Amport History

To give a history of Amport causes something of a problem: how is Amport defined? Amport Civil Parish is shown on the map below and comprises about 17 square kilometres. It includes the village of Amport itself and the hamlets of East Cholderton and Sarson (hamlet: …a village without a church, included in the parish belonging to another village or town. OED).

It seems that Amport’s parish boundary had been established by the end of the tenth century. Its layout was unusual when compared to the other local parishes; whereas the others tended to be long and narrow, Amport had two long arms, one extending westward to the Wiltshire border and one northward to include Appleshaw. Appleshaw was part of the parish because the church there was a Chapel of Ease served by the clergy of Amport. When the ecclesiastical parish of Appleshaw was created in 1866, the split between the two parishes defined the northern boundary of Amport Parochial Parish. This became the Civil Parish boundary following the 1894 Local Government Act. The northern part has become more isolated from the rest of the parish by the A303 dual carriageway despite some 40% of the population living there. It is not apparent why the extant westward extension went to the Wiltshire border. In 2009 its residents were canvassed as to whether or not they would like to stay as part of Amport Civil Parish or become part of Grately but they elected to stay with Amport.

The boundaries of the Amport Parochial Parish (the area in which you must live to use the functions of the church such as weddings, calling of banns for weddings and funerals) are similar to the Civil Parish except that there is only a very small area north of the A303 and it doesn’t extend on the pan handle to the Wiltshire boundary, the boundary being at Lains Farm.

There are two principal factors that determine the layout of most villages. These are the local ‘Lord of the Manor’ and the Church. Both have had a significant effect on the layout of Amport village. The Church was prominent for the boundaries of the parish and the Marquesess of Winchester were responsible for the disposition of the farms and cottages. This has resulted in Amport being a spread-out estate village unlike other local villages that still have central farms and cottages as a focus.

The forerunner of Town and Parish Councils were called parish vestries which, although not established by an Act of Parliament, by the latter end of the 17th century had become the rulers of England. Local worthies, such as the Squire, the parson and the schoolmaster, worked for the goodwill of the village and land around it.

The family to have extensive influence on Amport was the Paulett family, ennobled as the Marquisess of Winchester. Amport House was until 1918 the last fragment of an estate which had been, despite name changes and descent through the female line, in the same family’s hands since William the Conqueror gave it and many other estates in Hampshire to Hugh de Port, one of his most trusted lieutenants. Anne was the Saxon name of the Pinhill brook that has given its name to Amport via Anne de Port and also to Abbots Ann and Anna Valley.

His descendants changed their name to Paulet and steadily grew in importance until, at the time of Henry VIII, Sir William Paulet, Controller of the King’s Household, was created first Marquis of Winchester. His main seat was Basing Castle which, after much rebuilding, he turned into the “greatest of any subject’s house in England, yea, larger than most the King’s palaces’.

In the Civil War the fifth Marquis was a Royalist and defended Basing Castle against all comers until Cromwell captured and demolished it; its owner had to flee to France. At the Restoration, however, he got his estates back and, since Basing Castle had gone, divided his time between a smaller house there and Amport.

The original estate was vast, taking in the whole of the area of Andover Airfield, the villages of Thruxton, Monxton, Grately and most of Quarley, plus large tracts of land south of the present railway line. Most of the peasant houses clustered around the church at that time. In the early eighteenth century the Marquis of Winchester, Lord of the Manor, wanted to create a park around his house and many of the peasant houses were swept away. They were rebuilt besides what is now know as The Green.

There have been several Amport Houses in the area of the current one. In the 19th century two were built by new owners to keep up with the current fashions.

Charles Paulet became 13th Marquis of Winchester in 1800. From the start he seems to have sought to live in a manner appropriate for the premier marquis of England. He began by building a new mansion on the site of the previous house and it was finished in 1806. At Fig 1 is an engraving of the house with its classical, white stuccoed frontage and projecting wings linked to an Ionic columned portico; somewhat modelled on Palladio.

This house was much closer to the church than the present one; the tower of the church can be seen on the right of the house at Fig 1. The location can also be seen on the Tithe Map of 1839 at Fig 2, together with the farm buildings to the northeast of the house. To the west of the house can be seen the stables that were later extended and are now Amport Park Mews.

The 13th Marquis died in 1843 and his son, John, succeeded as the 14th Marquis. The fashion had changed in the 40 years since his father built the ‘new’ house. As a result of the writings of Ruskin, Pugin and others a Gothic house became the most popular form; porticos and classical columns were ‘so last half century’! The 14th Marquise pulled down his father’s mansion that had lasted less than 50 years and replaced it with the Victorian grey-brick house that stands today, shown at Fig 3. It was designed by William Burn and described by Pevesner in his Buildings of England as ‘nothing special’!

The Marquis made many changes. The site of the new house was about 350 yards west of the old house and just southwest of the stables shown at Fig 2. The old farm buildings east of the church were demolished and in their place were laid out extensive kitchen gardens, glass houses and orchards. The walls for these still exist for the most part in Furzedown Lane but houses have now been built on the kitchen gardens. New farm building were built half a mile away at Fox together with six cottages on Hay Down Lane. The cottages were demolished in the 1970s as they had become very wet and unfit for habitation; nothing can be seen of them now.

The 14th Marquis’s next plan was to make private the park land around the new house. At that time the entrance to the church was through a south doorway and this meant that the congregation reached it via the road that is now the drive to the House. The church at that time was in a bad state and urgent repairs were needed. It is thought that the much of the funding for these repairs came from the Marquis himself and he was therefore able to influence the arrangements. The nave was extended and a new west window installed. A new north doorway and porch were built and the south doorway blocked. This meant that the villagers could now enter the church through the north porch via Furzedown Lane (at that time called Amport House Farm Road) without travelling on the drive of Amport House. The drive was subsequently closed by gates giving the privacy wanted by the Marquis.

The 14th Marquis was succeeded in 1887 by his son, Charles, as the 15th Marquis. His main interests were the Army (he served with the Coldstream Guards) and horses. With his military service he was away a lot so the estate was managed by an agent for whom he built a fine house at the end of Furzedown Lane now called Woodside House. He also rebuilt the stable block with imposing effect; ranged around an elegant courtyard it included the coach houses and the head groom’s house.

By the end of the 19th century the estate ran its own dairy and cheese room, blacksmiths and carpenters shops, its own laundry and even made its own bricks. It employed over 100 people, excluding those on the various farms.

There was one married couple who were prominent philanthropists for Amport in the nineteenth century, Thomas and Sophia Sheppard. Thomas had been a Fellow and Dean of Divinity of Magdalene College, Oxford, and was then given the valuable Magdalene living in Basingstoke. He had considerable wealth, the principal source being his income as Rector of Basingstoke. He was seventy three when he married Sophia, an energetic, purposeful, young women of thirty-one. When he died thirteen years later he left his fortune to his young widow with various covenants that she should spend some part of the year in Amport. She began by building the village school that opened in 1815. In memory of her husband she built a row of almshouses behind the school that are still in use today. Before her death in 1848 she conveyed both the school and the almshouses, together with a £10,000 Trust Fund for their administration and maintenance, to Magdalene College.

The 15th Marquis was killed in action in 1899 at Mafersfontein during the Boer War. His body and his favourite charger (Mosheen) were returned to Amport and a funeral with full military honours was held at the church. His body was cremated but Mosheen was buried in the park when she died in 1902; a gravestone still marks the spot. The 15th Marquis died unmarried and was succeeded by his brother, Henry, as the16th Marquis.

The 16th Marquis and his wife enjoyed an Edwardian life in London and Amport. Amport House was filled with the rich and famous in society: King Edward the Seventh visited for the Stockbridge Races and the partridge shooting.

Captain R W Philipson purchased the house and part of the estate but within about 18 months he sold it. His best known act was to donate an ex-army wooden hut that he set up on the Green. This became the village hall, known as ‘The Hut’, until it was demolished in the 1970s.

The new owner was Colonel Sofer Whitburn, DSO. He had been a partner of the bankers Reeves, Whitburn and Co; he and his wife were wealthy! They intended to raise the profile of the house and estate they had bought. To Pevsner, even after the work the Sofer Whitburns had done on the house, it was ‘nothing special’. When the Sofer Whitburns bought it must have been very austere. They decided to have the gardens refashioned and other work done on the estate. For this they chose the leading architect of the day, Edwin Lutyens, and the leading garden designer: Gertrude Jekyll.

In her biography of Lutyens (The Architect and His Wife) Jane Ridley says of his work in the Edwardian age ‘A Lutyens house and a Jekyll garden became an Edwardian status symbol’. After the First World War his star was even higher. He had designed many war memorials, including the Whitehall Cenotaph, and the military gravestones still used today. His major tasks in the 1920s were the rebuild of Delhi, with his masterpiece the Viceroy’s house, and the Theipval memorial to the Somme. To employ Lutyens for work at Amport amongst his busy portfolio was a great coup for the Sofer Whitburns.

Lutyens and Jekyll laid out the garden in 1923. The hard architecture was a clever exercise in geometry and changing levels. Terraces with an oval pool drop streams to a lower terrace that in turn feeds several square pools. The planting scheme was devised by Jekyll who added a rock garden in 1927.

Lutyens undertook several other commissions including a row of cottages opposite the stables and gate piers for the wrought iron gates opposite Amport School. Pevesner said of the piers: ‘If you don’t want to believe that an architect can be monumental and whimsical at the same time, here is the proof, especially in the concave tapering- away bases of his piers ‘. It is interesting that similar bases can be seen on the Lutyens designed war memorials in Stockbridge and Kings Sombourne.

The Sofer Whitburns spent most of the year at their London house but still had many activities on the Amport estate. Mrs Sofer Whitburn bred horses at a racing stable nearby and in 1929 sent out the 2000 Guineas winner, Adam’s Apple, that ran in the colours of her husband. It was an unexpected winner but to win a classic race, second only to The Derby in the flat racing calendar, was a great achievement. She also trained greyhounds at kennels on the estate and took a keen interest in coursing. Two of her greyhounds won its most prestigious event, the Waterloo Cup. Haydown Hill was laid out as a 7 hole golf course and a professional employed to maintain the course and give lessons for house visitors.

The Sofer Whitburns ran the house and estate for most of the 1920s and 30 until September 1939 when the house was requisitioned by the RAF for Maintenance Command. It became the Officers’ Mess and when Colonel Sofer Whitburn handed over he also, as a patriotic gesture, gave the entire contents of his wine cellar for the use of the Mess.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the only notable RAF person who was stationed at Amport was Bruce Forsyth.

There was a third move of the population of Amport in the late 1940s. The cottages on The Green had become very dilapidated to the extent that they were hardly fit for human habitation. Most of the inhabitants moved to the new Council Houses built as Sarson Close. The new tenants were delighted with the kitchens and lavatories as opposed to the cottages with damp walls and earth closets.

The RAF finally bought Amport House in 1957 and its role changed. It became the RAF Chaplains’ School and subsequently its current role as the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre.

When walking through Amport village today it is usually a very quiet place, a dormitory village. Most travel is by car and there is no suggestion that productive work is done. This was very different until the later part of the 20th century. Looking at maps made before that and hearing recollections of people who were there show that Amport was a bustling place with small workshops and shops plus some bigger concerns. The main method of transport for both goods and people was the railway and, significantly, there was station in Amport Parish. It was to the north of the parish, called Weyhill Station, and on the line that runs north from Red Post Junction. This line now stops at Ludgershall but originally went north and linked to the main line southwest of Hungerford. Weyhill Station would have been the way that most goods would have got to Amport, particularly the most significant fuel: coal. There was also a brewery in Amport, again in the north of the parish.(more to follow)

The information for this article has been culled from many sources. Any additional information or corrections should be sent to the author.
Bill Gore

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