|HCC Site ID:||1268||Parish:||Silchester|
|Designations:||House LB II||Area:||0.8ha|
|Access:||No Public Access||Ownership:||Private residence|
Location and site
Macartney’s is situated in the parish of Silchester close to the county boundary with Berkshire and some eight miles north of Basingstoke. The parish boundary between Silchester and Mortimer West End runs through the grounds just north of the house. The land to the north is forested and a SINC, while to the south and south-west Silchester Common leads to the extensive ancient oak woodland of the Pamper Forest. These are SSSI and also Areas of Special Landscape Quality on account of the rare heathland habitat and unimproved wet meadows. Silchester Common is part of the largest remnant of the once extensive north Hampshire heathland; the soil is thin and gravelly. The range of vegetation and habitat in this area is rich with over 40 species of nationally and/or scarce species including moths, beetles and butterflies. That part of Silchester Common which abuts the southern boundary of Macartney’s is characterized by open heath with gorse scrub, small oaks and hazel. The nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler have been found here (Silchester Conservation Area Appraisal Plan).
In 1895 the architect Mervyn Macartney purchased a site where a pair of cottages had been recently damaged by fire. A pupil of Norman Shaw, Macartney had received several commissions for houses in the north Hampshire and Berkshire area. This was to be the site of a country cottage for his own family, secluded but within easy reach by train of Reading, Newbury and London. The house which he designed and called Rosebank, was unusual for the area in that it was in the latest arts and crafts style, clad in black weather-boarding on the upper storey and sported a projecting upstairs bay window in the centre of the front elevation. Behind the house the land was wooded but by the nature of the soil the trees were tall, thin pines and scrubby undergrowth. Macartney cleared the site which then amounted to less than one acre and created a garden combining the usefulness of a kitchen garden with the delights of a small, designed formal garden around the front and sides of the cottage. On one side there was a compact sunken pool garden in the ‘Italian’ style; on the other side lawns were planted with fruit trees and enclosed with hedges of holly and yew. The house was approached from the Silchester road through a pedestrian gate set within strikingly modern brick piers and wings, from which a long hedged alleé led to the entrance to the house. A delightful sketch, made by Macartney shows the cottage as it was soon after completion; this is held by the library of St. Paul’s Cathedral where Macartney later became the Surveyor of Fabric (Elder-Duncan 1912; Ward, 1998).
In 1909 an article appeared in Country Life (9 October 1909) with a detailed description of the house and garden accompanied by a series of photographs and a birds-eye plan of the site. From this it could be seen that the house had been enlarged slightly on the west end, the front lawn was now a sunken ‘bowling green’, and the kitchen gardens extended further north into an area of cleared woodland. The depth of the site was emphasized by the extension of the hedged path from the front gate back to the north boundary where a sundial closed the vista. The photographs illustrate particularly well how luxurious climbers and rambling roses had been used to clad a number of pergolas and the front of the house. A thatched gardener’s cottage was retained as a rustic feature in the kitchen garden. Macartney had created a delightful small retreat in the traditional country-cottage style but which also allowed an element of architect design to enter the garden.
It is not known for how long Macartney continued to own or occupy this cottage, but he died in 1932. In 1948 the cottage, now renamed Macartney’s, was bought by Major Battiscombe who lived there until 1982 when it was sold to the current owners (Radley 2010).
The site today is somewhat larger as land to the north-east has been acquired where, in a clearing in the trees, a tennis court and bog garden have been installed. There is now an access for cars and a parking area in this part of the garden but the front and formal gardens are immediately recognisable as Macartney’s original work. The long axial path from the front gate still terminates with the sundial; a brick path around the front of the house is no longer sheltered by a pergola dripping with blooms but it still leads to the ‘Italian’ pool garden; the yew hedging although elderly and somewhat depleted in length is still sharply clipped and the house looks out over the sunken lawn to the trees and bushes of Silchester Common.
The essential architectural garden features which Macartney had created have been preserved and the house and garden are a good example of this architect’s Arts and Crafts style. Macartney has been able to combine in a small site his love of nature and plants with his respect for early-eighteenth-century gardens with their formality and use of hedging.
When this cottage was built in 1895 Silchester itself was a quiet backwater but today it is encroached-upon by neighbouring properties and busy roads, however it is positioned close to areas of significant natural interest which enhance the rustic nature which its architect designed.
HGT Research: April 2010
National Archives: Tithe maps and apportionment: IR29/31/227
HCC supplied all other Ordnance Survey maps
Belcher,J. and Macartney, M.E. 1901 Later Renaissance Architecture in England, Batsford
Elder-Duncan, J. H. 1912 Country Cottages and Week-End Homes, Cassell (first published 1906)
Macartney, M.E.(1908) Bird’s-eye views of English Houses 17th and 18th centuries, with commentaries
Ottewill, D. ‘Robert Weir Schultz: an Arts and Crafts Architect’ in Architectural History vol.22, 1979
Ottewill, D. 1989 The Edwardian Garden,YUP
Ward, J. (1998) Mervyn Macartney, Architect
Weaver, L. ‘Rosebank, Silchester Common’ in Small Country Houses of Today, Country Life, 1910
Basingstoke and Deane District Council, Planning Office; Conservation Area Appraisal: Silchester Conservation Area Appraisal Plan, p.11
Archivist at the library St Paul’s Cathedral- emails: 2nd and 8th March 2010
Hampshire AHBR: http://historicenvironment.hants.gov.uk/AHBSearch.aspx
Personal Conversation: Robert Radley, January 2010.