Adhurst St Mary

Adhurst St Mary

Contrary to popular opinion, the house named Adhurst St Mary is not actually in Sheet but in the parish of Steep, so it has thus been included here in the History of Steep website.

The house was commissioned by John Bonham Carter II and his wife Laura, designed by prestigious architect Philip Hardwick of Euston Station fame and built between 1857-9. Historic England states that the house is of bath stone with a highly pitched slate roof and tall chimneys. An article by James Hitchings in Hampshire magazine of June 1966, states that the stone for the house came from quarries at East Meon, owned by the Bonham Carter family. There are ornate internal and external features and it is a mixture of Victorian, Elizabethan and Gothic styles. A Gothic arch links what was originally the coach house and stables to the service eastern end of the house. Internally there are high spacious rooms with decorative marble fireplaces and ceilings with delicately curved plaster mouldings,. There is an elegant turning staircase set in a wood panelled entrance hall. The house is Grade II listed and stands in a slightly off set north south position. The entrance front with its wooden double doors, ornately curved oriel window and plaques to the Bonham Carter family faces north, while the large windows of many of the principle rooms face the terrace on the south side, from which steps lead down to where there were once large formal flower beds and paths leading to the wooded St Mary’s hanger. A 1862 photograph of Adhurst St Mary at Hampshire Record Office bears the inscription that the house was so named from ‘Adda’s wood and St Mary’s Well’.

The Ordnance Survey maps show St Mary’s Well as being at or near the site of Steep/Sheet Upper Mill in Mill Lane – a turning leading north from the present day Village Street in Sheet. The water supply for Adhurst St Mary house was pumped from St Mary’s Well. A Gothic Lodge, now a separate residence, is situated to the western side of the top of Adhurst Hill (the B2070). It was from here that the drive led through parkland of deciduous trees and conifers, to the north elevation and main entrance of Adhurst St Mary. Passengers having alighted, coaches and cars would then have passed under the arch to the stables and coach house area.

The plans for Adhurst St Mary seem to indicate that principle rooms: drawing room, sitting room, library, study, and a loggia were on the ground floor to the west. Each were spacious with large windows and moulded plaster decorations on the ceilings. Old photographs indicate that rooms were decorated in classic Victorian darker colours and packed with furniture, wall pictures and many objects. The eastern end of the ground floor contained the kitchen, servants’ hall and other service areas. Main bedrooms were on the first floor, with a night nursery and a day nursery and more servants rooms on the second floor. There were extensive cellars below ground with different rooms for beer and different rooms for various types of wine.

The house was linked by a Gothic arch at its eastern end to the stables and coach house, where there was also a service courtyard. These buildings later became garages and staff accommodation.

The Ordnance Survey maps of 1895 and 1909 give an idea of the lay out of the gardens, little of which now exist, although the brick walls of the walled garden and its paths are still in place. Beautiful spring bulbs still appear in the woods near here each year. Paths led from the north of the house to a secret garden named Lady Bonham’s garden or observatory. Beyond this was the hexagonal/octagonal walled kitchen garden with fruit trees and paths. There were greenhouses along the north wall of the walled garden and potting sheds and cold frames beyond this. A gardener’s cottage was nearby. It is not known who created the gardens and thought perhaps to have been a head gardener. The gardeners are named as follows in the various censuses: 1861 William Glass 32, 1871 William Cole 26, 1881 & 1891 George Nottage 29, 1901 Herbert Silcock 35, 1911 Harry Offer 37, 1921 William Speed 56. An avenue lined with trees linked the walled garden to the farm to the north east. In 1903 an Arts and Crafts sunken garden in Inigo Triggs style was created to the south east of the walled garden with stone steps leading down to a cross shaped lily pond.  A rill and rock garden were added to the east of the house in the time of Sir Alan and Lady Lubbock.

Various additional cottages were built on the estate to accommodate workers as time progressed. A cottage was built near the St Mary’s Well water source. The gardener’s cottage has been mentioned. Two additional houses appeared near the Lodge alongside the road. Adhurst Farm already possessed two farm cottages. An additional bungalow was built in this area. A small woodman’s cottage was situated in the woods to the north.

John Bonham Carter II his first wife Laura née Nicholson, his second wife Mary née Baring and their children lived at Adhurst St Mary from 1859-1884. Adhurst was their country house and estate. As M.P. for Winchester, he also had a house in London. On the death of John Bonham Carter II in 1884, his eldest son John Bonham Carter III succeeded to the house and the Adhurst estate. John Bonham Carter III did not marry until 1891, but both he and his wife Mary Withers had died by 1906. The house and estate then passed to their only daughter Helen Mary Bonham Carter. She married Lt., later Sir Alan Lubbock in 1918. During WW1 Adhurst St Mary was used as a WW1 Auxiliary Hospital. Its story is told in Bill Gosney’s book ‘Hospitals of the Petersfield Union 1914-1919’.  During WW2 Portsmouth High School for Girls was evacuated to Adhurst St Mary. For much of the twentieth century the house and estate continued in the hands of the Lubbock family until the deaths of Helen in 1987 and Sir Alan in 1990.

By 1960 the west wing of the house had been converted to flats, possibly three separate units. At some point the stable and coach house buildings  were developed into several smaller dwellings – Butler’s Cottage, Chauffeur’s Cottage, Court Cottage and Woodman’s Cottage. A wooden Stable Cottage appeared nearby. After the death of Sir Alan Lubbock the house and 32 acres of its surrounding land were put up for sale in the 1990s. The woodland was put in trust. It and the remaining Adhurst estate remained with the Lubbock family descendants and still remains with them today. From the later 1990s, Adhurst St Mary began to fall into decay, with rain entering the roofs in places and parts of the plaster ceilings falling.  Local planners gave permission for it to be converted into an 85 room hotel. The developer hoped to fund this by building a number of modern houses in the parkland on the estate. Planners were concerned that the new houses would be built and sold, but that the historic Adhurst St Mary house might not be restored. They therefore withdrew their permission for the hotel and the proposed new houses were not approved. The house continued to decay. More recently, the west wing  has been separately purchased and beautifully restored. In March 2024 part of this, known as West Court, was for sale with 2.5 acres of land.