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Decline and demolition

View of the remains of the Tudor mansion at Rycote, 1822.

For Rycote and the Earls of Abingdon alike, the eighteenth century proved to be an era of decline. By the close of the century, Rycote and its owning family’s local and national influence had all but evaporated. The root cause was financial. Upon his succession to the title in 1760, the 4th Earl of Abingdon inherited a financial mess. In 1760 his debts stood at a colossal £129,000 (MS. D.D. Bertie c. 2, item 1). Efforts to improve the family’s financial situation were to prove futile. The Tudor mansion became a luxury that they could no longer afford. It was demolished in 1807, and all the building materials sold off, in a desperate attempt to raise money.

By January 1779 the 4th Earl’s financial position had deteriorated to such an extent that one Richard Way was able to secure a bill of sale from the Sheriff of Oxfordshire to purchase all the household goods and furnishings at Rycote in settlement of the Earl’s debt to him. Way then proceeded to hold a public auction at Rycote in July that year. A further sale of furnishings was held in May 1780.

The 4th Earl’s financial troubles were inherited by his son and heir the 5th Earl of Abingdon. In 1807 the 5th Earl ordered the demolition of Rycote House. Over the course of three days at the beginning of June, the Tudor mansion was auctioned and sold off brick by brick. The only part of the mansion to survive was a fragment of the south-west tower, presumably because it failed to attract a buyer. It was an inglorious end for a house that had once entertained kings and queens.

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The following gives us a fascinating snapshot of the state of the great house on Monday 4th July 1785:

"A family wish tempted Col. Bertie* to see Rycote House and park (Ld Abingdon’s) adjoining to the road; where everything bears the marks of desolation. Till within these few years this park boasted of its fine timber, which is now nearly fell’d, and the noble trees near the house are prostrate; and these appear to have been its chief ornament. I think that lordly distress does not authorise such demolition; for here Ld Abingdon has order’d every squirrel to quit the premises. The house is melancholy and shabby, tho’ lately done up in a bad modern style; the Gothic windows ill conceiv’d; and the inner court cover’d over like the Great Room at the Bank (the Court Room of the Bank of England).

The family pictures were bought in (at the sale of the wreck) to perish by damp and neglect; some of them are by old and good masters and deserve a better fate. The lake is flat and unpleasant, and the house is surrounded by old offices and stables and a dirty church. In my opinion, the modern alteration is ill suited the style and comfort of the house, which must have appear’d to more advantage amongst its groves and waters; for it now looks as if, having been stript of its shelter, it has taken cold and were dying of a consumption. We with difficulty procur’d admittance, from the fear of the old woman that it might subject the house to the window tax; and that would be a heavy business."

And the next day:

"From the hill above Botley ... a squint at Wytham House, which Ld Abingdon has laid as open as he did himself upon the turf."

From "Rides Round Britain" by Colonel John Byng (later Viscount Torrington).

* Colonel Albemarle Bertie (later 9th Earl of Lindsey; a third cousin of the 4th Earl of Abingdon).

Norreys 02/12/2013

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Decline and demolition

For Rycote and the Earls of Abingdon alike, the eighteenth century proved to be an era of decline.
Find out why the Tudor mansion was demolished >