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Whiteknights Park
Sonning, Berkshire



Now Whiteknights Park, the medieval manor of Earley St. Nicholas or Earley Regis, as it was variously called, ws held by the De Erlegh family for around two hundred years. Since around 1160, they had taken their name from their home; and in the late 13th century the compliment was returned, when John De Erlegh the "White Knight", who had served with King Edward I in Scotland, gave his nickname to the manor as Earley Whiteknights. The De Erleghs sold up in 1365 (though cousins remained in Maiden Earley until 1502).

In 1606 the estate was purchased by Sir Francis Englefield, the 1st baronet, as a substitute Berkshire home; the family having had their vast Englefield estates confiscated for recusancy in 1585. The Englefields moved over from Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire and Whiteknights remained their main family residence until they sold it to the Marquis of Blandford in 1798.

The Marquis of Blandford (later the 5th Duke of Marlborough), who became resident subsequent to the Englefields, was the estate's most famous owner. Between 1798 and 1819, Whiteknights was the scene of vast extravagance and wild entertainments, all at the Marquis' expense. It became the most celebrated estate in the Country: magnificently furnished, displaying many great masters, with a wonderful wine cellar and an unrivalled library. The splendid gardens, beautifully laid out with the rarest of plants, were its greatest attraction however. It was the envy of kings. The Duke went bankrupt in 1819 and had to retire to Blenheim. The Whiteknights Estate was sold off and the house was demolished in 1840, supposedly by a mob of the Duke's angry creditors.

Broken into six leasehold units in 1867, later united as a public park, Whiteknights has been the home of the University of Reading since 1947. Some of the 19th century leasehold properties remain, among them Park House which stands on the site of the old 18th century mansion. Traces of the Park's past splendour can still be found though: the lake, the grotto, the Wilderness and numerous beautiful trees.

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