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A Brief History of Boscobel House

It is not known exactly when Boscobel was built. The oldest part is the north range, timber-framed and two-storeyed. At right angles to this is the main body of the house which was probably built about 1630 by John Giffard, eldest son of Edward Giffard of White Ladies, who was himself descended from the Giffards of Chillington. Blount, writing in 1660, speaks of it as having been built ‘about 30 years before’.

The name Boscobel is interesting and, if we may trust Blount again, derives from the ingenious and complementary remarks of one of John Giffard’s friends. According to Blount, Giffard invited ‘friends and neighbours to a house-warming feast and desiring Sir Basil Brook (of Madeley) to give the house a name he aptly called it Boscobel from the Italian Bosco Bello, because seated in the midst of fair woods’.

Its remote position in what was in the seventeenth century an area of dense woodland was providential as far as Charles II was concerned and it may also explain the nature of the building itself. It is more a lodge than a house, intended for the occasional use of the owner and his guests rather than as a permanent residence. No doubt it served several needs, including perhaps accommodating Giffard and his guests when out hunting, but by tradition part of its purpose was to serve in time of need as a secret place for the shelter of Roman Catholics and especially catholic priests, the Giffards themselves being a Catholic family.

On the death of John Giffard both White Ladies and Boscobel passed to his daughter, Frances, who in 1633 had married John Cotton of Gedding Abbots, Huntingdonshire. In 1651 the two houses were still in the possession of Frances Cotton, by this time a widow, but shortly afterwards they passed to Basil Fitzherbert of Norbury and Swynnerton who had married Jane Cotton, Frances’s only daughter, in 1648. They remained in Fitzherbert ownership, being let to a succession of tenants including descendants of the Penderels, until 1812 when Boscobel and the greater part of the White Ladies estate, but not the site of White Ladies itself, was sold to Walter Evans of Darley in Derbyshire. Boscobel remained in the Evans family during the nineteenth century and while in their ownership both house and gardens were restored in an attempt to re-create their appearance in Charles II’s day. In 1918 the estate was bought by the Earl of Bradford who in 1954 placed the house and the tree in the guardianship of the Ministry of Work. Since 1984 it has been in the care of English Heritage.