With the forthcoming Augustus John exhibition at the Poole Museum, I have been trying to research the history of Alderney Manor, the heathland property on the edge of Poole where Augustus, his family, assorted livestock and artistic guests led a bohemian and rather chaotic existence. The manor itself is described by John’s biographer, Michael Holroyd, as a ‘curious, low, pink building, an elongated bungalow with Gothic windows and a fantastic castellated parapet’. Several sources state that it was built by an eccentric Frenchman. Besides the manor, there were other buildings on the site including a stable, a coach house which Augustus used as a studio and a cottage larger than the manor where guests stayed. Gypsy caravans and tents housed the overflow.
Looking into the background of the property, several questions came to mind: who built the cottage and the manor and when, where did the name Alderney come from and who was the eccentric Frenchman? So far I have not managed to answer any of these questions! I have however unearthed some curious details and larger than life characters associated with the property. All the evidence suggests that the cottage preceded the ‘manor’. The site was beside the road from Poole to Ringwood, between Knighton Bottom and Howe Corner. On Isaac Taylor’s map of 1795, the road is shown as ‘New Turnpike Road’ and there is no sign of the cottage or of any location in the area with the name Alderney. By the time of Greenwood’s map of 1826, the cottage has appeared, surrounded by plantations of firs.
The first text reference I have found is in 1808 when William Beaumont Esq. of Alderney Cottage near Poole is listed as a contributing member of the Society, Instituted at London, for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. In 1810, an inquest was heard on Ann Hogg, a servant of Beaumont’s. He and his servant Charles Burt gave evidence that Ann had been ‘much addicted to liquor’ and had been drinking heavily the previous afternoon. The jury brought in the verdict that she met her death ‘by excessive drinking and not from any other cause whatsoever’. No other details are provided about the tragedy.
I have not discovered whether William Beaumont built the cottage or had any connection with the island of Alderney but he does seem to have been involved creating the plantations. In November 1811 the Salisbury and Winchester Journal advertised a sale of part of Beaumont’s farming stock and household furniture including 80,000 pinasters (maritime pines), 840,000 Scotch firs and some white thorns of one or two years’ growth. These were said to be ‘admirably calculated to be set out on heath land, having been raised on it’. The goods for sale suggest a working farm with a comfortably furnished gentleman’s residence. They include cart houses, a wagon, plough shares, harrows and drags as well as four-post bedsteads, white dimity furniture, Venetian carpets, a mahogany dining table, a brace of pistols and a ‘Pipe of excellent PORT WINE’. In July 1813, Beaumont announced another sale, this time of all his household furniture, his ‘capital Norman Cow in full milk’, and other effects. He may have moved out, but continued to be listed at the cottage until at least the Waterloo year of 1815.
The next resident I’ve found definitely did have a link with Alderney. He was Colonel (later General) John Le Mesurier who was listed, address Alderney Cottage, as one of a number of people issued with game licenses in 1829. Le Mesurier was the last in the line of hereditary governors of Alderney, the position having been granted to his family by Charles II and confirmed by George III. Born in 1781, he had joined the army as a boy of about 14 and served in Ireland, Malta and Egypt before retiring on half pay and taking over the Governorship of the island on his father’s death in 1803. As the war with France came to its climax, he petitioned to get back into the army but was told that he could serve the country better in his present position. He finally signed over the governorship to the British Government in 1824, having served for over 20 years.
Why Le Mesurier came to Alderney Cottage is another unknown but he was probably attracted by the hunting available in the area, frequently mentioned in local newspapers of the time. In the late 1820s and early 1830s, ‘Mr Lester’s harriers’ were often reported as meeting at the back of Alderney Cottage and ‘the Charborough hounds’ also met there to take advantage of the game in the plantations and the heath. The new resident may not have stayed for very long. In September 1831 the cottage was put up for let or sale. Also for sale were two hunters, a grey mare, a chestnut filly and a ‘Stanhope’ (a light, open carriage) besides 233 dozen of superior old wines in port, claret, sherry etc. The advertisements in the local press provide a description of the property with its 200 acres of land including arable, pasture, heathland, fir plantations, orchards and walled gardens. The cottage contained ‘dining, drawing, breakfast and sleeping rooms, all 9ft 3 high, on the same floor. The basement storey contains a good kitchen, coal and beer cellars and an excellent wine cellar.’ There were two labourers’ cottages, a coach-house, dairy, barn, five-stall stable, brew-house, farm yard and piggery. Altogether it sounds like an attractive property for a country gentleman.
The next resident was Cornwall Jolliffe, the brother of the Rev. Peter Jolliffe, Rector of Poole, and a descendent of important family of Poole and Newfoundland traders. He had previously lived at Ensbury and in April 1832 advertised his Ensbury house to let. Maybe Mr. Jolliffe was also interested hunting as the hunt continued to meet regularly at the cottage, apparently undeterred by a disaster which occurred in 1833. On 10th April a fire broke out near the cottage and ‘about 200 acres of firs were wholly consumed’. In 1841, the first detailed census recorded the household at Alderney as consisting of Cornwall Jolliffe, aged 60 and Frances Humphrey, 70, both listed as being ‘of independent means’ and four servants Mary Jolliffe, 60, James Cropp, 30, Sarah Cropp, 35 and Elizabeth, aged 13. Cornwall died in 1847 at the age of 67. He was a bachelor and left effects of under £20.
The cottage was again advertised to let, this time with the added inducement of newly built railway stations not far away at Wimborne and Poole (Hamworthy). The new tenant was the first of several medical men to be associated with the property. John Basset, came from Devon and had qualified in Edinburgh. The census of 1851 describes him as a surgeon, not practising, and shows him living in the cottage with three servants, Thomas Tuckey, Elizabeth Berry and Jane Austin.
By 1854, the cottage was uninhabited again and was leased out by Lady Charlotte Guest of Canford Manor to a new tenant. (Whether the Canford estate had owned the property all along or bought it sometime in the preceding decades, I don’t know.) Lady Charlotte was the widow of Sir John Josiah Guest, a rich ironmaster, who had purchased the Canford estate in 1846 and died in 1852, leaving his wife to manage the estate until their eldest son, Ivor Bertie, came of age. Alderney’s new occupier was Scotsman William Petrie Waugh, the owner of Brownsea Castle and Island and Lieutenant Colonel in Her Majesty’s Regiment of South Hussars. He had bought Brownsea in 1852 believing that the island contained rich deposits of fine china clay. In the next few years he spent lavishly in Brownsea, setting up clay pits and a pottery with a tramway, draining the lagoon on the north east side of the island, refurbishing the castle, building a church and creating a village for his workmen. In 1954, he leased the ‘full and exclusive right of hunting, shooting, coursing, sporting, fishing and fowling’, over 2,100 acres of the Canford estate, including parts of Longham, Alderney, Longfleet, Parkstone and ‘the sand banks at North Haven Point’. The lease also included Alderney Cottage, its garden, stable and appurtenances. The term was 15 years and the rent, £40 a year. This must have seemed modest compared with what Waugh was spending elsewhere. How much time he spent at Alderney or hunting on the estate, we don’t know. The clay deposits on Brownsea turned out to be only suitable for coarsewares, such as bricks and chimney pots, and Lt. Col. Waugh’s debts began to mount. In 1856, he fled to Spain to escape his creditors.
Alderney’s second medical resident was Richard Elgie. Born in Spitalfields, London he had previously practised in Holdenhurst at a time when Bournemouth was developing as a health resort. In the 1861 census, Elgie, aged 49, was described as a surgeon, not practicing. He lived at Alderney with his son, Walter, daughters, Margaret, Louisa, Alice, Gertrude, Clara, Helen and Edith and maid servant, Louisa Willis. How the young ladies liked the isolated cottage, surrounded by heath and dark plantations we don’t know, but it was probably a contrast to life in Holdenhurst.
Being on the edge of thinly populated heathland, Alderney was prone to petty theft and vandalism. In April 1860, Samuel Jeffrey, a small farmer from Kinson was sentenced to one month’s hard labour for stealing hay from Richard Elgie. As quantities of hay had already gone missing, P.C. Brown was on watch at the cottage and caught Jeffrey in the act. Jeffrey’s excuse, that he was just borrowing the hay, failed to convince. More serious was a massive fire that broke out the following month. It started near Bournemouth and spread rapidly, fed by an easterly wind. ‘On Tuesday evening the inhabitants of Poole and neighbouhood were attracted by a lurid glare which seemed spread over the whole sky in the direction of Ringwood and Bournemouth’. At one time the flames extended over an area of 10 miles and could be seen from 40 miles away. Strong winds ‘hastened the progress of the fire, driving it in every direction, causing it to leap from bank to bank and igniting the heath in adjoining fields’. On Wednesday morning it attacked the plantation near Alderney Cottage. Men struggled to bring the flames under control but the destruction of heathland and woods was considerable. Evidence suggested that the fire had been started deliberately as it had broken out in four separate places.
Perhaps it was the fire which decided Richard Elgie and his family to move elsewhere, and not long after they relocated to Parkstone. Alderney Cottage was once more available for a new tenant. Enter the Honourable George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, earl’s son, soldier, Member of Parliament, writer and sportsman. Grantley Berkeley was the sixth son of the fifth earl of Berkeley. He served in the Coldstream Guards for five years before retiring on half pay at 21. He married Caroline Benfield in 1824, the couple having two sons, and was Member of Parliament for West Gloucestershire from 1832 to 1852. He also wrote several books and pamphlets including novels, works on sport, travel and natural history, poems and an autobiography.
One notorious incident illustrates his impulsive and occasionally violent character. His first book ‘Berkeley Castle’, a romantic novel based on his family history, was the subject of a scurrilous review in Fraser’s Magazine of August 1836 which included some offensive remarks on the author’s parents: ‘Mr Grantley Berkeley’s mother lived with his father as his mistress, and that she had at least one child before she could induce the old and very stupid lord to marry her’. Grantley and his brother Craven (both of them Members of Parliament) went round to the bookshop of the magazine’s publisher, James Fraser, in Regent Street to demand the name of the reviewer and when Fraser hesitated to tell them, Grantley knocked him to the ground and beat him savagely with a whip while his aristocratic brother held the door closed. For this attack the brothers had to pay £100 damages. In a counter suit for libel, Grantley was awarded £2. Meanwhile the reviewer, Dr. Maginn, made himself known and met Grantley in a duel where shots were exchanged but no-one was hit. The incident tended to divert sympathy from Grantley Berkeley to Fraser and also ensured that the review was repeated in dozens of newspapers.
Berkeley continued to write, travel and participate in sports. He regularly spent his summers near Highcliffe from where he observed with some scepticism the transformation of Bournemouth into an ultra respectable ‘pretty but dull’ resort, poking fun at town worthies in his writing. He was in his early 60s when he took the lease of Alderney, where he was able to live a sporting life, entertain friends and write:
‘I have again a hut of my own, or a little shooting-lodge, surrounded by forest and moor – a castellated structure by the way . . . Nevertheless it is more a hermitage than a castle, and to anyone fond of seclusion must possess unusual attractions; for there are no neighbours to peep beneath the bushes. Indeed, so completely out of the way is it, that that evidence of civilisation, the postman, will not venture within two miles of the place. Here, however, as the tenant of Sir Ivor Guest, I am content to remain, pursuing my customary recreations in shooting and fishing, and studying the characteristics of animated nature on a wide expanse of land that is bounded on one side only by the sea’.
It seems to have been during Grantley Berkeley’s tenure that Alderney Cottage underwent a transformation into Alderney Manor, not as far as I can tell by any rebuilding but simply by assuming a more aristocratic status. It was from ‘Alderney Manor’ that Grantley fired off his many letters to the press on hydrophobia, politics, the value of rabbits, an exhibition of Berkeley family jewellery, management of the New Forest, game laws, the wages of labourers and other topics. He also wrote a number of books and pamphlets including his autobiography ‘My Life and Recollections’ in 4 volumes.
It was perhaps inevitable that Grantley came into conflict from time to time with some of the more lawless local residents. In 1867, William Sherwood of Kinson was charged with assault on Harry Toovey, Grantley’s gamekeeper. According to Toovey, he caught Sherwood throwing stones at pheasants on the Alderney estate and challenged him. Sherwood who was drunk then struck Toovey, who knocked him down. Sherwood was fined 10s. In 1869, Mr. Cutler, a farmer of Howe, brought an action against Grantley Berkeley for seizing and detaining a dog. Toovey had taken the dog from Mr. Cutler’s son, Edmund, accusing him of being after game but the Cutlers denied that the dog was ever used for hunting, except over the land they rented. A fine of £7 11s 6d was awarded against Grantley Berkeley. In the dry summer of 1870, a serious fire broke out across the heath which ‘nearly surrounded Alderney Manor, totally destroying the game preserves of the Honorable Grantley Berkeley’ and threatening Newtown and Messrs Howell’s foundry at Waterloo. It was suspected that the fire had been started by arsonists.
The 1871 census lists Grantley Berkeley J. P. aged 71 with two maid servants and two man servants including the gamekeeper, Henry Toovey. The two cottages on the property housed another gamekeeper and a groom with their families. Grantley continued to live at the manor for the next decade, still writing to the newspapers, relating his anecdotes, feeding his birds and observing local wildlife. In 1880, being in poor health, he took a ‘one of Mr. Darnford’s new villas’ in Longfleet for the winter where he died in February 1881.
For a while the manor was unoccupied and then it seems to have been rented by William Abbott a farmer and brickmaker who was living there by the time of the 1891 census with his wife Mary Ann, his 17 year old step son, Reginald Atkins and his son, William junior aged 14. Dairyman Frederick Warren and his wife Mary Jane lived in one of the cottages. By 1900, a new tenant was in negotiation with Mr. Paterson, the agent for Lord Wimborne of Canford Manor. Dr. Walter Denton Johns was the third medical practitioner to lease Alderney and intended to open a sanatorium to treat tuberculosis patients by a fresh air system using huts in the grounds. The property to rent consisted of the dwelling house, vegetable garden, grounds, outbuildings, 16 acres of rough grassland and about 500 acres of shooting. Dr. Johns clearly wanted to attract wealthy patients by offering the facilities of a country estate as well as a healing regime. The favourable rent of £75 a year was an acknowledgement of the fact that all the buildings were in a state of disrepair and the tenant undertook to put them in good order within 12 months as well as refurbishing the main house and the caretaker’s house. The huts were laid out and the sanatorium set up. Dr. Johns asked for dangerous trees to be felled in the ‘sun garden’ and Paterson said he would send the Wood Manager to take down the trees but advised caution. ‘Trees don’t grow in a day; and were it not for the Trees, Alderney Manor would simply be a ‘Bleak House’ standing on a no less bleak Moor!’
Dr. Johns’ story at Alderney Manor is told in detail in the excellent Poole’s health record blog. The sanatorium continued at Alderney for a decade attracting quite a number of patients but probably not proving as successful as Dr. Johns had hoped. By 1911, the manor was empty once more, and the Canford estate seeking a new tenant. In September of that year a lease was signed between Lady Cornelia, Baroness Wimborne (for her husband Ivor Bertie who was described as mentally infirm) and Augustus Edwin John of 153, Church Street, Chelsea, artist.
Alderney Manor had been recommended to Augustus John by his friends, the Everetts who lived not far away at Wool. Katherine Everett described it as ‘an unusually attractive house built by a Frenchman, set in woodland, on the Wimborne property’. After alterations and repairs had been completed, the family moved in, Augustus, his mistress, Dorothy (Dorelia) McNeill and seven children, five by his wife Ida who had died four years before and two by Dorelia. Augustus spent much of his time in London, coming down to Dorset at week-ends so it was Dorelia and her sister, Edie who probably created the ‘colourful and artistic interior’ described by Katherine, revived the garden and tended the cats, cows, pigs, donkeys, ponies, horses and bees.
Guests tended to drop in and stay for days or sometimes weeks sleeping in the cottage, caravans or gypsy tents. One visitor was the artist Henry Lamb who described the manor as ‘an amazing place, a vast, secluded park of prairies, pine woods, birch woods, dells and moors’. The children lived a fairly free existence running barefoot about the gardens and the heath, only occasionally hauled in for a telling-off or to pose for their father. It was an unconventional household which would have amazed those military and sporting gentlemen John Le Mesurier, Col. Waugh and the Hon. Grantley Berkeley. Some things did not change however. In his autobiography The Seventh Child, Augustus’s son, Romilley John describes how the bell that was rung to summon the family and guests to lunch would also alert the local ‘poachers, stealers of wood, and other malefactors’ to enter the Alderney woods while the coast was clear.
The John household occupied the manor until 1927 when they moved to Fryern Court in Fordingbridge. They were to be the last tenants of Alderney Manor which was later demolished and replaced with a housing estate.
Main sources: Articles and adverts from the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, Dorset County Chronicle and other newspapers, many located thanks to Mr. Gambier. Documents at the Dorset History Centre: Inquest on Ann Hogg 1810 D-WIM/JO-1349, Lease to Col. Waugh 1854 D-WIM/JO-827, Agreement with Dr. Johns 1900 D-WIM/JO-877, Letter from Mr. Paterson 1901 D-WIM/JO-877D.