Vernon Hill House (Vernon Hill)

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HCC Site ID: 1504 Parish: Bishops Waltham
Designations: House LB II, SDNP Area: c2.5 ha
Access: Access See NGS Ownership: Private

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Location and Site

Vernon Hill House lies north of Bishops Waltham, approached via a narrow lane off the B3035, to Corhampton, within the South Downs National Park. The soil is clay

Historic Development

Early parts of the house date from the first half of the 17th Century when  it was a small manor house built of red brick. A rental book for the manor of Bishops Waltham records the various owners of the property, indicating that the owner of the house prior to the 18th century was someone named ‘young’. In the early 18th century it was owned by Admiral Vernon (1684-1757) when the name of the property became ‘Vernon’ to commemorate the Admiral’s important victories at sea. What the property was called before is unclear. Property in S Hampshire and close to Portsmouth was attractive to captains and admirals, being havens when not at sea.

A map of nearby Ashton Tithing survives from 1769 showing holdings at St Cross Hospital, Winchester.  The tithing also notes the surrounding properties with the site of the present Vernon Hill House shown as a simple square house, facing Vernon Hill. It is  labelled “M. Vernon’s”. Several 18th century records of ownership in the nearby village of Ashton record Thomas Vernon, resident in the house. An inventory for the house, 1771, notes a parlour, a tapestry parlour, a little room between the Hall and parlour, a Porch, Upper kitchen, a ‘dark room’, a Pantry, a dark hole a lower kitchen, outer cellar, inner cellar, wooden house, garden, barn, hall chamber ‘with closet, adjoining’, a Blue chamber, Staircase, Best staircase, Little Tapestry room, Two maids rooms, and “Mr Vernon’s” room. Also mentioned are Mr Thomas Vernon’s Coat of Arms and a print of Admiral Vernon in ‘Mr Vernon’s room’. A list of personal items suggests that the small manor house had been enlarged and that  this was Vernon’s main residence. There is a very detailed inventory of another house belonging to Vernon, however, so there remains a mystery of quite which house was his main residence.

By 1771, a record by Daniel Paterson notes that Vernon Hill House was now the residence of Captain Charles Robinson and by 1786 it was advertised’ to let in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 24th July. The house is described as having a most delightful garden, stabling for 3 horses, a good barn and  8 acres of land.  By 1787 a Captain Pervis took a short lease but Captain Robinson is again recorded as the owner in 1804 and 1811.  At this time, the house was used as a ’holding centre’ for house arrest of French officers captured during the Napoleonic wars. It is suggested that Captain Robinson carried out changes such as the stucco finish, the porch with balusrading and the gothic porch on the northern front. A rental book for the Manors of Bishop Waltham notes that Captain Robinson is still the owner. The first Ordnance Survey map, 1810, house is shown as ‘Vernon Hill’ in its present position. In 1814, the house was advertised to let again, now with about 12 acres. A brewhouse, milkhouse and attached offices are noted as well as an excellent garden   with a melon ground.

The Tithe map, 1841, states that the house is still owned by Captain Charles Robinson and occupied by Mrs Doherty. It is described as a house and garden bordered by an orchard, with a lower and upper part and little meadow. The house is shown as a rectangular block with two projecting bays on the southern elevation and a circular pathway past the main entrance. There  is an outbuilding to the east,  and a sweeping driveway is indicated along the same elevation. Outbuildings named in the 1814 advertisement are also noted. In 1842, a further ‘to let’ advertisement described Vernon Hill as ‘…being in the occupation of Mrs Doherty…’, with an excellent garden and orchard and 7 1/2  acres of pasture and a most extensive and delightful view of the surrounding countryside.

At some point soon after being ‘to let’, the house is known to have been bought by Sir Arthur Helps, a writer and the Dean of the Privy Council under Queen Victoria though he probably didn’t move in until 1846. He notes ‘the property is a quaint house that has grown out of a cottage by three and four ‘additions’. Helps proceeded to buy up surrounding areas of land to extend the estate. The property lay at the junction  of two high quality clay beds and in 1862 he set up the Bishop Waltham Clay Company, making high quality bricks, terra cotta and pottery. He also bought 835 acres to the south of Bishops Waltham and invested heavily in Bishops Waltham Gas and Railway companies. Helps also made major changes to the Vernon House, dramatically extending it with a brick extension  east wing (replacing the existing outbuilding) consisting of a turret room and several smaller rooms. He also created a brick and flint storehouse to the east of the main house which survives today. Helps left in the late 1867 and the house was sold with ‘1300 acres consisting of gardens, pleasure grounds, shrubberies as well as several well-arranged farms and homesteads, productive water meadows, cottages, fishing streams and capital shooting’.  In 1871, it was let to James Butler Fellowes. Helps was reputedly in debt and after his death in 1875, the large Vernon Hill estate was broken up and sold.

Major Robert Eldington was the next owner, and after his death in 1904 his family continued to live there until 1919. The property was reduced to 218 acres by 1919 but still included two farmhouses. Sales details note several changes – a small  change to the chimneys on the north side and the Helps extension to the east of the house is slightly different. By 1926, the then owner Captain Montague applied to alter the storehouse into a dwelling. From 1933,  new owners were General Bryan James, then General Curling and in 1949  with only 36 acres and two farmhouses, it was bought by Peter Leigh in 1949, who on the death of his father became Lord Newton.

The gardens had deteriorated during the war and though some trees were over 250 years old, there was little else of interest. Lady Newton began a restoration of the gardens  with a lily pond and fountain, a sundial and a rose garden. A copse was created and a rhododendron garden and later a hot garden, a golden garden and a Mediterranean garden.  Lady Newton continued to live at Vernon Hill after the death of Sir Peter in 1992, until her death in 2010.

Current Description

The house has undergone considerable restoration by the new owners, following the death of Lady Newton. There has been both restoration and development within the house, and the gardens close to the house have been re-designed. The entrance to the house remains at the Georgian frontage together with vehicle access to the barn area. The fountain and small pond have been retained within the impressive new planting scheme.

Summary and Significance

The house has been extensively restored and updated whilst retaining many of its historic features. The gardens have been re-designed and re-planted to further emphasise the historic importance  of the site in the Bishops Waltham area.

References: Vernon Hill House by  Priscilla Fryer 2002

Vernon Hill House: Historic Development by Adam Archtecture

Hampshire Record Office

Research: Updated 2020


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