In 1536, Waverley (whose name inspired Sir Walter Scott to write his first novels, though they are set nowhere near Surrey) met the same fate as all English monastic institutions, and was dissolved by Henry VIII. Oxenford then passed through various owners until 1676 when it was amalgamated by Denzil, Lord Holles with the adjacent estate of Peper Harow. Eventually, in 1713, the Peper Harow estate was bought by Alan Brodrick, from a family that had made a substantial fortune in Ireland.
In 1717, Brodrick was created 1st Viscount Midleton (after a town on his Cork estates) for his services as Lord Chancellor of Ireland. This began the association of the Midleton family with Peper Harow, which was to last until the mid 20th century. In 1747, the 3rd Viscount demolished the old mansion at Peper Harow and commissioned William Chambers to build a new one. The family moved to Oxenford Grange for the duration, when not living in their London house. The new mansion was unfinished when the 3rd Viscount died in 1765, leaving his widow Albinia to complete it on behalf of their then 8-year old son, the 4th Viscount. Ten years later in 1785, the main house was finished and the 4th Viscount pulled down most of Oxenford Grange, leaving only today’s farmhouse.
When the 4th Viscount died in 1836, his title passed to his only son, George Alan Brodrick, 5th Viscount Midleton. This pair had had a somewhat troubled relationship: George had been ostracised by his family for marrying Ellen Griffiths, a laundry maid in 1833, and was never reconciled with his father. He did eventually succeed in laying claim to the Peper Harow estate and Irish holdings as well as his title, and in 1841 began to think about enhancing the Peper Harow estate. Inspired by a mention in Hunt’s Architecture about a gate lodge ‘intended to have the appearance of being raised on the Ruins of a Priory,’ Lord Midleton ‘then thought, that a New Lodge might be built in strict accordance with the style of the Abbey of Waverley, & that I might arrange the Entrance, so as to see the Present Ruins which are now a pretty object but are not seen from the present Entrance.’ His aspirations also extended to rebuilding nearby farm buildings in the Abbey Style, whose repair he had been purposely postponing.
For the design of these buildings (gatehouse, great barn and farm buildings, and also alterations to St Nicholas Church at Peper Harow and a shrine over a holy well called Bonfield Spring) he turned to A W Pugin, then 30-years old and at the height of his powers. Pugin is one of the great designers and architects of the first half of the 19th century, dedicating himself to a return to the pointed forms of architecture of the Middle Ages in the movement known as the Gothic Revival. A convert to Catholicism, Pugin designed numerous churches, monasteries and dwellings, as well as a stream of Gothic ornamentation and everyday objects. He also worked with Charles Barry on the Palace of Westminster, rebuilt in the Gothic style after it was destroyed by fire in 1834.
Both Pugin and Lord Midleton were volatile and temperamental men, but their collaboration at Oxenford is rightly judged among Pugin’s best work. Lord Midleton was a generous client and the gatehouse and other buildings are very well built of good local Bargate stone with Portland dressings. The gatehouse at least was built by Pugin’s favourite builder, George Myers, who also built The Grange in Ramsgate (Pugin’s own home, which was also being built 1843-4 and is today also cared for by Landmark).
The result represents Pugin’s mature style at its height, an assured combination of simple medieval form and blocking with Regency theories of the Picturesque. The grouping embodies his theory of ‘natural architecture’ which he expounded in his Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture which he wrote and published during the Oxenford project. Pugin urged his readers to look for beauty in ‘the mere essentials of construction’ even in humble everyday structures like barns and sheds – an approach actualised by the Oxenford buildings.