Barn Conversion With Literary Connections
Date of Article
Mar 30 2009

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An ancient barn with important literary connections spanning many generations is for sale through Carter Jonas' Oxford office. Tithe Barn House in Cumnor belongs to the descendants of the world renowned poet Walter de la Mare and of his son Richard de la Mare, one of the founders of the publishing house of Faber & Faber. It was also home to the eminent palaeographer Professor Albinia (Tilly) de la Mare.

Tithe Barn House

Tithe Barn House
This delightful property was converted to a home in 1979, winning an Oxford Preservation Trust Award for the nature of the restoration, and the de la Mares have owned it ever since. Very light and spacious, the main barn has south-facing windows all along one side and there is a magnificent first-floor drawing room with a high-beamed ceiling and carved marble fireplace. There are five bedrooms, a large family room, kitchen/breakfast room and study. On the ground floor the family room and kitchen are both spacious with large open-roof trusses and cross-beams, and these lead to the study, where there is a door to the garden. The house is set in its own grounds, overlooking green fields. There is also a double garage with a covered sun terrace.

A long history
Giles de la Mare, grandson of Walter and son of Richard, the founding director of Faber and Faber, explains its history: “We have been told that part of it is the core of a huge building, some three times as big, which was one of the three major tithe barns of Oxfordshire. It belonged to Abingdon Abbey, and large walls in the present building are probably 13th century. When the monasteries were dissolved, the tithe barn passed into private hands, and since then it has had a mixed history. We think that most of the building in its present form was completed by the early 18th century. We have found an inscription – ‘1726’ with some initials – on a stone inside the entrance of the main wing on the south side.”

The de la Mare connection
Richard de la Mare was one of the founding directors of Faber and Faber, along with other literary luminaries, including T.S. Eliot. He was chairman for ten years in the 1960s. He was also a leading collector of Oriental art, above all Japanese and Chinese ceramics, and his previous home, Much Hadham Hall in Hertfordshire, housed his collection until almost all of it was sold in the 1970s. He bought the Tithe Barn from Oliver Impey, the well known curator of Oriental Art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – to which he donated a number of his remaining choice pieces – and arranged for its conversion.

Richard and Tilly de la Mare moved into the beautifully converted Tithe Barn House in 1980, and it is still owned by the family. Among the papers that were kept in the house, Giles, who has recently done a catalogue of his grandfather Walter de la Mare’s working library, now in the Senate House in London, and who has edited complete collections of his poems and short stories, discovered an unknown poem by T.S. Eliot that was addressed to him. There were many other important documents.

Giles’s sister, Tilly, or, more formally, Professor Albinia de la Mare OBE, was one of the world’s leading palaeographers. She was a curator in the manuscripts department of the Bodleian Library for about 25 years before becoming Professor of Palaeography at King’s College in the University of London, where she worked for 10 years until her retirement, commuting regularly from Cumnor. Her extensive academic papers from Tithe Barn House, most of them documenting renaissance scribes and illumination, are considered so important that the majority of them are now on the open shelves in Duke Humphrey’s Library in the Bodleian; and her large library of academic books is now housed in the University of London.

Tithe Barn House has a guide price of £800,000. For more information, contact the Oxford office, T: 01865 511444.