Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Yarnton, Oxfordshire

The real thing

After Jacobean revival doorway of the previous post, here’s an example of a genuine Jacobean manor house. It’s Yarnton Manor, not far from Oxford, and it was built in around 1611 by Sir Thomas Spencer, altered in later centuries, and restored in 1895. The facade that’s visible today is restrained – curvy gables,* but quite small ones, projecting bays that don’t project very much, minimal classical detailing around the doorway – but lovely. It looks an attractive, welcoming house, without aspiring to the grandeur or extravagance of the great ‘prodigy houses’ of the 16th century.

The building was not always home to lords of the manor. By the 19th century it was a farmhouse and it then passed through various owners, institutional and individual. One owner well known around Oxford in the mid-20th century was George Alfred Kolkhorst, university Reader in Spanish, who moved in after he came into his family fortune, having previously lived in rooms in Oxford itself, where he famously entertained students at Sunday-Morning salons. Kolkhorst was known to generations of undergraduates as ‘Colonel’, though he held no such rank: the name was probably applied ironically because he was the least martial of men. The writer and cartoonist Osbert Lancaster, in his autobiographical book With An Eye To The Future, recalls his time at Oxford, when he attended Kolkhorst’s salons in the Oxford rooms, which were full of questionable antiques, or, in Lancaster’s words, ‘objects of dubious virtue’. Lancaster goes on to say that when the ‘Colonel’s’ father died, Kolkhorst ‘moved into what he hoped was a Jacobean manor house’. Clearly, in spite of the later modifications, the hopes were justified.

After Kolkhorst died in 1958, the house was used as a dormitory by a local school before becoming the home of Oxford University’s Postgraduate Centre for Hebrew Studies. The Hebrew Studies centre is now relocating, and the manor house was put on the market earlier this year. In its quiet setting, so near the city but removed from it, it looks good for another 400 years.

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* Some sources say that these are the result of later remodelling.