Ever wondered where author Kenneth Grahame got inspiration for the picturesque setting of The Wind in the Willows? When it comes to the infamous grandeur of Toad Hall, it’s not so clear. In fact, at least three local estates claim to be the residence of our dear Mr Toad.
“Rounding a bend in the river, they came in sight of a handsome, dignified old house of mellowed red brick, with well-kept lawns reaching down to the water’s edge.”
Mapledurham House is a 12th century house and farming estate on the banks of the Thames in the heart of the village of Mapledurham. The estate, with its church, watermill, golf course and team rooms, have been a popular setting for films and TV programmes such as The Eagle has Landed, Ms Marple and Midsomer Murders.
Mapledurham is close the town of Pangbourne where Grahame lived for several years and EH Shephard’s illustrations of Toad Hall for the original edition of The Wind In The Willows bear a striking resemblance to Mapledurham. It is also believed that the nearby Quarry Wood is the setting of Mole getting caught in the storm and is rescued by Ratty.
Formerly the site of a Saxon house owned by the de Hardwick family, Hardwick house as it stands today is a Tudor mansion which has been described as a “magnet of the literary community” in the early 1900s. Grahame was a regular visitor to the house and it is believed that the character of Toad is a loving caricature of his friend Sir Charles Day Rose, who bought the house in 1909.
Like Toad, Rose was a lover for fast cars and would often don his motoring goggles to go for a ride. The garden was also used by Henry James as the setting for The Portrait of a Lady. Rose’s family still own and live in Hardwick today, with Sir Julian Rose claiming the title of “only milkman in England with a title” as he milks his own cows and makes deliveries to the tenants on his estate.
Our third Toad Hall is Fawley Court. Located on the border of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, the house on the edge of the waterfront perfectly resembles the description in Grahame’s novel. Repurposed as a decoding facility along with Bletchley Park during WW2, it was later used as a boarding school and was finally bought and restored by Aida Dellal Hersham in 2008.