The Cokethorpe estate has seen many changes from the medieval buildings which formed the estate in the 13th century. The small chapel which stands alone in the grounds some distance from the Mansion almost certainly predates the buildings which stood on the site of the present Mansion, and probably formed the nucleus of a small village which was wiped out by the Black Death. The earliest mention of the Church is in 958 when it was referred to as ‘The old Church, Eastleigh’.
The current Mansion House certainly includes some parts which are very old, and it is thought that the ha-ha to the south of the main lawn may well have been a Saxon ditch built as a fortification before it was turned into an ornamental structure.
The basic layout of the medieval courtyard is still evident. The Round House is reputed to date from the 14th century and is variously referred to as an old granary, an ice house, and a game larder.
The courtyard has changed from a place for horses and ostlers to something approaching a college quadrangle. The old buildings however, remain much the same as they were when the celebrated English novelist, diarist and playwright, Fanny Burney, visited Cokethorpe in 1773. ‘Her mud-spattered carriage clattered in on a dark October night in 1773. The house was shuttered, dark and very melancholy and appeared deserted’.
Finally an old shepherd was roused who informed them that the Master and Mistress were away and Fanny returned to Witney through mud ‘three feet deep’ to spend the night.
The estate passed through many owners, some of whom met unpleasant ends. The Lovell family owned the estate in medieval times, Lord Francis Lovell escaped from Bosworth Field in 1485 but his body was found walled up at Minster Lovell some years later. Sir Thomas Moore, Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal, was beheaded in 1535; on his execution the title and estate reverted to the Crown. The lands were then granted to Henry Norreys who also lost his head after allegedly having an affair with Anne Boleyn.
It wasn’t until the estate passed to Simon Harcourt, Chancellor to Queen Anne, in 1709 that there was any significant change to the buildings and the mansion was largely rebuilt. The house played host to many famous literary and political figures of the day including Pope, Gay, Prior and Swift. Queen Anne herself visited in 1713 and gave the impressive panelling in the Corinthian Room.
The Chapel in 1968.
The inner courtyard before the Round House was converted.
The Mansion House in 1958.