Avington Park (Historic England)

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HCC Site ID: 1543 Parish: Itchen Valley
Designations: HE II*; House LB I; Lodge, walls, gates, sundial, pavillion, ha-ha, bridges over Avington Lake/River Itchen all LB II; SAC, SINC,SMR, SSSI Area: 270 ha, includes
5 ha informal gardens
Access: See opening times Ownership: Private

Image: Entrance gates 2021

Location and site

Avington is a small Hampshire village, east of Winchester in the valley of the river Itchen. The northern section of Avington Park, including the house, occupies the level valley floor of the Itchen, from which it extends southwards, rising slowly towards Beech Hill. The estate also encompasses farmland, woodland and, since 1995, a nine-hole golf course.
The main entrance to the house and park via a white lodge, lies off the unclassified Avington Lane, that runs from the centre of Itchen Abbas.

Historical Development

The estate originally belonged to Winchester cathedral but was seized by the Crown at the Reformation. Henry VIII then granted it to Edmund Clerke (or Clarke), who built a house, including the banqueting hall, now the Orangery on the south face. In the mid-17th century, the estate was owned by George Brydges, Groom of the Bedchamber to Charles II. He enlarged the house by doubling each of the two wings either side of the entrance.
The 3rd Duke of Chandos, James Brydges, a cousin, inherited the property, making many improvements, especially to the gardens. His first wife was Margaret, Marchioness of Carnarvon They had no children but the Duke’s only daughter by his 2nd marriage, wed the Duke of Buckingham and Stowe, who became the Duke of Buckingham & Chandos, and inherited Avington Park. The declining fortunes of the Buckingham & Chandos family (helped along by extravagant lifestyles) resulted in the ‘great sale’ of the late duke’s possessions in 1847, and Avington Park passed to Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Shelley, brother of the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was then sold to Lt. Colonel & Mrs Hickson in 1951, whose daughter, Sarah, married Charles Bullen.
The parkland has medieval and 17th century origins, but the current design is largely attributed to James Brydges, 3rd Duke of Chandos. From about 1765, it was laid out in the style of Capability Brown, with some five hectares of informal, landscaped gardens with lime avenues, beech trees, and fine vistas across the ha-ha to Avington Lake, which lies to the north and west of the house and forms the northern boundary of the site. The lake, fed by the nearby River Itchen, was also the work of the 3rd Duke, perhaps created from a medieval fishpond. Beyond the landscaped grounds, there is farmland and, since 1995, Avington Park golf course to the east is defined by the trees planted in the late 18th century.

The scene described by Cobbett on his Rural Rides in the 1820s (published in series from 1822 and book form in 1830) is clearly recognisable today: ‘Here at Avington, everything is in such beautiful order; the lawn, before the house, of the finest green, and most neatly kept’ and ‘…beautifully situated amidst fine and lofty trees, fine meadows and streams of clear water.’ ‘A very pretty park. The house is quite at the bottom; it can be seen in no direction from a distance greater than that of four or five hundred yards…A stream of water is brought from the river to feed a pond before the house. There are several avenues of trees which are very beautiful and some of which give complete shelter to the kitchen garden, which has besides extraordinary high walls.’

There are several important avenues – drives or rides – shown on various maps. Taylor’s 1759 map shows the lime avenue leading west to the house from the main entrance off Avington Lane. This is continued eastwards, on the other side of the road, opposite the lodge and main gates. The full length of the avenue, from east to west, is shown on the OS 1870 map and was still in existence in 1910 (OS). It no longer appears on the OS Explorer 132, Winchester 1998, but can be clearly seen on Google maps.
Both the Taylor (1759)and Milne (1791) maps show another avenue from the house, running southwards across the park, stretching down to the A31.
The kitchen garden was sited off the south-west face of the mid-to-late 18th century ‘Old Coach House’ and quadrangle of stable blocks, which were converted to dwellings in the mid- 20th century.
The Georgian church of St Mary(1768-71), described by Pevsner as ‘… a jewel…perfect Georgian..’, is Grade I listed in its own right and provides an additional ornament in the park. Many other buildings, walls and gates, fountain heads and other features are listed Grade II.

Current description

The current park designed in the 18th century landscape style remains much the same as described by William Cobbett in 1830, as being beautifully situated amidst fine and lofty trees, fine meadows and streams of clear water, one of which fed the pond in front of the house. Like many other such establishments it has long been untenable to run as a family home on such a scale and for many years has provided the setting for grand weddings, dinners, and corporate events in the state rooms that were designed for lavish enjoyment and entertaining, while various of the outbuildings are either let or owned as separate dwellings. The estate was sold by Mrs Bullen in late 2020 to hotelier Nicholas Roach, whose plans are currently not known. (March, 2021).

Summary and Significance

Avington Park is one of the few remaining large country houses of Hampshire which were not only owned by the ‘landed gentry’ but also had aristocratic and even royal associations. It provides an opportunity to see what a gracious 18th century landscape was like, combining classical and elegant parkland, with smooth grass and a ha-ha providing uninterrupted vistas over the lake, with bridges and stands of magnificent trees, long avenues, and grand entrances.

HGT Research update: March 2021

Key Sources

Hampshire County Council Historic Landscape Settlements: Avington https://documents.hants.gov.uk/landscape/historic-settlement/AvingtonHistoricRuralSettlementpublication.pdf
Winchester City Council Character Assessment 2004
Old Series Hampshire Mapped: 1759 Taylor map; 1791 Milne map; 1826 Greenwood map, University of Portsmouth. http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/webmap/hantsmap/hantsmap/hantsmap.htm [accessed Jan 2021]
Ordnance Survey maps 1870 and others: Ordnance Survey County Series available in Hampshire Historic Landscape Survey and Management Plan for Avington Park 1990; R Stent.

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