre for the Brengle Institute and summer outing resort for Army young people of all sections.
Officers of all ranks from every territory in the Army world have relaxed in the cool of the evening and under the light of the magnificent crystal chandelier gracing the spacious lounge when the serious business of the day has been concluded.
The famous English novelist, Charles Dickens, is said to have written one of his works in the vicinity of Sunbury Court, and rumour has it that the house was the scene of a burglary he describes.
The grandeur of the crystal chandelier in the lounge is surpassed only by the beauty of the murals, painted in oils on to the plaster by Elias Martin, the Swedish artist, between 1768 and 1780 for the second Earl of Pomfret.
The surrounding countryside is flat, and without marked topographical features, but there are pleasant walks in the neighbourhood. The great reservoirs that lie east of Sunbury Court are part of the great metropolitan water supply system, from which many millions of gallons are pumped for the vast population between the upper reaches of the Thames and its estuary.
More information and photographs are available at www.sunburycourt.co.uk