Matthew Hill purchased the house from the family trustees of the late Mrs Schreiber in August 2004. Matthew had been living and working in Germany since 1999 and was looking for a future home back in England. After purchasing Fir Hill, he remained in Germany until 2013, working as European General Counsel for Nintendo at their European headquarters near Frankfurt.
It took a year to obtain all the necessary permissions from both the planning authorities in Winchester City Council and English Heritage, but in late 2005 he started work on restoring the house, its outbuildings and gardens, trying to remain faithful to the spirit and elegance of the house while making it a comfortable and welcoming home.
The renovations themselves were a ten year project. This was mainly because the house was restored in a series of phases of building work, so that the experience of living in the house could be used to help the restoration. Restoring the house in phases also meant that the house could still be occupied while the works were taking place.
In planning the renovation of Fir Hill the underlying philosophy has been to restore the 1760s main house as nearly as possible to what was there in Georgian times. This included putting back a Georgian-style oak main staircase, windows and shutters, as well as laying new oak floors and installing appropriate fireplaces where these had been taken out. It also entailed reinstating a library.
Original features have been retained and repaired or, where destroyed in post-Georgian renovations, copied. The staircase installed by the Rev King went to Caspar Ingrams, Mrs Schreiber’s grandson and the 19th Baron Darcy de Knayth, for his new home, as he had fond memories of it from his childhood.
The Victorian south wing posed more of a challenge since it was poorly constructed in places and was a warren of small rooms. The only sensible option was to rebuild those areas that had been shoddily constructed and to make the wing generally more comfortable and appropriate for modern living by forming on the ground floor one large kitchen-living area out of the small rooms and a corridor, and on the first floor a large bathroom and dressing room serving the master bedroom. It also allowed us to put a new conservatory in that echoed the earlier greenhouse that had been demolished in the 1950s.
In the gardens, Victorian and Edwardian planting was removed to regain the wonderful views down to the River Meon, as well as restoring the Victorian games lawn and the Georgian walled garden. The glasshouse to the south of the walled garden that had been built by Tom Smith had been taken down except for a ruined 20-foot section by 2004 and was anyway in poor shape by the 1970s. It has now been replaced. New trees have been planted for future generations to enjoy, since the mature specimen trees around the house are one of its glories.
In 2007 Matthew started courting Georgy Evans, an intellectual property lawyer in London. Together they made many visits to the house during its extensive renovation phases over several years – very romantic, at least partly because the electricity in most of the house was condemned in 2004 and they lived by candlelight for several years!
In 2012, Matthew and Georgy were married at St Mary and All Saints, Droxford, and the wedding reception was held in the garden at Fir Hill. Following Matthew’s return to England, and Georgy’s move from London, they have been living at the house since April 2013.
Watercolour of east façade of Fir Hill, July 2007.
Watercolour by Nicholas Power.
Above: staircase installed by Rev King in 1880.
Right: Georgian-style staircase reinstated in original position in 2007.
At home at Fir Hill.
Paintings by Luke Maitland