‘The charm and genius of of our domestic architecture lay in its gradual and continuous development.’
Vita Sackville-West, English Country Houses
The History of Pittleworth Manor
When people use the word ‘timeless’ in relation to a country house, I always have a sneaking suspicion that they mean that the house is such a hotchpotch of windows, wings, chimneys and the occasional turret that it is practically impossible to date them. Pittleworth certainly fits in with the Sackville-West dictum that houses should evolve over the years: and not just the building but the name. The first mention of a Manor on the site is during the reign of Edward the Confessor (crowned 1042), when it was held by one Ulnod and named Puteleorde, and it is mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086 when it is held by Humfrey the Chamberlain under archbishop Thomas.
The manor’s name changes almost as regularly as its ownership between the 13thand 14thcenturies: when it was known variously as Putlesworth, Puttlesworde, Pettleworth and Peterworth. As an ardent Rebeccafan, I am pleased to note that the Manor was once owned by the widowed Agnes Danvers in the 1320s.
The oldest part of the house still existing is the south-west chimney, the rooms behind it, the dining room and the panelled bedroom are certainly the oldest rooms in the house: possibly 14thcentury.
In 1412, one John Uvedale bought the Manor from John Shipton. The Uvedale family owned the Manor for the next 182 years. Sometime between 1412 and 1500, they built what is now the back of the house. There would have been no corridors on the upper floor, all the bedrooms simply ran into each other. In the cellars, from this period, it is possible to see the remains of the Tudor kitchens.
The Uvedale family are responsible for Pittleworth’s most interesting feature: it’s Tudor murals on the walls of what is now the dining room, which attest to the firm Catholicism of the family in an era of increasing religious persecution. Between 1558 and 1588, the house passed to Anthony Uvedale, a known recusant*. In 1588 Anthony passed the Manor to a Kinsman William Uvedale. My own theory is that —1588 being the date of the Armada— he jumped before he was pushed, fearing that his home might be confiscated.
If their intention was to keep the house in the family, Anthony and William failed and, in 1594, they jointly sold the house to Edward Kelsey and it passed to his son, also Edward, on his death.
*ie refusing to take communion in the Church of England: a punishable offence.
A Farming Community
Whatever tribulations may have afflicted the occupants of the Manor in these centuries, from outside it must be envisaged as the heart of a busy agricultural community; close to the house there were farm buildings and even at one point a hop garden for brewing beer. The old cob wall that still encloses part of the garden is the same wall that surrounds part of the next door Pittleworth farmyard. This was a farmstead. There was also a chapel in the copse to the north-east of the house and probably several cottages. This was a small hamlet with the Manor at its heart.
It was probably one Henry Kelsey, in the very early 1700s, who put a new front on the house. Seen from the side, Pittleworth is very clearly two houses pushed together. Kelsey’s addition gave the house two small ‘wings’ at the front and thus two extra room upstairs and down. It also added the upstairs corridor, for which those of us who like our privacy must give fervent thanks.
In 1734 the house was sold to Sir William Heathcoat, who owned and lived at the Hursley estate about ten miles away. Pittleworth now became a farmstead in good earnest. At one point, the house was broken up for flats for farm workers, explaining the small oven we discovered in one of the upstairs fireplaces. The Heathcoats sold the house in 1881 (the height of the agricultural depression in England. The house had two owners in quick succession and then, in 1902, passed into the hands of a Mr George Briscoe, owner of the next door Hildon Estate.
Artist in Residence: The Interwar Period
At what point the house was again ‘gentrified’ and used as one residence, we do not know but at some point in the late 19th century, an extension was put onto the north side of the house, containing a laundry and scullery, so presumably by them the house was being used as one again.
In the 1920s the house was rented by Sir Austin Harris, a banker, and his wife. His son-in-law was the famous cartoonist, architectural historian and author Osbert Lancaster; apparently, he used to work in what is now my study: then known as ‘the telephone room’!
During the 1930s the house was rented by the Du Boulay family, a cousin of the family who stayed there remembered it as a dark and frightening house and the family went so far as to get the house exorcised.
During the 1940s, Pittleworth had a quiet war: at least figuratively. The house was empty for most of the decade. On a more literal level the house cannot have been quiet at all. German bombers attacking Southampton frequently dropped bombs in the area, either running low on fuel or encountering fighters, scrambled from Middle Wallop. Over 300 bombs were dropped on the next door Bossington Estate and Pittleworth cannot have been any quieter. There are large craters in the surrounding fields. I have sometimes speculated that the lead window panes replaced with wood, may have been due to bomb blast.
Dereliction and Resurrection
After the war, the Dawson family who owned Hildon, and by extension Pittleworth, had decided to remain in Canada after the war and my grandfather bought the Hildon estate to add to Bossington. My mother, then a child of ten, remembered playing in the grounds of the deserted Pittleworth, the lawns run wild. She also remembered she and her friends daring each other to wriggle under the shutters into the room with the murals. Much more importantly to children, this room was reputedly haunted with a bloodstain!
However, Richard Fairey knew that he did not have long to live and, under a post-war Labour government, death duties were running at an all-time high. Fairey was already struggling to maintain Bossington House and keep it for his wife. He had neither money nor time to spare for the other two large houses on his enlarged estate. Hildon House was pulled down, Pittleworth, after being rented again by sir Austin Harris again in the 1950s, was sold to the Saunders family, who lived there for thirty years. John Saunders was an architect and made many changes to the house, to make it a family home. The front porch is his work. The beautiful copper beech on the left of the drive was planted to commemorate the birth of their second daughter, Caroline.
To the Present
In 1986, the Saunders’s decided to sell Pittleworth and my mother bought the house from them. In 2010, Pittleworth Manor Farm came into being; we had split out from the wider Bossington estate. Inadvertently, we had followed almost exactly the lies of the old Hildon Estate.
Once again, in its long history, Pittleworth is at the centre of a small Hampshire estate, the River Test flows along its Eastern boundary, as it has since the main river channels were first cut by Dutch engineers in the sixteenth century. It is our home but, with the farm office at its heart, it is also our workplace. It is the place I grew up in and the place I am privileged to raise my children in. It is a house full of stories, doling out its secrets every century or so, surviving war, neglect and the many hazards such houses are prey to but also repaying the love and care that so many have poured into its walls over the centuries.