The background of the site is as rich and fascinating as the finds that were discovered by heritage experts, Pre-Construct Archaeology, and tells a remarkable story that began in the 10th century. The then King Athelstan granted the land to Alfred, a thegn who gave the land to the abbey of Hyde in AD941. Details of the transaction, citing a ‘substantial manor’, were recorded in The Domesday Book.
In the Middle Ages, North Stoneham Park was established as a modest deer park of some 800 acres and, after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, the estate passed to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton. Wriothesley’s grandson, Henry sold the manor to the renowned lawyer and politician, Sir Thomas Fleming, before it passed through generations to reach Richard, a Southampton MP, before he died childless in 1740.
It was at this time the celebrated landscape gardener, Lancelot Capability Brown was commissioned to remodel the grounds. He created his trademark gardens, parklands, woodlands, lakes and serpentine rivers that flowed seamlessly to form enchanting grounds that spanned the Park estate. North Stoneham Park became one of the most enduring landscapes he ever created.
The dynastic Fleming line was to become extinct when Richard’s brother died in 1766. Generations of the Fleming’s cousins, the Willis family, then made North Stoneham their home. Deaths and debts plagued the site when John Browne Willis Fleming spent more than £100,000 on a spectacular new mansion at North Stoneham in 1818 that would replace the original 29-room mansion.
The new North Stoneham House was built in a Greek Revival style associated with the renowned 18th century architect, Thomas Hopper, and was a palatial building. The archaeologists’’ report refers to a magnificent staircase and ballroom, Tuscan marble statues, a library, saloon, card room, retiring rooms, basement rooms and a ‘fine old audit-room’. Sadly, a terrible fire and ‘tempestuous’ weather in 1831 almost destroyed the mansion with repairs taking many years to complete.
A decadent time for the mansion followed as it hosted a series of lavish social events, culminating in a grand New Year’s ball, which ‘was attended by nearly 300 of the rank, beauty, and fashion of the county society’ according to the Hampshire Advertiser in January 1841.
Following the death of an insolvent John Fleming at sea while en route to Constantinople in 1844, the family moved to another vast estate it had acquired, Chilworth Manor, which remains today.
Stoneham Park remained in the family and was used as an auxiliary hospital for wounded Belgian soldiers during the First World War. In 1917, the younger John Willis Fleming built the famous local WWI shrine as a memorial to his son, Richard, and the other 36 men of North Stoneham parish who died in the Great War.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the mansion was divided into flats that housed several families. In 1939, it was demolished due to the poor condition of the building and the land was finally sold off in the 1950s to settle the Fleming family’s death duties.
The experts who worked tirelessly to meticulously document and identify the finds recorded hundreds of treasures recovered from the mansion site. They included many fine stone works, pottery and metal items and other small finds, including:
Today, we’re delighted the stories of this fascinating landscape and its rich history will continue to endure as they find new homes with Hampshire Cultural Trust and The Willis Fleming Historical Trust.
Thanks to these precious finds and the anecdotes and memories recounted by the relatives of those who worked at North Stoneham House and lived nearby, the treasures of the Old Mansion site can continue to pass through new generations of the local community.