Reflections: Pylewell Park - uncovering the story of a local landmark
IT was during my explorations and researches into the notebooks of the Rev. Henry Comyn (1777-1851), compiled whilst he was curate of Boldre parish between 1811 and 1817, that I became aware of the extent of the Pylewell estate.
For many years I had known the location of the solitary picturesque mansion lying between the tiny village of South Baddesley and the marshes of the Solent coast.
During the summer and autumn of 1944 several cycle rides had taken me to visit the temporary landing strip laid out immediately to the west of the Pylewell Park where one could watch the flight of the impressive US Thunderbolt aircraft.
The road was closed when the aircraft were operating as the runway actually ran directly across it.
I think that part of the airstrip was on the fields of Lisle Court Farm, which belonged to Pylewell, while the northern part was on the land of Snooks Farm, once in the ownership of the Walhampton Estate.
A real grasp of the importance of Pylewell, both to the local community and to the wider world became apparent to me when the large collection of Weld family documents kept in the then Dorset Records Office came to my attention as a significant portion of these documents related to the Pylewell Estate.
The Weld family held extensive areas of land in south-east Dorset centred on East Lulworth Castle (gutted by fire in 1929). They were, and remain, a Roman Catholic family which, by keeping a low-profile managed, sometimes with considerable difficulty, in surmounting the severe penalties periodically meted out to Catholics under government legislation. The story is very well told by Joan Berkeley in Lulworth and the Welds (Gillingham, Dorset, 1971).
Our story starts in 1801 when Pylewell was purchased from a Mr Robbins by Thomas Weld of Lulworth. Following the marriage of his second surviving son, Joseph (1777-1863) to the Hon. Charlotte Stourton (1782-1864) in 1802 he gave the 1,300-acre Pylewell Estate to the couple as a wedding gift.
It is from this time that a more detailed picture of the estate can be drawn, prior to that little more than a list of owners has survived.
Pylewell is entirely an agricultural estate beautifully situated between the Solent coast and the New Forest perambulation and comprising several individual farms both large and small, the most westerly of the larger farms was Lisle Court (121 acres), abutting the park, Nashes Farm (now demolished) then, immediately to the east of the grounds of Pylewell House, was the Pylewell Home Farm and finally in the coastal strip, which also had a single operating saltern, managed by Thomas Hampton, Vinings Farm (152½ acres) whose eastern boundary abutted the lands of Beaulieu estate.
To the north of this was the smaller East (End) Farm (52.5 acres) followed by East End Bridge Farm and abutting this, to the west was Baddesley Manor Farm (86 acres), later called Carter’s Farm, and to the north of this Norley Farm (101 acres). The sale catalogue of 1850 states that the 1,288 acres estate consisted of “Sundry farms, let to a most respectable and contented Tenantry, at moderate rents.”
A charming glimpse of the private life in the farms is revealed in one of Edward Hapgood’s love letters (1st April 1847) to Leah Barrow, who he was courting. When the weather was inclement the couple would rendezvous at Lisle Court Farm. To Leah he writes:, “I did not receive your last letter until Tuesday evening half past 8 o’clock.
"I started off for Lisle Court almost immediately after: when I got there I had the disappointment of hearing you had left some considerable time before and the folk there were all gone to bed, it was then exactly quarter past 9 o’clock. Miss Waters was disturbed from her bed, she very kindly came and spoke to me from the window.”
The Miss Waters referred to was probably the widow, Mrs Sarah White who had succeeded to the tenancy following the death of her husband Robert.
A brick and tile manufactory was situated close to the Solent shore lying at the most easterly part of the estate at Pitts Deep. Though isolated it was evidently a successful concern contributing large quantities of both bricks and tiles throughout the area. At as short distance to the west is Tanners Lane, running south from East End to the shore; four families named Tanner lived in the lane.
There was a complementary brick and tile works situated at the western end of the estate on the coastal land of Lisle Court Farm and close by the remains of a defunct saltern, named Luke’s Saltern.
When Thomas Weld purchased the estate in 1801 the village of South Baddesley, comprising only about eight cottages, lay only a short distance north of the house and immediately west of the large Baddesley Manor House, at that time occupied by the Dodd family and falling entirely within the Pylewell estate.
The grounds of Baddesley Manor stretch northward as far as Norley Wood; the whole of these grounds had been absorbed into Pylewell Estate at the time it was purchased by Weld. He oversaw the demolition of the village of South Baddesley, in keeping with what had become nationally the practice of many large landowners in isolating the large house from the lesser buildings, and re-sited it at its present location. Other nearby examples can be seen at East Lulworth, Charborough Park and Milton Abbas.
One consequence of these changes was the construction of the new road running from the southern end of the Undershore Road at Blake’s Lodge to East End. This is the road which is still in use to this day. From that time onward it defined the northern boundary of Pylewell Park.
It is evident from the surviving documentary evidence that Joseph Weld became deeply committed to Pylewell and when away from the estate his correspondence demonstrates how he had come to love his Hampshire home.
He engaged a steward, only known to posterity by his surname of Wood, to manage his farm during his absences. Wood was paid an annual salary of 70 guineas (a guinea equalled £1 1s.) and was provided with free accommodation within the walls of Pylewell House.
Much can be learned from the subsequent correspondence between Weld and Wood in which Weld’s love of Pylewell and his knowledge of agriculture shine through. Wood, in his replies gave very precise summaries of his care and management of the estate.
Weld, in one of his letters, complemented Wood on his detailed descriptions and stated that they were almost as good “as a walk over the farm.”
Nevertheless, sometimes he was quite critical as in an undated letter (but postmarked 1st April 1814) in which he admonished him over the account book Wood had sent: “I found several things you did not put down in your account book, which would have made the book come wrong. You did not put down what you paid for the first sheep you bought, the cows and bull and all the young heifers, which if included would have made the balance come very different...”
And in another letter the weather looms large: “We have had snow on the ground this three weeks and a very hard frost the whole time without the least thaw in the day”. There is then a reference to Pylewell: “We shall be glad to have the ice house filled if you have the opportunity...”
This is the first known reference to the ice house, which still survives, and strongly indicates that it had been constructed at Weld’s instruction. The year 1814 endured a severe winter starting on 27thDecember 1813 and continuing until mid-February 1814. A ‘Frost Fair’ (as it happens the last) was held on the frozen Thames from 1st to 4th February.
Any reader interested in following further this fascinating trail should refer to Joseph Weld - His Correspondence with his Land Steward at Pylewell 1809-14 edited by Jude James, 1998. The complete annotated typescript is available in the Christopher Tower Library in the New Forest Museum, Lyndhurst,
Joseph Weld (1777-1863)
Joseph was 25 when he received Pylewell and from that time was active dealing with the affairs of the estate until 1828, when his older brother, Thomas Weld, presented Lulworth Castle and its estate to him. From thence he had to give much of his time to his Dorset estates, though I don’t think he ever ceased to care for Pylewell.
His abiding enthusiasm was yachting as a competitive sport and of which he was a master. He formed a close professional relationship with the renowned Hastings yacht and boat builder, Thomas Inman (1787-1870) who, before establishing his boatyard at Lymington first set up on the Pylewell coast working for Joseph Weld. Shortly afterwards moving to Lymington intent on establishing a yacht building business on the river.
Weld proved a great ally and customer and spent many thousands of pounds on the maintenance of his yachts and the construction of new ones. I think it may be correctly said that the relationship between Weld and Inman was responsible for laying the durable foundation of yacht building that for very many years was the most economically important activity in Lymington.
Of the several yachts built for Weld in the early days the largest was 193-ton schooner Alarm which on 13 August 1830 won the Ladies’ Challenge Cup at Cowes. But we must leave the yachting story for another occasion.
The first child born to Joseph and Charlotte was in Winkton, Christchurch. He was Edward Humphrey Joseph Weld, known only through a burial entry in the Christchurch Priory Church burial register, 16th September 1804. In that entry the parents were recorded as ‘of Pilewell.’
Later, in 1815, Joseph was born at Pylewell who, as he grew to manhood, continued the Weld connecton with the town and in due course he became known as ‘Joseph of Lymington,’ (I suppose to distinguish him from his father, ‘Joseph the Yachtsman.’).
He did not succeed to the Pylewell Estate but took up residence in Blake’s Lodge, now demolished, but once occupying the area opposite the Isle of Wight Ferry terminal, which is now developed as housing.
The Weld family continued to reside in Lymington into the 1970s, represented by the children of Brig. Charles Joseph Weld (1893-1968) whose unpublished manuscript of the family’s history provides a fascinating picture but only available as a typescript (a copy of which is held in the Christopher Tower Library, Lyndhurst).