Oxton Hall in the early 20th century.
BETWEEN Nottingham and Southwell, though nearer the last named place, stands the village of Oxton, in a sufficiently pleasant situation. In 1861 it is said to have numbered 184 houses and 788 inhabitants, and since that time neither population, house accommodation, nor rateable value have increased to any very material extent. Perhaps after the church and the hail, a new and commodious set or schools, which were completed in 1870, form the most important building. Like the church and the hall, they are in the heart of the village, and in tolerably close contiguity to the vicarage, a comfortable looking house, which stands out some little distance from the road in such dazzling whiteness that the eye is almost glad to find relief in the green of surrounding shrubs and trees. We may take it that curiosity marked the standard of appreciativeness in such of our ancestors who professed a fondness for the country, for the local historian of a century ago informs his readers that Oxton was only relieved from the utter absence of the curious by the perennial appearance on the church tower of an uncommon species of fern. I believe there are now no traces of the plant; it has languished on its ecclesiastical nutriment, and the species has probably become extinct in this part of the country. The church, though an ancient edifice, shows scarcely any of the ordinary signs of age. Its walls are uncorroded by decay, and its interior presents a cheerful appearance, and is in a good state of repair. To reach the chancel you step over a worn stone, whose inscription, still perfectly legible, tells that one of the Savile family was buried there two centuries ago. There are at this east end two plain tablets placed there to perpetuate the memory of the former lord of the Manor and his lady, and in various parts of the church there are coats of arms belonging to the leading family, and a hatchment with the Royal arms, so rarely seen in churches now. In one of the window recesses there is a recumbent figure in stone, It has probably been put there to be out of the way—out of sight of the congregation on account of its lack of beauty. Time and rough handling have combined to obliterate the features, and it is not a handsome piece of sculpture now. Every village has a history more or less interesting, more or less veracious. Oxton, at one time, was within the forest of Sherwood, but when the “great perambulation” was made in the reign of Henry the Second it was left out, and as in those days public rights and ancient precedent were perhaps of less importance than was the due preservation of the King’s deer, the inhabitants of Oxton remained commonless until the reign of Edward the Third.
Oxton Hall cannot well be described as a very ancient mansion. It is not, however, a creation of yesterday, as its somewhat embrowned exterior will testify. The house has been enlarged by the present owner in a manner which has had the two-fold effect of increasing its accommodation and improving its appearance. The hall is on a level with the main road of the village, between which and the entrance an expanse of garden thickly studded with shrubs intervenes, and this is separated from the roadway by a stretch of stone palisading. But it is only one portion of the house that can be seen from the village. The large, bold bay-windows of the front are faced by a broad expanse of undulating park land, and by a lake, which has been made by checking the course of a small stream, and upon whose surface float graceful swans and gay-coloured waterfowl. If Oxton Hall is not pretentious, its external appearance suggests not only comfort within, but that elegance and luxury which one expects to find in the home of a country gentleman of Mr. Henry Sherbrooke’s position. If Mr. Sherbrooke is not at home you may be pretty sure that he is engaged at Nottingham, at Southwell, or some other part of the county upon business of a public character. If your visit should happen in the hunting season it is just possible that the master of Oxton may be afield in scarlet and leathers, for there are few more ardent lovers of the chase in this country than Mr. Sherbrooke. There are foxes in the neighbourhood of Oxton, and their depredations prevent an increase to the numbers of the rare feathered occupants of the lake, but Mr. Sherbrooke would rather sacrifice his ducks than destroy his foxes, and Reynard carries away his prey without fear of molestation. At an age when most other men are past active service and outdoor pursuits, Mr. Sherbrooke displays an energy and a capacity for work which would put many younger men to shame. He is regular and assiduous in the discharge of his magisterial functions; he is to be found at Southwell when there is any work to be done in connection with the administration of the Poor Law. He takes an active part in the management of several of the charitable and benevolent institutions of Nottingham, and he is at the present tin~e one of the most useful met in the whole county. There are few people in this part of the country I think, who have not at some time or another, seen Mr. Henry Sherbrooke. His fine presence and dignified bearing are familiar to most of us. Though he has passed the “allotted span,” there is no sign of decrepitude, in the firm elastic tread, the square shoulders, and the upright and graceful figure of the owner of Oxton, the elder brother by one year of the Lord Sherbrooke, Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Privy Councillor, and one of the most accomplished scholars of the day. Mr. Shorbrooke is fond of being out of doors, as the bronzed healthy glow upon the cheeks plainly indicates, further confirmatory evidence of this being contributed by thick boots and a stick which is certainly not used for ornament. But Mr. Sherbrooke has evidently been at work indoors this morning. The glass door of his study, or business room, is open, letting in a flood of morning sunlight and of soft spring air. Another glass door in this room opens into the conservatory, which now is full of bright azalias, flowering creepers, and other plants. A large account book lies open on a desk near the window, and on the table are a number of letters, which the morning’s poet has brought, and most of which have been opened. The general appearance of the room bespeaks its occupant to be a man of order and method. There are a few books in the room, such as are useful for business purposes, and on the walls are hung several portraits, amongst them two of the ex-Minister, Lord Sherbrooke, bearing some likeness to the eider brother. There are also small portraits of the late Lord Galway, who is more faithfully represented in another part of the house; of the Lord Hastings of 1841, and of other friends of the family. There is an antique fireplace faced with oak in the entrance hall—oak which may have been taken from Sherwood Forest. To the left of this are carefully preserved a number of Oriental arms and accoutrements, the brightness of which has been somewhat dimmed by age. These, carefully arranged on the wall, are said to have been the spoils of Sir John Sherbrooke, long dead, a distinguished warrior, who wore the star of the grand order of the Bath. There is amongst them the once superb trappings of a horse, which with the weapons, was taken by Sir John from Tipoo Sahib at the siege of Seringapatam, a fortress which was three times besieged by the British in the closing decade of the last century. Sir John Sherbrooke was afterwards made Governor of Canada. I have noticed in many of the great houses of Nottinghamshire some token of the days of outlawry—objects which are pointed out as having belonged to that personage who is said to have killed the King’s deer in open violation of the Royal mandate, and to have plundered decent, quiet people on his Majesty’s highway with transcendant coolness—I mean Robin Hood. In the hall at Oxton Hall there are two ancient cross-bows, which may or may not have belonged to that good-humoured scoundrel, and there are also preserved there the heads of a pair of red deer—the last, it is said, that were killed among the bracken of merrie Sherwood. There are also on the same walls one or two excellent engravings of animals taken from pictures by Mr. Carter, who not long ago completed two excellent portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Chaworth Musters, of Annesley. The drawing room is the handsomest room in the house, both as regards its proportions and its fittings. It has lofty windows, commanding a clear, uninterrupted view of the gardens and the park beyond.
The garden terminates in a road which runs between two rows of slender iron fencing. On one side are the gardens and grounds, on the other the park, which, not many years ago, was arable land of a not very fertile description. The whole of this fine open piece of land, extending over about 175 acres, has been grassed by the present owner, and, seen from the drawing room windows, it has the appearance of a beautiful park. The wails of the drawing room are rather extensively hung with bright modern paintings, one or two of which are the work of Mrs. Sherbrooke’s sister. The dining room is also a large room, plainly and substantially furnished. Here there are some family portraits. Over the mantel-piece there is a grave-looking gentleman of a century and a half ago, dressed in a courtly garb—a loose coat embroidered with gold, and a long judicial-looking wig—supposed to be the High Sheriff of that day. To the right of this is Sir John Sherbrooke, to whom allusion has already been made, in scarlet uniform, and there are in the room several other family portraits, including one of the present Mr. Sherbrooke, evidently painted some years ago, and one of his predecessor. A tail, quaint, old-fashioned screen worked on leather, and evidently of foreign origin, stands on one side of the fireplace. The library contains an extensive collection of books, arranged with the most perfect order and regularity. Some of them are very rare, and there are a few old and valuable missals, an investigation of which would be interesting. Oxton may, indeed, be described as famous for its library, where one is very much tempted to linger. The gardens attached to the hail are pleasant, well arranged, and well ordered. The sturdy shrubs with which they abound, impart a comfortable English look to the gardens. The grounds are intersected by a broad gravel walk and they terminate at the margin of a spacious lake, which glistens in the mid-day sunshine. A high brick wall encloses an ample kitchen garden, or rather kitchen gardens, for this portion of the grounds is divided into parts. At one time the ground here was occupied by a second mansion, the only remaining trace of which is to be seen in the grim, unromantic outline of a tall water pump, flanked, by a hugh stone trough of some antiquity. At the other end of the grounds there is a road deeply sunk—the road leading to Southwell, excavated a long time ago, and Mr. Sherbooke’s inability to understand what was done with the amount of material that was taken out of it in the course of making is a pardonable piece of perplexity. Mr. Sherbrooke, who was born in 1810, is the oldest son of the late Rev. Robert Lowe, rector of Bingham. He took the name of Sherbrooke on succeeding his cousin in 1847. He was educated at Eton, and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated B. A., in 1832. He is a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant of the county, and deputy-chairman of Quarter Sessions, and was High Sheriff in 1859. His family became possessed of Oxton in the reign of queen Elizabeth.