Fifteenth and sixteenth century England- compassing the harried days of the two Charles's and of Oliver Gromwell- are revitalized in a story built around the house at Old Vine. Actually the story is composed of six sections, each dealing with a period in the history of the house, the family tenuously connected throughout, and the decline from a prosperous manor house to a seedy, rundown boys' school. Much of England's background is here too. But somehow the whole never comes into focus; it reads more like a notebook destined to be transformed by some alchemy into a novel -- and the alchemy fails to materialize. Her last book- The Town House -- made a real contribution to a portrait of feudal England and the relationship of the lords of the manor to the serfs, and of the part the guilds played. But The House at Old Vine is, by comparison, thin. Not Norah Lofts at her best.