Georgian home and gardens
Fir Hill, Droxford, Hampshire, UK
1765 – 1850
In 1778, shortly before the death of Nicholas Purdue Smith, the Fir Hill property was leased to Richard Eaton of Wardour Street, Soho at an annual rent of 50 guineas (£5,490/£102,000/£496,000). Before 1778 the house had been occupied by Thomas Robinson (HRO: 45M69/66). Thomas Robinson’s name crops up fairly often in the Droxford records of the time since he appears to have been a gentleman farmer with various fields in and around Droxford. (see e.g. HRO: 57M84/16). Perhaps he had also occupied the farmhouse that may have predated the 1765 mansion.
Richard Eaton did not occupy the house for long: on 28 April 1779 he assigned the lease for five shillings (£27.60/£509/£2,460) to William Boyfield of Droxford. Two years later, on 7 March 1781, after Nicholas Purdue Smith's death, William Boyfield assigned the lease for 10 shillings (£51.30/£855/£4,060) to Captain Charles Hamilton of Portsea, a parish within Portsmouth on the south coast. Droxford is only 16 miles from Portsmouth, which had been a major English port since the 13th century, and for that reason has always been popular with naval officers.
Map, hand coloured engraving, A Map of Hampshire, county map, scale about 6 miles to 1 inch, drawn by Haywood, engraved by Sudlow, published by John Harrison, 115 Newgate Street, London, 16 December 1788. University of Portsmouth.
Jenny Smith's will
Jenny made her will on 8 April 1790 when living in Owslebury, Hampshire, and it was accepted for probate on 1 February 1797. Her sole executor was her eldest son Peter. She was buried, with her husband, in St Maurice's Church, Winchester on 4 January 1797.
Under her husband’s will she had been granted discretion over the distribution among their children of £1,500 (£163,000/£2,950,000/£14,200,000) from his estate. In her will, Jenny stated that she wanted £1,125 (£95,600/ £1,620,000/£6,530,000) to go to Peter to recompense him for the very considerable costs he had incurred in assisting her in a long-running court case in the Chancery Division in London in which people claiming to be creditors of her late husband had sued for their debts. The remaining £375 (£38,500/ £641,000/£3,050,000) was to be split four ways between her four daughters, Fanny, Anne, Elizabeth (Betty) and Catherine. There is no mention of the second son, John. The entire residue of her estate is to go to her eldest son, Peter.
The copyhold of Fir Hill was put up for sale in May 1797, after Jenny's death in December 1796, when the asking price was ‘equal to the freehold value’ (HRO: 7M54/172). The copyhold of the property was sold by two gentlemen who were presumably the trustees for his widow’s life interest, subject to the 25 year lease initially granted to Richard Easton. From 1781 this lease was held by Captain Charles Powell Hamilton.
Extracts from the will of Jenny Smith.
Source: Public Records Office, proved 1 February 1797.
The estate at Fir Hill
From a sale advertisement on 16 April 1797, shortly after Jenny's death, it is clear that the new house was at that time part of a significant land estate in Droxford:
‘of the [rental] value of about THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY POUNDS per Ann. Consisting of DROXFORD MANSION-HOUSE, well-suited with Offices, PLEASURE GROUNDS and GARDENS, and BAREFOOT’s, DALE’s, IRELAND’s and WHITCOMB’s FARMS, containing FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY ACRES nearly, of MEADOW, PASTURE, ARABLE, and WOOD-LAND, lying exceedingly compact, within a Ring-Fence, forming a very Desirable Estate, delightfully situate at Droxford, on the High Gosport Road, between EAST-MEON and FAREHAM, 65 miles from London, commanding rich and extensive Prospects, beautifully varied, and in the midst of all kinds of Field Sports.’
Extracts from The London Gazette of 5 December 1786
Advertisement for sale of Fir Hill.
Source: Human Research Institute at The University of Sheffield