Canons Ashby House is a Grade I listed Elizabethan manor house located in the village of Canons Ashby. The house had been the home of the Dryden family since its construction in the 16th century; the manor house was built in approximately 1550 with additions in the 1590s, in the 1630s and 1710. John Dryden had married Elizabeth Cope in 1551 and inherited, through his wife, an L-shaped farmhouse which he gradually extended. In the 1590s his son, Sir Erasmus Dryden completed the final north range of the house which enclosed the Pebble Courtyard. In the 18th century Edward Dryden made significant changes to the south façade by facing it with dressed stone and replacing the stone mullioned bay windows with fashionable sash. Inside, Edward modernised the interior to create a Palladian ideal. Edward’s uncle was the most famous member of the family. John Dryden (1631-1700) was Poet Laureate in 1668. His immense creative output included political satire and some of the finest classic translations. The interior of the house is noted for its Elizabethan wall paintings and its Jacobean plasterwork. It has remained essentially unchanged since 1710 and is presented as it was during the time of Sir Henry Dryden, a Victorian antiquary with an interest in history.
The name, Canons Ashby, is made up of ‘Ashby’ meaning ‘farmstead’ and ‘Canons’ from the group of canons who founded the Augustinian Priory in the 12th century. These canons, known as the ‘Black Canons’ due to their black habit, were a small order of no more than 13 based in Canons Ashby. As in all Augustinian houses, worship filled up about seven hours a day. The routine began at midnight with Matins and Lauds. The Canons then slept until daybreak when prayers were followed by mass, followed by high mass at about 10am. Sext was then at 11am followed by Evensong at 6pm. In the 13th century the canons built the church which they shared with the local community.
In the 14th century the nearby village declined due to the Black Death and the enclosure, which had an impact on the prosperity of the priory. It soon became a stopping point for Oxford students, whose behaviour and ‘slovenly dress’ created complaints and gained the priory a dubious reputation. An Episcopal visitation in the 15th century reported monks missing holy service to visit the public house instead, and the Prior having absconded. The priory was suppressed in 1536 and granted to Sir Francis Bryan known as the ‘Vicar of Hell’ a childhood friend of Henry VIII, who reduced the church to its current size – approx one quarter of the original priory size. Architectural remnants of the priory are still visible in the manor house today, and a conjected model of the original building is housed in the church tower. Fun fact: Beer was drunk in some quantity by monks. In fact, those in Abingdon were rationed to twenty pints per day...
Known as ‘the Antiquary’, Sir Henry Dryden inherited the estate in 1837 at just 19 years old and was the squire for most of the Victorian period. He inherited his father’s interests in Antiquarian interests including local history and archaeology – hence his nickname ‘the Antiquary’. As a young man, he referred to himself as ‘the last of the Black Canons’. His friends described him as ‘a genial person….’ Quaint and sometimes unconventional, even in 1880, he was wearing the Regency dress of his youth. Inside he changed only one room – the Book Room. He did not use the term ‘library’ as it was from there that books were loaned, whilst a book room is where books are kept. Sir Henry married late in life at 47, to Fanny Tredcroft who was 42. They had one daughter Alice. When she was born, complaining that ‘there are too many women in the house already’ he sacked two kitchen maids, both were quietly reinstated by his wife.
The house sits in the midst of a formal garden with colourful herbaceous borders, an orchard featuring varieties of fruit trees from the 16th century, terraces, walls and gate piers from 1710. Louis Osman (1914–1996), an architect and accomplished British goldsmith lived at Canons Ashby from 1969/70 to 1979. Whilst there, Osman made the crown, with his enamelist wife, Dilys Roberts, which was used at the investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales in 1969. They also made the gold enameled casket that held the Magna Carta which was on view in the United States Capitol, Washington, DC in 1976 for the United States Bicentennial.
Mobility parking is in the main car park 200 yards from house. A driver assisted golf buggy is available. Wheelchair access to the house is restricted to the great kitchen (via the Pebbled Court entrance). There are 7 steps to the house main entrance. There are 2 staircases with uneven steps and limited handrails. There are narrow and low doorways, uneven floors and small rooms with limited turning space. There are 4 stone steps with a handrail in to the garden. The garden has loose gravel paths which may make it hard for wheeled transport to navigate. There are steps and grass slopes to the lower terraces. An accessible toilet is available (opposite the house entrance). Visitors restricted to a wheelchair are welcome to get a lift up to the house in the golf buggy and to enjoy the Paddock, the lower Sundial terrace in the garden, the tea room gardens and the shop. When visiting the kitchen in the house, please ask to see the laptop with the virtual tour for an impression of the rest of the mansion. Assistance Dogs are welcome.
Location : Canons Ashby, near Daventry NN11 3SD
Transport: Banbury (National Rail) 10 miles. Bus Routes : 29A and 29B stop 2 miles away.
Opening Times : House: Daily 13:00 17:00, closed Thursdays. Gardens/Church: Daily 10:30 to 17:00
Tickets Whole Property: Adults £9.54; Children (5 - 16) £4.77.
Tickets Gardens: Adults £4.18; Children (5 - 16) £2.09.
Tel: 01327 861900