IX  Great Houses

Some important buildings
Select a drawing for more details, or click the map to scroll through the maps
(Map distorted and not to scale)

In 1720 John Dalby Esq. of Reading purchased the manors of Hurst and Hinton from the Harrison family. In 1723 he employed Joseph Collier to make a detailed map of his new estate. It shows how much land had been taken into cultivation, but large areas were still uncultivated at Broad Common, Lea Heath, Lines Common and Hog Moor. The map also shows who held the neighbouring manors. Sir Robert Rich was lord of the manors of Sonning and Ruscombe, and Mr Nevill of Billingbear held the manor of Wargrave. John Dalby's manor included Twyford, Whistley, Wards Cross, and the three Hintons. It extended to the Emmbrook, the Winnersh boundary, land in possession of Lord Bloundall (Viscount Blundell).

John Dalby's Survey of the Manor of Hurst, 1723 (© Berkshire Record Office)

Mr Dalby and his wife, Charlotte, produced several children who were brought up in the parish. The manor house, Hurst House, was sold off separately from the estate and it seems that the Dalbys lived in the older manor house, Whistley Court Mansion. His son and heir, Thomas Septimius Dalby, occupied Hurst Grove at the time of his death in 1790.

Hurst Grove, early 20th century (click for modern picture)

Galen Cope purchased Hurst House when it was separated from the manor, but his family did not establish themselves there for very long. In 1740 his son, John, sold the house to Mr James Waller of London. He died a few years later but his widow continued to live there until her death in 1838 aged eighty-seven.

Hurst House (after it had been rebuilt by the Revd. Cameron)

In 1608 land at Bill Hill was the subject of a transfer deed. A parcel of the great wood called Ashridge belonging to the manor of Heartoak, situated in Wokingham and Hurst in the county of Wiltshire, was sold by Henry Nevill of Billingbear to William Whitlocke of Wokingham. Detailed maps were not available at that date to show the boundary, so to establish the extent of the area it was customary to describe features on the circumference. The following extract provides an excellent example:

Particularly bounded out and specified that is to say all that part of the land, woods and waste ground which towards the north east leadeth from a gate of a close of the said William Whitlocke situate in Wokingham aforesaid called Upper Beeches to the east side of one other close of Nicholas White thereof called High Beeches and extendeth by the south side of the said close unto the west and thereof, and from thereto by the house and ground of William Burton now in the occupation of George Peverill and into and through a lane called Cawcotte Lane and from thence to the north corner of a ground or close called Careways alias Carowes Bushes and from thence towards the west it crosseth over to the common or waste ground called the Lynes and from there to the westerly and southerly lands of John Barker Esquire called Crottals Brine and from there it passeth by the land of the said John Barker unto the lands and tenements or messuage of the said William Whitlocke towards the north and from the said tenement to the gate of Upper Beeches first above named.

Some of the names mentioned are now forgotten but Bill Hill lies directly between Ashridge and Lines Common. The house was probably built as a hunting lodge in the forest. In was subsequently owned by Lord Blundell bart. who sold the house in 1723 to Lady Harold, a widow, her husband having died from swallowing an ear of barley. After purchasing the estate she became the third wife of John Leveson-Gower, the Lord Privy Seal, who later was created Earl Gower. In 1783 she purchased the manor of Barkham, and died two years later as a result of her clothes catching fire.

Bill Hill, 2001

The countess reached the fine old age of 84 and was buried in the family vault in Barkham church. Her son, Rear Admiral the Hon. John Leveson-Gower, succeeded her, but in order to gain possession of the estates of Barkham and Bill Hill, he had to contest a law suit. His father had a son by a previous marriage, and he claimed to be the rightful heir, but the court established that Lady Gower had purchased Bill Hill with her own money, and that the Rear Admiral, being her son and heir, was entitled to the property.

The Leveson-Gower family increased the size of their land holdings by purchasing the manor of Lea from Thomas Septimius Dalby. Later they bought more land in Hurst and Ruscombe from Lady Eyre to become by the end of the century one of the biggest landowners in the vicinity.

Just to the west of Bill Hill was Mr. Simmonds' house, a house that no longer exists. It was pulled down long before the motorway interchange with the M4 was constructed which obliterated the site in the early 1970s. A story is told that when the interchange was being built, workmen came across a tunnel and rumour has it that the tunnel led from Bill Hill to the church. The workmen did not wish to have their progress interrupted so decided to keep the discovery quiet. It seems more likely that it was not a tunnel, but the foundations or cellars of Mr Simmonds' house that they had discovered.

Hurst Lodge

Not only were the Palmers owners of a large area of Hurst parish, but they owned estates in surrounding villages too. Robert Palmer, an Attorney of Great Russell Street in London, had bought Hurst Lodge in the 1740s from Frances Fairfax, a descendant of the Barker family. His father Thomas, also an Attorney, was buried in Hurst church in 1762. Robert Palmer's son, Richard, was born at Hurst Lodge and he was to extend the family fortunes.

In 1795 Richard Palmer purchased the manor of Sonning from Sir Thomas Rich. The estate included a large acreage of Woodley and Sandford as well as '32 messuages, cottages, Gardens and Paddock' situated in Winnersh and Newland. He pulled down the old Elizabethan mansion at Holme Park and built himself a new Georgian house which became the family seat.


Left: Holme Park (click for modern picture). Right: Robert Palmer (1793-1872)

Palmer family Arms

George III reigned from 1760 to 1820 and made many hunting trips into Windsor Forest. He came into the vicinity for other reasons too. In July 1799 he reviewed the Woodley Cavalry on the waste land at Bullmarsh Heath. The troops had been enlisted to meet the threat of an invasion by Napoleon. Mr Addington of Woodley Lodge commanded the troops. He was Speaker of the House of Commons and later became Lord Sidmouth. One of his chief officers, Richard Palmer, was attended by his six-year-old son, Robert, who had been placed on a horse held by William Lunn, his father's groom, to see the events taking place. Robert Palmer subsequently became a J. P. and High Sheriff as well as an M. P. for Berkshire.

In 1736 James Edward Colleton became the owner of Haines Hill. He did a great deal of work renovating the old house. His wife died at an early age and they did not have any children, When he died in 1790 the estate passed to a cousin, Charles Garth, who adopted the name, Colleton-Garth.

Haines Hill, 1856 (© Mr Alan Godsal)

Just down the road towards Twyford Hinton House was occupied by Sir William Compton. He died in 1758 leaving part of the estate to his son, Walter, the remainder going to his daughters. Eventually Hinton House was to become part of the Haines Hill estate. High Chimneys belonged to a Mr. Barker in 1723, and eventually that house too was to belong to the owners of Haines Hill.

Hinton House, 1838. (© British Library. Reproduction prohibted) (click for modern picture)

Mr. Aldworth owned Stanlake Park in 1723. It is said that one member of that family fought a duel there killing Sir Owen Buckingham. For his crime Mr. Aldworth spent the rest of his days in France. He had however married the heiress of Richard Nevill and she inherited the large estate of Billingbear. In order to perpetuate the name of Nevill, their son changed his name to Aldworth-Nevill. In 1783 he was created the first Lord Braybrooke.

Stanlake Park.
Reproduced from the Victoria County History, Berkshire, Volume 3, by permission of the General Editor

Sale notice for the manors of Whistley and Hinton (© Berkshire Record Office)

In 1786, Thomas Septimius Dalby decided to sell off his interests in the village. An auction was held under the guidance of Mr Ansell, and at one o'clock on Tuesday 31st of January, in 'the Great Room at Saville Row' in London, the manor was put under the hammer. It was purchased by Lord Braybrooke. The sale notice describes the property as the 'Adjoining manors of Whistley, in Hurst, and Hinton, in Hurst, in the counties of Berks and Wilts'. It contained between 10 and 13 fish ponds abounding with carp, tench and perch of 'extraordinary size and with game in great abundance.' The estate measured 222 acres, two roods and seven perches of rich arable, meadow and pasture together with 'Sundry Freehold Tenements, Gardens, Fisheries and Howards, let to good Tenants of the Yearly Value of Two hundred and Sixty four Pounds, Fourteen Shillings and Four Pence'. There were also 1,600 fine growing timber trees on the waste land that was described as:

Broad Common, which consists of 300 acres, Lea Heath, Rugaston Hill and various others. containing in the whole upwards of 530 acres, are remarkable for their richness of Soil and capable of great improvement, and by an Inclosure might be rendered extremely beneficial to the Owner. The Excellence of the Soil, the Salubrity of the Air, the Goodness of the Roads, the Variety of delightful Prospects, the Royal Hunt and moderate Distance from the Metropolis, (being only 36 miles) render this Estate a very desirable Object.

It seems there is nothing new in glowing estate agent's descriptions. Of the three farms that were part of the manor, Whistley Court Farm was let to Thomas Chapman at a yearly rent of £63 and described as :

A farm, consisting of brick-built House, with two Barns, Stabling, Outhouses, and Garden, and 68 acres 1 rood and 3 perches of Meadow and Pasture Land, containing the Whole 98 acres. Three roods and seven Perches, much underlet. N. B. The Messuage on this Farm was formerly the Manor House, and at a moderate Expense might be converted into a Mansion House for a genteel Family.

Robert Bennet held Terrell's farm on a lease for nine years paying a rent of £41. 18s. 6d. for the buildings and 48 acres and three roods of land. John Lane paid £55 annually for another farm of 75 acres. Richard Giles paid £6. 10s. 0d. for a fishery on the Loddon and 2 acres of osier land. One stretch of river was described as:

A considerable Fishery of the River Loddon, bounded by Mrs Flora Laurence's 14 acres, and another Fishery on the same river extending from a Ayt near the Bucks to Mr Collis's Paper Mill.

The total rents from the farms, fisheries and cottages amounted to £260. 17s. 4d. Mr. Dalby decided to keep Hurst Grove. There were upwards of 60 copyhold tenements in the manor, and the rents amounted to £465. 10s. 0d. per annum. There were also ancient rights of cutting peat in certain parts of the manor of Winkfield worth £5 a year. The timber on the waste ground 'amongst which is a remarkable fine Beech near the Lodge Gate, and several fine Oaks, Elms and Ash, as well as all the Timber Trees in the Hedge Rows of the farms', was valued at about £800. Thanks to some hand written notes on the sale notice we can see what Lord Braybrooke paid to become the new Lord of Hurst manor.

Sums allocated for the purchase of Mr Dalby's Estate.

£1,535. 3s.                 Paid into Messers Hoares hands.
£1,142. 2s.   6d.        to be paid tomorrow Ap. 13.
£2,677. 5s.   6d
£4,798. 14s. 6d.        to be paid to Messers Hoare Wednesday April 19.
£7,476. 0s. 0d.          Whole purchase to be completed tomorrow
                                    April 13th 1786.