[Bloganuary] Harcourt Manor

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

Name an attraction or town close to home that you still haven’t got around to visiting.

I live a just outside the village of Stanton Harcourt in West Oxfordshire. It’s tiny, but it’s historically-significant, and there’s one very-obvious feature that I see several times a week but have never been inside of.

Dan, wearing a black t-shirt with the words "Let's make the web a better place" on, sitting with his back to a standing stone with megalithic remains in the background.
The Old English name “Stanton” refers to the place being “by stones”, probably referring to the stone circle now known as The Devil’s Quoits, about which I’ve become a bit of a local expert (for a quick intro, see my video about them). But that’s not the local attraction I’m talking about today…

When William the Conqueror came to England, he divvied up large parts of the country and put them under the authority of the friends who helped him with his invasion, dioceses of the French church, or both. William’s half-brother Odo1 did particularly well: he was appointed Earl of Kent and got huge swathes of land (second only to the king), including the village of Stanton and the fertile farmlands that surrounded it.

Odo later fell out of favour after he considered challenging Pope Gregory VII to fisticuffs or somesuchthing, and ended up losing a lot of his lands. Stanton eventually came to be controlled by Robert of Harcourt, whose older brother Errand helped William at the Battle of Hastings but later died without any children. Now under the jurisdiction of the Harcourt family, the village became known as Stanton Harcourt.

Three stone towers stand about the height of the tallest trees in Stanton Harcourt.
These three (Normanesque) towers of Stanton Harcourt are, from left to right: the manor house kitchen, Pope’s Tower, and the tower of St. Michael’s Church. Photograph copyright Chris Brown, used under a BY-SA Creative Commons license.

The Harcourt household at Stanton in its current form dates from around the 15th/16th century. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is that Alexander Pope lived in the tower (now called Pope’s Tower) while he was translating the Illiad into a heroic couplet-format English. Anyway: later that same century the Harcourts moved to Nuneham Courtenay, on the other side of Oxford2 the house fell into disrepair.

Woodcut print showing a mostly-intact stone structure of two or three stories in an 18th-century rural setting, with a church in the background.
A View of the Ruins of the Kitchen, and part of the Offices at Stanton-Harcourt, in the County of Oxford with a distant view of the Chappel [sic] & the Parish Church, 1764 woodcut by George Harcourt, photographed by the RA, used under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons license per their copyright policy.
In the mid-20th century the house was restored and put back into use as a family residence. A couple of decades ago it was routinely open to visitors throughout the summer months, but nowadays guests are only admitted to the chapel, tower, gardens etc. on special occasions (or, it seems, if they turn up carrying a longbow…), and I’ve not managed to take advantage of one since I moved here in 2020.

It’s a piece of local history right on my doorstep that I haven’t yet had the chance to explore. Maybe some day!


1 If you’ve heard of Odo before, it’s likely because he was probably the person who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, which goes a long way to explaining why he and his entourage feature so-heavily on it.

2 The place the Harcourt family moved to is next to what is now… Harcourt Arboretum! Now you know where the name comes from.

× × ×


No time to comment? Send an emoji with just one click!


    Reply here

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Reply on your own site

    Reply elsewhere

    You can reply to this post on Mastodon (@blog@danq.me).

    Reply by email

    I'd love to hear what you think. Send an email to b22570@danq.me; be sure to let me know if you're happy for your comment to appear on the Web!