An Oxfordshire property that espouses the benefits of town and country living hits the market. Penny Churchill takes a look.
London families who are looking for a safe haven in the country within easy reach of the capital can enjoy the best of both worlds in this manor currently on the market in rural Oxfordshire.
For sale at a guide price of £8 million through the country department of Hamptons International, Grade II*-listed The Manor at Aston Tirrold, near Wallingford, south Oxfordshire, has been the much-loved home of three generations of the Harris family since 1975.
That was when its owner, Bryan Harris, returning to the UK after working overseas, spotted an advertisement for the house in a copy of Country Life that was lying on a table in the waiting-room of his London lawyer’s office. Pointing to the picture of the classic Queen Anne house, he reputedly said to his man of business, ‘when I’m rich enough, I’m going to buy a house like that’. His lawyer replied, ‘well you are, and you can!’ So he did.
Later that year, Mr Harris and his wife, Betty, moved with their four daughters to the imposing, late-17th-century manor house, the principal house of the village, set in seven acres of idyllic gardens and grounds next to the 12th-century church of St Michael and All Angels, also listed Grade II*.
Aston Tirrold, whose name derives from the Old English for ‘east town’ and its ownership by ‘Nicholas, son of Torold’, who held the manor in 1166, was part of Berkshire before being transferred to Oxfordshire following the 1974 boundary changes. It lies on the edge of the North Wessex Downs AONB, three miles south-east of Didcot, a picturesque and protected area traversed by gallops, bridleways, cycle and footpaths, that offers endless opportunities for lovers of sport or Nature.
According to the Victoria County History of Berkshire (1923), in the early 1700s the manor of Aston Tirrold was jointly owned by members of the Fuller family and, by the close of the 19th century, was wholly owned by Thomas Wellingham Fuller who, in 1901, sold the manor house with its surrounding estate to Bolton industrialist Francis John Kynaston Cross. He modernised the manor house and farm, and after the First World War, substantially extended the house to the rear, almost doubling it in size with the addition of a coach house and further outbuildings.
Following Mr Cross’s death, an advertisement in Country Life announced the sale, through Hampton & Son, of Aston Tirrold Manor, Berkshire, described as ‘an attractive small residential and agricultural estate of about 101 acres’ including a ‘lovely Queen Anne Residence: hall, 4 reception rooms, 8 principal and 6 staff bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, etc..’. Cross was succeeded at The Manor by four owners — the Pope, Hunt and Ball families and, for a time, Lady Ellen Smith — before the arrival of the Harris family, by which time the acreage was much reduced.
During their tenure, both The Manor and its enchanting landscape of varied garden spaces — including walled and kitchen gardens, and an elegant swimming pool set against the backdrop of St Michael’s church — have been the subject of constant improvement by the owners, the most recent being the renovation of the Victorian greenhouses as a tribute to Mrs Harris on her 80th birthday, and the addition of the orangery to the main house.
Two of their daughters were married in St Michael’s with receptions held in The Manor grounds, which, over the years, have been the setting for village fêtes and other community events — even, in 1977, a Jubilee son et lumière based on the life of Henry V.
In its present configuration, The Manor offers six reception rooms, including an impressive dining hall, a formal drawing room overlooking the walled gardens, a pretty morning room, a study and a library lined with bespoke bookshelves with access to both the orangery and the kitchen/breakfast room.
The house currently offers eight bedrooms and two self-contained apartments on the first and second floors, with proposed floor plans suggesting an alternative 21st-century layout. The property comes with a pretty, three-bedroom cottage that boasts its own private garden and other amenities, including a tennis court, garaging for six cars, stabling and paddocks.
With 45 years of memories to look back on, the decision to sell has clearly not been taken lightly. As one family member put it, ‘it takes leaving a place for you to truly understand the legacy you have been a part of’.
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