• Sean Callery

Cornbury Festival’s 3 Ps: a present, a play and a painting

Updated: Feb 5

What links Cornbury Festival with 1066, a pioneer playwright and a Renaissance painting?


The answer to this riddle lies in the fields and manor of Great Tew in Oxfordshire, venue for Cornbury Music Festival. Revellers dance on grounds once given by William the Conqueror to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. The lands were a ‘thank you’ for supplying the invasion fleet and fighting alongside his half-brother.


In 1725 the estate came under the Second Viscount Falkland, which is why the local pub is called The Falkland Arms. He hosted parties for leading thinkers now known as the ‘Great Tew Circle’, so the area attracted movers and shakers way before local posh retreat Soho Farmhouse came along!




Elizabeth Cary's effigy can be found in Burford church

The Viscount’s mum was Elizabeth Cary. As a child, she loved reading so much that she bribed her maid for extra candles so she could study at night. It paid off because she became the first woman to publish a play, in 1613, called The Tragedy of Miriam.


The Great Tew Park landscape where festival goers picnic today was planted from about 1815 for Matthew Robinson Boulton, son of steam engine and factory pioneer Matthew Boulton. He used it for shooting parties and holidays (we’re back with the Soho Farmhouse theme).


So what’s the link with Michaelangelo? A 1530 painting by the Renaissance painter hung around the manor for at least 100 years before it was sold in 1993. The auction estimate was about £3million. That may have helped pay to renew the dilapidated house and the estate walls using stone from Great Tew’s own quarry, re-opened in 2000.




This report comes from Offbeat Cotswolds, the guide to surprising facts and sights in the area.


A few miles from Great Tew lie the Rollright Stones. Read about them in Rock of ages. I include the Great Tew in my Cotswolds tours.


Festival photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels; all others copyright Offbeat Cotswolds

© 2020 by Offbeat Cotswolds