The Friends’ most complex and intensive intervention was the struggle to avoid the demolition of Fitzharris Manor House. This had been purchased in 1946 by the Ministry of Supply in order to develop the grounds as a housing estate (now with the alternative spelling, Fitzharry’s) for staff at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell. From 1948 the Friends drew attention to the deterioration of the house, and the relevant government departments gave assurances that it would be preserved.
Then in 1951 these assurances were withdrawn. The Friends made suggestions as to how the house could be repaired and put to good use, and opened a vigorous correspondence in The Times. Letters were published from the Vice-President of the Berkshire Archaeological Society, Bodley’s Librarian, and the Secretary of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England; from the Chairman of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings; from Graham Hutton, the economist; from the Chairman of the Georgian Group; and from Richmond Herald. The threat of demolition was postponed while the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Works and the Ancient Monuments Board each denied responsibility for preserving the house. In October 1952 the publication of a letter in the North Berks Herald appeared to indicate, perhaps unintentionally, that the Borough Council had withdrawn its support. Further questions in Parliament failed to save Fitzharris Manor but, possibly as a result, subsequent town-planning legislation included a clause which may have safeguarded other buildings. When demolition began in July 1953 the Friends arranged for some items of interest from the house to be saved. These were gradually sold off, apparently to antiques dealers. Wooden panels stored in the Town Clerk’s garage were sold in 1956 and a Georgian grate in 1958. The remaining items were still stored under the Long Gallery in 1964, when Mrs Gabrielle Lambrick listed a Strawberry Hill Gothic doorway and door, a Tudor stone fireplace, and a window frame. The fireplace was sold later in 1964, and the window and door in 1966. The only reminder of the house today is a plaque set in the grass to mark the site.