1850 – 1899
Rev Samuel King & Fir Hill
More Fir Hill renovations
Rev King set about making a number of extensive alterations to the house in that year evidenced by the date ‘1879’ written in pencil in two places on walls and roof timbers revealed in subsequent renovations. As a result of the substantial renovation work, he was not able to move in to the house until 1880.
The Rev King replaced the Georgian casement windows with the latest large single frame windows, which was an expensive novelty in 1880. He added a large porch finished with lime rendering at the front of the house and stuccoed the whole house. This stucco had largely been eroded by the 1950s.
He replaced the Georgian main staircase with a large baronial-style staircase in pine but painted to resemble oak, the size of which sadly necessitated the bricking up of the ground floor window in the hall (since reopened). In this new hallway, he placed a 10-foot high white marble statue of a nude figure, probably a replica of Michelangelo’s David, which was popular with the Victorians. This statue remained at Fir Hill until at least the 1950s. He also knocked down the central wall between the two parlours on the ground floor on the north end of the house to create one large drawing room.
He greatly increased the size of the south wing, by adding a large sitting room with an elaborate wooden ceiling on the first floor, together with a set of back stairs to service it, and an adjoining bedroom, bathroom and maid’s room. It is possible that this suite of rooms was required for occupation by a female relative and indeed the Censuses of 1881 and 1891 show that his daughter Constance was living there. Renovations in 2010 revealed two inscriptions in the plaster between the timber frames: ‘H Hill – 1879 – Bristol’ and ‘JB – [illegible] – 1879’. Presumably two of the men who worked on the renovations more than a century earlier.
He installed iron grates and surrounds in all the bedroom fireplaces and bricked up one of the windows in the north bathroom. He also had built a number of small scullery and pantry rooms round the main kitchen that he placed in the 1840s parlour. These new rooms were rather dark and pokey. He built a conservatory against the east side of the south wing that could also be accessed by a set of wooden steps down the outside of the house from an external door in the housekeeper’s office. He constructed both a brick ha-ha and a games lawn with a long retaining wall half way down the garden.
The bay window of the new first floor sitting room was supported by a crude system of metal goal posts and the roof of the north annexe was repaired by being propped up with uncut and unseasoned tree branches.
The 1879 works indicate that the Rev King wanted to create an impressive home, but sometimes skimped on materials or workmanship.
It was at about this time that the five cellar windows on the east side of the house were bricked up (but since reopened), though it is not clear why. Was it to improve the security of the house or was it because the Victorians were uncomfortable living alongside staff who might look out from the basement at their betters enjoying themselves on the lawns?
Mrs Schreiber’s notes state that the mantelpiece in the long drawing room and the ornate steps and balustrade on the east side of the house originally came from Sarisbury House. This was probably Sarisbury Court, in the village of Sarisbury to the west of Fareham, and which was rebuilt in a Tudor style after a fire in 1880 destroyed the previous house there, Holly Hill House. During World War I, Sarisbury Court was owned by first the US then the British government and was demolished in the 1920s after becoming derelict. It seems more likely that the mantelpiece and steps were rescued from the earlier Holly Hill House, as it burnt down in the same year that the Rev King was carrying out his improvements to Fir Hill.
Rev King’s will
He died aged 75 on 11 July 1899 and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary and All Saints, Droxford. His tombstone does not mention his wife or children.
Rev King made a will on 23 July 1895, which was proved on 31 August 1899. He left an estate of £41,861 (£3,870,000/ £24,200,000/£37,600,000). It was a very detailed will, clearly professionally and carefully drawn up. His executors were his eldest son, John Rooper King (1853-1935), and Henry Godolphin Rooper (1830-1915), his wife's brother. He left the bulk of his estate to John Rooper King.
His four other children received substantial legacies. His second son, Henry, emigrated to New Zealand, becoming a poet, and had previously received loans from his father, which were written off in the will. In addition, Henry received a house and other property in New Zealand from his father though it is not clear whether Rev King every visited New Zealand. He left each of his servants, ‘both indoor and outdoor’, at Fir Hill a legacy calculated at £2 (£185/£1,160/ £1,800) for each year or part of a year served.
After her father’s death, Constance King moved out of Fir Hill to live in Swanmore where the 1901 census finds her living at 51 Hampton Hill with two female servants. At the time of the 1911 census, she was visiting friends at Mayhill House in Droxford, together with her close friend, Ada Bridge, the youngest daughter of the Rev Stephen Bridge, who had been the Rector of Droxford from 1868 until 1886 and who had died in 1895.
In the absence of the later census reports we do not know where Constance lived after that but the Kelly’s Directory for 1931 lists her and Ada Bridge as living together at the newly built Uplands House next to and north of Fir Hill. When Ada Bridge died in 1934, Constance arranged for her to be buried immediately alongside the Rev King in Droxford Churchyard with the same style of tombstone. Constance King died in a nursing home in Southampton in 1952 at the great age of 92.
Ceiling in piano nobile
Photo courtesy of Paul Highnam
Plaster behind the west wall in the piano nobile
Photo courtesy of Chris Curnock
Detail from photo showing staircase obtained from Sarisbury Court. Now situated on east façade of Fir Hill.
Photo courtesy of Paul Highnam
Inscription from gravestone of Rev. Samuel King. Churchyard of St Mary and All Saints, Droxford. A surprisingly humble tombstone for a wealthy man.