New Forest Historic Houses – the Forest contains many impressive houses and the following is a brief history of some of the more prominent of these buildings that dominate their local landscapes.
QUEENS HOUSE, Lyndhurst
This is one of the most prominent of New Forest historic houses with thousands of cars passing it daily. Depending on the gender of the monarch, this house is named either King’s House or Queen’s House.
Over the centuries, the site on which Queen’s House now stands has housed a Manor House of the Royal Manor of Lyndhurst, a Royal residence (Hunting Lodge), a Court of Justice and the Administration Office of the New Forest. The site stands on a knoll that once overlooked the whole of Lyndhurst but the level of the surrounding area was subsequently built up, particularly by a large artificial mound to accommodate the village church which dates from 1861.
Records indicate that a Manor House on the site was in existence in the reign of King Edward I (also known as Edward Longshanks and Hammer of the Scots) and it is likely that his Queen (Eleanor of Castille) resided there for lengthy periods. It is known that she made Lyndhurst her home during her husband’s absences at war against the Welsh which took place periodically between 1276 and 1294.
In 1388 the Verderers Hall was added to the Manor House and forest courts were held there for offences against the Forest Laws. Records also indicate that the old manor house was subsequently repaired and enlarged by King Henry VIII (1509 – 1547).
The present structure, which still incorporates part of the old medieval lodge, dates mainly from the reigns of Charles I and Charles II and although it has been altered and restored several times since, it is believed to be the only surviving house of this period in the whole of the county of Hampshire. It was in 1634 that Charles I ordered the re-construction the building at a cost of £1563, which was a considerable sum in those days. The new building was intended for use as a royal residence whenever the royal family visited the New Forest but the English Civil War intervened which resulted in the execution of Charles in 1649, after a period of imprisonment in Hurst Castle. It was left to his eventual successor, King Charles II, to complete the work.
The main occupant of this “new” house was the King’s representative, the Lord Warden of the Forest, who was responsible for collecting Forest dues on behalf of the Crown. The holder of this post would also entertain the monarch and accompanying entourage whenever they made visits to the New Forest. The last Lord Warden of the New Forest was Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, the son of King George III, who is believed to have been the last monarch to stay at the house. Upon the death of the Duke of Cambridge in 1850, the post of Lord Warden lapsed and control of the Crown land of the New Forest passed to the Commissioners of Woods – the predecessor of the Forestry Commission (now Forestry England).
The senior officer of the Commissioners for Woods in the New Forest was the Deputy Surveyor whose offices were housed at New Park in Brockenhurst. As King’s House (as it was then called) had remained empty after the death of the Duke of Cambridge it was decided to relocate the Deputy Surveyor and his staff there. Since that time it has remained the administration office of the New Forest and currently houses the Forestry Commission and its senior officer still retains the title of Deputy Surveyor.
At the far end of the building next to Lyndhurst church, it is adjoined by the Verderers’ Court (pictured above). The Verderers were originally servants of the Crown and administered the laws of the Forest in their Court of Justice. This role gradually fell into disuse over the centuries but was resurrected by the New Forest Act of 1877. Under this Act, the Verderers ceased to be servants of the Crown and instead were given powers to control the grazing and health of the animals turned out on the Forest and regulate the rights of commoners. They still undertake this role today and whilst they no longer have any judicial powers, they have an important say in matters affecting the Forest. They continue to meet on the third Wednesday of every month in the Verderers’ Court.
NORTHERWOOD HOUSE, Emery Down
Driving into Lyndhurst on the Beaulieu Road, you cannot fail to notice the imposing light coloured Georgian mansion that sits on raised ground overlooking the village – Northerwood House.
The building dates back to c.1780 and has had many residents although none are of any significant historical importance. Its first occupant was Robert Ballard who had been Mayor of Southampton in 1741 and again in 1750. King George III made a visit to the house in 1789 in order to admire the view and for a while after it was known as Mount Royal.
A subsequent occupant was the Earl of Londesborough (grandfather of poet and author Dame Edith Sitwell). Londesborough (1834 – 1900) maintained a number of houses in London and the provinces and was a benefactor of the musical theatre (and many of its actresses!).
In more recent times it was used by the Army and as a maternity home for Southampton women during the Second World War. It was subsequently given to the Forestry Commission and was used as a training centre and accommodation for forestry students. During the 1970s it was converted into luxury flats and apartments.
The much photographed thatched cottages that overlook the cricket pitch at Swan Green were built in the early 1800s as workers cottages for the Northerwood Estate.
RHINEFIELD HOUSE, Brockenhurst
Driving from Brockenhurst towards the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, it is impossible to fail to notice the imposing mansion that is Rhinefield House. The current building dates back to the late 1880s but it is believed that there have been various structures on the site since the time of William the Conqueror.
During the 17th century a large Master Keeper’s Lodge was situated on the site – the role of Master Keeper was largely a “grace and favour” appointment by the Sovereign. The Master Keepers in the New Forest nominally reported to the Lord Warden and were all members of the nobility who took no real active role in the management of the forest as this was left to their Groom Keepers (predecessors of the current New Forest Keepers).
By the time of the Deer Removal Act in 1851 the lodge had been reduced in size and importance and was occupied by a Groom Keeper. Subsequent to the Act of 1851 there was no longer a need for the position of Groom Keeper at Rhinefield and by 1859 the dwelling was used by a forest nurseryman who was responsible for the creation of the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive.
Around 1877 the site was acquired by the Walker family who were Nottinghamshire colliery owners of considerable wealth. In 1885 their only daughter became engaged to Lieutenant Munro RN and her father gifted her the sum of £250,000 to build a family home at Rhinefield. After her marriage in 1887 the couple adopted the name Walker-Munro and supervised the construction of an impressive countryseat which is now the Rhinefield House Hotel.
The Walker-Munros had one son after which Mrs Walker-Monro could not conceive again and this son became estranged from the family. Her husband died in 1923 and she became a benefactor of various charities until her death in 1934. She had intended to leave her considerable estate to charity, but having revoked one will she had not signed another at the time of her death and died intestate. As a consequence, the one thing that she wanted to avoid happened – her son inherited the estate. Upon his death in 1950 the death duties were so substantial that his widow was forced to sell.
Prior to that, during the Second World War it was used by the top secret Special Operations Executive (SOE), most likely as an adjunct to the SOE “Finishing School” that was located on the Beaulieu Estate.
In the post war period it operated as a private school for a short period and since 1982 it has been a hotel under various ownerships including Richard Branson.
PALACE HOUSE, Beaulieu
Perhaps the most famous of all the New Forest historic houses is Palace House in Beaulieu. Approaching Beaulieu village from the Lyndhurst direction, the large mansion called Palace House comes into view across the tidal mill pond.
Beaulieu’s origins date back to 1204 when King John granted the Cistercian Order of monks 10,000 acres of land including the estuary of the Beaulieu River. In addition King John and his son, King Henry III, granted large endowments to the monks enabling them to build abbey buildings on a very grand scale (larger than Winchester Cathedral). The monks continued in residence until 1538 when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. Any buildings used for religious purposes on the estate were pulled down and the only ones that remained were the monks’ refectory, now Beaulieu village church, and the lay brothers’ dormitory, known as the Domus which has been restored and used as a function room. The stone from the demolished buildings were used to build Calshot Castle at the mouth of Southampton Water in 1540.
In 1538 Henry VIII granted the estate to Thomas Wriothseley, 1st Earl of Southampton, an ancestor of the current owners, the Monatgu family. The estate has been passed down by Wriothesley’s descendants, twice through the female line, to the present day.
Wriothseley built a Hunting Lodge over the Great Gatehouse to Beaulieu Abbey. He held estates elsewhere in the county and Beaulieu was not his main base. Many generations later, in the Eighteenth century, the gatehouse was expanded to become a Victorian country house that we see today and has been a family home ever since.
In 1952, it was one of the first stately homes to be opened to the public and around this time a few of the family’s collection of vintage motor vehicles were displayed in front of the house. The collection quickly expanded and by 1956 it was housed in wooden buildings and this was the origins of the National Motor Museum which moved to its present purpose built accommodation in 1972.
EXBURY HOUSE, Exbury
Exbury House is another of the New Forest historic houses and is situated on the east bank of the Beaulieu River south of Beaulieu. It stands centrally within its extensive gardens and grounds, with views over the Solent and the Isle of Wight. The core of the house dates from the 18th century, the property at that time being in the ownership of William Mitford and it passed down through several generations of that family. During their tenure, they opened a brickworks at Exbury and built the current Exbury village using the characteristic yellow brick that it produced.
In the 1880s Henry Mitford was appointed British Ambassador to Japan and sold Exbury to John (later Lord) Forster, the brother in law of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. John Forster had two sons who were both killed during WW1 and large memorial to them can be found in the village church. After these tragic events Lord Forster was offered the job of Governor-General of Australia and in 1919 sold the Exbury Estate to Lionel de Rothschild, a member of the banking dynasty and close friend of Lord Montagu. The entire estate comprises around 2000 acres in total and still remains in the ownership of the Rothschild family.
Lionel de Rothschild, affectionately known as “Mr. Lionel”, worked tirelessly from 1919 until his death in 1942 on creating the landscaped woodland and gardens, for which Exbury is world famous. He was a keen sponsor of the great Plant Hunters of his day, and as a result of his efforts Exbury is full of exotic plant species sourced from all around the world. In particular, his enthusiasm for rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias is very evident around the 200 acre gardens today. The gardens are open to the public – for details visit the Exbury Gardens website.
During the Second World War Exbury House was requisitioned by the Navy when it became HMS Mastodon and was responsible for the administration of victualling, arming and training of crews for the landing craft that were used in amphibious assaults against occupied Europe that we now know as D Day. During this period it was fictionalised by author Neville Shute in his novel ‘Requiem For A Wren’, set in part at Exbury. Shute was a serving naval officer who was often billeted at Mastodon during the war years.
MOYLES COURT, Rockford
This is one of the New Forest historic houses with a bloody past! Situated on the western extremity of the New Forest National Park in the hamlet of Rockford is its former manor house, Moyles Court. Rockford was mentioned in the Domesday Book and by the 13th century was held by the Moels family from whom the present house gets its name. The manor passed through male and female lines of the Moels family and by 1638 was held by Alice Lisle.
Dame Alice Lisle was the wife of Sir John Lisle who was a judge in the execution of King Charles I and who was later assassinated in 1664 by a Royalist supporter. After his death Dame Alice continued to reside at Moyles Court and in 1685 she agreed to give shelter a Nonconformist minister and his colleague who had both fought for the defeated side in the Monmouth Rebellion that had been crushed the same year. The day after she sheltered them, she was arrested along with the two men – they were arrested as traitors and she was accused of harbouring them. The arrest was made by Colonel Penrodduck who had no sympathy for Dame Alice as her husband had been a member of the Cromwellian court that sentenced Penrodduck’s father to death years earlier for supporting Charles I.
Dame Alice Lisle, who was then aged 68, was tried at Winchester Castle and claimed that she was unaware that two men whom she had sheltered had been members of the Duke of Monmouth’s defeated army. Her trial was one of the first of the “Bloody Assizes” that followed the Monmouth Rebellion and the jury were reluctant to find her guilty on the evidence provided. However, the trial judge was the notorious Judge Jefferies and he overruled his jury and sentenced Dame Alice to death by burning. After pleas to King James II, her method of death was commuted from burning to beheading. The sentence was carried out on 2nd September 1685 in Winchester Market Place.
After her death the property passed to her son and down through the Lisle family until 1822 when it was sold to the Earl of Normanton with Ellingham. The present Grade II listed building dates back to the late 17th century but was altered in the 19th and 20th centuries.
During the Second World War it was requisitioned and used as Station HQ and Officers Mess for the nearby RAF Ibsley and in recent years the property has been used as an independent school.