View of the house from the main drive
|Architectural style||Elizabethan mansion|
|Town or city||Berkshire|
|Completed||15th century / 1567 (modifications)|
Ufton Court is an Elizabethan manor house at Ufton Nervet in the English county of Berkshire. Today is it used by an educational charity, The Ufton Court Educational Trust. Other than historical education, the site hosts creative projects too including theatre and music courses.
Parts of the house date from the 15th century. In 1567 it was modified by Richard Perkins and his family who were Catholic. The house is notable for its priest holes where Recusant Catholics could hide priests and vestments and could hear mass in the house.
==Early History ==
The history of Ufton Court can be tracked back to the Domesday Book, where it is referred to as 'Offetone', with land for five ploughs, forty acres of meadow and wood for one hog. The house was originally a small medieval manor called Ufton Pole and was one of the minor manors belonging to Lord Lovell. Parts of this building remain, including the great hall crossway with the original pantry and buttery doors. Lovell was made a Viscount by Edward IV and then was in Richard III's inner circle. A well known doggerel of the time refers to Lovell in less than complimentary terms;
The cat, the rat and Lovell the dog Rule all England under the hog.
The writer of this, Collingbourne, was hanged, drawn and quartered for his efforts. Lovell fell from grace after the battle of Bosworth and the death of Richard III. Lovell was accused of high treason by Henry VII and Ufton Pole was confiscated by the crown. Twenty three years later Henry VIII gave Ufton Pole to Sir Richard Weston, one of his pages.
In 1568 Pole Manor was bought by Lady Marvyn, the widow of Richard Perkins of Ufton Robert Manor at Ufton Green. She enlarged the house significantly, completing it in 1576, and moved her family from Ufton Robert to Ufton Court, as it then became known. Some of the decorative beams in the house today are thought to have come from Ufton Robert. Lady Marvyn began a tradition that is continued to the present day. In thanks to the villagers who rescued her when she got lost in the extensive local woods, she left money in her will for an annual dole to be handed out to the villagers every Maundy Thursday. It is said there is a curse on the landlord who breaks the tradition, whether this is true or not, no landlord has risked it and Sir William Benyon, the current landlord, can be found on Maundy Thursday handing out bread and sheets to the parishioners of Ufton Nervet. Lady Marvyn left the house to her nephew, Francis Perkins, it then remained in the Perkins family until 1769.
The Perkins were persecuted in the 16th century for being Catholics. They were obliged to pay fines for non-attentance at church, and, at least twice, Ufton Court was raided by local magistrates looking for hidden priests. In 1599, Sir Francis Knollys discovered both priest holes and much gold plate there, but the priests were not in residence. There is still a secret chapel in the roof of the court and traces of a tunnel for escape into the surrounding woods. In the 18th century, Bonnie Prince Charlie is supposed to have visited the family there.
The Rape of the Lock
In 1715, Francis Perkins married Arabella Fermor, the daughter of Henry Fermor of Tusmore in Oxfordshire and a well known society figure. Painters and poets celebrated her charms and her beauty. In the early 18th century, she was the belle of London society. Despite the world's admiration she enjoyed at the time, it is unlikely that she would have been remembered had she not inspired Alexander Pope in his most successful work, 'The Rape of the Lock'. The poem was inspired by a London scandal when Lord Petre, a young man of twenty, cut off and stole a lock of her hair without her knowledge. Arabella was extremely angry and a fierce quarrel broke out between the families. John Caryll, Pope's friend, suggested Pope write some amusing lines concerning the event to settle thisill-feeling.
The poem he produced was ideal, but not being personally acquainted with the lady, Pope published his work again without permission asking her leave. He appended a motto which implied she had asked for its composition. Pope therefore only made them worse and found himself obliged to publish again. He replaced the motto with a dedicatory letter assuring Arabella that subject matter was "as fabulous as the vision at the beginning, except the loss of your hair, which I always mention with reverence; . . . the character of Belinda as it is now managed resembles you in nothing but beauty....It will be vain to deny that I have some regard for this piece since I dedicate it to you....If it had as many graces as there are in your Person or in your Mind; yet I could never hope it should pass through the world half so uncensured as you have done." Miss Fermor was apparently pacified and, the two may even have become friends.
Though it is unlikely they were aware of the fact, Francis Perkins and Arabella were 9th cousins. Pope wrote her an affectionate letter on the occasion of their marriage: "It may be expected, perhaps, that one who has the title of poet should say something more polite on this occasion, but I am, really, more a well-wisher to your felicity than a celebrator of your beauty. Besides, you are now a married woman, & in a way to be a great many better things than a fine lady, such as an excellent wife, a faithful friend, a tender parent, & at last, as the consequence of them all, a saint in heaven."
It is traditionally said that Ufton Court was enlarged and refashioned for Arabella. Half of the facade, prior to the 1838 alterations, was certainly of the style popular when they married. Some of the interior was modernised at this time too. The dining room and the hall, retained their Elizabethan ceilings, but were entirely repanelled. Arabella and Francis had six children who all died childless and the house fell into neglect and virtual abandonment.
It was advertised for sale in 1837 as 'unfit for a gentleman's residence.' It was finally bought by Mr Benyon de Beauvoir of the neighbouring estate of Englefield, who repaired the house and turned it into tenements for his labourers.
Various tenants lived in the house over the next 100 years. The most notable were Mary Sharp, whose detailed history of the house provides us with much valuable information, and Mr and Mrs Harry Benyon. During this time the house was restored into a gentleman's residence again and there are pictures of the gardens resplendent with herbaceous borders and roses.
Ufton Court is now run by the Ufton Court Educational Trust, a charity which provides opportunities for children and young people.
- Nash Ford, David (2001). "In Search of Catholic Priests at Ufton Court". Royal Berkshire History. Finchampstead: Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
- Nash Ford, David (2008). "Sir Francis Knollys Junior (d.1648)". Royal Berkshire History. Finchampstead: Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
- Nash Ford, David (2001). "Arabella Fermor (1696–1737)". Royal Berkshire History. Finchampstead: Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
- Letters on Various Subjects. Nurnberg: Frederick Campe. 1840. p. 153. Retrieved 28 November 2012.