Yarnton Manor is situated adjacent to a 12th-century parish church in an historic Oxfordshire village. The Manor has been entertaining and inspiring visitors for centuries and it’s easy to see why.
Surrounded by beautiful gardens and agricultural land, Yarnton Manor’s setting could hardly be more picturesque. Inside, visitors soak up the historic atmosphere of a stately home once frequented by the likes of the former Poet Laureate John Betjeman and the novelist Iris Murdoch.
The 17th century manor house was built in 1611 by the wealthy Spencer family, and its long and fascinating history has left an indelible mark on the fabric of the building. The estate has changed hands several times over the centuries, with each successive custodian contributing to its story. Now Grade II* listed in recognition of its special historic interest, much of what survives is original, or restored sympathetically at the close of the 19th century.
Yarnton Manor lies on an ancient site with origins stretching back 5,500 years to the depths of Neolithic prehistory. A house existed on the site prior to the building of the Manor as we know it, with historical references dating back to Saxon times. The 17th-century stately home was built almost from scratch in 1611 by Sir Thomas Spencer, the same year he was made a baronet by James I.
During the English Civil War, the Manor was used as a Royalist military hospital; 40 or so soldiers were buried in the adjoining churchyard between 1643 and 1645. The Royalist Spencer family suffered large financial losses as a result of their support for the Royalist cause, and this may be the reason why the north and south wings of the manor house were pulled down shortly after the Restoration in 1660. The west wing survived, but was converted into a farmhouse.
In 1718, the Manor was described as being in a “ruinated condition”, having been sold 23 years earlier to Sir Robert Dashwood, owner of nearby Kirtlington Park – for which Dashwood’s successor, Sir James, took stone from Yarnton Manor, adding to its rundown condition.
It wasn’t until 1897 – by which time the Manor was described as having been “shorn of all its glory” – that it was fully and sympathetically restored, under the new ownership of Henry Robert Franklin. Franklin enlisted the prominent Oxford architect Thomas Garner, a Gothic revival specialist who had previously been responsible for notable Oxford landmarks including the High Street entrance to Magdalen College.
Garner’s restoration of Yarnton Manor was made easier by the dilapidated state of the building at the time, as it meant that he could salvage rare 17th century features (such as the marbled and grained wood around the main staircase) that would probably not have survived had the previous owners felt inclined to keep the Manor up-to-date. Garner’s restoration also extended to the gardens, where a carriage drive was created – now an integral part of the Manor’s approach.
The Manor changed hands several more times in the 20th century. It was bought in 1936 by an Oxford academic, George Kolkhorst, a friend of the former Poet Laureate John Betjeman who had himself visited the Manor several times. In 1945, Betjeman described it as “more fantastic than ever”, whilst novelist Iris Murdoch had visited in 1939 as part of a touring theatre group, declaring the Manor “beautiful” and singing the praises of its “miraculous gardens”, which continue to delight visitors to this day.