Ropley Grove (Little Grove House / Ryecroft)

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HCC Site ID: 1387 Parish: Ropley
Designations: CA, House LB II Area: c 2.13 ha
Access: No Public Access Ownership: Private

Location and Site

The village of Ropley lies on the western slopes of a ridge running approximately south to north and forming a watershed separating the basins of the Wey and the Meon rivers from those of the Arle and Itchen. Composed of good farm- and pastureland with a deep chalk layer covered with a skin of good brown soil, the area is also suitable for horticulture, and the village has been noted for its fine flowers. As a result, beekeeping once flourished here, with the honey being used for the production of mead. It is said that William the Conqueror obtained his honey from Ropley (Ropley 2000 – online). The coming of the Hampshire Hunt in 1745 and the railway in 1861 made Ropley a desirable place of residence.
Ropley Grove is situated in extensive grounds on the Petersfield Road on the southern edge of the village. The ground rises fairly steeply behind the house, and the long garden (over 200 metres long and about 80 meters wide) rises in a series of terraces up the hill; flanking the lower part of the garden is the kitchen garden about 80 meters by 30 meters. The house and gardens are surrounded by arable and pasture land.

Historical Development

Although there was a flint cottage on the site by the seventeenth century, the present house dates from 1742 (AHBR 51826) and was a farmhouse until the mid-nineteenth century (RPP 1989, 92-3). By the end of the eighteenth century, it was owned by Major Lavender, a prominent member of the community, JP, churchwarden and member of the Hunt, but also a leading smuggler in the area; the house had a secret chamber to hide contraband underneath the dining room (Hagen 1929 online). By 1871 it was known as Little Grove House, with a long rectangular plot at the back which seems to have been mostly laid to lawn and which was bordered on three sides by woodland, with a perimeter walk through the trees. Adjoining the eastern edge was a smaller rectangular plot which was laid out in small beds as in a kitchen garden, as well as various outbuildings including the gardener’s cottage. Access to the grounds was by a long drive from the north-west corner through a shrubbery, as well as by a shorter path leading from the road to the front of the house (OS 1871 (HCC)). In August 1895 the first flower show of the Ropley Horticultural Society was held in the grounds of Ropley Grove (Mason 1989, 94-5). By 1896, the house was the residence of Lady Blackett, who played a large part in the activities of the village.

The OS 3rd.ed. 25″ map shows the house as Ropley Grove with access being provided by a new drive which enters opposite the gardener’s cottage and swings round towards the house. There is a south-facing conservatory, and specimen deciduous and coniferous trees in the lawn. In 1920 this “old-fashioned house and 160 acres” ( 64.7 ha.) was for sale (Times online 1920), and by 1927 Vice-Admiral W. Henderson was living  in the newly-named Ryecroft (Times online 1927). It was he who discovered the hidden underground chamber during building work in the dining room in the following year (Hagen 1929 online). After his death in 1931 (Times online 1931), for sale notices appeared between 1934 and 1938, advertising “…Delightful Red Brick Queen Anne Residence. Garages. Stabling. Six cottages. Capital farm and buildings. Finely timbered grounds with wide spreading lawns. Nearly 200 acres” (HRO 159M88/1358). During World War II, the house was used by the Royal Navy (Mason 1989, 93), and by 1959 a new owner was being sought; the For Sale advert mentions “delightful terraced gardens”‘ the first indication that the garden is on a slope (Times online 1959). It was during the 1970s that the garden seems to have reached its peak: photographic slides taken by Robert Lawrence show rose beds; a small shady pond surrounded by dwarf conifers and fastigiate yews; a herbaceous border, possibly double, with a grass path in-between, and predominantly yellow, red and pink flowering plants (HRO 92A03/83). In 1978 there appeared an entry in The Gardens of Britain 2:Dorset, Hampshire & the Isle of Wight by Allen Paterson, who described it as “an uncontrived garden of quiet but considerable charm”, the property of Peter Eade, with the ground rising strongly in a series of broad grass terraces linked by ramps and lined with high trees and undergrowth, through which deeply shaded walks can be taken. At the top, the grass becomes less shorn, with naturalised bulbs amongst mature woodland, overlooking arable fields. The parallel kitchen garden has a swimming pool at the top, screened by shrubs, showing “how difficult it is to site a swimming pool in a way that makes it an advantage to the garden as well as to the inhabitants”. Noteworthy specimens are listed as Cedrus deodara, Garrya elliptica, Juniperus ‘Blauws variety’, and an extremely fine Scots pine (Paterson 1978, 137). The presence of a swimming pool might be more readily understood on knowing that Peter Eade was a successful theatrical agent who numbered Kenneth Williams and Ronnie Barker among his clients (Stevens 2011 e-book). Peter Eade died in 1979 followed by his father in 1980, when the house was again for sale (Times online 1980).

Current Description

Today, Ropley Grove is still in private hands and recognisable from Paterson’s description of 1978. At the front of the house the small front garden is laid out formally with topiarised shrubs, box hedging, paths and pebble infills. There is a mature Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) to the side of the house. Behind the house, the ground rises in a series of grassed terraces as described in 1978, with mixed plantings of shrubs and trees on either side. On the way up you pass a mature Cedrus deodara, a grass tennis court, beds of box balls and shrubs, a rose-covered pergola and two holly bushes, before entering an area of deciduous woodland at the top (daffodils were flowering at the time of the visit), where a grass path leads to a gate into arable fields. There is a parallel kitchen garden to the left of the house; halfway up is the old walled garden, complete apart from a few gaps here and there, inside which are small beds and some espaliered fruit trees. At the very top is the swimming pool, screened by shrubs (site visit  March 2013) (Google Earth online).

Summary

A mid-18th century listed Georgian house with a long rear garden rising in a series of terraces and a 19th century perimeter path through woodland, flanked by a smaller kitchen garden with a walled garden, now incomplete, of uncertain date. Unremarkable until the 1970s when the garden achieved a modest recognition, it still retains much of its quiet charm. Some specimen trees remain.
HGT Research: December 2013

References

Hampshire Record Office (HRO)
HRO 21M65/F7/198/1+2 – Ropley tithe map 1836 and apportionment 1840
HRO 159M88/1358 – 1934, 1937 and 1938 ‘for sale’ newspaper cuttings
HRO 92A03/83 – photographic slides taken by Robert Lawrence in 1976
Kelly’s Directory 1895, 1899, 1907
Pigot’s Hampshire Directory 1831
1901 Census online
Maps including electronic sources
OS maps from Hampshire County Council:
1st ed. 25” 1871
2nd ed. 25” 1896
3rd ed. 25” 1909
1:2000 Digital Millennium map 2006
1:2000 Mastermap 2012
Google Earth – accessed 2013
Books
Mason, Frederick, 1989, Ropley Past and Present London
Paterson, Allen, 1978, The Gardens of Britain 2 – Dorset, Hampshire & the Isle of Wight London
Electronic Sources
AHBR 13825
AHBR 51826
(19c BLN) 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Morning Post 21 March 1896 http://find.galegroup.com – accessed various dates 2012 and 2013
Times online – 5 Nov 1913; 6 Nov 1920; 7 July 1927; 19 Jan 1931; 13 Feb 1935; 5 Nov 1959;      9 Oct 1980; 17 Dec 1980 http://find.galegroup.com – accessed various dates 2012 and 2013
Hagen, Marianna S., 1929 Annals Of Old Ropley (Hampshire) Alton – online version
http://ropleyvds.hampshire.org.uk/annals/index.html – accessed various dates 2012
http://www.hants.gov.uk/hampshiretreasures/vol06/page269.html – accessed 2012-13
(Ropley 2000) Ropley at the Millennium http://www.ropley2000.hampshire.org.uk/ – accessed Sept-Nov 2012
Stevens, Christopher, 2011 e-book, Kenneth Williams: Born Brilliant http://books.google.co.uk/books


Our address

Address:
Ropley No Public Access Click for Disclaimer & copyright
GPS:
51.07942801529211, -1.0836882589501329

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