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 10th century. Its layout was unusual when compared to 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 rather 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 goes to the Wiltshire border. In 2009 when its residents were canvassed as to whether or not they would like to stay as part of Amport Civil Parish or become part of Grateley, they elected to stay with Amport.
The boundaries of the Amport Parochial Parish (the area in which you must live to be entitled to use the functions of the church such as christenings, calling of banns for weddings, weddings themselves, or funerals) are similar to the Civil Parish except that there is only a very small area north of the A303, up to the Rosebourne Garden Centre, and it does not extend on the panhandle to the Wiltshire boundary, the boundary being at Lains Farm.
There are two principal factors that have determined the layout of most villages. These were the local ‘Lord of the Manor’ and the Church. Both have had a significant effect on the layout of Amport. The Church was prominent for the boundaries of the parish, and the Marquesses of Winchester and cadet members of the family 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 around the church.
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 local government 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 had extensive influence on Amport were the Pauletts, ennobled as the Marquess of Winchester in 1551 although a Marquess did not live at Amport until 1794. Amport House was until 1918 the last fragment of the Paulett estate. Despite family name changes, descent through the female line and being sold to others between 1306 and 1649, it had been much 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. The Saxon name of the Pillhill Brook that runs through Amport was then the ‘Anne’ and has given its name via Anne de Port to Amport and also to Abbots Ann and Anna Valley.
By various marriages the name of Hugh de Port’s descendants finally became Paulett in the 15th century and steadily grew in importance until, at the time of Henry VIII, Sir William Paulett, Controller of the King’s Household, was created first Marquess of Winchester and received extensive grants of monastic land in Hampshire. His main seat was Basing Castle which, with 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 Marquess was a Royalist and defended Basing Castle until Cromwell captured and demolished it; its owner had to flee to France. At the Restoration he got his estates back but not, however, the money he had paid in fines.
Since the time of Hugh de Port there had been many owners and tenants of Amport House and many legal battles about the ownership. The owner at the time of the civil war one Richard Goldman, a staunch Royalist supporter. It is possible that for this he was ‘compounded for delinquency’ at the start of the Commonwealth in 1649 and given a fine of £150 that represented about a sixth of his assets. He sold Amport House at this time to Lord Henry Paulet, the brother of fifth Marquess of Winchester. Thus the blood line of Hugh de Port regained the ‘Lord of the Manor’ of Amport.
In the early part of the 18th century, the medieval village of Amport consisted of village houses south of the church and farmyards to the north east. The then ‘Lord of the Manor’, a cadet member of the Paulett family, wanted to create a park around his house near the church and the first of three migrations of Amport villagers took place. The southernmost villagers’ houses were swept away and rebuilt besides what is now Amport Green.
In 1686 the sixth Marquess of Winchester was active in the support for William of Orange to become William the Third. His reward was to be elevated to Duke of Bolton. When, in 1794, Harry, Sixth Duke of Bolton and Eleventh Marquess of Winchester, died without an heir the dukedom expired. The Duke’s Hampshire seat, Hackwood Park, and his Yorkshire estate, Bolton Castle, passed to a half-sister, the Fifth Duke’s illegitimate daughter, but the Marquessate of Winchester devolved to George Paulett of Amport. For the first time, a Marquess of Winchester lived at Amport House.
George Paulett was sixty-six when he succeeded as Marquess. He died six years later and was succeeded by his son, Charles. The original Amport estate was vast, taking in the whole of the area around what is known as Andover Airfield, the villages of Thruxton, Monxton, Grateley and most of Quarley, plus large tracts of land south of the present railway line.
There have been several Amport Houses in the area of the current one. In the 18th century Amport House was probably a substantial manor house but in the 19th century two houses were built by new owners to keep up with the current fashions.
When Charles Paulett became 13th Marquess of Winchester in 1800 he seems to have sought to live in Amport in a manner appropriate for the premier marquess 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 a Palladian columned portico.
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 Marquess died in 1843 and his son, John, succeeded as the 14th Marquess. 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 Marquess 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 is described by Pevsner in his ‘Buildings of England’ as ‘nothing special’.
The Marquess 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 extensive kitchen gardens, glass houses and orchards were made. The walls for these still exist for the most part in Furzedown Lane but houses have now been built on the kitchen gardens. The second migration of Amport villagers took place when new farm buildings 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 Marquess’ next plan was to make private the parkland around the new house. At that time the entrance to the church was through a south doorway and this meant that the village 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 Marquess himself and he was therefore able to influence the arrangements. The nave was extended and a new west window installed. The current 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. This drive was subsequently closed by gates giving the privacy the Marquess wanted.
In the nineteenth century, in addition to the Marquess as ‘Lord of the Manor’, there was one married couple who were prominent philanthropists for Amport, Thomas and Sophia Sheppard. Thomas had been a Fellow and Dean of Divinity of Magdalene College, Oxford. He was then given the valuable Magdalene living in Basingstoke although he was known as the ‘absentee Rector of Basingstoke’ because he had preferred to spend many years as vicar of Amport. 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 woman 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 and improve the village. 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 14th Marquess was succeeded in 1887 by his son, Charles, as the 15th Marquess. His main interests were the Army (he served with the Coldstream Guards) and horses. His military service took him away for considerable periods of time 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, blacksmith’s and carpenter’s shops, its own laundry and even made its own bricks. It employed over 100 people, not including those on the various farms.
The 15th Marquess was killed in action in 1899 at Magersfontein 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 when Mosheen died in 1902, she was buried in the park; a gravestone still marks the spot. The 15th Marquess died unmarried and was succeeded by his brother, Henry, as the 16th Marquess.
The 16th Marquess 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 came for the partridge shooting.
But the effect of the First World War coupled with high taxation hastened the end of the Paulett estate. Lavish entertaining and high gambling stakes led to increasing debts. Between November 1918 and July 1919 the estate was broken up and sold. Many of the lots (including Amport House) failed to reach their reserve price at auction and were sold privately whilst many pieces of land (including prime timber) went for knock-down prices. Captain R W Philipson purchased the house and part of the estate but sold it within about 18 months. 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 next owner was Colonel Sofer Whitburn, DSO. He had been a partner of the bankers Reeves, Whitburn and Co and he and his wife were wealthy. They wanted to raise the profile of the house and estate they had bought as it must have been quite 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 must have been 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 near 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, although, sadly, he had not been trained in Amport. He 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. Hay Down Hill was laid out as a seven-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 30s 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. The House and estate were sold by the Sofer Whitburns in 1943 although they were still being used by the RAF.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the only notable RAF person who was stationed at Amport was the entertainer 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 on Sarson Lane 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 later 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 people travel by car and there is no suggestion that productive work is done. It was very different in the early part of the 20th century. Looking at maps of that time and hearing recollections of people who were there show that Amport was a bustling place with a grocery and a butcher shop and small workshops plus some bigger concerns. The main method of transport for both goods and people was the railway and, significantly, there was a 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 further 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) and then been delivered by horse and cart. There was also a brewery in Amport, again in the north of the parish at the junction of Sarson Lane and the Amesbury Road, that became part of Strongs Brewery of Romsey. There is a memorial stone at that junction, erected by one of the partners of the brewery, that commemorates the 15th Marquess and other soldiers killed in the Boer War.
The information for this article has been culled from many sources, principally from Marigold Routh’s book ‘Amport, The Story of a Hampshire Parish’. There are still many areas that need to be investigated but require more time. Any additional information or corrections would be much appreciated and should be sent to the author.
Bill Gore – email@example.com