Adhurst St Mary

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HCC Site ID. 1381 Parish: Steep
Designations: SDNP, SINC, House, Stables, Coachhouse & Gothic Arch all LB II Area: 13 ha
Access: No Public Access Ownership: Private

Location and site

Adhurst St Mary is to the north-east of the town of Petersfield with its entrance on the B2070, shortly after the A272 takes a sharp right turn to Midhurst. The B2070 (previously the London to Portsmouth trunk road) forms part of the southern boundary of the grounds, crossing the River Rother on the bend at Sheet Bridge. The house is situated on a hillside with wooded south and west facing slopes, which fall steeply to the River Rother. The river flows southward and then turns east, in an elbow bend, round the foot of the hill and was formerly the western boundary to the grounds of the house. The village of Sheet is on the opposite bank of the river, at the bend and sits in a fold of the Hampshire Downs. This area was former common heath land with sandy soil and historically managed Adhurst Wood (Grover 2001).

Historic development

In 1858, John (‘Jack’) Bonham Carter bought the farms of Lower and Upper Adhurst, which included Adhurst Wood and St Mary’s Well Hanger and amounted to around 600 acres (242 ha). He was noted as an allottee in the following year’s Parliamentary Enclosure Map for the parish of Sheet and acquired an additional 31 acres (12 ha). This, which consisted of long strips of heathy common land on either side of the London Road, moved the boundaries of the land he had just bought up to the verges of the road. The plans for the house were drawn up by the architect Philip Hardwick, the main entrance on the north east front with an adjacent stables and courtyard complex. By the 1870s, the O.S. map shows that a lodge had been built at the entrance from the main road with the approach drive to the house running north west through a landscape park passing behind the stables and the courtyard complex to the house entrance. Photographs show there is a route underneath a Gothic arch (LB II) from the courtyard to the house entrance.
No particular designer is recorded as having created a layout for the grounds, most likely it was carried out by the head gardener, which was common during that period (Grover 2001). In the parkland there was a scattering of deciduous and coniferous trees with two clumps of coniferous trees planted to the west of the drive and south-east of the house. On the southern outside edge of the tree belt boundary near the lodge, a path traversed westward to meet another internal boundary, which created a wedge of parkland radiating south and south-east from the house. The house was built on an embankment with a narrow terrace on the south-east front and a formal garden below. A straight path led from the garden, down the hill to St Mary’s Well and the River Rother. Another path led from the west front of the house, north to a ‘secret garden’, known as Lady Bonham’s garden (also known as Lady Bontham’s Observatory) and a large octagonal walled garden. The walled garden and an orchard were also approached by another path leading from the east courtyard. The main vehicle access to the walled garden was along an avenue of trees via Lower Adhurst farm to the east of the house. Within the walled garden there were paths, fruit trees, greenhouses on the northern wall, potting sheds outside the walls and additional cold frames. The areas beyond the formal and walled gardens to the west and north-west were a mixture of deciduous and coniferous interlaced with paths.

Gothic arch, Northern entrance

Gothic arch, Northern entrance

In 1862 Jack Bonham Carter’s first wife died. Two years later he married Mary Baring, daughter of Lord Northbrook. He died in 1884 and was succeeded by his son, another John. He and his wife, Mary, had two children: a son lived only for a few weeks; and a daughter, Helen Mary, who was born in 1896. In1905 her father died and a year later her mother. However, it appears that she remained at the house and was probably cared for by a guardian. She painted in the garden and an album of her watercolours, dated 1907, shows a formal sunken garden with a lily pond south-east of the walled garden (Grover 2001). This was probably constructed soon after the house was extended in 1903, and is shown on the 3rd edition of the OS map published in 1909. The ‘arts and crafts’ style of the formal sunken garden with enclosing brick walls, steps down, lily pond and a wrought iron entrance gate is very typical of the work of architect and garden designer Inigo Triggs (1876-1923). Triggs designed several similar gardens in the Petersfield and South Downs area, including at Ashford Chace in the same parish of Steep. There is no known evidence that Triggs designed the sunken garden at Adhurst St Mary, but the style was fashionable and most likely it was laid out by a head gardener familiar with Triggs’ style.
During WW1, the house was used as a military hospital. In 1918, Helen married Sir Alan Lubbock, whose father was a keen horticulturist and friend of William Robinson (Grover 2001). In 1870, William Robinson had written a book on ‘Alpine flowers in Gardens’ and rock garden construction was at its heyday following Reginald Farrer’s eloquent writings in ‘My English Rock Garden’ published in 1907. It seems likely that the Lubbocks put their mark on the garden by having rock and rill gardens constructed. The rill garden is shown on the 1932 O.S. map to the east of the south lawn terrace, although the rock garden constructed at its southern end, was not noted on the map (Wright 2001). The family continued to live there and in 1960 one wing of the house was converted to flats. The storms of 1987 and 1990 caused a great deal of damage. Lady Helen died just before the first one occurred. In 1990, Sir Alan carried out some replanting on either side of the main drive, which is commemorated by a plaque placed there by his sons. Two years later, Sir Alan died and the house was sold with 13 hectares (32 acres) of land to James Nolan. A trust has been set up by the Lubbock family, to care for the woodlands on the remnant of the old estate, around the present boundary of ornamental grounds (Grover 2001).
During James Nolan’s ownership there have been various conversions of outbuildings for accommodation around the main house, which is now thought to be divided into three dwellings. It is understood that the Lodge is also under separate ownership (Atkinson 2002). Shirley Wright wrote in 2001, after an extensive survey of the grounds, that ‘Adhurst St Mary represents a relatively unspoilt example of Victorian/Edwardian House and curtilage which, in spite of over-maturity, storm damage and some neglect, still had great charm and beauty.’ She also noted that: there were a fine range of trees and the rock garden was relict. An application was made to build a house in the walled garden and various applications have been made to convert the main house into a hotel. In 2007, consent was given for the hotel provided various criteria were met (EHDC 30928/020/FUL). The hotel has not been built although further proposals have been put forward.

Current description

A site visit has not taken place. An aerial view shows that a reservoir has been constructed between Lower Adhurst farm and the main entrance (google online 2015). Since 2007, more applications have been made to convert the main house, a grade II listed building, into a hotel. In November 2015, the South Downs National Park’s recommendation to the East Hampshire District Council about this application, stated that ‘The grounds contain a sunken garden, a walled garden, a rill garden, a croquet lawn, a clearing known as Lady Bonham Carter’s Observatory and stands of trees and shrubberies’ (SDNP 2015).

Summary & Significance

Adhurst St Mary was a mid-Victorian estate – with parkland, extensive woodland, walled kitchen garden, a range of other small gardens and a lodge – that mainly remained within one family for over 150 years. The heirs of the estate placed the woodland in the care of a Trust and sold the house and surrounding parkland and gardens. Various outbuildings have been converted to accommodation, but the parkland and gardens remain, although not in their former glory.

The park and gardens provide historic character to the curtilage to the grade II C19 house designed by Philip C Hardwick. The mid-19th century octagonal walled garden is quite unusual and a significant feature. The early 20th century formal sunken garden is intact and if not designed by Inigo Triggs, was certainly influenced by his style. This site is historically important, within the district and South Downs National Park, as an example of a C19 estate developed as a single entity on a ‘green field’ site.
Research based on Pat Grover’s History of the Grounds 2002, updated December 2015

Entrance

Entrance

Walled garden

Walled garden

Walled garden, Irish Yews leading to entrance

Walled garden, Irish Yews leading to entrance

References

Atkinson, P,2002 Response to EHDC Application No. F 30928/018/FUL 1/10/2002*
EHDC 2007 East Hampshire District Council Notice of Consent: 30928/021/LBC 30/11/02007*
Grover, Pat, 2001, in Douglas Briggs ‘Masterplan, Restoration, Preservation and Long Term Management of The Garden and Grounds of Adhurst St Mary’; Support document Part I ‘Local Landscape and historic context, History of the Grounds’. *
Wright, Shirley, 2001, in Douglas Briggs ‘Masterplan, Restoration, Preservation and Long Term Management of The Garden and Grounds of Adhurst St Mary’; Support document Part II ‘Landscape and Outline Habitat Survey Management Proposals’. *

Maps (from Grover 2001 Support Document)*
1st ed OS map 25” & 6“ published 1870s
3rd ed OS map 25”published 1909
4th ed OS map 25” published 1932
*HCC Digital records held by HGT.
Electronic sources
Aerial view of Adhurst St Mary (https://www.google.co.uk/ accessed December 2015)
SDNP 2015, Report to Planning Committee of East Hampshire District Council, Application SDNP/14/01341/CND (online December 2015).

Rill garden  All images October 2002

Rill garden – All images October 2002

Western view

Western view


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