|HCC Site ID:||1451||Parish:||Melchet Park & Plaitford|
|Designations:|| House LB II*, Steps & walls,
Gatehouse all LB II; SINC, SSSI
|Access:||Access to School only||Ownership:||Clifton Catholic Children’s Society|
Location and Site
Melchet Court, now St Edward’s School, is situated very close to the border between Hampshire and Wiltshire, and it was not until the Parliamentary Act of 1895 that it finally became part of Hampshire. It lies adjacent to the A27 road, approximately seven miles from Romsey and eleven miles from Salisbury. It is between 50 and 70 metres above sea level, and situated on London clay, over Reading beds, over chalk with an iron pan to the north of the park (Jackson 1993, 8). To the south west, the house commands good views of the New Forest.
At the time of the Domesday Survey Melchet Wood was part of the Royal Forest of Clarendon. In the 13th century so much timber from Melchet Wood was used by various Priors that the Hundred Court protested ‘Melchet was being laid waste by gifts and sales by the King’. In 1357, the Sheriff of Wiltshire received an order to make a Lodge in the King’s Park of Melchet and it is probable that about 20 acres (8.1 ha) surrounding the lodge was enclosed. In 1577, Richard Audley, Chief Ranger, who lived in the Lodge, obtained a royal licence to enclose 240 acres (97.1 ha) of the Park. This was short lived as in 1610 Sir John Daccombe disparked Melchet of deer, turning part into pasture, part into arable and part coney warren. Nine years later, a lawsuit concerning the rights of Melchet led to a commission being held that showed there was little difference between the boundaries of the forest in 1278-79 and the early 17th century. It was about this time that the owner, Sir Laurence Hyde, on behalf of the inhabitants of Melchet, agreed to pay 20s yearly at Easter in lieu of tithes and all other dues that continued until early in the 20th century (Page 1911 online).
In 1664 Melchet Forest and Park were sold to Richard Coleman, and were eventually passed to the Tregagle family. It was probably Nathanial Tregagle, who in around 1766, planted the famous Hamburg vine in a vinery that was noted by a reporter from the Gardener’s Chronicle on a visit in 1906 (E.E.R. 1906, 32-3). The vinery was situated in a small walled garden to the west of the house shown on Andrews & Drury’s 1773 map. Also noted on this map are two avenues of trees radiating to the south of the house (Wiltshire & Swindon Community Project online). In 1790, Hassell, on a journey from Salisbury to Romsey, wrote that ‘Milch-Wood, a pleasant seat, the residence of colonel Osborne, which commands a very extensive prospect. The house, from the road, appears to be a well-built, convenient, and neat mansion, and the grounds are spacious, but with very few embellishments’ (Hassell 1790, 93 online). John Osborne had purchased the estate in 1785 (HRO 39M87/34). It was probably during his occupancy that the grounds were landscaped in the 18th-century Brownian manner, and Melchet Park Lake was constructed (Oswald 1930, 182). The 1810 OS map shows the house, Temple Park and lake as an integral part of the landscaped park. He also planted many rare specimens of foreign trees, of which the Californian pine, Pinus marcocarpa, still survives. In 1800, he had a Hindu Temple built to the north of the house, containing a bust of his friend, Warren Hastings. The Temple was the first of its kind and led to a short-lived Indian influence on English landscape design (Kate Harwood, personal communication, 16 April 2010). Osborne died in 1821 and by the middle of the 19th century the temple had been demolished. A Sequoiadendron giganteum appears to mark the place where it had stood.
In 1835 the park was purchased by Alexander Baring, who during that same year became the first Lord Ashburton. In 1862 the second Lord Ashburton, William Bingham Baring, commissioned Henry Clutton to design the present house built in a Jacobean style. It was built on the footprint of the old dwelling and was completed by his widow, Lady Louisa, in 1868, four years after William’s death. In 1873, a fire destroyed part of the house which was restored again by Henry Clutton (Oswald 1930, 178). About this time considerable alterations were made to the grounds: eventually there were five lodges, three near the entrance adjacent to the A27 road, and two nearer the house; the approach drive to the house was changed from the south to the north, and an avenue of lime trees was planted from Melchet Lake to the house. Across the drive from the new house entrance, stone balustraded steps with a small pool in the centre, led to Temple Park. The walled garden was enlarged, a gardener’s cottage was built within it, and many more glasshouses, potting sheds and bothy were erected. A terrace constructed beyond the southern front of the house bounded by more balustrades; and steps led from the upper terrace to an Italian Garden on a lower terrace, which was planted with complementary parterres and fountains. Two yew hedges were planted at right angles to one another between the house and the walled garden, eventually forming a series of arches. In the outer park belts of trees delineated the north, east and southern boundaries, while a stream marked the western boundary. To the south of the house, a small stream fed into a water garden planted with trees. Further south, Melchet Court Farm was also included within the boundary of the park. To the south west of the house, Queen’s Copse appears to have been a wilderness as it was interlaced with paths. North of the Copse and west of the walled garden, a Dingle was planted with Rhododendron and other shrubs (1st edition OS map; H.W.W .1881, 137-38; Page 1911 online).
Lady Louisa died in 1903. Eight years later the estate was sold to Sir Alfred Mond, who became Lord Melchett in 1928. Soon after his purchase he commissioned Darcy Braddell and Humphry Deane, two Arts & Crafts designers, to add a sunken garden, immediately in front of the house on the main terrace, and a Dutch garden, with a canal, bridge and gazebo, just to the east of it. In 1924, the gatehouse at the present entrance, also designed by Braddell and Deane, replaced a former lodge (HRO 97M72/BP1/217). Other additions beyond the lower terrace were a rock garden and a bathing pond to the south, and a rose garden to the west (Oswald 1930, 182). Lord Melchett died in 1935.
Subsequently, the estate was sold and split into separate lots, with much of the surrounding land reverting to farmland. There were various occupants until 1963 when the house and immediate grounds of 65 acres (26.3 ha) were purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bristol for a school. The school provides care and education for boys aged between 10 and 16+ who have behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. Facilities that have been added include: a swimming pool, gymnasium, and more classrooms; while the potting sheds have been converted into stables. The lower terrace is used as football and cricket pitches.
The stone balustrade around the upper terrace has been repaired and the pathways remain. On the terrace, the Arts & Crafts sunken garden has recently been restored by the staff and boys with funding from the Romsey and District Society. The Dutch garden, canal, bridge and gazebo are still in place and in good condition. In 2007 an area beyond the Dutch garden was cleared and a new chalk garden was created. Winchester artist John Souter was commissioned to produce a miniature version of his sculpture ‘Walk Tall’ which now stands in the new garden, reflecting the school’s ethos. Melchet Lake has been cleared and is used by the school for canoeing. Recently (2010) the rock garden and bathing pool, to the south of the house have been made accessible. Many trees, including the Cedars of Lebanon, planted by Osborne, were blown down by the storms of 1987 and 1990 (Larry Bartel, personal communication 16 April 2010; Tolley 2001 online).
Domesday wood, 16th century Deer Park, 18th century landscape park and walled garden, mid-late 19th century redesigned landscape park, garden and walled garden, early 20th century Arts & Crafts garden by Darcy Braddell and Humphry Deane, late 20th and 21st century parkland, garden, and walled garden adapted for school use. A new chalk garden was created early in the 21st century.
HGT Research: October 2010
Click here for School website
Hampshire Record Office (HRO)
39M87/34 Conveyance: messuage, Sherfield Warren & several cottages at Sherfield English, includes Melchett Court 1785
97M72/BP1/217 Proposed Gatehouse for Melchet Court 1924
1773 Andrews & Drury map (Wiltshire & Swindon Community Project online)
1st ed OS maps 25” and 6” Hampshire County Council
1830 OS map (Old Hampshire maps online)
Hassell, J. 1790 Tour of the Isle of Wight: http://books.google.co.uk [accessed 2 April 2010]
Page W. (ed.) 1911, A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 4 pp. 540-542. URL:
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=56876&strquery=Melchet [Accessed: 13 March 2010]. (Page 1911 online)
E.E.R., 1906, ‘Melchet Court, Romsey, Hampshire’, The Journal of Horticulture and Home Farmer, January 11, pp.32-3
H.W.W., 1881, ‘Melchet Court, Romsey’, The Gardeners’ Chronicle, January 29, 137-38 (Lindley Library)
Jackson, M., 1992 The History and Management of Melchet Park Near Romsey, Unpublished MSc thesis, Wye College, University of London.
Oswald, A., ‘Melchet Court, Romsey, Hampshire. The Seat of Lord Melchett’ in Country Life 1930 Aug 9th pp. 177-183