If there an award for the unluckiest house, then Hinton Ampner, an elegant country house a mile west of Bramdean in Hampshire, near Alresford, would be a major contender for the crown. Set in the South Downs it overlooks wonderful rolling scenery, adjacent to what was the battlefield for the Civil War encounter at Cheriton in 1644.
There was an old Tudor hunting lodge near the site of the house which gained notoriety in the 18th century for being haunted. So terrifying was the spectre that the last tenant, one Mary Ricketts, was forced to flee with the remainder of her retinue, the majority of whom had fled already. The house was pulled down in 1793 (its foundations were rediscovered in 2014 and excavation work is due to start on the site shortly) and a new Georgian house built a little to the south.
The new house was then altered into a fashionable Victorian gaff, meaning that the light airy elegance of the Georgian house was replaced by dark, gloomy, heavy interiors. When Ralph Dutton, the 8th Lord Sherborne, inherited the pile in 1935, which he called a hideous Victorian monstrosity, he set about restoring it to its former glory.
All was going swimmingly until 1960 when a major fire broke out – thought to have been a spark from a log burning in a hearth which set a sofa alight – destroying the restorations and much of the collection of art works and books. So Ralph had to start all over again. But that wasn’t the end of the house’s problems. The roof was severely damaged in 1984 and again in 2014 – indeed on our visit the house was covered in scaffolding as major renovation work was underway.
The upshot of all of this was that the first floor was out-of-bounds to visitors and the glorious views from the large windows in the ground floor rooms were of wire meshing and rubbish bins. For all that, this reconstruction of a Georgian country pile was well done – porphyry abounds and the furniture and paintings were elegant and delightful. The dining room has a wonderful Robert Adam’s ceiling which was transferred from a house in London – Dutton was nothing if not diligent in his desire to recreate a Georgian house.
There is a 13th century church nearby which is worth a gander – Dutton’s grave is there with the ominous words, last of his line. The absence of an heir meant the National Trust took over the house in 1985.
The gardens present a more satisfying experience for the visitor. Carefully manicured box hedges surround small gardens which interlink as if they were rooms in a house. There was a beautiful sunken garden and the roses which were in full bloom for our visit were delightful. Trees were carefully positioned to emphasis the rolling hills and statuary and urns added interest to the planting.
Just outside the gates to the house is to be found the Hinton Arms which boasts the most astonishing display of hanging baskets that we have seen for a long while. Inside there is a warm welcome and the portions of the grub will satisfy the heartiest of appetites. The beers appear to be the pub’s own – we sampled Hinton’s Own and Sportsman – although I suspect that these are rebadged beers from the local Bowman’s brewery.
A pleasant trip but I would recommend you wait until the roof is fixed!