Driving to work through a private deer park is no bad way to start the day, even if the journey does involve passing a notice telling you to ‘Give Way To Aircraft.’ I made that journey at 8.45 on a perfect autumn morning last month to meet Lord Rotherwick, 56, the owner of Cornbury Park, Charlbury, who has now let all but one or two of the 25 business units he and his wife Tania have refurbished on the estate.
Mist rose from the Evenlode and a touch of frost still hung in the air around the classical mansion — originally buit for Lord Clarendon in the 1660s — while steam also rose from the flanks of those mighty stags with gleaming antlers.
Did not exchanging the species of livestock in the stables — from animals to executives — not jar on the surroundings a little?
“Not at all,” replied Lord Rotherwick.
“I never really see them and, in any case, an estate like this was always meant to have plenty of people on it. I like it and I feel the Oxfordhire economy, which has a particularly high proportion of small businesses, needs it.”
He was pleased that I had been so impressed by the park.
“Where people work should be beautiful. After all, many people work from 7am to 7pm here, spending more time here than at home,” he siad.
Lord Rotherwick moved into Cornbury Park, with its 2,500 acres of farmland and about the same again of park and forest — including the only remnant of the old Royal Forest of Wychwood (all but destroyed in 1853 under the Disaforestation Act) — in 1966 when his father, the second baron and heir to the Cayzer shipping and banking fortune, bought the estate from beer magnate Colonel Watney, whose family had been there since 1901.
Previously, Lord Rotherwick’s family had lived at Bletchingdon Park, Bletchingdon.
“I loved that house and was miffed when we moved here,” he added.
But times change and Lord Rotherwick is keen to develop his inheritance for the benefit of the business community.
Surveying the 40,000 sq ft of units set in their rolling acres, he said: “Assets have a purpose in life, namely to pay for themselves. There is quite a lot of capital tied up, but what we are doing is bringing about a proper restoration of these buildings.”
The offices themselves, whether in the well-restored former stables and garages near the main house, or in the newly-built group of buildings called Southill Park, certainly appeared to make ideal working spaces for a modern business — light, airy, beautiful even.
So is this the way to make a large estate work in the modern world? The answer seems to be: Yes, but only partly.
Huge maintenance expenses continue and grow larger over time. Then there are capital projects such as the £400,000 Lord Rotherwick paid out recently on an environmentally-friendly water system on the estate, which provides water for all the offices and homes there.
But the estate which the 50 tenants of the offices enjoy is constantly improving, thanks partly to finance obtained from their rents.
Lord Rothewick said: “There are only nine species of native English trees, and I don’t believe in planting only those trees — as some people at English Nature seem to believe.
“The park was laid out by a Dutch landscape gardener originally, and has been constantly evolving ever since, just as the English landscape generally has been constantly evolving.”
Certainly, the estate forms a sort of world apart, remarkably self-sufficient. Even the stone walling there, seemingly a perpetual job, is carried out using stone quarried from the estate.
Everything breathes quality and a sense of a job well done — which cannot surely be anything but a good influence on anyone lucky enough to have an office here.
Famously, Lord Rotherwick’s other venture into business is the Cornbury Music Festival, held for the seventh — and last time under that name — in Cornbury Park this year.
So far the festival has failed to show a profit but Lord Rotherwick said: “My family and I Iove the festival, and its a very good use of the park, and also extremely popular with the local community — and I have to tell you there will definitely be another festival here next year, come what may.”
It will not be called the Cornbury Festival, however, because that name belongs to the organiser of previous festivals in the park, Hugh Phillimore — who also rents a cottage on the estate.
Lord Rotherwick added: “I can’t talk for Hugh Phillimore, with whom I have had a differnce of opinion, but I have reached an agreement with the Moma Group, recently bought by HMV for £46m, to stage a festival here in the first two weeks of July next year.
“We plan to call it the Wilderness Festival at Cornbury — and it will have more layers. For instance, there will be more food.”
All in all, the message seems to be that running a large estate in modern Oxfordshire means making every asset pay — and taking a firm line with anything that doesn’t. Much like any other business really, except in more beautiful surroundings.
Name: Cornbury Park Estate Office Letting space since: 1995 Owner: Lord Rotherwick Amount of office space: 40,000 sq ft
Contact: 01608 811276 Web: www.cornburypark.co.uk