|HCC Site ID:||1763||Parish:||Curdridge|
|Access:||No Public Access||Ownership:||Multiple Private|
Location and Site
Sherecroft is situated in a valley on the western side of Botley and on the north side of the main road from the village towards Shedfield and Wickham. The River Hamble is on its western boundary. Botley is approximately eight miles east of Southampton.
William Cobbett leased Sherecroft from Colonel James Kempt in 1812. Cobbett had been forced to return to England from America in 1800 and by 1804 felt he had achieved his main ambition, namely to run a successful weekly newspaper. He felt sufficiently secure to pursue a second objective, to live in the country and own land. He was invited to stay at the ‘Grange, near Alresford and from there he visited Botley, where he found and bought the property, Botley House, set in grounds which ran down to the River Hamble. (Now demolished). In 1806, he also bought Fairthorn (Fairthorne Manor), a farm of 259 acres and continued to buy land, which told heavily on his income. Throughout his time in Botley he planted trees continuously, oaks, elms and ashes, some times with imported seed from N America. He also enhanced Botley House.
From 1810–1812, Cobbett was imprisoned in Newgate for debt. When he came out, he moved in to ‘Botley Hill’, a much smaller house which Sherecroft and was not the present ‘Botley Hill, opposite. Sherecroft had three quarters of a mile of high walls for espaliered fruit trees, and Cobbett spent £150 on plants and trees, nectarines, peaches and vines, and employed a gardener to prune and train them. It is probably here that Cobbett devised the hedge and ditch which he later described in his gardening book, to ward off young predators. He also had a hot bed. Cobbett loved showy flowers and did not approve of the ‘picturesque’ but preferred old-fashioned gardens with their formal lines of flowers and grass. He advocated that gravel paths should dissect his gardens and shrubberies, be four feet wide and edged with box, and that the lawn or ‘grass-plat’ was an essential part of the beauty of the pleasure garden. It is likely that the walled garden was planted up in this way. A greenhouse was essential, preferably entered and viewed from the sitting room.
He made some bad farming decisions and continued to lose money. He also continued to wage political war in favour of farm workers and in 1817 he spoke out against a suspension of Habeas Corpus. Fearing imprisonment for further debt and political ambition, he fled the country.
An extension with a large portico was built onto the house in 1844 when owned by the Agavey family. The 3rd ed OS map (1909) shows clearly the long narrow walled garden which had been planted with fruit and climbers. There was a wilderness-type woodland and pleasure ground developed to the side and behind the house, with later a tennis court.
R J MItchell lived at Sherecroft for some time from just before the outbreak of WWII and before his death in 1942. The study was encased with reinforced concrete in case of attack.
Sherecroft continued to play a part in the war, being used by US forces as a marshalling centre for the D-Day landings and there are still marks on the street-side wall of the walled garden marking where troops had to stand.
In the 1990s Sherecroft house was separated from most of the walled garden with only the part closest remaining with it.The rest was divided into two parts and developed by Cala Homes. The 19th C woodland also remained with Sherecroft.
The bones of the 19th century woodland garden are still present; the 3/4 mile long wall remains though the houses built in the old walled garden are suburban in type, Sherecroft House still has its portico and retains its gracious appearance.
Once leased by William Cobbett (1812–1817) with a 3/4 mile long wall of a large walled garden planted with espaliered trees and vines. Wall remains though individual houses now built in the walled garden have destroyed the uniqueness of the site.
English Gardener, paras 55-6
‘The Jolly Farmer’,Biddell B, Hampshire County Council