The Barley Wood estate was owned by the social reformer and authoress, Hannah More (1745-1833) from 1784 onwards until she moved to Bristol in 1828, the house being built for her in 1801 on a new site within farmland and pasture. While it was her home, shared with her four sisters, all also unmarried, the property became well known and the Mores received frequent visits from many eminent persons.
The house was purchased by William Henry Harford in the late 1820s, later passing to his son, also William. In 1897 it was sold to Henry Herbert Wills, director of the Imperial Tobacco Company, and his wife Monica (later Dame Monica). Following a major extension to the house in 1901, in 1910, Wills called on Thomas H Mawson (1861-1933) to work on the gardens. On his arrival, Mawson records finding a lovely retreat ‘which was so happy and appropriate’ that he limited his recommendations to a little touching up in parts where the original intention had been lost, and to the addition of a rose garden at the lower part of the site (Mawson 1927).
Captain Douglas Wills (d 1973) became the owner following the purchase of the estate from his kinsman in 1921. In 1974, the house was purchased by the HAT Group Limited with c 2 acres (c 0.8ha) of adjoining land. In 1975 part of the walled garden including the potting sheds and main greenhouses was sold to a private owner. In the early 1990s, the HAT Group Limited sold its headquarters and Barley Wood passed in 1998 to the Charity ADAPT to become and Drug and Alcohol Treatment centre for the group.
The Drug and Alcohol treatment centre passed into liquidation during the late 2000’s, which meant the property was bought by private owners, until in March 2015 the YMCA purchased the building.