In these times of constant pressure to keep up with the pace of 21st century life, the opportunity to retreat to a place offering calm and tranquility can be precious.

Such a place is Charney Manor at Charney Bassett, near Wantage. It has an ambience that provides not only a breathing space away from the rush and bustle of modern living but also one which is conducive to learning, study and discussion, especially of subjects of a difficult nature.

Relaxation, reflection and renewal are its watchwords, all to be found in a house with a sense of history set in pleasant rural surroundings.

Said to be oldest inhabited building in the Vale of the White Horse, Charney Manor is owned by the Society of Friends, the Quakers.

There was a time in the 1970s when there was a concern that the running costs were becoming too great, draining the finances of the society.

But further consideration led to a growing realisation that the special ambience of the place and the positive effect it had on the groups who chose to meet there had a value of their own.

Nowadays its facilities are in regular demand.

“Things are looking good for this year,” said manager Gillian Peaston. “We have a good level of bookings and have also taken a large number for 2015.”

Early enquiries for specific dates are necessary and unless groups or individual visitors can be flexible in their planning, they may find they have left it too late.

Ms Peaston took over as manager three-and-a-half years ago, having come to this country from South Africa, where she also worked in management roles.

She at first worked as assistant to Sheila Terry, who had managed the centre for 34 years.

Much of the credit for turning around its fortunes was given to Mrs Terry, for making the day-to-day running costs a viable proposition for the society.

The manor runs a series of courses throughout the year, not all related to Quakerism or religion. They cater for a variety of interests, so cover a broad market.

New last year was a four-day, midweek course entitled Experiencing Shakespeare and this will be repeated in May.

The cost, £480, includes visits to Stratford-upon-Avon to see three theatre performances, a workshop given by Jane Lapotaire of the Royal Shakespeare Company, held at the manor and lectures exploring the themes of the plays and considering how Shakespeare explores the human condition.

Building on the success of this, a similar event has been planned for July which will be called Experiencing Oxford.

Ms Peaston is organising this herself and is looking forward to introducing people from other parts of the country to some of the city’s best-known attractions such as Christ Church, the Bodleian Library, Ashmolean Museum and Oxford Castle.

Another event in October, will offer A Weekend with Jane Austen.

This costs £176 and will include lectures on the England of the author’s time, literature which influenced her and music of the period.

Courses concentrating on Quakerism include Finding Out About The Quakers, in September.

And October’s Quakers At The Movies will discuss how Quakers have been portrayed in the medium with showings of Friendly Persuasion, Angela and the Madman and High Noon.

The manor can cater for up to 35 guests, in the house itself and in adjoining buildings in the manor grounds.

The courses are fully-catered, with home cooking from the manor’s own kitchens.

As well as groups, individuals can also book at a cost of £92.94 per person fully-catered for 24 hours, or on a bed and breakfast basis at £45 per person per night.

Another facility is accommodation for up to eight people in The Gilletts, the detached cottage in the grounds. This is on a self-catering basis. The cottage has five bedrooms and is furnished simply but with TV and DVD player.

The manor is a popular venue for conferences, with two large rooms available for delegates.

They can also make use of the sitting room and the library. The books, which guests can also borrow during their stay, have a focus mainly on Quakerism and contemporary spirituality.

There is a also a small chapel on the first floor which is part of the original manor house.

The conference rooms are well equipped, with wi-fi access and a range of audio-visual equipment.

Among those coming to Charney Manor are businesses, charities, educators, faith groups, artists and musicians.

Many of the visitors are interested in finding out about the history of the manor, which dates from the 13th century.

It was built as the manor house for the monks of Abingdon Abbey who looked after the farms of its estate in what was at that time just ‘Charney’.

The name of Charney Bassett came about after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, when the manor of Charney and the manor of Basses — which took its title from that of a wealthy local family — became linked.

There were many changes of ownership during the following centuries, which took the manor into the hands of supporters of various religious denominations, until the first half of the 20th century.

That was when it came to the attention of a Quaker couple, Henry Gillett from Banbury, a GP and former mayor of Oxford and his American wife, Lucy.

They bought it in 1948 and gave it to the Society of Friends together with a trust fund in memory of their daughter who had died young.

This was to help with its upkeep so it could be run as a guest house and conference centre.

But despite its resonance with the past and it being a registered charity, Charney Manor has to be able to hold its own in the economic conditions of the present day.

There is always an eye to the future as well as to the past. “We are making changes all the time,” said Ms Peaston.

“We are always introducing new ideas and we have plans for the future which we aim to implement when the opportunity arises.”