Inheritance: the story gets interesting!
Everything was to change when Harris inherited an estate from his cousin John Marten Watson at the age of 37. Actually, the inheritance wasn’t quite as grand as it sounds: a quarter of the estate had been sold off in 1576 and it was this portion that Harris inherited in 1828. In addition to the physical land and buildings, Harris was passed the rights and privileges of a lord of the manor. It’s not clear whether Harris set great store by these intangible rights, however we do know that Harris attempted to build a great manor house suitable for his growing family on his land.
Watson had already sold off some land and bequeathed both land and funds to other people in the will, meaning that Harris inherited an estate which struggled to provide a living as once it had. A further complication was that the lordship and land were interlinked: they were intwined in an entailed estate which stated that both were to pass together ‘from right heir to right heir forever’. This entail meant that selling off some land to raise capital was hugely complicated.
Watson clearly expected that Harris would be able to support himself by farming the land that was left to him, however this venture never took off, probably because Harris’ skills lay firmly in the world of violin making! We know that the locals referred to him disparagingly as ‘Lord Harris’, perhaps taking offence at the airs and graces of a stranger who was ill suited to rural life.
The house was completed in 1836, eight years after Harris took charge of the estate. Starting the project before he had managed to set up a secure income as a farmer meant that he became increasingly in debt, raising mortgages on the new house as well as the three properties left to him. The way out was to seek a Private Act of Parliament to dissolve the entail and allow Harris to sell land to a neighbour. This was completed in 1837, when Harris sold Charles Cottrell Dormer the entire 116 acre estate, retaining only the land on which his own properties stood. Harris was left with just 7 aces of his inherited land, not nearly enough to make a living as a farmer.
Somehow, even this desperate act was not enough to pull Harris back from the brink. Just 3 years later, he mortgaged all properties for the sum of £1,200. In April 1840 he then signed an agreement to sell what remained of the estate with this debt in place. By this point he has left Steeple Aston and give his details as a Musical Instrument maker of No. 1 Broad Street, Oxford.
Things continued to go from bad to worse for poor Charles Harris and on the 1st of April 1843 he was finally declared bankrupt. He died on July the 3rd, 1851 in Radcliffe Infirmary. The cause of his death was recorded as phthisis, now known as tuberculosis. Charles Harris of Oxford was buried in Steeple Aston on July the 7th, 1851.