Look Back With Little: Fascinating account of Calthorpe Manor through time

North-east view of Calthorpe House by E G Brunton as it was when Thomas Draper purchased it, taken from Eleanor Draper's book NNL-171120-100818001
North-east view of Calthorpe House by E G Brunton as it was when Thomas Draper purchased it, taken from Eleanor Draper's book NNL-171120-100818001

In his popular nostalgia column, Banbury Guardian’s resident historian Brian Little takes a fascinating look at Calthorpe Manor through the ages.

On May 26, 1915, Eleanor Draper inscribed a copy of her book Calthorpe Manor House and its Inhabitants to her friend Mary L Dawson describing it as ‘a slight record of E D’s old home’.

This history of the Manor House opens with the author’s earliest impressions of Calthorpe House but then proceeds to look at each successive owner in turn.

Eleanor traces the Manor of Calthorpe back to the 13th century when old records describe it as a hamlet. Located south-east of the original St Mary’s Church, the core of the house was most probably built by the Danvers family in the early 16th century using local Hornton Stone and was greatly enlarged in the 19th century. It is distinguished by pointed gables on three sides. Above a porch is a lofty oriel window which bears large coloured shields of former owners.

In 1852 the great sweep of the grounds covered 179 acres which took them as far as the gardens of buildings in the High Street and Fish Street (George Street). The pleasure gardens featured a lake with an island. Eleanor explains that this was often used for boating, fishing and in hard winters for ice skating, whilst a pleasant waterside walk could incorporate the use of a rustic summerhouse. Close to the house were a carriage house with stables and a picturesque coachman’s house.

Those who ventured into the Manor House in the mid-19th century were confronted with 26 rooms several of which were decorated with graceful statuettes. However the chief point of interest appears to be the ‘Oak Room’ where musical performances benefitted from its lofty ceilings. A window contains three coloured shields which record the names of former owners since the 14th century. This is fortunate as the coats of arms had featured in the old St Mary’s windows prior to their destruction in the 17th century Civil War.

One of these was Sir John de Brancestre who had an estate in Banbury and wielded much influence in the town and consequently was ranked just below the Bishop of Lincoln.

Eleanor Draper’s history of the house starts with the Danvers family whose association with Calthorpe begins at the end of the 14th century. They occupied it over many generations finally selling to the Copes in 1601. After the Danvers family the author goes on to write about subsequent owners the Cope, Hawtayne, Dashwood and Cobb families.

My focus is on Thomas Draper, Eleanor’s father, who took the house and grounds on a long lease from Edward Cobb in 1852 who had moved to the Horsefair in 1850. Thomas Draper was a solicitor in the High Street and had previously lived in Culworth. In taking on the house he had visions which included both house improvements and ideas to improve the importance and enhance the character of his adopted town.

Ten years later in 1862 he enlarged the house by adding a new south wing which included a large kitchen and a schoolroom. In addition he rendered the Oak Room more cheerful by opening up a blind window on the east front. Clear glass was inserted in the stone mullions with diamond panes of purple and yellow to match the Oriel window. During the 1860s, wishing to make the house warmer, he put in what Eleanor describes as ‘a heating apparatus’ by this means it was possible for the family to use the hall as a family dining room.

Thomas Draper devoted much of his time to town improvements. He was Mayor three times, in 1844, 1852 and in 1862. During the 1860s Thomas turned his attention to the town. By purchasing the High Town estate he hoped to encourage the construction of gentlemen’s villas. As an incentive he designed and laid out a road across it leading from the Oxford Road towards the GWR station. This was to be his last project as he passed away in March 1869.

In the summer of 1872 Mrs Draper and family left Calthorpe for 1 West Bar Street. She underlet the main house and for a short while it became a boys school.