Sulgrave is a very pretty village in Northamptonshire, near Banbury. It resembles a Cotswolds village with many limestone and thatched cottages, several dating from the 17th century. Dial House is a farmhouse which has a sundial on its gable and bears the date 1636. The Star Inn has a tall signpost decorated with wrought iron. In this small village, is Sulgrave Manor, the home of four generations of George Washington’s English ancestors. In 1789, George Washington became the first President of America and remained in office for eight years.
The house was built about 1560, by Lawrence Washington, a wool merchant. His great grandson, John Washington, emigrated to Virginia in 1656. It is thought he left England, due to the strong royalist family support for Charles I during the English Civil War. He started the line in America, that three generations later, produced his great grandson, George Washington.
Although George Washington never visited Sulgrave, the Manor House contains many items associated with him. In the bedroom is a painted mahogany chair which belonged to him and in the museum section, are his saddlebags, his velvet coat, his oak liquor chest, a lock of his hair and even a handle from his coffin when he died in 1799. The most valued exhibit in the house, is an original oil painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, the famous American artist, which hangs over the fireplace in the Great Hall.
The Porch, which was the last part of the Tudor building constructed by Lawrence Washington, is fascinating. Above the doorway, is not only the Royal Coat of Arms of Elizabeth I, but the coat of arms of the Washington family. The arms consist of three stars (mullets) and two stripes (bars), which many obviously believe to be the inspiration for the American flag, the Stars and Stripes.
The visitor is greeted by the flags of both the United Kingdom and the United States, flying on the terrace in front of the Manor House. Sulgrave Manor is now owned by the Sulgrave Manor Trust on behalf of the peoples of both nations. In 1921, when the property was opened to the public, the Marquess of Cambridge pledged that the house should be, “….. a shrine for all Americans who visit the old country and a centre from which sentiments of friendship and goodwill between the British and American peoples will forever radiate …..” It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the 20,000 visitors each year are from the United States.
In 1914, the Manor House was not much more than a farmhouse, which had fallen into disrepair. It was purchased by the Sulgrave Manor Trust, to mark the centenary of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, which ended the war of 1812 between Britain and the United States. The property was presented to Great Britain and the U.S.A. to celebrate one hundred years of peace between the two nations. The funds to purchase and restore Sulgrave Manor were raised by British subscribers. Later, further donations came from America, but the fact that the property has been open to the public since 1921, is due to the foresight of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, a group of ladies descended from the men of the thirteen colonies which formed the original United States, who raised money to provide an endowment.
The garden of the Manor extends to four acres and includes an orchard, the National Garden of the Herbs Society and is renowned for its lavender, many bags of which are sent to America every year.
The church of St. James the Less, dates from the 14th century. Lawrence Washington, the builder of Sulgrave Manor and his eldest son, Robert, are buried here. The church contains a 17th century pew used by the Washington family and memorial brasses to Lawrence Washington, his second wife, Amy and eleven children.
Close to the church is Sulgrave Castle. Excavations have revealed that the Norman mound, visible today, had been established on top of earlier Saxon buildings dating from about 970 AD.