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

The first possible reference to the lakes is a fishery mentioned in Domesday Book. This was in the Buddlesgate Hundred held by Ralph of Mortimer in Otterbourne. A clearer reference to the lakes is on the Hursley Estate maps of 1588 which shows one lake on Hiltingbury Heath to the south of Cranbury Park and near Malibres Copse. Also shown are two buildings, one possibly a mill house. Nothing more is known about the site until the 1870’s when Charlotte Yonge mentions in her Keble’s Parish book 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 the 1872 OS map; and on the 1884 one, a track is shown each side of what is clearly marsh land surrounded by woods. In the 1890’s, much of the land that was owned by the Hursley Park estates was sold to the Chamberlaynes of Cranbury Park. It was around this time that the area was being marketed in the Times as a ‘charming neighbourhood with a salubrious climate and well timbered’. The OS 1896 map shows the lake had been cleared, possibly to form part of the gardens to Cranbury Park or in preparation for selling building plots in the area. Mr. Wallis, a local business man living in Brownhill Road, Chandlers Ford, 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 with exotic plants and ornamental rocks. At that time, 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 footpath running north/south on west side of the lake, with another running east/west at the southern end of the 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. The lakes were obviously popular with locals, as photographs show a skating party on the lake and a couple standing on the far bank. Around this period, Merdon House was sold to the Turner family, who can recall punting across the lake to a small island full of daffodils.

The local authority acquired the lake and neglected water gardens in the 1930s, and a couple of years later more houses had been built around the lakes and within the old gardens of Merdon House. In 1933, Merdon house was sold to become St Faith’s nursing home. The 4th edition OS map shows the large lake well-defined, and the grounds are well wooded although some of the smaller lakes of the old water gardens appear as marsh land with no paths 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.

Current Description

View from south-east looking across the lake, a pontoon in the foreground and the island beyond.


Since the last survey in 1996, the stream feeding the lake to the north has been diverted underground so it is only visible where it enters the lake. This was probably part of the £20,000 improvement scheme funded by Eastleigh Borough Council and the Environment Agency. As well as the island in the lake, which has some mature trees and one dead one on which the gulls rest, four wildlife pontoons have been placed to protect nesting birds from predators. There are three long thin pontoons: two near the west side of the lake, the other in the south west corner by the footbridge; and a round pontoon in the southern section. Some new seating has been installed in the woodland area on the western side and on the upper part of the lakeside. The paths that give access to the lakeside, for walkers and fishermen, are on the south and east with a couple four access points on the west. The rest of the west lakeside is mainly fenced, with added protection on the northern tip to protect wildlife. Interpretation boards have been erected at the southern end of Lake Road and at the junction where two paths meet near the Hiltingbury Road entrance. The woodland to the west of the lake has had some clearance, with more clearly defined pathways that give it a more open appearance. Below the lake and dam, two of the Edwardian ponds and the meandering streams are more visible in the winter than in the summer when the bushes and trees are in leaf. There are two paths either side of the streams. On the west path, nearer the steeper approach to the dam, there are some fine mature trees. Also along this section there are a few pathways that lead to back garden doors of some of the adjacent properties and one that leads to Lakewood Close. This wetland area is left as natural as possible and has an overgrown appearance. The bamboo, close to the eastern path, had become invasive during the 2018 summer.

Summary

The Domesday Book indicated there may have been 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 and was part of the Hursley Park estate. In the 1890s, the Chamberlayne’s of the Cranbury estate purchased the land and probably dammed the lake. When land south of the lake was sold in the beginning of the 20th century, Edwardian water gardens were created for Merdon House. The Merdon estate was sold in the 1930s when the local authority acquired the lake and water gardens for a public park.

The lake, woodland, ponds, streams and pathways provide a popular, very attractive and important amenity for the surrounding residential population, as well as an excellent habitat for wildlife.

HGT Research: March 2010, update June 2019

References

Domesday Book, History from the Source. 1982, Phillimore
Yonge, Charlotte M. John Keble’s Parishes 1898, MacMillan, chapter 16
Hillier, B., Story of Chandler’s Ford, Paul Cave Pulications, 1984
Times online
Census 1901
Eastleigh Countryside leaflet
History of Hiltingbury Lakes HCC
Chandlers Ford Parish Council website ://www.chandlersford-pc.gov.uk/Open_Spaces/Open_Spaces/Hiltingbury_Lakes.aspx [accessed 22/1/2019]


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