Recently, I’ve been pre-occupied with starting the new job, that I’ve not had the opportunity to think about new subjects for the blog. My new commute takes me by a place I had heard of before, that had witnessed a dramatic change to its appearance. I just had to make some time to do this, with Christmas approaching fast.
Stratton Park, sits pretty much mid-way between Basingstoke & Winchester, off the A33. The M3 now cuts along its western edge, but there some have also been some dramatic changes to the house. Despite seeing photos, (and its impossible not to have an opinion on it when you see them), it was still an eye-opener to witness in it’s ‘current’ form…
As the old map above shows, The roman road between Winchester & Silchester, run on the Western edge of the park and sadly this stretch is now under under the M3 Motorway. The village of East Stratton at its southern boundary, like many villages close to an estate, has found its fortunes effected by the landowner’s decision on more than one occasion.
I finally arranged a time to go and explore. Saturday December 9th started off quite cold and by lunchtime the bright sun of the morning had turned watery. Still wrapped up well, the frost had mostly cleared except for a few pockets. Parking at the village hall and turning right to the small village of East Stratton, I passed the church on my left.
I was surprised by the quiteness considering we were so close to the Motorway, but the stretch nearby is just 2 lanes and maybe a factor, The village is shielded by woodland.
The first junction I came to, by the war memorial I turned left. The road was unamed, but it was a right of way. I thought I knew the purpose of my walk, but here I had my first surprise with the varied types of cottages of different era’s around me. Feeling seasonal with decorations displayed on doors, but it was a real architectural surprise. The cold dampness of the day added to their rustic charm. As thatch cottages, maybe it is only now we desire them for the quaintness, but in the past they may have not been seen as so desirable to the nearby gentry.
This is emphasised by the last house on left, which was quite large – and not thatched.
I assume connected to the estate in some way, and quite separate in style having a ‘grander’ presence than other properties. The road became more unmade and It was here I got my first glimpse of my destination – the ‘new’ Stratton Park.
But before we look at the house, The second surprise of the walk. Marked as a cross on the O.S. Landranger Map, the more detailed maps tells us this was actually the site of East Stratton’s first Church.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time of the walk, but from looking at some old maps since, was to find the village was bigger in the past. Though probably not as acurate as newer maps, we can see dwellings clearly marked on lanes (I have indicated in yellow). It seems also like the ‘centre’ of the village with a broad clearing, (almost acting as a village square?), and more importantly the site of the old church makes some sense. On later maps, a school was still shown to be in use, and now as one of the houses that has managed to survive. I would think this helps link the relationship between the Villages of ‘East’ and ‘West’ Stratton in a way which is not so obvious now. They were always seperated by the main Winchester to London Road, but today they seem distinctly apart as access has been changed.
We are fortuntate to have reference to the old Church in J.P. Neale’s engraving of the house. From this angle, it does look ‘close’ to the property, but that sounds like I’m justifying its removal! I don’t know what sort of man Francis Baring, the Earl of Northbrook was, but he didn’t want the church, or villagers too close to his estate…
The decision to remove The medieval church of ‘All Saints’ from the Stratton Park, (like at nearby Laverstoke), demonstrated an ‘absolute power’ landowners could wield in pretty much being able to do what they wanted on their land, and few could stop them. What ever would the villagers of East Stratton felt, having their place of worship for hundreds of years moved as well as their dwellings? The site of the old church was duly marked with this cross – seen as ‘sacred’ land. However the landlord, The 4th Baron Ashburton, went about it, The village was provided a new church, which was dedicated in 1888, and was the one I passed earlier as I started he walk. To the casual eye, this church looks like it has been there longer than 130 years…
My main reason for this walk has be to see the house. Surprise number 3. As I said, It’s impossible not to have a reaction to Stratton Park and yet I’m not as shocked by it as I thought I might be… True, the 60’s structure hasn’t aged well, if we are talking purely about the materials. It looks quite tired. At a distance it reminds me of some examples of post war architecture with the idea to juxtapose old with new architcture. (I’m thinking of examples I have seen at St. Lukes quad in Exeter, or The Guildhall in the City of London).
In The 60’s, The 7th (and current) Lord Baring set about pulling down the house and replacing it with modernist build by Stephen Gardiner and Christopher Knight between 1963 – 65. The only feature of the main house to survive was the Portico.
John Baring had a reputation of being ruthless dispensing with the old, such as remodelling the Family’s banking Headquarters in London, (and later at their ‘other’ Hampshire estate, The Grange, some 5 miles from Stratton park), where Baring also wanted to be ‘experimental’ in doing away with much of the original house, but was discouraged by the Government.
As we have seen ‘Basher Baring’ is a term which manages to hold some historic context to this site, as well as being a catchy dig by those horrifed by his approach. Yet he had his supporters at the time. ‘Country Life’ Magazine run an article in 1967, praising the bold statement. Some commenators such as Pesvner were intrigued, if not fully committal. Even in more recent times, the house has been critiqued in the national press , and I must say seeing the images of its interior looking out, creates quite a different response – maybe closer the architect’s original ambition.
At the time, I think I probably would have seen the architecutral merits in helping re-inventing the house. You could argue the house had always been in a state of modification. Yet now, 50 years on the house feels sad in it’s current form, losing some of its lustre. ‘New’ can be seen as cutting edge, but not always right in hindsight. Our attitides to country houses and their upkeep has changed in the last 50 years. We are probably more conservative toward conserving buildings than we were in the 1960’s.
Carrying on across the parkland, the footpath through the grounds diverts to the left. The ‘new build’ becomes obscured by the trees and to see around behind the portico shows how seperate this feature really is, standing proud. The brick gates to the house, I assume are original, and you can get quite a good glimpse of them. The path runs along the edge (and the motorway). This would have also been the course of the Roman Road.
The footpath contends with the noise of the motorway as you walk alongside it. Walking around the edge of the grounds, the house feels privately tucked away behind trees again. The footpath joins a drive and a bridge crosses over the Motorway before you meet the A33 road. Its marked as right of way, but you would feel ‘discouraged’ from starting from this end with the signage from the road stating its a private road.
So I come back through the park, feeling I have taken enough in, and want to glance at Stratton park once more. There is a right away which would make the walk more circular, back to the Village hall, but I have enjoyed the terrain, and I will save that part for another time!
The History bit…
There is a a lot of reference to Stratton park online an in books on Hampshire.
The park and ownership, can be traced back to a monastic grange in the possession of Hyde Abbey, in Winchester c.900 A.D. For more information on Hyde Abbey read here.
With the disolution of the monastries, The land was seized in 1544 A.D. and the Manor of East Stratton came into the possession of an Edmund Clerke. It was soon to be purchased by the Earl of Southampton, Sir Thomas Wriothsley. There looks to be some conflict from sources I have seen, over exact dates but the development from a manor into a country house and estate saw many alterations. Over time, from the Earls of Southampton, the house passed to The Duke of Bedford’s through marriage, and In the late 18th Century, the house and gardens were extended by Lord Russel – Fifth Duke of Bedford, (1765 -1802). In a later incarnation, much of the house, seen in the prints and early photography was designed by George Dance. The gardens were developed by Gertrude Jekyll).
For more on the history of the house, see here
The Baring Family are known for their London Banking history. In 1798, the bank’s joint founder, Francis Baring purchased Stratton House. Hampshire has historically benefited by being close to London, but an easy retreat to get to and entertain. The house stayed in the family intil 1929 when on the death of the Lord Northbrook, when it was sold on to a Miss James, who converted it into a girls school. What may be less known is that the house was re-purchased by the Baring Family after WW2.
Then and Now…
The estate is well hidden from the motorway, but if you are driving by you can get a hint. From the M3, southbound a couple of miles after junction 7 & before the Winchester Services, there is a little glimpse of an lodge that was part of the estate. On the western edge of the park there are 3 lodge houses that were at one time connected to the estate.The old O.S.maps refer to it as ‘London Lodge’.
The Lodge along the A33 on the middle edge of the park is called, er Middle Lodge. Its not easy to stop along here as the dual carraigeway starts again, but its style is worth appreciating.
The Southernmost Lodge is ‘Winchester Lodge’, in the direction of… I’m sure there is more to be said on these another day, but not in this blog…