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Ufton Court
Ufton Nervet, Berkshire

Ufton Court, Berkshire -  Nash Ford Publishing

The beautiful Elizabethan Ufton Court was originally a minor manor possibly split off from that of Ufton Robert in the late fourteenth century, and called Ufton Pole. Some of the present house is earlier, however, dating from 1474. This includes the southern portion of the main body of the house, the screens passage with the original 'buttery and pantry' doorways (although at Ufton there was a proper kitchen), the solar and the basis of the great hall. It was apparently built as a hunting lodge for Richard III's great friend, Francis, Viscount Lovell. His main country residence was Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, but he probably stayed at Ufton when visiting his sister, Lady Norreys, who lived at Yattendon Castle only nine miles away. Lovell, naturally rebelled against the Tudor victors at Bosworth Field and had all his lands confiscated by the Crown.

From 1510, this early house was the main country estate of Sir Richard Weston, the Keeper of Cranbourne Chase and Governor of Guernsey (and later Sub-Treasurer of the Exchequer). He had control of a number of Royal manors and lodges, but, as Ufton was his own property, it would no doubt have been there that his children grew up before the family moved to the magnificent Sutton Place, which Sir Richard built near Woking (Surrey) in 1521. His son, Sir Francis Weston, became infamous for his supposed affair with Queen Anne Boleyn: one of several men so accused - including Lovell's nephew, Sir Henry Norreys. Their executions became inevitable, just like the Queen herself. 

Ufton Court was purchased by the rich double-widow, Lady Marvyn, in 1567. However, she stayed at the ancestral home of her first husband, Richard Perkins, at the old moated manor site at Ufton Robert, for nine years while the Court was greatly extended and partly rebuilt. The great hall was completely refitted with a magnificent Elizabethan plaster ceiling with huge decorated droplets and a minstrels' gallery. The prominent porch was built and house extended northwards, with more strapwork ceilings and 'green men' carved beams (supposedly brought from Ufton Robert Manor). A new projecting wing was also added. The long gallery in the roof space may have been inserted a little later. Lady Marvyn is famous for getting lost in the local woods, from which she was rescued by a number of the villagers. In thanks, she left money in her will (1581) for an annual dole of bread and cloth to the poor of Ufton and Padworth which is still given out today from a certain window in the great hall. The Court passed to her husband's nephew, Francis Perkins, one of many of that name to consequently live in the building. The Perkins were a well-known Roman Catholic family who were persecuted by the local magistrates in the 16th century. They had to pay heavy fines for refusing to attend the parish church services, and Ufton Court was raided at least twice by officials looking for priests in hiding. Sir Francis Knollys found some of their hiding places and a small fortune in gold plate in 1599, but the priests had gone, apparently down an escape tunnel, traces of which still  lead into the woods today. There are at least three priests holes in the house, two of which are displayed to visitors. The main one, with its original ladder, descends from a tiny room, thought to be the Elizabethan secret chapel.

The most famous member of the Perkins family was Arabella Fermor, the wife of Francis Perkins V, a great beauty and the belle of London Society in the 1710s. She had been courted by Lord Petre, but fell out with him and his family after he surreptitiously snipped off a lock of her hair at a ball and held it as a keep-sake. Alexander Pope (from Binfield) wrote his famous poem, the 'Rape of the Lock.' about the incident in the hope of a reconciliation, but just ended up offending the lady even more. She eventually accepted Perkins' offer of marriage in order escape such attentions. The northern end of Ufton Court was upgraded for her arrival, with a new facade, panelling and moulded ceilings. It was around this period that it became more acceptable to be Catholic and the Perkins openly kept a resident priest at the Court. The barely-connected southern wing, which had been built as a dower house in 1616, became his home and is most notable today for its 'oratory,' a small chapel for the blessing of the sacrament decorated with early 17th century painted panelling featuring Cathloic monograms. The main chapel, which was then up in the rafters, attracted a congregation of up to 100 members of the local catholic community. Bonnie Prince Charlie is even said to have visited the Perkins' on one of his forays back into the country incognito. The Perkins finally died out in 1769 and the cousins who inherited sold up in 1802. It was eventually purchased by the Benyons of Englefield House, who still own it. They undertook work to remove the Georgian fascia on the northern side of the entrance front and introduced the beautifully symmetrical facade that we see today by adding gables and false windows (1839). It was split into tenements for the estate workers for a while, but was united at the end of the 19th century by a single tenant, the local historian Mary Sharpe. Henry Benyon (later Sir Henry Benyon) lived at the Court between the Wars, but, in more recent years, it has become an Education Centre for schools countrywide, firstly under West Berkshire Council and now under an independent trust.

Ufton Court is run by the Ufton Court Educational Trust as an Educational Centre & Wedding Venue. It is always viewable from the public footpath which runs straight up the main drive before turning right; but also has an annual open day each September.

 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.