The Higgins Family, 1767-1800
The first definite mention of a house or property on the site is in the will, dated 1750, of John Higgins, a 'yeoman farmer of Leigh'. He had been given the copyhold land in 1711 whilst still a child, by his father, Francis Higgins who died in 1736. The Higgins family appears to have been an established family in the area by this time and records show members of the family at Havant and Leigh prior to the Parish Register of 1653.
However, a 'hearth tax' return for the tything of Leigh in 1665, records a Robert Higgins ass paying tax on three hearths. It seems very likely that this may have been for the same property as it was customary in those days to transfer copyhold land (land granted from the lord of the manor which carried certain obligations) from father to son or to other members of the family.
John Higgins died unmarried in 1753 and the property passed to his great-nephew, another Francis Higgins, who was a butcher in Middlesex. He then sold the 'revisionary rights' to a 'messuage (building), barn and gateroom, together with nine acres of land', to Charles Webber in 1767.
Charles Webber did not own the property for long as later the same year the property passed to Samuel Harrison of Chichester. A surrender document, undated, but before 1792, refers to a 'house newly erected by Samuel Harrison'. The house that Harrison had built, after structural alterations by later owners, became what we now call the first Leigh House. What remained, if anything, of the earlier building of the Higgins family remains unclear.
In addition to the new house, Harrison also laid out the walled garden, the estate offices which included the bothy, stables and coach-house, all of which still survive. From this map and other illustrations, it is evident that these buildings were built in a mellow yellow brick, but the house itself appears from prints to be stuccoed.
Captain Thomas Lennox Frederick, RN
In 1792, fter 25 years at Leigh House, Harrison 'surrendered' his copyhold property and estate to CaptainThomas Lennox Frederick RN (1750-1800), the son of Sir Charles Frederick, the Surveyor General of Ordnance under King George III, and a cousin of Admiral Sir John Frederick Bt.
Frederick, who also owned property in London, appeared to let the house rather than live there himself. A John Allan is recorded occupying the property as a tenant. By this date, as well as holding copyhold land surrounding the house, Frederick also owned a further 14 acres freehold land (land owned outright) at Upper Durrants.
After the death of Frederick, his wife Anne, who inherited the property 'surrendered' the copyhold estate and sold the freehold land to William Garrett for the sum of £480.
Birth of the Estate (1767-1800)
The settlement around Leigh House at the tme it was acquired by William Garrett in 1800 was made up of a series of small copyhold and freehold landholders, some holding land no more than an acre in size. The biggest landholder was Joseph Franklin, whose holding amounted to 220 acres of copyhold and freehold land.
The majority of land in the tything of Leigh was under the control of the Bishop of Winchester until 1553 when the Manor of Havant was leased to a succession of Havant notables. By 1775, the Manor of Havant was granted by lease to Richard Bingham Newland, who succeeded his brother, James Newland, as lord of the Manor of Havant.
In December 1800, Richard Bingham Newland conveyed the Manor of Havant to his brother-in-law, William Garrett, on the same terms granted to him by the Bishop of Winchester. Garrett remained lord until 1820 when he sold the manor to Sir George Staunton.
By about 1808, Garrett had acquired most of the land around Leigh House and had enlarged the estate into one of the largest in the district. The 400 acres of land acquired by Garrett were enclosed with Park paling and for the first time, the name of Leigh Park appears.
William Garrett (1762-1831)
William Garrett came from a well-known Portsmouth Family. His father, Daniel Garrett (1737-1805) at one time owned the nearby Belmont Estate at Bedhampton and was a partner with his father-in-law in a Portsmouth Brewery. Two of William's brothers also succeeded to the brewery business, but found success in other fields.
Henry (1774-1846) reached to the rank of vice-admiral as well as serving for many years as Governor of Haslar Hospital. Another brother, George (1772-1832) was a captain in the Portsmouth Royal Garrison and knighted in 1820.
In June 1798, aided by his father, Garrett established the 'Loyal Portsmouth Garrison Company of Volunteers' commanding the company at the rank of major. By 1799, the company had increased to 180 men with a good reputation for discipline and zeal. Garrett relinquished his command of the Portsmouth company in 1803, when he took command of the 'Loyal Havant Volunteers' from his new home at Leigh.
The Estate develops
When William Garrett acquired the small Leigh estate in January 1800, he was probably living in Portsmouth with his wife Amelia, who was the sister of Richard Bingham Newland, the lord of the Manor of Havant.
In 1802, Garrett employed the Southampton architect, John Kent, to remodel and enlarge the house. He set about purchasing the land surrounding Leigh House, including the purchase of 220 acres of land for £4,600 from tne executors of the late Joseph Franklin in 1807.
By about 1808, Garrett had acquired most of the land around Leigh House and had enlarged the estate into one of the largest in the district. The 400 acres of land acquired by Garrett were enclosed with park paling and for the first time, the name of Leigh Park appears.
It was Garrett who laid down the foundations for the magnificent park and garden, later to be embellished by Sir George Staunton, Garrett laid out the pleasure grounds surrounding the house and converted the eighteenth century farm and buildings situated to the east of the house into a feme ornee (ornamental farm).
Garrett also built hot-houses and greenhouses within the walled garden and the crinkle-cranckle (serpentine wall) along the south section dates from Garrett's occupation of the house. Cottages, formerly the homes of copyhold tenants were incorporated into the estate, one example being Silverster's cottage, situated to the north of the house and which became the home of the head gardener.
The Hampshire Telegraph records that Garrett lived 'in considerable state and he entertained parties of cricketers, being himself a cricketer of some fame besides being well versed in field sports of all sorts' Cricket was no doubt played at Leigh Park, matches being played on Stockheath common, and at a later date on the estate pitch at Front Lawn.
In May 1817, due to possibly family matters, Garrett renegotiated the sale of Leigh Park to John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823).
Angerstein, of Russian extraction, came to England when he was fifteen, and was very influential in the establishment of LLoyds of London, becoming financial advisor to William Pitt. Legend has it that Angerstein was the natural son of Empress Anne of Russia or Elizabeth Petrovna, the illegitimate daughter of Peter the Great.
It appears that Angerstein moved into Leigh Park House, and by the summer of 1919, a contract had been signed for the purchase of Leigh Park for £47,350. Things began to go wrong when Angerstein brought a case against Garrett for not disclosing dry-rot. The case was heard in February, 1819 and the charges dismissed.The outcome was that Angerstein was not compelled to complete the purchase.
Angerstein was an avid collector of art and after his
death in 1823, the Government paid £57,000 for 58
of his pictures and a further £3,000 for the continued
tenancy of his London home in Pall Mall, so that it
could be opened as a public art gallery. This was the
beginning of what became The National Gallery.
The end of an era
With the failure of the sale of Leigh Park to J.J. Angerstein, Garrett was left, once again, with the estate. Not to be deterred, Garrett with the aid of a Chichester land agent and auctioneer, Mr Weller, had a booklet published in July 1819 called 'Letters addressed to William Garrett, Esq. Relative to the state of Leigh House'. The booklet of twenty letters written by local gentry, builders and local craftsmen, asserted the sound condition of Leigh House. Signatories to the letters included the Rev M.A. Norris (the Rector of Warblington), Charles Loncroft, Captain Henry Leeke (the future Admiral Sir Henry Leeke of West Leigh House), Samuel Clarke-Jervoise of Idsworth and Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis of Gatcombe House.
On 20th July 1819, Sir George Staunton paid his first visit to inspect the estate and was duly conducted around by Garrett. After receiving a positive survey on the condition of the estate in August, Staunton was impressed enough to sign a preliminary agreement to purchase the estate on 24th September, 1819.
Staunton's connection with Leigh Park is well documented, suffice to say that over the next twenty years, he, with the help of the architect Lewis Vulliamy, enlarged the house and conservatories and added another library. He enhanced the grounds by adding follies and temples to the park and creating the lake known as Leigh Water. In 1827 he moved the Havant road a further two hundred yards east so that it ran past the Home Farm and not his front door. Under Staunton, Leigh Park became one of the finest estates in Hampshire, famed for its gardens and its park. Staunton added plants from China and other parts of the world to be grown in hot houses, conservatories and themed gardens.
Sir George Staunton died on 10th August 1859 and his English estates, including Leigh Park and his London home, passed to his cousin, Captain HenryCormick Lynch. Unfortunately Captain Lynch died at Leigh Park on 22nd September, a mere 6 weeks after the death of Sir George. Though Captain Lynch died intestate, his son took the additional surname of Staunton by Royal Licence and inherited the estate. In 1860, George Lynch-Staunton sold the estate, by this time consisting of a thousand acres, to William Henry Stone for the sum of £60,000.
William Stone moved to Leigh Park in 1861 and within seven years had demolished the Staunton mansion and erected a new house in the grounds of the park. All that was left of the old house was the library that Staunton built and a large conservatory which had been attached to the house. This conservatory was later used as a camelia house and was demolished in the 1930s.
The Second House
The second Leigh Park House taken
from the lake and bult in 1863
William Henry Stone bought Leigh Park House at auction in October, 1860 when he was then aged only 27 and not long out of Cambridge University. He was the son of William Stone of Dulwich Hill, London and a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party. After a settlement was agreed, Stone paid the £60,000 for the estate and moved to Leigh Park at the beginning of October, 1861. When he first saw what he had bought, he had reservations. The idea of the farm so close to the house did not appeal and he thought the house could be placed at a more convenient site in the grounds. It also appears that Stone was no garden enthusiast, as a huge number of Staunton's garden features were later to disappear during his ownership.
Soon after buying the estate, Stone employed a former university acquaintance, Richard William Drew, to design a new house for him. The place chosen was the site of Staunton's Temple, the highest point of the estate, with extensive views over Leigh Water to the south. Richard Drew was only a year older than Stone. and Leigh Park must have been one of his first commissions. Not a prolific architect, Drews designs were used in other buildings in the Havant area that Stone was involved with, notable Havant Town Hall, built in 1868, and St Faith's Church where Drew carried out work on the tower and chancel in 1874. Drew also designed Bedhampton School in 1868 where William Stone was an important benefactor.
The Gothic style mansion designed by Drew looked quite a lot larger than the Staunton house, but the dimensions were very similar, the principal rooms were the same size and also the number of bedrooms the same. Work started on the new mansion in early 1863. The bricks and tiles were made on site, the clay being dug from the pits east of Hammonds Land Copse and fired in two kilns which, until a few years ago could still be seen in situ. Other materials were brought in including chalk from Portsdown Hill and Portland stone. A building firm from Gosport, Rogers and Booth, carried out the work.
Whilst the new house was being built, Stone married Melicent, the daughter of Sir Arthur Helps of Vernon Hill House, Bishops Waltham, in 1864. Sir Arthur was noted as the Victorian age obiturist, writing obituaries for Prince Albert, Palmerston, Dickens and his personal friend Charles Kingsley among others. A year later in 1865, Stone was victorious in the election at Portsmouth, winning the seat easily as a Liberal after the retirement of Sir Francis Baring (afterwards Lord Northbrook).
The new house was completed at the end of 1865, and Stone and his relatively new bride moved in. The work reputably cost in the region of £20,000. After completion, the old mansion which had stood on the site overlooking Front Lawn, was demolished. By 1868, a new entrance drive and North Lodge had been built opposite the Staunton Arms, and slowly the glories of Stauntons age almost disappeared. The new North Lodge, which still stands,clearly shows the style the new mansion took with its neo-Gothic style .In the General Election of 4th February, 1874, Stone lost his seat trailing third of five candidates. This marked a turning point for both Stone and Leigh Park.
The south entrance in 1874 when
the house was put up for sale.
In October 1874, Stone decided to put Leigh Park up for sale. It would appear that a financial decision ratgher than losing his seat at the election was the reason. Stone, by acquiring other land (largely due to the enclosure of common land) had nearly doubled the acreage of the estate by the time of the sale in 1874. When it was sold it measured 1866 acres.
The estate and the new house which was only nine years old at the time of the sale were bought by Lt.General Sir Frederick Wellington John Fitzwygram, Bart. Sir Frederick was an expert on horses and veterinary matters and had just returned from India after inheriting the baronetcy on the death of his elder brother, the unmarried Sir Robert Fitzwygram. Sir Frederick, still a serving officer, and later Inspector General of Cavalry and President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, was 51 and unmarried when he bought the Leigh Park estate. In 1882, he married Angela, the daughter of Thomas Nugent Vaughan and Countess Forbes and in 1884 retired from the army after over forty years service. Sir Frederick, who sat on the Havant Bench as a magistrate, was elected as Conservative MP in the 1884 election. He sat for the Fareham Borough of Hampshire and South Hants until his retirement in 1900.
Though there were no structural changes to the house during Sir Frederick's residency, he carried on the tradition of Sir George Staunton, upholding the values of the gardens and parkland after the destruction under William Stone. Sir Frederick, a well-respected figure in the neighbourhood, died aged 81 in December 1904. His only son Frederick Loftus Fitzwygram succeeded in the Baronetcy as well as at Leigh Park. This Sir Frederick was only twenty when he inherited Leigh Park and set out like his father, on a military career, joining the Scots Guards in 1906. Previous to this he had studied at Oxford University. He continued to live at Leigh Park with his mother, Lady Fitzwygram and his younger sister, Angela.
Sir Frederick's mother and sister continued to live at Leigh Park after his death, Lady Fitzwygram's death in her 91st year in 1935 ending 53 years in residence. The following year Angela Fitzwygram left Leigh Park and took up residence at appropriately named Leigh Heights in Hindhead, Suurey. She died in her 100th year in July 1984. All four members of the Fitzwygram family are buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist, Redhill, Rowlands Castle.