1984 Looking north across the lawns to Faringdon House and from the back.
The current house was built in 1780 by Henry James Pye, poet laureate to George III, after fire had damaged the original one. It is now a Grade I Listed building and many of the features in the grounds are Grade II listed. Much of the material from the original was used in the new building and traces of charring can be seen on the underside of the oak flooring. At the same time he had the Radcot Road, which then ran straight up Church Street from the Market Place through the current entrance to the house beside the church and passing close to the house diverted by an Act of Parliament to its current position further up Church Street. Later Henry Pye had to sell the house and estate due to his and his father’s debts. He distinguished himself as being the worst ever poet laureate. The nursery rhyme ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ was written as a skit against him.
The drawing shows the original Faringdon House of over 200 years earlier, a rambling Elizabethan mansion. It was twice under siege during the Civil War of 1642-1646, being a Royal Garrison and one of the last places to hold out for the king. In 1646 fighting was so fierce that the church, in a position between the Royalists in Faringdon House and the Parliamentarian guns to the east of the town, lost its steeple, the top of the tower and part of the south aisle. Two canon balls were found in the debris of the belfry when the bells were re-cast.
Lord Berners inherited his title and baronetcy on the death of his uncle Sir Raymond, fourth baronet, in 1918. He sold his inherited estates as quickly as possible and was able to negotiate the purchase of Faringdon House. His mother and step father, William Ward Bennitt, were already occupying the house and they lived there until their deaths in 1931. When Lord Berners purchased Faringdon House and estate in 1919, he became Lord of the Manor. Lord Berners was a world-class composer, poet, playwright and a rich eccentric bachelor. He worked at a piano adorned with a beer mug that played the National Anthem whenever it was lifted. He installed a clavichord in his Rolls-Royce so he could compose on the move. He drove around the lanes wearing a pig’s head mask to frighten the locals. He is perhaps most well-known today for dyeing his pigeons in vibrant colours (using a dye that did them no harm) and in 1931 for building the Folly Tower. On the door to the tower was a sign that read ‘Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk’. The pigeon-colouring has become a tradition that continues today with the new owners and the evidence can occasionally be seen flying around the town.
Further Reading: A list of owners/occupiers of Faringdon House 1590-2018 and the earlier Manor since 1174 can be found on the Faringdon Community Website.
Reference: The Changing Faces of Faringdon and Surrounding Villages – Book 1 p44. By Rosemary Church, Jim Brown, Millie Bryan and Beryl Newman. Robert Boyd Publications 1999. Photographs 1994/95 by: Brian Brady