The History of Ufton Court

The history of Ufton Court can be tracked back to the Doomsday book, where it is referred to as Offetone, with land for five ploughs, forty acres of meadow and wood for one hog.

The house was originally a small medieval manor called Ufton Pole and was the home of Lord Lovell. Some of this original house remains today, including the crossway of the great hall with the original buttery and pantry doors. Lovell was made a Viscount by Edward IV and then was in Richard III’s inner circle. A well known doggerel of the time refers to Lovell in less than complimentary terms;

The cat, the rat and Lovell the dog,
Rule all England under the hog.

The writer of this, Collingwood, was hung, drawn and quartered for his efforts. Lovell fell from grace after the battle of Bosworth and the death of Richard III. Lovell was accused of high treason by Henry VII and Ufton Pole was confiscated by the crown. Twenty three years later Henry VIII gave Ufton Pole to Richard Weston, one of his pages.

In 1568 Pole Manor was bought by Lady Marvyn. She enlarged the house significantly, completing it in 1576, and moved her family from a nearby residence of Ufton Robert to Ufton Court, as it then became known. Some of the decorative beams in the house today came from Ufton Robert.  Lady Marvyn began a tradition that is continued to the present day. In thanks to the villagers who rescued her when she got lost in the extensive local woods, she left money in her will for an annual dole to be handed out to the villagers every Maundy Thursday. It is said there is a curse on the landlord who breaks the tradition, whether this is true or not, no landlord has risked it and Richard Benyon, the current landlord, can be found on Maundy Thursday handing out bread and sheets to the parishoners of Ufton Nervet. Lady Marvyn left the house to her nephew, Francis Perkins, it then remained in the Perkins family until 1769.

The Perkins were well known Catholics who were persecuted by the local magistrates in the 16th century. They had to pay heavy fines for refusing to attend the parish church, and Ufton Court was raided at least twice by officials looking for priests in hiding. Sir Francis Knollys found some of the priest holes and a small fortune in gold plate in 1599, but the priests had gone. The secret chapel up in the rafters of the court still remains today, as well as traces of an escape tunnel leading into the woods. In the 18th century, long after the persecutions had stopped, Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have visited the Perkins’ on one of his forays back into the country incognito.

In 1715, Francis Perkins married Arabella Fermour, a well known society figure. She was the daughter of Henry Fermor Esq. of Tusmore in Oxfordshire. The fame of her beauty and her charms, as celebrated both by poets and painters, has come down to posterity, for she was the belle of London society in the early years of the 18th century.
The poet Parnell sings of the dismay of the “jeunesse dorée” of the time when this fascinating lady left London for the country in the Summer:

From town fair Arabella flies;
The beaux, unpowdered, grieve;
The rivers play before her eyes,
The breezes softly breathing rise,
The spring begins to live….etc

But in spite of the admiration of the world of fashion, which she no doubt enjoyed in her lifetime, it is probable that the lady would not have been remembered had she not become the inspiration for the most successful of all Alexander Pope’s poetical works, ‘The Rape of the Lock’.  The poem was inspired by a London scandal when Lord Petre, a young man of twenty, cut off and stole a lock of her hair without her knowledge. She was very angry and a serious quarrel took place between the two families. Whereupon, Pope’s friend, John Caryll of Lady Holt (Sussex), proposed that he should write something slight and amusing on the subject, in the hopes that good-natured humour might appease the ill-feeling that had been excited.

The poem was in every way suited for its purpose. Unfortunately, however, Pope, was not personally acquainted with Mistress Arabella and he published his work without asking her leave. Moreover, he appended to it a motto, which was taken by her friends to imply that she had asked him to compose the poem. Instead of mending matters, he, therefore, only made them worse, drawing another quarrel upon himself. In consequence, Pope was obliged to bring out another edition, suppressing the objectionable motto and prefixing a propitiatory letter of dedication instead. In this, he assured Arabella that the incidents of the poem were all “as fabulous as the vision at the beginning, except the loss of your hair, which I always mention with reverence; . . . the character of Belinda as it is now managed resembles you in nothing but beauty….It will be vain to deny that I have some regard for this piece since I dedicate it to you….If it had as many graces as there are in your Person or in your Mind; yet I could never hope it should pass through the world half so uncensured as you have done.” The lady seems to have been pacified and, perhaps, even accorded Pope her friendship.

Francis Perkins and Arabella were actually 9th cousins, but it is unlikely that they were aware of the relationship. For the wedding, Pope wrote her an almost affectionate letter. He says, “It may be expected, perhaps, that one who has the title of poet should say something more polite on this occasion, but I am, really, more a well-wisher to your felicity than a celebrator of your beauty. Besides, you are now a married woman, & in a way to be a great many better things than a fine lady, such as an excellent wife, a faithful friend, a tender parent, & at last, as the consequence of them all, a saint in heaven.”

There is a tradition that it was for Arabella Fermor that Ufton Court was refashioned and enlarged. Certainly one half of the frontage was, prior to further alterations made in 1838, of the style popular at the time of her marriage. Parts of the interior, also, were modernized; the hall and dining-room, while retaining their Elizabethan ceilings, were entirely re-panelled, and the style would fix this alteration also to early in the eighteenth century.

Arabella and Francis had six children who all died childless and the house fell into neglect and virtual abandonment, it was advertised for sale in 1837 as ‘unfit for a gentlemans residence.’  It was finally bought by Mr Benyon de Beauvoir of the neighbouring estate of Englefield, who repaired the house and turned it into tenements for his labourers.

Various tenants lived in the house over the next 100 years. The most notable were Mary Sharp, whose detailed history of the house provides us with much valuable information, and Mr and Mrs Harry Benyon. During this time the house was restored into a gentlemans residence again and there are pictures of the gardens resplendent with herbaceous borders and roses.

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References The main source of information about Ufton Court comes from Mary Sharp’s book
Sharp, A Mary. The History of Ufton Court. London Elliot Stock. 1892

The Perkins Family

The Perkins family owned Ufton Court from 1581 until 1769, a span covering seven generations of the Perkins family, each one headed by a Francis Perkins. They lived through turbulent and exciting times and have left a rich legacy, both in the fabric of the house but also in their involvement in dramatic, historical events of their time.

In 1581 Francis Perkins inherited Ufton from Lady Marvyn, his aunt by her first marriage to Richard Perkins. The Perkins family were staunch Catholics and continued to practise their faith through the following periods of intense persecution.  During Francis Perkin’s life the house was raided at least twice by officials looking for priests in hiding. Sir Francis Knollys conducted a raid and found some of their hiding places and a small fortune in gold plate in 1599, but the priests had gone.

In 1615 Francis Perkins died and his eldest son, Francis, inherited. The persecution continued and in 1620 two thirds of the property was sequestrated to the crown due to the Perkins being recusants. Francis appears to have managed this astutely, having an arrangement with a loyal friend, Thomas Purcell, who paid the sequestrated rents back to him. This arrangement was informed on to the crown whereupon Francis organised another family friend and Catholic, William Egston, to repeat the arrangement. In 1625 the family faced significant fines with each member of the family fined £20.00 per month for not attending the parish church. In 1637 there is evidence to show that Francis was not allowed to travel more than 5 miles from Ufton as a recusant. Francis and his wife Margaret had 6 sons and 10 daughters. Francis died aged 79 in 1661.

The eldest son had died prior to his father so the grandson, Francis, inherited aged 7 years. He was brought up by his mother, unbelievably also called Frances, at Ufton Court. She had remarried a Mr James Hyde. In 1674 the young Francis married Katherine Bebon, aged 20, and they had 9 children, of which 4 daughters died.  In 1690 Katherine died and in 1694 Francis married Anne Perkins, a distant cousin. They went to live at Great Bathampton, Steeple Longford in Wiltshire, during which time Ufton was let to William Wareham ‘in part’, which probably meant that a priest remained in situ in the south wing. By this time conditions were much more relaxed for Catholics, although fines were still taken. Francis died in 1695, leaving his one surviving son, Francis aged 20, to inherit.

In 1715 Francis married Arabella Fermour. Arabella Fermor was the daughter of Henry Fermor Esq. of Tusmore in Oxfordshire.  She was the belle of London society celebrated both by poets and painters prior to her marriage.

There are three known portraits of her. Mary Russell Mitford describes one thus:

Mrs. Lenoir’s nieces possess a portrait of the lovely Arabella Fermor, when she was twelve or thirteen years of age . . . a high broad forehead, dark eyes richly fringed and deeply set, a straight nose, pouting lips, and a short chin finely moulded. The dress is dark and graceful, with a little white turned back about the neck and loose sleeves.

Alexander Pope wrote his poem, Rape of the Lock, about a scandalous incident between her and Lord Petre, much to Arabella’s dismay. When Arabella married Francis, Pope wrote her an almost affectionate letter. He says, “It may be expected, perhaps, that one who has the title of poet should say something more polite on this occasion, but I am, really, more a well-wisher to your felicity than a celebrator of your beauty. Besides, you are now a married woman, & in a way to be a great many better things than a fine lady, such as an excellent wife, a faithful friend, a tender parent, & at last, as the consequence of them all, a saint in heaven.”

Francis Perkins settled upon Arabella the “messuage commonly called Ufton Court, now in his own occupation, & all that farm of Ufton known as Poole lands & church grounds. Also the farm called Ashpoles, then in the occupation of John Berrington, the bailiff [there is a plot still so called not far from the church]. Also the farms called Snowsewick & Penniswick, & other lands in Buscot, & the messuage & farm called Great Balhampton, in the parish of Steeple Langford, co. Wilts. Also Perkins’ Farm in Hanging Langford – in all of the value of £600 yearly.

It is likely that Ufton Court was refashioned and enlarged for Arabella. Certainly one half of the frontage was, prior to further alterations made in 1838, of the style prevalent at the time of her marriage. Parts of the interior, also, were modernized; the hall and dining-room, while retaining their Elizabethan ceilings, were entirely re-panelled, and the style would fix this alteration also to early in the eighteenth century.

Arabella and Francis had one daughter, also named Arabella, who died in childhood, and five sons. Francis Perkins died in 1736, leaving his wife £52-10s for her support, but Arabella only survived him by a year. Their eldest son Francis inherited, but died childless, Ufton was then passed down his three brothers, James, Charles and John, who all died childless and the direct line of Ufton Perkins ended.

There is much evidence in the house today of the Perkins family. Carved initials and names in several of the rooms refer to them for example, Perkins:W 1534 is carved above the nursery fireplace and the initials AP can just be seen in the tiny oratory which probably refer to Anna Perkins who died in 1635. A fireplace built in the library to hide a priest hole has the initials FP 1583 carved on it. The local church also has several monuments and headstones in memory of them.

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