|HCC Site ID:||1987||Parish:||Eastleigh|
|Access:||Public Access||Ownership:||Eastleigh Borough Council|
Location and Site
Once part of the much larger North Stoneham Park, Avenue Park is situated to the north of Southampton and on the western edge of Eastleigh, at one time forming part of the Eastleigh-Southampton Strategic Gap, though a new housing development of around 1000 dwellings bordering the park commenced in 2018 and was ongoing in 2019. The underlying geology of the site is London Clay.
North Stoneham has existed as a large estate since Saxon times, and in 941AD was given to Hyde Abbey who owned it until 1545, when Henry VIII granted the manor of North Stoneham to Sir Thomas Wriothesley, first Earl of Southampton. In 1599 Sir Thomas Fleming, future Lord Chief Justice of England, purchased the manor of North Stoneham from the Wriothesley family for £5000. In the contract ‘the Parke’ is recorded as ‘not exceeding the number of four score acres of arable land, pasture and wood ground in the tenure of Henry Knowles’ but did not at this time necessarily include the present Avenue Park. An inventory of 1638 on the death of Thomas Fleming III shows that a considerable mansion had been constructed by the family at North Stoneham. Evidence seems to point to the location of the house being about 100 metres northwest of the church of St. Nicholas.
In 1736, 604 acres (244 ha.) of North Stoneham Common was enclosed by Richard Fleming, lord of the manor. Taylor’s map of 1759 is the first to depict the full extent of the estate, showing the manor house close to the church, and what appears to be a pale around the whole park. Two linear avenues of lime trees lead from the house, one running north towards Chestnut Avenue, and the second leading to a ‘Banqueting House’ in the south-western corner of the park’. In the 1760s on the death of William Fleming, the male line of the Fleming family became extinct and the estates passed to his half-brother John Willis who also took the name Fleming. From this time the Willis family adopted the names and arms of the extinct Fleming family at Stoneham and remained in possession of the estate until the early 1950s.
Some time before June 1775, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was engaged by John Fleming to survey the 400 acres of the estate and prepare a general scheme of alteration. The work was carried out by Alexander Knox and Andrew Gardiner, with an interim payment of £1000 being made in 1775, and a final payment of £400 in 1778. No other contemporary descriptions or plans of Brown’s work at North Stoneham are known, and the extent to which Brown involved himself in the alterations is also unclear. It is considered probable, among other things, that Brown proposed the breaking up of the northern avenue of limes and a serpentine approach drive across Avenue Park and the creation of tree clumps on the higher ground of Cricketer’s Hill; it has been suggested that Avenue Pond was originally an ornamental basin which was given a more informal and irregular plan by Brown.
In 1813 John Barton Willis Fleming succeeded to the estate and in 1818 had the old manor house near the church demolished. He commissioned the architect Thomas Hopper to design and build a new mansion in the Grecian style on a more elevated site about 400 meters further to the west. Over the next 26 years until his death in 1844, John Willis Fleming continued to realise his ambitious vision for North Stoneham Park: it is during this time that Winchester Lodge at the northwestern corner of Avenue Park, comprising a pair of irregular octagonal structures either side of iron gates, was probably built.
The Tithe map (c.1840) is the first available map to illustrate the curving course of the northern carriage drive entering the Park through Winchester Lodge on Chestnut Avenue, and winding around Avenue Pond and through Avenue Park to join with the track from the Stoneham Lane entrance.
After John Fleming’s death in 1844, the new owner John Fleming was reputedly still contemplating additions to the already splendid mansion and grounds, but increasingly severe financial difficulties led to the Willis Fleming family moving out of the mansion by 1854, later making nearby Chilworth Manor their primary home. Though unoccupied by its owners, North Stoneham Park continued to be used for a variety of purposes: the ponds were leased to the Southampton Piscatorial Society in 1898. and in 1908 part of the Deer Park and Rough Park was used to create a golf course designed by Willie Park Junior.
In 1918 a shrine was built by John Willis Fleming on Cricketer’s Hill in Avenue Park as a memorial to his son Richard Fleming and 36 other men of North Stoneham Parish men killed in World War I. An identical shrine was built at Havenstreet on the Isle of Wight. In 1953 the Fleming family sold the estate to Mr. Cousins, who split it up and sold off parcels of land, thus creating the diverse ownerships which characterised the park until 2015. Over the ensuing four decades, areas of the park, including the shrine, became neglected and vandalised. With the completion of the M27 and M3 through the southern edge of the parkland by 1991, Hampshire County Council formally recognised that greater efforts should be made to conserve, restore and enhance the parkland as a viable historic and natural landscape, and as a part of the Strategic Gap separating Southampton and Eastleigh. In 1996 HCC acquired 24.7ha. of the southern part of Avenue Park for its protection and preservation.
The restoration of Avenue Park began in 1999 when it was decided to use developers’ contributions following the redevelopment of the local Rectory and its grounds in order to restore the landscape close to Brown’s original vision and to attract the public into the centre of the park. The area covered the land in Avenue Park owned by Hampshire County Council as well as Eastleigh Council’s north portion and shrine (5.4 ha.). Scrub and brambles were cleared, traditional park fencing and gates installed, and trees planted, including thirty lime trees in Avenue Park which were moved to a new location and realigned with the remains of a lime avenue believed to fit in with Brown’s original design. A footpath following the line of one of the original entrance drives from Chestnut Avenue was created, which linked key sites such as those of Winchester and Temple Lodges, the old and new mansions and gardens, Avenue Pond and the War Shrine, and St. Nicholas’ church. From 2005, the next stage focused on the restoration of the derelict and unroofed Stoneham War Shrine memorial, with the aim of using this monument as a landmark for Avenue Park and as a key to unlocking the
history of the landscape. With the aid of a Heritage Lottery grant, and financial support from various other organisations, the project to restore the shrine began in November 2008 and in May 2011 the completed shrine was rededicated in a special service of remembrance.
In 2014, the Local Plans of both Eastleigh and TVBC included proposals for residential developments on much of the land south of Chestnut Avenue and north of Shrubbery and Park Ponds, excluding the 5.4 ha. site around the shrine. In 2015, a planning application was submitted to build 1100 houses and community facilities on the land between Chestnut Avenue and the track around Park Farm and the walled garden, retaining a central green corridor from the Winchester Lodge entrance, past Avenue Pond as far as St. Nicholas’ church.
In 2019, Avenue Park is at the centre of a changing landscape, with the construction of housing taking place on three sides. Although the development is impossible to ignore, there remain fine within the park. Following the restoration carried out in the first part of the 21st century, the improvements are still obvious: the excellent condition of the shrine, the new tree plantings, the footpaths through rough grassland, and the information boards. It is managed as an informal green space, of which an area is conservation grazed during part of the year.
The balance between intervention and managing for wildlife is a fine one; at the moment Avenue Park seems rather neglected, not helped by construction on three sides. On the other hand, it is at the same time a quiet retreat from the surrounding activity.
Summary and Significance
Avenue Park, which included designs from Capability Brown, is the only remaining part of North Stoneham Park, whose history dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period. Today it is an important asset for the local community and provides a calm green space for people and wildlife alike in an increasingly dense urban environment.
HGT Research: Eastleigh Urban Parks Survey, April 2019
HRO 5M53/441 – 1599 sale of North Stoneham to Thomas Flemyng
HRO 1638A058/2 – 1638 inventory made on death of Thomas Fleming III
HRO 102M71/E9 – 1736 agreement and map of enclosure of North Stoneham Common
HRO 21M65/FZ/173/1+2 – North Stoneham Tithe map (c.1840) and apportionment
Taylor 1759 map, Old Hampshire Mapped online
Lancelot Brown’s account book 1778, 116, RHS Lindley Library, London
Whitcher survey of Stoneham Estate 1818, Southampton Archives: D/Z 639 (NSP) http://www.northstoneham.org.uk/park/
An archaeological evaluation at Avenue Park, North Stoneham, Currie C., 2000, report to Eastleigh Borough Council -http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-327-1/dissemination/pdf/AvenuePark.pdf
Land off Chestnut Avenue, Eastleigh, Hampshire – Historic Landscape Assessment prepared by The Environmental Dimension Partnership on behalf of North Stoneham Developments Ltd. In association with HCC, July 2012 – http://www.eastleigh.gov.uk/PDF/ppi-HistoricLandscapeAssessmentdocument.pdf Willis Fleming Historical Trust website, http://www.willisfleming.org.uk/heritage.html
HGT research, http://research.hgt.org.uk/item/north-stoneham-park/