|HCC Site ID.||1988||Parish:||Romsey Extra|
|Designations:||SSSI – River Test||Area:||2.43 ha|
|Access:||No Public Access||Ownership:||Private|
Location and Site
The site lies on the northern outskirts of Romsey to the west of the A3057 to Kings Somborne, shortly before the B3084 leading to Stanbridge Earls and Roke Manor. The fast-flowing River Test runs through the gardens providing the major impact on the nearby house. It is no co-incidence that there was and still is a mill-house, now just outside the curtilage of the property. The house and immediate gardens stand on an island 3 acres in area, formed by the river to the south and a mill stream to the north. A further 3 acres of gardens, including an arboretum, are to be found on the south side of the Test.
On the OS 1st ed. 25″ map of 1871-74, the house is but an unnamed building by a tree-lined mill stream midway between Greatbridge Mill and Greatbridge House. Formerly known by the name Great Bridge Cottage, by 1875 it had acquired the name ‘The Island’ and was put up for sale as “a comfortable moderate-sized, detached residence…with 17 acres of pleasure grounds”. It was bought in 1882 by Foster Mortimore Esq of Middlesex.
By the end of the C19 the house had been considerably enlarged, with an access drive from the main road and evidence of tree planting in the area around the house. For the next half century, The Island had a number of purchasers and lessees, and in 1934 it was tenanted from Bertha Vickers by Percy Tarbutt who had a lasting impact on the gardens. He developed both the house and the garden, where he built brick walls, a loggia and two thatched summerhouses in the Arts and Crafts-style, which form the integral features to the overall structure of the garden’s design. The plans included two square formally laid out areas between the large cedar and the channel, but it is unclear whether these were ever made. The river is the most distinctive feature of the gardens as it wends its way through lawns close to the house. Importantly, Percy Tarbutt commissioned a young Harold Hillier to create an arboretum on the south bank of the river, many of whose trees still survive as mature specimens.
On the death of Tarbutt in 1943, the property was again let. When it was put up for relet/sale in 1949, the extent of the improvements could be seen: two brick-built and thatched summerhouses; an excellent kitchen garden with wide herbaceous border; on the far side of the river a more informal area with flowering shrubs and trees and intersected by grass walks leading to a fish pond and a rock garden.
In early 1950 it was bought by the Saunders-Davies family, the parents of the present owner, and they continued to maintain and develop the gardens as they had been laid out by Percy Tarbutt. The present owners of the site in 2020 are now their son and his wife, who with the help of their long-time gardener are carrying on the family tradition of caring for and improving the gardens.
As its name implies the house and garden is on an island, formed by the main River Test and the mill stream. The driveway to the site borders the mill stream and entrance to the garden is via a footbridge through a wooden door within the garden wall. On entering, the wide river is revealed lying in the flat river valley which in this area is part of the private garden. This extends to about 3 acres up to the river, with a further 3-acre more informal area on the other side. Sweeping lawns extend to the river edge. In spring, swathes of daffodils, many old varieties, abound, and paeonies and a large wisteria on the Island House provide both colour and scent. Later in the year, borders both annual and herbaceous add to the display. There is a rose pergola providing a backdrop to the borders. Mature trees add to the setting.
Either side of the house are two small Art and Crafts-style summerhouses with thatched roofs, and a loggia at the front of the house. A magnificent enormous cedar dominates the lawn , as well as a pair of tall poplars. A narrow winding channel of water edged with rocks connects the mill stream to the river and is charmingly planted with damp-loving plants.
Various footbridges cross the river to the other side of the gardens, where the atmosphere is more informal, with mown grass paths leading the visitor round. The main feature is the arboretum created in the 1930s with the help of Harold Hillier, with subsequent plantings made over the years until the present day. Trees include varieties of Aesculus ( horse chestnut family), Prunus, Pyrus, and Malus which provide colour in the spring followed by other varieties of shrubs to provide interest throughout the summer. Autumn colour is provided by Liquidambar, Acer, Beech, Taxodium among others. Three small ponds with walkways and islets add to the interest as well as the wildlife.
A recent addition has been the establishment of an avenue of Metasequoia culminating with a Wellingtonia, which aligns with the house.
Summary and Significance
A 6-acre garden enhanced and influenced by the River Test flowing through its centre, with an arboretum planted in the 1930s by Harold Hillier.
HGT Research: August 2020
OS 25″ maps: 1st ed. 1871-74, 2nd ed. 1897, 3rd ed. 1909, 4th ed. 1946-7
OS 1:1800 Mastermap 2018
Brigdale Julia, ‘Island Escape’ Salisbury Life August 2012, pp58-9
The Times April 3 1875, p15, https://go.gale.com/ – accessed July 2020
The Times May 24 1943 – https://go.gale.com/ – accessed July 2020
4M92/PC/15 item 28 sale of The Island, 1882, Hampshire Record Office (HRO)
29M96/331 plans for alterations to house and garden by P. Tarbutt, 1930s, HRO
51M76/N/1B/1, various items re letting,1930s HRO
51M76/N/1B/2, property details, 1940s, HRO