Saturday, 29 December 2012

Avebury Manor - A Brief History

Avebury Manor dates from around the mid 16th century, recently confirmed by a dendrochronology analysis carried out by Wessex Archaeology. Samples taken from a ceiling lintel beam in the kitchen (the oldest part of the house) showed a felling date of between 1555 - 1580. The land the Manor occupies however is considerably older and in all probability had monastic connections.  There have been few excavations of note but those that have been permitted, have revealed several small finds which would indicate the site to have been occupied for at least a thousand years.

Earliest records of a building in the vicinity date from 1114, when King Henry I granted the estate to his chamberlain William de Tancarville, who in that same year gifted it to the Benedictine French abbey of St Georges de Boscherville, Rouen, Normandy. A priory house, probably made of timber, was established soon afterwards and may have stood close to where the current Manor is now situated. The priory was a small unit, just a few monks eking out a simple existence raising sheep and farming the land.

In 1378, England was at war with France which ultimately spelled expunction for the monastic order at Avebury. The last prior to leave Avebury was Stephen Fosse in 1379. Fosse was one of many monks expelled from England during that year. A succession of chaplains took charge of the priory until it finally passed into the hands of Fotheringhay College in 1411.

In 1547, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) the College exchanged the estate for other lands. The Crown took possession of the estate and granted ownership to Sir William Sharington who had recently purchased Lacock Abbey. At some point the priory was demolished or possibly remodelled leaving a small lay house.

In 1551, wealthy businessman, courtier and Auditor to the Royal Mint - William Dunch, purchased the house and estate form Sharington. Recent evidence now points to the Dunches’ being largely responsible for rebuilding a new house between 1555 and 1580.

In 1601 the east range was extended by Sir James and Mrs Debora Mervyn adding the south range and ornate porch over which are engraved their initials.

In 1740 Richard Holford (grandson of Sir Richard Holford) remodelled the Great Hall in the south range and the bedchamber above it inline with the latest fashions. The original stone gables (noted from a drawing in 1723 by William Stukeley) were removed by Holford to allow the construction of a deep coved ceiling which would later become known as the Queen Anne Bedroom. Queen Anne is believed to have visited the Manor during her reign, though the ceiling would have been in its original form at that time.

The final alteration came in the early 1900s when Lt-Colonel Leopold and Mrs Nora Jenner added the west library. In addition they landscaped the gardens introduced Yew and Box topiary.

Sarsen and limestone were used primarily for most of the building projects. It is likely, though not certain, that the sarsen stone would have come from the Avebury henge at a time when the stones were of little interest other than for building material.

Over its 450 year history, Avebury Manor has commanded significant importance in the village, surrounded by high boundary walls and formal gateways. Although not the most prestigious of country houses, it still retains an air of opulence with its impressive gables, deep mullion windows, tall imposing chimneys and beautiful topiaried gardens.

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