Lord and Lady Redesdale, and Mitford children.
In 1919 Asthall Manor was bought by Lord Redesdale, father of the six Mitford sisters and their brother, Tom. The family spent seven memorable years of their childhood here, and the house was one of the models for Nancy Mitford’s fictional Alconleigh.
Lord Redesdale – or “Farve” as he was known by his children – only wanted the house as a temporary base while he built a modern house at South Lawn, Swinbrook, where the family moved in 1926. But he took some trouble to make Asthall – which had been used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during the First World War – into a suitable base for his large family, by converting an old tithe barn next to the house into a glorious Arts & Crafts library and music room, with bedrooms above, and linking it to the main house with cloisters.
The older children – Nancy was 15 when they moved in and Diana 9, with Pamela and Tom in between – could escape from their parents, the servants and the younger children. In A Life of Contrasts Diana wrote, ‘This large room, furnished with hundreds of old books, a grand piano and sofas, with high windows looking south and east, was all the world to my brother Tom and me at Asthall. He played all day, Bach, Mozart, Brahms, and I lay on a sofa, reading and listening.” It is not entirely clear why or when this room became known as the Ballroom.
In the Footsteps of the Mitfords is a site specific theatre piece commissioned by Chipping Norton Theatre and written especially for performance around the Asthall Manor grounds by Scary Little Girls. O its most recent performance, in a socially distanced version in September 2020, Geoff Heath-Taylor in Tatler wrote Of course, while the actors embodied the spirits of the sisters magnificently, the play wouldn’t have been complete without its final character – the house itself.