The grounds are simply maintained; the house itself is admirably well set-off by the sweeping lawns in front which complement the Georgian face while to the rear the island in the moat still presents a scene of rural idyll as captured by Vita Sackville-West in her poetry. The site, elevated and surrounded now by trees can be seen from a distance with the spire of St Leonard’s Church marking its presence and a public footpath follows round two sides of the moat ensuring that Sherfield Court still occupies a dominant position in the landscape.
The original fortified house was sited atop a low hill and the surrounding farmland can still be enjoyed from the terraces of the moat. A house called Sherfield Court has stood on or near this spot since the manor was granted by Henry II and the moated site is one of the best preserved in Hampshire. The house which replaced the stronghold was a typical country Tudor farmhouse which was later extended and gentrified so that it now presents two contrasting architectural faces. Despite 19th and 20th-century additions the house remains a fascinating combination of styles reflecting its history. The house and grounds retain historical and literary significance for their association with Gerald Wellesley, architect and later sixth Duke of Wellington, and with Dorothy, Vita and the literary set of the 1920s. Later it became home to two of the century’s distinguished families and although it is now in multiple ownership it continues to please as an elegant family home although the unity of the garden has been lost.
Location and site
Sherfield Court is situated three and a half miles north of Basingstoke on the A33 Reading road, at Church End, about one mile south of Sherfield on Loddon. It stands beside the church of St. Leonard and both are accessed by a shared driveway. The property consists of a main house divided vertically into multi-ownership with grounds to the front, walled gardens and to the rear, an island surrounded by a moat.
The garden structure remains very little changed over the years; the rear of the house balances almost precipitously on the edge of the moat and a metal bridge now crosses to the island. This is a haven for the duck, geese and chickens who scrabble and peck beneath the aged fruit trees (including mulberry and medlar) and ornamental shrubs. The view to the house from the moat terraces is a picture of rustic charm. The wider landscape is less readily visible as the outer trees form a thick screen, but through the gaps a vista of arable fields spreads out below the motte. The avenue of Lombardy poplars takes the eye to the very boundary of the property. Specimen trees dot the front lawn, in particular the now sadly reduced old horse-chestnut, and the Wills' commemorative cedar which graces the north quarter. Near the house there are standard wisteria which probably date from the Wellesley's time but the walled pool garden which so delighted Dorothy and her friend Vita Sackville West is now in the separate ownership of Garden Court.
HGT Research: August 2009
Hampshire Record Office
Books and articles
The Gardens of Britain Vol 2 Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight: Allen Patterson in association with the RHS Pub: BT Batsford, London 1978
Grigg, A., 1946 The Story of Sherfield on Loddon, Basingstoke
Hastings, H de C. ‘Sherfield Court' in The Architectural Review, November 192, pp.165-175
Wellesley, D. 1952 Far Have I Travelled James Barrie, Chapter XI, pp.142-156
Wellesley, J. 2008 Wellington, A Journey through my Family, Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Sackville-West, V. 1939 The Land, Windmill Press, pp.40,41
Page, W. ed.1911 Victoria County History: A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 4, pp.103-108
Sherfield on Loddon Parish. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid
The Times on-line: http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/0/1/1purl=rc6_TTDA?sw_aep=hamlib
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: http://www.oxforddnb.com/
Hampshire Treasures 03/12/08: http://www.hants.gov.uk/hampshgiretreasures/vol02/page022.html
English Heritage: http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk
National Archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/A2A/
Hampshire County Council: http://www3.hants.gov.uk
31M57/399-433 Title deeds to the manor of Sherfield. 282 acres bought from Hasker by Rev E St John 1818 and sold to WLW Chute 1829 and sold by Chute to Duke of Wellington in 1839.
21M65/F7/206/1/2 1841 Tithe map and apportionment
202A07/131 1960s aerial photos of Sherfield Court grounds, A4 size
38M82/2 1982 Sale details Sherfield Court Estate
38M82/95 2001 Lane Fox sale details ‘principal portion' of Sherfield Court
Old Hampshire Mapped: Martin and Jean Norgate:Taylor's 1759, Milne's 1791
Detailed description contributed by Hampshire Gardens Trust 17/04/2015
- Sherfield on
A fortified house stood on this spot from the twelfth century until around 1572 when it was replaced by a Tudor house on the outer edge of the moat. From 1646, when the manor was divided into moieties and the courts removed to Wheeler's court house in Sherfield Green, the old property by the moat lost some of its distinction but remained a comfortable farmhouse. In 1700 the front of the house was extended in a fashionable style in red brick and later in the eighteenth century it was remodelled again when a long parapet was added to the upper floors (Hastings Architectural Review 1923).
During the nineteenth century the farm was passed from hand to hand through a succession of landowners; Sherfield Court was owned by Haskers, Edward St. John, Chute of the Vyne and finally from 1838, the Wellington Estates. In the early twentieth century Sherfield Court Farm was tenanted (31M57/399-433; 21M65/F7/206/1/20).
In 1918 the Duke of Wellington's third son, Gerald Wellesley and his wealthy wife Dorothy bought Sherfield Court as their family country home. Dorothy was a keen botanist and garden maker as well as a published poet and literary figure. Lord Gerald Wellesley was an accomplished architect and he designed extensions to the house which would accommodate their family, servants and visiting friends. He added wings to the house, taking care to preserve the formal aspect to the front and a more rustic style to the rear where the house sat precipitously close to the edge of the moat. Here he added a thatched octagon room at one side and a long thatched wing on the other which divided the house from the still operational farmyard (Hastings,1923; Wellesley, J. 2008).
The house was connected to the island in the moat by a wooden bridge. Dorothy was enraptured by the romanticism of the place and she restored the orchard trees and underplanted them with great drifts of daffodils, fritillaries and the rare wild tulip, tulip silvestris. Later Vita Sackville-West incorporated a romantic description of the island garden in her long poem The Land, which she dedicated to Dorothy. It includes the lines:
She walks among the loveliness she made,between the apple-blossom and the water-She walks among the patterned pied brocade,Each flower her son, and every tree her daughter.(Sackville-West, The Land 1926)Dorothy created a floral garden within part of the walled farmyard and planted sweet-smelling shrubs and climbers around the walls. Dorothy's close friendship with Vita was creating strains within the Wellesley marriage and Lord Gerald and Dorothy separated; in 1928 the house was sold (Wellesley, D. 1952).
The property was bought by Cecil M Wills, a member of the Bristol tobacco dynasty, better known for the pedigree cattle which he reared at Sherfield and as a writer of detective stories. The Wills, with seven children, added further rooms to the house and in 1929 the completion of the building was celebrated by the planting of a blue cedar in the front lawn by Walter Wills, the head of the family (Times On-line). After the war the house was sold to Mr Roger Makins, the then UK Ambassador to the United States. The Makins family took an active part in the life of Sherfield; they also purchased the Beaurepaire Estate and became significant landowners in the area (National Archives; ONB; Times On-line). During their tenure the house was listed by English Heritage as Grade II. In 1978 the garden was included in the Gardens of England series published by Batsford. The pool garden was a particular delight with shrubs lining a deep border around the walls, a rose walk, and the barn walls smothered with Rosa Banksia; the island retained its magical charm with mature ornamental trees and a long avenue of Lombardy poplars stretched to the boundary of the property. ‘In all directions', commented the author, ‘outwards and backwards to the house, views are good.' (Batsford, 1978).
In 1982 the Sherfield Court Estate was sold and subsequently the house was divided vertically into multiple ownership. The extreme right-hand wing was renamed ‘Garden Court' and Dorothy Wellesley's walled garden is now part of this property. The principal part of the house was sold again in 2001 and the current owners are the main landowners within this complex of properties (HRO:16M83/PZ17; 38M82/95).
Detailed history contributed by Hampshire Gardens Trust 17/04/2015
- Early 20th Century (1901-1932)
Hampshire Gardens Trust