Hiltingbury Lakes (Merdon House Gardens)

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HCC Site ID: 1186 Parish: Chandlers Ford
Designations: Area: c7 ha
Access: Public Access Ownership: Eastleigh Borough Council

Location and Site

Hiltingbury Lakes are situated between the residential roads of Hiltingbury, Lake, Merdon and Lakewood in the north of Chandlers Ford. The site which is about 7 hectares has one large lake with a small island fed by a stream which has its source in Cranbury Park. The water then runs south, down a slope into a series of smaller lakes, the old Edwardian water gardens, before disappearing under Merdon Avenue into Monks Brook and finally the River Itchen. The lakes cover about 1 hectare.

Historic Development

It is sometimes said, but has yet to be proved, that the first reference to the lakes is a fishery mentioned in Domesday Book. This was in the Buddlesgate Hundred held by Ralph of Mortimer in Otterbourne. (Domesday Book – History from the Sources). The first definite reference to the lakes is on the Hursley Estate maps of 1588 which clearly shows one lake on Hiltingbury Heath to the south of Cranbury Park and near the Malibres Copse. Also shown are two buildings one possibly a mill house. In today’s Cranbury Park there is shown a small house called Cranbury but none of the lakes now within the estate appear on this map. (HRO map photocopy 390).

Nothing more is known about the site until the 1870’s when Charlotte Yonge mentions in her book (Keble’s Parish) that “there are marshes near Hiltingbury where milkwort grows”. This suggests the lake had silted up.  The stream which today feeds the lakes, is well marked on a map in 1872 (OS 1872*) and on map (OS 1884*) a track is shown each side of what is clearly marsh land surrounded by woods.

Little changes until the 1890’s when the area was being marketed as a “charming neighbourhood with a salubrious climate and well timbered” (Times on Line) Map (OS 1896)* shows the lake had been cleared, possibly in preparation for marketing building plots in the area. Mr. Wallis a local business man living in Brownhill Road, Chandlers Ford (census 1901) bought a triangle of land south of Cranbury Estate and by 1904 moved into his new Merdon House. The Edwardian house had well laid out gardens a drive both north and south with glass houses, a lodge on Lakewood Road and to the east six ponds or water gardens (OS 1909)* with exotic plants and ornamental rocks (Eastleigh Country Side leaflet) The large lake to the north had two islands and two weirs and another lake north of the Hiltingbury Road also had a weir. There was one well defined foot path running north/south on west side of lake with another running east/west at the southern end of lake. A few more large houses began to appear along Lakewood Road, west of the lake but still none on the east side.  The west bank had a good mix of conifer and deciduous trees whilst the east was far less wooded. Photographs show a skating party on the lake and a couple standing on the far bank. (HRO photos)*. The lakes were obviously popular with locals. At this time Merdon House was sold to the Turner family who can recall punting across the lake to a small island full of daffodils (History of Hiltingbury Lakes HCC)*
By 1932 more houses had been built around the lakes and within the old gardens of Merdon House. (OS 1932/46)* In 1933 Merdon house was sold to become St Faith’s nursing home. (History of Hiltingbury Lakes HCC)* The map shows the large lake well defined and the grounds are well wooded but some of the smaller lakes or old water gardens appear as marsh land with no path access to them. The small lake to the north of Hiltingbury road is also shown as marsh land and the weirs have all gone. Lake Road has now become residential.
In 1960 Merdon House was demolished and today’s Merdon Close built on the site.  During the 1970’s Hampshire Country Council began to restore four of the original Edwardian lakes which had completely dried up and fallen into disrepair during World War 11. This work is on-going and in the 1990’s again four of the six pools were restored. (HCC leaflet).

Current Description

Today the lakes are well maintained by Eastleigh Borough Council and their Countryside Services. The lake’s borders and the stream edges have been cleared and reinforced. Tree felling is on-going and a lot of scrub trees and laurel have recently been removed to give more light to the paths around the southern ponds. New trees have been planted on the south east side of lower lakes and benches and fishing platforms add to the facilities. It is a popular venue for walking and fishing or just to admire the many birds from mallards and woodpeckers to the occasional heron or visiting Canada geese. The site is wooded and includes tall pine, oak, ash, birch, rhododendron and some bamboo. There are several paths and tracks.

Summary

Possibly a medieval fish pond and later a 16th century lake with possibly a mill house, for the next two hundred years the area reverted to marsh land on Hiltingbury Common. During the early 19th century the area was landscaped and the southern side became Edwardian water gardens within Merdon House Estate. Today Hiltingbury is an established residential area and the lakes a popular public amenity.

HGT Research: March 2010

References

YongeCharlotte M John Keble’s Parishes 1898, ch 16
Domesday Book
Hillier B Story of Chandlers Ford


Our address

Address:
Chandlers Ford Public Access Click for Disclaimer & copyright
GPS:
50.994291137221396, -1.3732080347836018

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