Owlpen Manor from the south, with Court House (left) and church
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Owlpen Manor is a Tudor Grade I listed manor house of the Mander family, situated in the village of Owlpen in the Stroud district in Gloucestershire, England. There is an associated estate set in a picturesque valley within the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The manor house is about one mile east of Uley, and three miles east of Dursley.
Owlpen Manor is widely recognised as one of the most romantic early manor houses in England. It was designated by Historic England as a grade I listed building on 23 June 1952. The manor house is of medieval origins, incorporating fabric dated to c. 1270, but was largely built and rebuilt in the Tudor period by the Daunt family between 1464 and 1616. Since then it has hardly been touched except for small improvements early in the 18th century, when the east wing of the house, together with the gardens, church and Grist Mill, were reordered by Thomas Daunt IV between 1719 and 1726.
The formal terraced gardens with yew topiary are a rare survival, said to be some of the oldest domestic gardens in England (Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe). They were probably laid out in their present form with their defining yew trees in early Stuart times, about 1620. They have been restored and extended in recent years.
Owlpen (pronounced locally "Ole-pen") derives its name, it is thought, from the Saxon thegn, Olla, who first set up his pen, or enclosure, by the springs that rise under the foundations of the manor, about the 9th century.
There are records of the de Olepenne family (who must have named themselves after the place) settled at Owlpen by 1174. They were local landowners, benefactors to abbeys and hospitals, and henchmen to their feudal overlords, the Berkeleys of Berkeley Castle, whose wills and charters they regularly attest as their attorneys and witnesses. They held Owlpen of the Berkeleys as a sub-manor at half a knight's fee and for a rent of 5s. paid to Wotton manor.
In 1464 the male line failed after twelve generations of Olpennes and the manor and lands passed to the Daunt family on the marriage of Margery de Olepenne to John Daunt of Wotton-under-Edge. The Daunts were clothiers who had been settled in Wotton since the 14th century. They later acquired land in Munster, Ireland, where by 1595 they had their principal estates at Gortigrenane Castle, near Carrigaline, and at Tracton Abbey, near Kinsale, both in County Cork.
The Daunt main line failed on the death of Thomas Daunt VI in 1803.
In the nineteenth century, the fortunes of the manor suffered after the Stoughton family, Anglo-Irish landowners from county Kerry, inherited in 1815. They built a new mansion c. 1848, called Owlpen House, a mile to the east of the original settlement, to the Italianate designs of Samuel Sanders Teulon. It was demolished in 1955-6, although outbuildings including the gas works, lodges and stable block remain. The Church of the Holy Cross behind the manor house, of medieval origins, was rebuilt in two phases in 1828 and 1874.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the old manor became celebrated as an icon of the Arts and Crafts movement. It was described by early visitors such as the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne as an 'incomparable paradise', set in its remote valley as a Sleeping Beauty which had not been inhabited for nearly a hundred years, a picturesque ruin much decayed, overrun with ivy, and dwarfed by enormous yew trees. After the First World War, there was increasing concern for its survival and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings recommended that it should be vested in the National Trust, which however had no funds available for its repair.
Finally, in 1924–25, the Owlpen estate was sold for the first time in nearly a thousand years. The future of the manor house was assured when it was acquired and sensitively repaired by Norman Jewson, a distinguished Cotswold Arts and Crafts movement architect who had worked with Ernest Gimson and the brothers Sidney and Ernest Barnsley (who was his father-in-law) in Sapperton. In 1930, his friend, the artist F.L. Griggs dedicated his romantic etching of Owlpen Manor to Jewson, who had 'saved this ancient house from ruin'. Jewson has documented his repair work in his classic memoir, By Chance I did Rove (1951, twice reprinted).
Owlpen Manor is the Gloucestershire home of Sir Nicholas and Lady (Karin) Mander, and their family. Since 1974 they have carefully repaired the manor house and outbuildings, with the cottages and estate, giving them a new and integrated life for the conditions of today. They have re-created the formal Stuart gardens in sympathy with the manor house and added representative family and Cotswold Arts and Crafts collections.
The manor contains a unique series of painted cloth wall-hangings dated about 1700, illustrating the life of Joseph, as well as numerous historic features, including Tudor wall paintings, panelling and plasterwork.
The manor house and gardens are a popular attraction which has been open to the public since 1966.
In recent years, Owlpen Manor has been used as the location for a number of TV feature films, game shows and documentaries. They include Most Haunted (Series 4, 2004); The Fly and the Eagle (a BBC drama about the romance of Bristol poet laureate Robert Southey and Caroline Anne Bowles); The Trouble with Home (a documentary about the Manders at Owlpen made for HTV West); What the Tudors did for us; Countryfile; The Other Boleyn Girl; Watercolour Challenge; as well as antiques, cookery, gardening, travel, and art programmes. The holiday cottages and restaurant featured on BBC1’s flagship Holiday programme, presented by John Cole and introduced by Jill Dando.
Owlpen Manor appears as Bramscote Court in the BBC's period drama adaptation of Tess of the d'Urbervilles (autumn 2008), starring Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne and (briefly) in Becoming Jane (2007), on the life of novelist Jane Austen.
Owlpen Manor has been the inspiration and title of a number of 20th-century poems, including well-known verses by U.A. Fanthorpe, John Burnside and Reginald Arkell. The house is reputed to have inspired scenes in novels by John Buchan and Wolfgang Hildesheimer, and more recently in the romantic fictions of Kate Riordan, The Girl in Photograph (Penguin Books, 2015), and Dinah Jeffries, The Tea Planter's Wife (Penguin Books, 2015).
The Owlpen estate
The Owlpen estate consists of speicies-rich permanent pasture and meadowland fringed by extensive ancient woodland surrounding Owlpen Manor, and traditional farm buildings and cottages.
Nine historic cottages on the estate, including a Grist Mill (1728), Court House (1620s), Tithe Barn (c. 1450), and weavers' cottages, are available for holiday accommodation.
There is also an atmospheric restaurant in the medieval cyder house.
The manor house is said to be one of the most haunted houses in the West of England, where at least four ghosts are recorded as regular apparitions. They include a black monk from medieval times, Queen Margaret of Anjou, an alchemist from the 17th century and a mischievous child. The ghost stories have featured in a number of TV programmes and books. Episodes of the television show Most Haunted were filmed in the house with Yvette Fielding and Derek Acorah.
- "The loveliest place in England" – Fodor's Britain Guide, 2002
- "The epitome of the English village" – HRH The Prince of Wales, A Vision of Britain, 1989
- "Owlpen in Gloucestershire —ah! What a dream is there!" – Vita Sackville-West, English Country Houses, 1941
- "The ruinous little old manor-house with its old hanging gardens of the 16th or 17th century, tidy & sweet & splendid ... a paradise incomparable on earth. Only a poet could describe it" – Algernon Charles Swinburne letter to William Morris, 28 Oct 1894
- Nicholas Mander, Varnished leaves : a biography of the Mander family of Wolverhampton, 1750–1950. Dursley: Owlpen Press. 2004. ISBN 0-9546056-0-8.
- Nicholas Mander, Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire: a short history and guide to a romantic Tudor manor house in the Cotswolds. (current edition: 2006). OCLC 57576417
- Nicholas Mander, Country Houses of the Cotswolds (Aurum Press, 2008)
- Norman Jewson, By Chance I did Rove (Cirencester, 1951, 1973; Barnsley 1986)
- Hugh E. Pagan, Owlpen Manor (1966, reprinted 1975)
- The Rev. John Daunt, Some Account of the Family of Daunt (Newcastle, 1881; Scarborough, 1899)