1765 – 1850
In the beginning
Fir Hill is situated on the north side of Droxford, a village in the Meon Valley with many surviving Georgian houses. The house sits on a rise with gardens running down to the River Meon.
The construction of Fir Hill house had started by 1765. A rough drawing was found during restoration works in 2014 etched in the plasterwork over the fireplace of the north-east bedroom shows the front elevation of a Georgian house.
The inscription reads:
W. Reynolds new façade Nov 6 anno 1765
Presumably a joke by one of the builders. The writing is very unclear and ‘Reynolds’ may be ‘Bignolds’.
As well as the date are some other names, probably of the masons who were building Fir Hill: (?) Gorg and Thos (Thomas).
More evidence of the people who were involved in the construction of the house can be found in two inscriptions elsewhere: ‘Thomas Froude 1766’ on a stone on a wall of the north-west bedroom, and ‘TM 1767’ on a brick on the outside of the chimney on the north end of the house. Thomas Froude may be the same ‘Thos’ who signed his name in the north-east bedroom.
Froude, Froud and Froyde were all common Hampshire surnames at the time. Mr Froude may have been one of the masons working on the construction of the house or possibly the builder himself. There are no references to him in the HRO in Winchester.
A design of a flower shape made with a compass inside a circle was also found in 2014 etched into the plaster in the north-east bedroom next to the chimney breast. This is an apotropaic mark, which from mediaeval times were carved into a building's entrance points to protect against witches and evil spirits. We did not understand what the sign was for until we saw a request by Historic England two years later for evidence of such marks: https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/news/help-hunt-for-witches-marks. The sign is known as a 'daisy wheel' or 'hexafoil'.
Above: Hand coloured copper plate engraving, Hampshire and Isle of Wight, scale about 11 miles to 1 inch, published by Thomas Kitchin, London, about 1751. University of Portsmouth.
Drawing and inscriptions in north west bedroom
Inscription and date in north west bedroom
North east bedroom
North east bedroom
Right: hexafoil mark found in north-east bedroom in 2014.
Above: 1 inch to 1 mile map of Hampshire surveyed by Isaac Taylor, engraved by R Benning, published 1759. Map Collection of Hampshire CC Museums Service, item HMCMS:FA2004.3. University of Portsmouth.
It is likely that there was an earlier house on the site or near it. Taylor’s Map of Hampshire 1759 has detailed drawings of all the significant ‘Seats and Houses’ in the county, each numbered with an index of ‘Gentlemen’s Names &c’. Droxford is listed as having two such houses, numbered 132 and 133. 132, the Old Rectory, is attributed to a Rev Mr Cuttler of Droxford, and 133, The Manor House, attributed to a Rev Mr Cotton R (for 'Reynell') of St Lawrence's, Winton (an old name for WInchester) and who was Rector of this Winchester church behind the Buttercross in the High Street.
The current house at Fir Hill of course was not yet built in 1759, but there is a building shown on the map, to the north of The Manor House, smaller and in the style of ‘Farm Houses &c.’ according to the map legend. It lies next to the road and about on the spot where Fir Hill was later built. It seems there may well have been an earlier house that was demolished in order to build something larger, more modern and more upmarket. On a map of 1791 Fir Hill is clearly marked.
When the Fir Hill roof was restored in 2005–2006, dendrochronology established that one of the large roof beams came from a tree felled in the 1680s. It is possible that the tree was somewhere for 80 years but it is more likely that the beam came from a house that had recently been demolished or, possibly, a ship that had been broken up. Perhaps It came from an earlier building on the same site.
There is a flint wall in the basement on the north-west side that is in marked contrast to the rest of the cellar, which is brick. It is possible that this is a sign of an earlier house on the site.
RIght: 1 inch to 1 mile map of Hampshire surveyed by Thomas Milne, published by William Faden, 1791. Fir Hill is clearly shown.
Map Collection of Hampshire CC Museums Service, item HMCMS:FA1998.124. University of Portsmouth.
Above: Flint wall below Georgian brick wall in cellar.