The History of Chilworth Manor, Hampshire, England

Chilworth Manor, although now a rather neglected (OK, well advanced into decay) hotel remains an exquisite Edwardian manor house in Hampshire, England. With itís imposing frontage and manicured lawns,  (provided that one ignores the ubiquitous cigarette ends) it has a powerful presence and commands attention to the heritage it stands for. It is simply a magnificent looking edifice, deserving of far better care than it is receiving at present.

The history of Chilworth Manor can be lengthy and confusing, but it provides a deep understanding of what gives this manor its historical value. It is steeped with tradition and has an interesting connection to the Crown. The manor dates back to the 11th century, during the reign of King Henry V.

 

A manor at that time was described as a land tenure unit or a system of land tenure and organization of the rural economy and society in parts of medieval Europe. Early references were of a parish in Southhampton, England described as a roman road, an ancient ridgeway path, an iron age earthwork in was once called Chylworth, Celeworda, Cheleworth or Chilworth, as it is known today.

The overlordship of the Chilworth manor was held by the Bohuns, the Earl of Hereford and Essex. Lady Joan Fitzalan, who was the Countess of Northhampton, Countess of Hereford, and Countess of Essex from 1347 to 1419 respectively. Lady Fitzalan was the wife of the 7th Earl of Hereford, 6th Earl of Essex and 2nd Earl of Northampton. She was the mother of Mary de Bohun, who was the first wife of Henry of Bolingbroke. Henry later reigned as King Henry IV. She was also the mother of Eleanor de Bohun, Duchess of Gloucester. She was the daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl to Hereford. Mary de Bohun survived her sister Eleanor and inherited her father, Earl Herefordís large estates which included Chilworth Manor.

The overlordship remained in that family until the end of the next century. It is believed their rights to the manor may have lapsed, which was not unusual during this time. Another reason could have been the Black Death Plague, which was rampant in Europe from 1347-1350 killing many people.

At the time of the Domesday Survey, Chilworth Manor belonged to Bernard Pauncefoot which was passed to him by Earl Godwin. About 1337, the property became that of the Williams family. At an inquisition of Williams, the property was described as a manor. The manor descended to his son Henry who died in 1363. Chilworth Manor was sold two years later by his son, Thomas Williams, to Thomas Tyrell, Kent of Essex.

By 1372, the manor was owned by John Daccombe The manor remained with the Daccombe family for the next century. It was held by Thomas Daccombe in 1477 and sixty years later it was purchased from his son, John. John Daccombe died in 1558 and left it to his youngest son Thomas.

During the latter half of the sixteenth century, Thomas and Richard Dowse, grandsons of John Dowse, claimed there was an agreement made between John Daccombe and John Dowse for the succession of the manor at the time of sale of the manor.

In 1602 Richard Dowse succeeded to the Chilworth estate on the death of his father. Richard Dowse conveyed the entire estate, including Chilworth Manor, to John More, serjeant-at-law, who died in 1620. His son and heir survived him only a few months, and Chilworth Manor passed to a younger daughter, Anne, wife of Edward Hooper, of Hurn Court, and from them to their son Sir Edward Hooper, who held the manor in 1676.

Before 1714, however, the manor had passed to Gilbert Serle, probably by purchase, although the exact date of the transfer cannot be found.

The Serle Family continued as lords of the manor for the next century. Peter Serle, who succeeded his father Peter in 1782, was a philanthropist who endowed many charities in the parish of Chilworth and the surrounding districts. In 1825 he conveyed the Chilworth estate, including the manor, to John Fleming, who was to take possession upon Peter Serleís death.

Mr. Fleming obtained the manor in 1825 and went on to convey it to John Barton Willis Fleming, consolidating the Willis Estates with the Fleming Estates in mainland Hampshire. Upon this conveyance from Mr. Fleming, John Barton Willis Fleming became one of the largest landed proprietors in Hampshire. The Fleming Willis Estate was about 15,000 acres. The Estate comprised at least 80 farms in 1872. John Flemming rebuilt Chilworth Manor in 1904 and the manor became the principal family home for the Willis-Flemming family.

The Willis Fleming Family was a great English family of landed proprietors founded by Dr Thomas Willis, a physician and natural philosopher. His grandson and heir was Browne Willis. From 1766, the Willis family adopted the additional name and arms of the extinct Fleming family of Stoneham, which had been founded by Sir Thomas Fleming, Lord Chief Justice.

The Willis Flemming Family sold Chilworth Manor in 1947 and the University of Southampton acquired the property in the 1960's as a Hall of Residence.

Chilworth Manor was developed into a Conference and Training Centre with leisure facilities in 2001. There are mixed reviews regarding the hotel, some stating that the hotel is in tatters. It is now used as a conference center and banquet hall for weddings and conferences. Much of the original grounds are now taken up by an unsightly business park whilst a lot of it has been left overgrown.

For centuries the Willis Fleming Family prospered much like a corporation, continuing blood and lineages and keeping vast property together along the years. In conclusion, the Chilworth Manor is a reminder that heritage and bloodlines can stand the test of time quite well indeed; provided that they are properly looked after. Sadly this heritage has not been maintained to an adequate standard and the building would take an immense sum to restore it to it's former glory.

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