4th March 2018
Lyndhurst, the Heart of England's New Forest
Lyndhurst has been the throbbing heart of England’s New Forest since William the Conqueror made it his base when he established his hunting grounds here over nine hundred years ago. Today Lyndhurst is still central to the activities in the New Forest. The road into the village snakes around the summit of a hill topped by its glorious gothic parish church with its iconic towering spire. The church of St. Michael and All Angels. was built in the mid-nineteenth century although evidence of earlier churches on this site can be seen inside the church. Memorial tablets of a much older vintage are housed here. Also inside are some beautiful pre-Raphaelite windows designed by William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Charles Kempe. But this church is most famous for its fresco by Lord Frederick Leighton. Depicting the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the biblical characters are said to have been modelled on local people.
Inside the church I found some interesting information about two famous past residents of Lyndhurst. Alice Hargreaves (nee Liddell) achieved fame as Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass. It was while Alice was a young girl living in Oxford that she attracted the attention of Lewis Carroll, the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematics tutor at Christ Church, Oxford. Alice’s father was Dean of Christ Church when Dodgson became a family friend and made up his stories to entertain Alice and her sisters. Initially, he wrote down these stories at Alice’s request and they were subsequently published as novel bringing fame to both himself and Alice. A fame that Alice brought with her when she married the wealthy Reginald Hargreaves and moved to Cuffnells, his country estate near Lyndhurst. After being requisitioned during the Second World War Cuffnells deteriorated and demolished in the early 1950s. However, the White Rabbit Public House and the Mad Hatter Tea Rooms keep the memory of Alice alive.
Leaving the church, I paused to enjoy my vantage point to view the Crown Manor House Hotel on the other side of the road. There has been a building on this site since the fifteenth century. It was probably a coaching inn originally known as the Kings Arms Inn that became the Crown Hotel around the end of the seventeenth century. After some substantial alterations in 1896 it was advertised as The Crown Hotel with stabling and a change of horses being available. The huge stone mounting block that travellers used to get in and out of their horse drawn carriages can still be seen at the main entrance. One of the hotel’s original features, its lift, is thought to be the oldest lift in Europe.
Walking around the side of the church looking for the memorial stone dedicated to Alice I discovered the Queens House. Belonging to the Crown this building, characteristic of a seventeenth century mansion, and is the only major building of the period of Charles I (1600 – 1649) remaining in the whole of Hampshire. It is named for the first queen to live in Lyndhurst during the thirteenth century, Eleanor of Castile wife of Edward 1. Modified over the years the property was used by the Royal Family until 1850 when it became the official residence of the New Forest Deputy Surveyor. Historically the Deputy Surveyor has always been the head of the Forestry Commission in the New Forest and this is still true today. In 1966/67 the house was adapted to provide office accommodation for the Forestry Commission and it remains there to this day.
Inside the Queens House is the Verderers Hall where the Verderers’ Court meets once a month (except August and December). These sessions are open to the public. The work of this ancient court is to enforce the rules and bye-laws of the Forest and, in particular, the ancient rights of the Commoners. Commoning is an activity that goes back to time immemorial, in other words, no-one knows exactly when the practice started. Various rights including grazing and fuel collecting attach to plots of land and can be exercised by the owners or tenants of that land. Some of these rights have lapsed over the centuries but others are fiercely protected as the grazing of animals in the Forest is essential to preserving the landscape as we know it today. The Verderers who sit in the court are assisted by Agisters. The latter patrol the Forest, often on horseback. Endowed with the same powers as a Magistrate’s Court their work today also encompasses enforcement of the byelaws of the New Forest National Park. An ancient, rough-hewn dock still graces the interior of the hall, a reminder that breakers of Forest Law were not dealt with sympathetically.
I had intended to start my visit to Lyndhurst at its New Forest Centre and actually plan my route but as usual I had been distracted by interesting looking buildings. I discovered a short cut back through the churchyard to the New Forest Centre. Inside the centre is the Christopher Tower Reference Library a good place to start my research. Christopher Tower was an educated man of many talents who came to the New Forest late in life and developed an interest in its culture and traditions. The terms of the legacy he left included a wish that some of the money be used to benefit the New Forest. Here with the help of Kath, a member of staff and Cathy, a volunteer I was able to learn something of the history of the town and make a list of places I should visit.
Before leaving the Centre I had a look around the New Forest Museum. One room displays maps showing the change face of the Forest over the centuries. A second room explains the customs and traditions as well as the history of the Forest. In here there are some very useful leaflets on display for visitors explaining the commoners’ rights and how they are upheld in the Forest.
On the mezzanine floor of the museum the New Forest Embroidery stretches one of the walls. This unique piece of art was commissioned by the New Forest Association in 1979 to commemorate the nine hundredth anniversary of the creation of the New Forest. Designed by Belinda, Lady Montagu, and created by a team of more than fifty people it records the most important historical events in the Forest against a background of Forest flora and fauna.
Next stop Bolton’s Bench. Just beyond the lower end of the High Street this yew-tree topped natural knoll is a popular green space for people and ponies alike. It is named after the Duke of Bolton who was Lord Warden of the New Forest during the eighteenth century but how he came to deserve this honour is unknown. From the bench under the yew trees I had a good view of the landscape surrounding me including the Lyndhurst cricket ground and clubhouse – the wicket protected by fencing to keep out the animals who, essentially, have a stronger right to be there.
As it was a lovely sunny day I decided to explore further afield. Emery Down had been mentioned when I visited the New Forest Centre. I fished in my pockets for the maps I had collected from the centre and consulted the one showing the Parish Boundary Walk. I did not have time to do the whole walk so, hoping I was going in the right direction I took the main road out of town. I soon found the road signposted Emery Down. This lead to Swan Green Just what one would expect from a traditional village green. On the far side of the green is the Swan, another old coaching inn – previously known as the White Swan. Until 1912 when the four-in-hand coachman on his way from Bournemouth to Southampton, passed this inn he would sound his horn. This was the signal to the ostler at the Fox and Hounds in the High Street to have the horses ready to change the team.
On the other side of the green is a row of beautiful thatched cottages. It is no wonder this is probably the most photographed place in Lyndhurst.
Arriving in Emery Down I was immediately drawn to the Lych Gate of Christ Church The church itself was built in the nineteenth century but its Lych Gate was added later at the beginning of the twentieth century as a war memorial. There was some controversy regarding the suitability of a church as a site for a war memorial as the vicar felt the names of the fallen from Emery Down should be added to the war memorial in Lyndhurst. However, clearly the matter was resolved and the collection of subscriptions was started in 1919 and the Lych Gate was completed in 1921. Next door to the church is the old village school, now in private ownership. This school was built by a generous benefactor, Admiral Frederick Moore Boultbee, who moved to Emery Down following a distinguished career in the navy. The bell from this school is on display inside the church.
Admiral Boultbee also built the very attractive almshouses opposite the church known as Boultbee Cottages. These cottages provided homes for many local and needy residents but by 2014 had deteriorated so much they were no longer habitable. Plans were drawn up by the Trustees of the Almshouses to renovate the cottages sympathetically preserving their original features in keeping with their designation as a Grade II listed building. Various grants and donations were obtained and the cottages are once more in occupation.
I completed my circuit back to the village along a narrow lane that took me through Pikeshill. As I re-entered the village centre I took a short detour to visit the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Edward the Confessor. The construction of this church was funded by Edouard Souberbielle, a French doctor in memory of his wife Marie Louise. She died while on holiday in the village, and is buried in the church’s mausoleum. The church bells were also installed in her memory in 1897. The west window commemorates the ‘Immortal 7th Division’, who camped on White Moor, near Bolton’s Bench in 1914 before sailing from Southampton to France and the battlefields of Ypres.
I had timed the end of my walk to coincide with a bus back to Brockenhurst, or so I thought, but I had misread the timetable. To fill in some time I walked to the next bus stop and on my way I learnt a little more about the history of Lyndhurst. I walked past Goose Green where geese once grazed freely but it is now a triangle of green surrounded by roads. A little further along the road I passed the old entrance to Vernalls Farm that had once belonged to Arthur Phillip had once lived and farmed Vernalls Farm. I had read about Arthur Phillip in the parish church earlier. In 1787 he had led the First Fleet of convicts and marines from the Solent to Australia and became the first governor of New South Wales. The old farmhouse was demolished many years ago but some of the bricks from the original building (and an acorn) were retrieved and taken to Australia to form the basis of a memorial to Arthur Phillip in Sydney. As the sun set over Vernalls Farm my bus rounded the corner and I was soon on my way back to Brockenhurst where I was staying.
Although the New Forest is well-connected to major roads within the forest the roads are narrow and get very busy during the holiday period. There is a regular train service operated by South Western Railway from Waterloo to Brockenhurst and a good local bus service in the New Forest so why not leave the car at home? You can hire a bike to explore the forest or explore on foot. Don’t forget to buy your Go New Forest Card that offers discounts on local New Forest businesses.
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