The present-day Phyllis Court is a stuccoed, Italianate mansion house on Henley's northern edge, built in the early 1840s. Set amidst sloping lawns which sweep attractively down to the Thames, it has been an up-market country club since 1906.
But the site itself is much older. Circumstantial evidence suggests that there may have been a small royal manor house or lodge here in the 12th century before the planned town of Henley was laid out, with grounds extending southwards into what is now Countess Gardens. From the 14th century there was a house here called Fillets Court, whose name was gradually corrupted to Phyllis Court - the name Fillets derives from an Old English name for hay, and may originally have referred to the nearby meadows. This was the manor house for a sizable medieval estate called Fillets, which was merged with Henley manor in the 1650s. The ancient house continued in use until the 1780s, when most of it was demolished. Fifteenth- and 16th-century owners who lived there included members of the Marmion, Hales and Masham families, and in the early 17th century Sir John Miller, who served as sheriff of Oxfordshire (1633-4), and also owned Henley Park. James I's consort Anne of Denmark briefly stayed there in August 1604. From the 1650s to 1768 it was home to the Whitelocke family and their successor Gislingham Cooper, owners of Henley manor. In its last days it was leased to gentry and aristocracy, among them Elizabeth, Countess Grandison, whose son Viscount Villiers organised the famous Henley Gala Week of January 1777. In the Civil War the house became a Parliamentarian garrison, and was fortified with earthworks, a moat, and a wooden draw bridge. For a time it was commanded by its owner Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, a prominent (though moderate) Parliamentarian, who personally supervised the fortifications' demolition in 1646 and re-landscaped the grounds. During the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 (which ousted the Catholic King James II), Sir William Whitelocke welcomed the future William III to Phyllis Court on 13 December, where he was greeted by a deputation of peers, bishops and London aldermen.
From 1861 the rebuilt house was leased to Hugh Mair, who entertained lavishly around Regatta time, when picnic parties frequently viewed the races from its lawns. It became a club in 1906, and by 1928 was 'one of the principal motoring and sports centres in the south of England', with aspirations to become 'the most luxurious and entertaining Club rendezvous outside London ... comparable with the best of the great Country Clubs of America and the East'. The Phyllis Court Club still continues there.
Read more about Phyllis Court and the Fillets estate on the VCH Oxfordshire website. .