The Old Beckett House
Anyone who has visited the current Beckett House cannot fail to be impressed by its splendour. But many are surprised to learn that this Elizabethan style house was constructed in 1829. Before this, and but a short distance to the north, stood the original Beckett House. It is that particular building that this listing concerns.
We have George Barrington who was the 7th Viscount, to thank for at least some little description of the old house. He and others, often referred to the building as resembling a military barracks. We have no clue at the moment as to when it may have been built but it's quite likely that it's origins are very early. At the time of the Norman conquest, we know that the Hundred of Shrivenham was kept as a royal estate until the beginning of the 13th century. Documentary evidence survives with a mandate issued by King John to the Sheriff of Oxford bearing the date 1204 and from Beckett. It's quite possible that the land within the Hundred of Shrivenham contained particularly good hunting ground, and that Beckett would have made an ideal location for a royal hunting lodge.
We also have from the Berkshire County Archives a document from E/EEL/35/17, dated 1722.
The Capital messuage Becket being a very large house situated on a dry soil containing 23 rooms, besides closets, 8 garrets, vaults, cellars, and offices of all kinds, as pastry, bakehouse, bolting house, brewhouse, washhouse, laundry, still house, apple loft, dairy etc with all convenient outhouses, as stables, a large and handsome barn, etc with the several courts, gardens and orchards, large dovecote, large fish pond of an acre, summerhouse being a cubed 24 feet built by Inigo Jones. The gardens containing 15 or 16 acres of ground most of it a kindly fruit, full sand. About 8 or 9 of the said acres being enclosed with a stone wall of 5775 feet or 350 poles, well planted with all kinds of fruit of the best sort. The fruit noted for its kindly taste. Grapes never fail in any year.
NB. Several parts of the garden and ground lying next the house have surprising echoes.
NB. 320 poles make a mile.
“On these or some of these considerations the late King James when he was Duke of York was very earnest to buy this estate and would have given anything for it, that would have tempted Sir John Wildman to have sold it off.”
Whereas the above account portrays an idyllic scene, by the end of the 18th century we know that the premises was in a poor state of repair. Through the years of 1815 to 1818 we have several entries in the Barrington Estate Account Books (D/Ex52/E1) that shows the old house was slowly being dismantled by local builders John & George Knapp. The notes made by George Barrington (7th Viscount) confirm that the old house had been damaged in the Civil War of the 17th century, when he states, "The old house was then standing, and I perfectly well remember it. Half of this house had been burnt down in the Civil Wars. What remained of it may been seen in a water colour drawing, given to me by by the Rev Edward Bouverie, who during my boyhood was Vicar of Coleshill."
Plans for the new Beckett House were at first in the hands of the architect William Atkinson but were thought by the Barringtons to be very ugly and never commissioned. Instead the task was placed in the hands of Thomas Liddell, William Barrington's (6th Viscount) Brother-in-Law. The building of the new, Elizabethan style house began in 1829.
We have a transcription of an Inventory of the old house, which was still in Trust under the Will of William Wildman Lord Viscount Barrington (2nd). It is dated 23rd July 1804 and can be read in Pdf format by going HERE
We also have an earlier Inventory commissioned by the 2nd Viscount in 1754. To read a full transcription of this please go HERE
Information compiled by Neil B. Maw