FIR HILL

1850 – 1899

Tom Smith & Fir Hill

Fir Hill renovations

 

Fir Hill did not escape Tom Smith’s creativity and energy. Some changes were made to the house, probably in the 1850s though some of the windows that were added were of a style that had been popular a decade previously. A wing was added on the south side of the house, which would have replaced what was probably a south annex that mirrored the annex on the north side. This wing was probably not as large as the present south wing, but it had a parlour with attractive windows on the ground floor, now part of the modern kitchen. Other than that, little is known about the layout and use of this early wing.

 

At about the same time, a triple carriage house replaced the original double carriage house and the stable block was remodelled so that it comprised two loose boxes and a single stall, all with fine ironwork supplied by Halsted & Sons of Chichester, as well as an adjoining tack room. Tom Smith’s keen interest in hunting and horses certainly suggests that he made these improvements.

 

One of the rooms in the cellar of Fir Hill was turned into a temporary gaol and it is likely that this happened when Tom Smith was High Sheriff of Hampshire in 1858. This was also the year in which a police station and magistrates court were built in Droxford to deal with offences that were not serious enough to be sent to the assizes court of the Western Circuit. People awaiting trial or charge may have been housed temporarily in the Fir Hill gaol. 

 

Droxford was a big enough community to have had a workhouse since 1837, where up to 200 inmates judged to be poor and needy were fed and housed in conditions designed to discourage people from going there. In exchange for their bed and board they had to work hard for a certain number of hours a day. In addition to the rigours of the workhouse, the records of the Droxford court document how harshly impoverished or destitute people were dealt with, as they received severe sentences such as three months’ hard labour for theft of a loaf of bread, poaching or simply for ‘vagrancy’, which encompassed begging, sleeping rough or refusing to work (HRO: TOP93/3/5).

 

Fir Hill garden

 

Tom Smith naturally also had plans for improving the gardens at Fir Hill. In his autobiography he wrote:

 

‘my garden at Droxford is surrounded by nearly all the trees in the village; consequently the birds hardly allowed a single bunch of currants or any other fruit to ripen. To keep off these marauders I have devised the following plan, which is not only effectual in saving the fruit from being devoured, but also allows me to have it in perfect condition much longer than my neighbours; the currants, for instance, generally remain nearly till Christmas. I built a wall ten feet high, with southern aspect, against which cherry trees are trained. At the foot of the wall are strawberries. Then come, trained on wire, gooseberries, currants, and raspberries in rows, with narrow paths between. Iron rods placed here and there serve to support a sloping roof, front, and sides of galvanised netting, three quarters of an inch mesh; and the whole is secured with a door and key. The “safe”, as it may be termed, is 60 feet by 10 feet; and the cost of the whole was under £10.’

 

£10 would now be just over £800 (RPI measure).

 

The only long and high south-facing wall at Fir Hill is the one at the south end of the walled garden, so this must have been the wall that Tom Smith built for his fruit cage. Unfortunately he saved money by building a six-foot wall on top of an existing four-foot wall, which itself was built on a shallow chalk foundation. The wall was subsequently shored up by brick buttresses but nonetheless can never have been very stable. There is no sign of Tom Smith’s fruit cage, which was replaced by a 60-foot long glasshouse some years later. 

Detail from photo showing west façade of Fir Hill.

Photo courtesy of Paul Highnam

Stable block

Gaol door in cellar

Death and will

 

Tom Smith died at Fir Hill on 9 May 1878 at the age of 88. He must have been a man of substantial means for, in addition to Fir Hill, his will refers to two properties in Alton, another in Shalden and a large farm inherited from his family called Golden Pot, just outside Alton, north Hampshire. His estate was valued at £16,000 (£1,270,000/£11,800,000/ £21,900,000) for probate purposes.

 

His will, dated 28 May 1870 and accepted into probate on 5 July 1878 (HRO: 5M62/17 page 511), is rather endearing. He left £30 (£2,390/ £22,100/£41,200) to his cook, Jane Bunday, and £40 (£3,190/£29,400/ £54,900) to his groom, John Davis. He makes numerous bequests of carriages: his brougham (an enclosed four-wheeled carriage drawn by one or two horses), his phaeton (a fast, open, lightly-sprung carriage drawn by a pair of horses), a cart and a number of wagons, plus the saddlery for all these.

 

His nephew, Shalden Smith, inherited his fishing rods and guns, and he left his white pony to Penelope, his widow, who also received some fine jewellery. His executors were instructed to allow her to remain at Fir Hill, free of expense, for 12 months and then to sell the house in order to make up the shortfall of a settlement of £4,000 (£319,000/£2,940,000/ £5,490,000) that he had promised her on their marriage presumably shortly before he made his will. She also received a life interest in the residuary estate ‘until she dies or remarries’, after which the estate was to pass to his nephew.

 

Tom Smith was buried at Shalden Church, together with his second wife Anna Matilda. He had lived in Shalden Lodge, Shalden earlier in his career and it was close to his family farm at Golden Pot. The tomb reads

 

In memory of Thomas Smith, born in 1796 and died in 1878, High Sheriff for Hampshire 1858,

 

also of Anna Matilda, wife of Thomas Smith and sister of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Evelyn Denison, died 30 January 1867 aged 75.

 

Also inside Shalden Church there is a memorial tablet to his parents, which reads

 

In memory of Thomas Smith of Shalden Lodge, born 1 February 1760 and died 9 April 1811, and of Martha his wife, born 19 February 1766 and died 6 December 1852.

 

 

Brougham carriage

Source: The Ocular Helmsman

 

Phaeton carriage

Source: Educational Technology Clearinghouse

Research, words and web design by Matthew & Georgy.

 

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