It’s an afternoon in August and, after the morning’s continuous rain, my wife and I have been out for a brisk walk around the wooded roads of Brownhill, Merdon, Lake and Lakewood. It’s warm and the overpowering sweet smell of Scots pine and Douglas fir pervades the landscape. There are still large numbers of conifers among the mature oak trees where they were once a dominant species.
I first moved into Lakewood Road in 1955 when the woodlands prevailed; the area to the west of the Lake was a pine forest through which I regularly went horse-riding. It is now, tragically, an inaccessible tangle of overgrown species – but that’s another story!
At that time, in the rectangle of land formed by Hiltingbury, Hocombe, Lakewood and Hursley Roads, there was little development, the oldest house being our neighbours’ house,The White House, the land for which had been acquired in 1908. The area was woodland and heathland. I galloped across this land frequently and, like many other boys, rode my bike aerobatically over ‘the bumps’ behind the present Ashdown Road.
As a young boy, I had that wonderful sense of freedom, space and adventure. The land was ripe to be plundered and developed and, from the 1890s, the land from Ford to Brownhill, and Hiltingbury to Hocombe was destined to fall under the woodman’s axe to make way, initially, for exclusive houses.
It is not surprising that, in the 1890s, portions of the vast Hursley Estate had been sold off, bought by William Lodge Wallis and his wife, Mary, and the Chamberlaynes of Cranbury Park. Wallis had made his money from selling land at Eastleigh for the Railways and recognised the potential of buying land to sell on. The Wallises bought the Ford and Hiltingbury/Hocombe portion, a triangle of land south of the Cranbury Estate and in 1892, Mary Wallis bought the Brownhill Estate, also from the Heathcote family’s Hursley Estate.
The couple built their first grand home in 1894 and Kings Court is still in existence today. Realising the potential of the area, in a very short time the land was divided up and sold for development. The Times, in 1896, marketed the area as ‘a charming neighbourhood with a salubrious climate and well timbered’.
Wallis told his friends and acquaintances that the area was like an inland Bournemouth and it certainly felt like that on our afternoon walk.
By 1901 the Wallises had moved to another large house in Brownhill Road. The following two splendid Edwardian houses, Nos: 77 and 81 Brownhill Road, were built on land sold by Mary Wallis in 1899.
Mary Wallis also sold land in Valley Road for building development in the early 1900s. The following picture – of 10 Valley Road – is an example of the stylish Edwardian houses that were being built there at that time.
One of my favourite houses in Chandler’s Ford is No: 6 Park Road, again on land sold by Mary Wallis in 1895. Recognisable by the four spectacular chimneys and decorative fascia boards it is truly a treasure and a credit to those early builders.
The Wallises must have made a fortune because they then built Chandler’s Ford’s piece de resistance, Merdon House, situated in what is now Merdon Close. This house was, without doubt, the jewel in the crown of Chandler’s Ford’s Edwardian houses with its decorative belvedere, extensive gardens with exotic plants and ornamental rocks and six ponds or water gardens, overgrown but still there today as part of the Lakes complex. It was built in 1904 and, tragically, demolished in 1960. What a loss to the architecture of the vllage.
Magnificent houses sprang up in the early 1900s, many with extensive grounds and lodges; again, tragically, some are no more. Connaught Lodge and Terriote in Brownhill Road and Limberlost in Lakewood Road have disappeared, their grounds sold off for profitable housing development. Much of the land surrounding the grand Edwardian houses has also been lost to the chainsaw and the bulldozer for smaller houses.
Merrieleas thankfully survives. Built in the early years of the twentieth century, it is now divided into flats while the attractive houses and bungalows in Merrileas Drive and Merrileas Close were built on its estate. Its Lodge also survives.
There are still some of the grand houses around: the beautiful Garth House remains in Lakewood Road and the outstanding Ormiston House stands proudly in its large grounds in Merdon Avenue.
In 1924, land in Hiltingbury was divided into lots and sold and substantial family homes built in roads like Lakewood Road and along the main Winchester Road.
In the 1950s, my father bought a plot of land in the upper part of Lakewood Road. It was full of deciduous and coniferous trees and had a dense floor covering of bramble, bracken and rosebay willow herb. I demolished the former family home in 2004 and built the new Wykeham House. Two of my former homes in Chandler’s Ford were built in the grounds of larger properties, so I followed a trend set many years before and am as guilty as anyone before me who has changed the face of Chandler’s Ford!!
Hiltingbury and Hocombe are now a special policy area.
In order to protect the special character of Hiltingbury, the subdivision or redevelopment of plots will not be permitted unless the following criteria are met:
- The size of a plot is not significantly smaller than those in the immediate vicinity
- It must not prejudice existing healthy, mature trees on the site
- It must not involve backland or tandem development
- It must be sympathetic to the arcadian character of the locality.
If these rules had been in place fifty years ago, the character of Chandler’s Ford would be very different. As it is, it’s a delightful and popular place to live inhabited by the most friendly and sociable people you’d meet anywhere.
• The Land Registry
• Hiltingbury Lakes (Merdon House Gardens) – Hampshire Garden Trust
• Chandler’s Ford Local History Blog 2006
• Chandler’s Ford – Barbara Hillier