IN 1907, as his country residence Dr Edward Vaughan Berkeley Harley purchased Walton Hall, including the estate.
As an eminent surgeon he practised at no. 25 Harley Street, London, and the fact that the names were the same was no coincidence, for he claimed descent from the Earls of Oxford, who had been the family responsible for developing that part of the city.
In fact as a heart specialist his father had practised in Harley Street and born on December 28, 1864 (some authorities say 1863) Edward decided from an early age to pursue a career in medicine.
Having studied at Edinburgh University he took the opportunity to travel around the world in 1887/8 and then for the following four years he studied at various foreign universities. In 1890 he was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians and having been invited by Sir Victor Horsley to organise the first department of pathological chemistry in England, when Horsley retired in 1896 Edward then became Professor of Pathological Chemistry, remaining in this appointment until 1919.
In 1905 he had married a renowned beauty, Mary, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Canon Blagden, and two years later the couple moved into Walton Hall.
However, possibly due to his continual travels to London, Dr. Harley would afterwards make preparations to sell the premises but these plans were never realised and in emphasis of his decision to retain the Walton estate he established a farm. This utilised all the latest methods and his prize ‘Notlaw’ herd of pedigree beef shorthorn cattle gained such renown that many specimens would be shipped to the Argentine.
In fact examples from the herd won numerous prizes at all the major shows with one animal, later sold for £1,000, gaining the Champion Bull of England prize. Thereupon the proud Dr. awarded every man on the estate £1 and every boy 10s.
Continuing this success, in 1918 he then won the championship, reserve championship and Maclennan Cup at Birmingham, with his two exhibits making £2,000 and £1,600 in the sale ring. That year he was made President of the Shorthorn Society and perhaps of little surprise he enjoyed a close friendship with Lord Luke of Pavenham, the head of the Bovril concern.
Apart from cattle, the Oxford Downs sheep of the farm were also successful in the show ring and further bred at Walton were fine shire horses and large black pigs. Indeed, the estate provided work for many employees but it would be to his chauffeur, Bayford, to whom Dr Harley could ‘talk better than his own brother.’
Of Dr Harley’s two children, Diana, ‘Dido,’ was the eldest. She was born in 1907 but of twins born later only one, Primrose, survived, being named in commemoration of her date of birth, Primrose Day, April 19. As for her mother, she was invariably referred to as ‘Ming,’ since, having a passion for all things Chinese, she even decorated the walls of the morning room with black wallpaper embellished with a gold Chinese pattern.
On Whit Monday, 1923, Dr Harley spent much of the morning on the estate, shooting rooks in the company of his guest Sir John Macfadyen, President of the Royal Veterinary College, and after lunch he then retired to his room for his usual rest.
This was due not least through having suffered from an aneurysm of the heart for the previous seven years but despite this condition, and the knowledge that he could collapse at any moment, he had kept up with his medical and agricultural work.
Later in the afternoon Mrs Harley went to see him but on suddenly being taken ill he died in her arms. At the funeral his coffin was carried from Walton Hall to the church on an estate wagon drawn by four fine farm bred shire horses and in addition to family and friends among the mourners were many members of staff.
Farm employees then carried the coffin from the church gates to the church, where it was met by the rector of Walton. After Dr. Harley’s death the farm at Walton was discontinued, the farm equipment laid out for auction, and a part of the estate sold off.
But that, and the later coming of the Open University, is a story for another day.