I’d much prefer the Manydown development didn’t have to happen. It’s another tract of countryside lost, concreting over another piece of history, over 700 years to be precise.
Manydown park was situated on lands of an ancient manor located by Wooton St. Lawrence before Norman times. As as woodland estate, some of its timber contributed to the building of the nave of the ‘new’ Winchester Cathederal around the 1390’s. For over 400 years, it was held by the Wither Family, and the last ‘Lord of the Manor’ was Col. S. Arthur Bates (1879-1958).
As a county, we’re marking the 200th annivesary of Jane Austen’s death and her contribution, we’re also about to start the process of building 3,500 homes* in an area of an estate she often frequented with her family. Although the site of the Manydown Park house is not under threat of development in the near future, a big swathe of land towards Basingstoke is and some great unspoilt countryside with it too. (Jane Austen also used to frequent neighbouring Worting House, which will be feeling the effects of the Manydown development much more closely.)
Jane Austen’s connections with Manydown are well documented. She even had an offer of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither, which she refused. I’ve read lots of blogs from Austen historians and fans – even the Basingstoke Gazette has run articles occasionally about the literal significance of ‘Manydown’, just a couple of miles from her Steventon home. However, I’ve always been surprised how little has been really made of it by the authorities. Could they have done more to protect the house, or even tapped in on it’s potential ? (Here’s a thought… A ‘visitor attraction’ that fans could have flocked to, paying homage to their heroine, in an authentic location). Look how popular ‘Chawton House’ is & how her connection to Winchester is lauded. Austen’s enduring popularity shows no sign of waning, but some of significant sites we can attribute to her life around Basingstoke have been lost. But hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing…
Even without the threat of approaching development, it does seem odd that the house on this site of a Manor for centuries, was allowed to be erased so easily. Today, walking from the B3400 entrance near Newfound, (I have to admit, its marked by a dissapointing modernish brick gate). Its grounds are still a pleasant setting for a walk as you follow up the lane, and hint of signs of the past with the old farm buildings, and even in the overgrown boundaries the frames of gardeners greenhouses and some signs of iron park fencing remain. And yet the ‘main event’ is no longer there to be seen, which is a much strange, as it is sad.
By the early 1960’s The house at Manydown was doomed to be demolished, its contents sold off, and today the site is a self storage depot, on leased farmland.
We do have to remember in the post-war environment, our attitudes to landowners and their property was at best indifferent – The political mood of the times, with the effect of the world wars, had changed society. The old ruling classes were not seen in the same light, so as a consequence, not everyone felt sympathy for preserving ‘the past’ was as important when there were immediate ecomonic concerns that needed addressing.
Also It was becoming increasingly costly for a landowner to maintain to their properties.
But nationally and locally, there was cultural alarm how just quickly the past was being wiped away. The house was registered for ‘special architectural and historical interest’
but in the end, this wasn’t enough to save it!
The last Lord of Manydown had a daughter, Anne who would not have inherited the title. On Col. S. Arthur Bates death in 1958, the Oliver-Bellasis family, whom she had married into took over the running of estate. They went on to establish the Manydown Company with 4,000 acres of arable land and other properties to manage.
The facts are by the early 1960’s, The family had moved into a more managable property on the estate and Manydown House was sitting empty. There had been auctions to sell off it’s content. (see example below). Some articles say the house was demolished by 1965,
but Acording to the Gazette, in April 1966, workmen were at the house carrying out further dismantling. On May 3rd, sparks from a nearby bonfire contributed to set light to the house. Attempts were made to stop the spread of the fire and save nearby cattle, but by the following morning the house was gutted. I’ll be grateful if someone can share some light on any news articles this from the time, as I have not been able to find any of this event…
The Auction catalogue from 1962
As an estate everyone locally would know Manydown as a busy working farm, and it still is – Their working footprint is visable all around through the seasons. However, In 1996 it’s trustees agreed that Basingstoke and the Hampshire County Council would be allowed to purchased the estate. The Council’s intention has always been to earmark this land for future development needs. The land was then re-let back to the Manydown company and whilst still farming the land, have established a farm shop and the family fun park, which are popular additions.
The whole time I have been living in and around Basingstoke, the arguments over future development have raged, and it seems politically used as football by all parties, but deep down we know this couldn’t really be stopped, even with the consultation process.
I get there is a need for housing, and I am sympathetic to those who are having difficulty getting on the property ladder. ‘Manydown’ is the flagship project for Basingstoke & Deane. It’s way and above the one largest site for development around the borough so there is a lot riding on it. We will have to wait see what transpires and how successful the project is in terms of ‘co-ordination’. I just wish the same enthusiasm and conviction had been there earlier to protect the heritage.
Whilst parts of Manydown are on ‘death row’, I’ll do my best to capture some images of the landscapes in a future blog… In the meantime, please do visit the countryside where you can access numerous walks. Sadly, There will probably be better parking facilities when the development starts, but if you can venuture from Winklebury into Worting Park Wood, or from Wooton St. Lawrence, you will find it a pleasant surprise.
For those wishing to know more on the history of Manydown, can I direct readers to ‘The Manor of Manydown‘ by G.W. Kitchin, and Ken Smallbone’s ‘History of the Manor of Manydown and properties within that Manor’ Vol 1 1800 – 1900.