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From Paper Mill, to Palace of Gin

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Bombay Sapphire, Laverstoke Hampshire © Nigel Smith

Last weekend I was taken on a surprise visit to Bombay Sapphire‘s distillery and visitor centre, in Laverstoke, Hampshire. It’s quite near to us, and had heard good reviews. I’d even dropped some friends off there for a tour – but we hadn’t been ourselves. Maybe not knowing much about ‘Gin’ had delayed our reason to visit…

On the first day of Autumn, we enjoyed a sunny afternoon there looking around the site, learning about Gin and at the end of the tour sampling a glass by the River Test. I also got a chance to look round the buildings, with their own important history that is thankfully acknowledged. This was the site of the Portal’s Paper Mill which supplied paper for the Bank of England’s notes, (till production was moved to the newer site at Overton).

I have written in more depth about the nationally important history that Paper Making and the River Test shared in an earlier blog, so to finally visit one of the sites was a bonus!

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© Nigel Smith

As you get ready to start the tour, there is a good exhibition highlighting it’s previous use and national importance as print factory, with some fine examples and photos. Lets face it most people aren’t there for that, but it communicates well and is hard to ignore.

Now, the setting works and creates an authentic location for it’s new tenants, as we continued our tour, I was equally pleased to see some of the period features restored from the time of the print works.

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© Nigel Smith

The River Test, being regarded one of the finest chalk rivers in the UK, served the purposes of providing clean water with few impurites in the paper making process. Bombay Sapphire literally tap into it’s quality with their ethos, and process of gin making. The designer Thomas Heatherwick’s installed glasshouses use the location to good effect.

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Laverstoke Mill on the River Test © Nigel Smith

when you first see them, the glasshouses are impressive, with their form and function. But I equally loved the link between the original building and how they seem to ‘reach out’ of it’s past.

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A connection © Nigel Smith

So we enjoyed a great afternoon there. For me as well as sampling the gin, I got a good sense of sampling the premises previous life!

The staff were helpful in guiding us round, and were knowledgeable about the now (and then). I’d gladly suggest this as a fun activity for adults anytime of the year, (with transport links available).  Without wanting to introduce a tacky gift shop, I think whats there in the way of items could have had more in the way of substance… Is there a local book available on the history on the Mill, and more detail on the project to convert the site?

Whilst you are here…

With The Manydown Cafe Bus on hand, between drinks, maybe allow for a 30 minute stroll?  From the picturesque examples of mill workers cottages opposite, follow the Test to Freefolk and you will also sample the beauty of the River setting and local archictecture of thatch and flint, and gems such as 13th Century St. Nicholas Church and its contents. Its really close by…

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St. Nicholas Church, Freefolk, Hampshire © Michael Ford

 

 

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The House Baring All

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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…

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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.

The Walk

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.

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East Stratton’s ‘new’ Church© Nigel Smith

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.

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© Nigel Smith
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© Nigel Smith

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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.

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First glimpse of the house…© Nigel Smith

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.

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East Stratton on the 1810 O.S. map shows more lanes and dwellings in the village…
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Where the lanes would have been on todays landscape

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…

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Stratton Park 1818 by J.P. Neale
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Site of the original All Saints Church © Nigel Smith

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…

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Storm damaged plaque from 1989, at the foot of the cross

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.

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© Nigel Smith

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.

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Parkland © Nigel Smith

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.

 

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All that is left… The Portico © Nigel Smith
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The gates © Nigel Smith

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.

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Looking back towards East Stratton © Nigel Smith

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.

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Stratton Park 1818 by J.P. Neale

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.

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Stratton Park by R. Ackermann, 1828
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A Photo of the Stratton Park from the 1930’s © Lost Heritage

 Then and Now…

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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’.

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‘London Lodge’ from the M3 © Nigel Smith
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London Lodge, now a listed buiding © Nigel Smith

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.

 

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Middle Lodge © Nigel Smith

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…

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Winchester Lodge – The South end of the Estate © Nigel Smith

 

Not Quite Abra – Cadabra… but still a great walk!

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A walk I undertook back in the summer, to search out a Bronze Age barrow near Overton.

Growing up on the Dorset/Wiltshire border, I guess I was a bit spoilt with the amount of barrows and henges everywhere… (Its the place to see numerous earthworks, plus the unique neolithic Dorset ‘Cursus’ crossing the landscape).  Barrows are evident in Hampshire, but to a lesser degree, (maybe as the soils of heathland, and towards the coast are sandy they are poorer and therefore eroded. I suspect farming methods too have helped erase them). I have discovered the White Barrow near where I live in Oakley which is well preserved, but I’d seen a barrow marked on the map near Overton called Abra, which looked worth a visit – just for the name. Who was Abra – An ancient local chieftain or respected leader?

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© Ordnance Survey

The start of my walk, was 9 miles to the west of Basingstoke, in area called Southington, just out of Overton and near the River Test.  I parked up alongside the B3400, the Old London Rd. Walking up a lane of flint cottages, the track narrowed and up a slipppery chalky slope, came to a junction where I turned left onto what looked like an older, well trod lane. The North Downs chalk was showing through in places. I wondered if this route had carried locals for years, (as it eventualy went back into Overton)? It was quite similar to the Harrow Way.

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After a quarter of a mile along, I turned right on a footpath – the track was very similar, and lined with low trees and hedgerows. With the dappled light, I appreciated some protection from the afternoon sun!  When the trees ceased and I was out into the open space called ‘White Hill.’

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Overton was the other side of these trees

I was enjoying the weather, (and somehow conducting a job enquiry with a recruiter), and passed a few people but not many. To one friendly dog walker, I said about the Barrow, but she’d never heard of it. In a way, it encouraged me that I had shared with a long term resident something she had not know of. Which is one of this Blogs goals!

As I went south away from Overton, the path became quite overgrown and uneven, but it was a real haven for butterflies like this one beneath I photographed…

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After 15 minutes,  the gentle undulating slope brought me to a couple of cottages called Lower Whitehill. It was at this point I turned right, through a gate. I could just strain to hear the traffic on the A303, but I was enjoying what the landscape had to offer. The track I turned into looked narrower on my map, than it really  was, and it also suggested it was an unmade road. But as I kept walking, I thought how good a standard it was, for connecting the farms scattered around Lavertsoke. I was on the look out for this barrow now – thinking its position would be quite proud. I kept looking back to the map scanning the area to locate it.  Well… as you can see below – It was quite subtle. The erosion is probably down to farming. To be honest, I felt a little dissapointed when I got up close. (Maybe my Dorset examples had spoiled me).

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Where is the barrow?

I decided with my objective achieved, I might as well sit down there anyway, enjoy the sun and have my tea and cake. On the approach to the barrow, there had been a slight rise which when I was beside it, I began to appreciate its location. The other side of the barrow I realised It looked out in many directions, unobstructed. The effect, (and importance), of the barrow was revealing itself, as if it was saying, ‘I’ve been here longer than you, mate’ It would have been seen clearly around from several locations for centuries.

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This is the Abra Barrow… A shadow of its former self.

As I took in the surrounding countryside, I found it a beautiful spot to be in on a sunny afternoon -‘pastoral’ I think they call it… Hedgerows, Cattle and sheep and gentle rolling hills. I had that feeling when you visit somewhere new, even on holiday, but this was barely 5 miles from my home!

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As I continued my walk along the lane, the road was still of a good standard.  Confusingly, I thought the map implied that the track would end, and I would be back onto a path, but the road carried on. Maybe my  O.S. map needs replacing!
There was a farm and some more cottages and the landscape it seemed kept getting more pictureseque to me. Hearing somechildren playing I thought what a wonderful place to grow up in.  That feeling of space not always easy to find in The South of England. Another half mile alongthe lane, I turned right and rejoined the track I was was on earlier, with the chalk coming through – my walk almost done.

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So, The Abra Barrow initially dissapointed as a monument, but looking back, it was built up on high spot, and would have been seen from places.  I also got rewarded with a lovely tract of countryside 15 years I did know of.

The circular walk was about 4-5 miles and at a leisurely pace, It took around 2 hours.
A few gentle climbs and descents, and mixed terrain, especially on the first half.