1765 – 1850
18th century house
Layout of the house
There is a description of the house, presumably as constructed in 1765, in Particulars of Sale from May 1797:
‘delightfully situate on an Eminence, at the Entrance of the Town of Droxford; comprising a genteel commodious uniform substantial Brick Dwelling House.’
Inside the house were four servants’ bedrooms on the second floor (attic) level, four good bed chambers with bow windows, two dressing rooms and a store room on the first floor level and an entrance hall, two parlours, dining room, butler’s pantry, housekeeper’s room, kitchen and brew house on the ground floor level. In the basement were a laundry, dairy, wine vaults, and ale and beer cellars.
Outside was a courtyard with a coach house for two carriages, a four stall stable, an open harness room, a coachman’s chamber and a loft. The grounds comprised a forecourt, a shrubbery, a pleasure ground (i.e. the garden area connecting the parkland and garden immediately adjacent to the house), a garden planted with a variety of fruit trees and two paddocks.
What is interesting about this description is that the modern footprint of the Georgian house does not have room for two dressing rooms or a store room on the first floor level, or for a kitchen and brew house on the ground floor level. There must have been an annexe on the south side containing the missing rooms to match that on the north side that contained a bathroom at the first floor level and a boiler room on the ground floor level.
Front door on west façade.
Photo courtesy of Paul Highnam
The Fir Hill property formed part of the lands of the Lords of the Manor of Droxford, which belonged to the Bishops of Winchester. Being manorial property, its legal title was copyhold or, more correctly, a copyhold estate of inheritance. Copyhold was a concept of feudal law and was a cross between a freehold and a leasehold. Its name derived from the fact that the title was held by copy of the Court Roll, the court in question being the Manorial Court of the Lord of the local manor, rather than the royal court.
A copyhold estate of inheritance – in contrast to a copyhold for lives – could be left to the owner’s heir. It also could be sold to a third party, but the manor charged a fee for each change of ownership. For Fir Hill, therefore, a sale therefore involved a surrender of the title by the seller to the Bishop of Winchester on condition that he granted the same title to the purchaser.
From the 1840s, copyholds started to be converted into freeholds or 999 year leases and were finally abolished in the 1920s. The copyhold of Fir Hill was enfranchised and converted into a freehold only on 15 February 1900.
The house is not named in records as Fir Hill until the early nineteenth century, some 50 years after the house was built. The name derived from the hillside on which it was constructed, which was originally covered by fir trees. Some of these remain in the wood beside the paddock but thirty or more blew down in the great storm of 1987.
The copper beech, the tulip tree and the horse chestnut tree in the main garden, and likely also the large cedar of Lebanon that was in the front garden and which also blew down in the same storm and landed on the roof of the south wing, are part of the original planting from the 1760s.