The mystique & the charm surrounding ancient Georgian architecture continue to attract the connoisseurs from different parts of the globe.
Seema Anand Chopra
In the last 400 years rising from the ashes twice; back to its glory and being haunted for over a century ; the unique name Hinton Ampner- the house on the hill had enough reasons for us to explore it ! Driving through the rolling green Hampshire countryside we reached the historic 16th century Tudor country home and estate now set in modern Georgian grandeur, rebuilt twice during the past centuries! We were here to enjoy the harmony and serenity the Hinton Ampner house.
What is in a name?
While walking towards the house I recalled reading about the unusual name of the house that in Old English, Heah means a High Place and Tun is an enclosure that could be a farm or estate. The addition of Ampner shows that this place was held by an Almoner- who was an official distributor of alms from Winchester. So the Domesday Book of the 11th century refers to it as Hentune which changed to Henton by the 12th century and then to Hinton- Amner in the subsequent century!
The Walk to the Hinton Ampner house
In the car-park we looked out for the 500 years old plus, ancient Oak trees and then headed for the shady evergreen Drive with rhododendrons planted for timed successive flowering, not all together at one time! Past the gate of the Walled Garden that produced the vegetables, fruits and cut flowers for the house since centuries we headed for the house. A bend in the Drive revealed the first sight of the Hinton Ampner- the unassuming simple stately exterior offered no hint to the magnificence inside!
A Peep into the Past
What we saw in front of us was the 1960’s recreation of ‘the second time risen from the ashes’ Hinton Ampner house of Lord Sherborne –Ralph Dutton. His ancestors the Stewkeleys lived here since 1597 in an E shaped house that acquired the reputation of a haunted house in the 18th century so much so the house lay deserted for years and later Ralph Dutton’s grandfather redesigned a Victorian house here.
We entered the well-lit Entrance Hall with black- white marble flooring reflecting the aesthetic taste of its last owner Ralph Dutton. The room reflected the interest of the Lord Sherborne Ralph Dutton in Italian art and Stone- furniture.
Drawing room- the splendour
Next we went into the beautiful splendid yellow-cream and gold Drawing room- one of the main attractions of the Hinton Ampner House whose Regency striped Wallpaper, French Savonnerie carpet, Georgian gilt pieces, 18th century doorcases and marble chimney -pieces were all in a state of delightful balance. The Volunteer pointed out a green granite circular table that held the 3 -gold griffins perfume –burner from 1770 that was an equivalent of an 18th century Air freshener whose aroma drove away the after dinner vapours and smell! The other highlight was the 5.6 feet deep magnificent chandelier which was a task to clean then and now!
As we stood in the Library I stepped onto the time machine to the year 1960 when a spark from the burning logs in the Fireplace set the nearby sofa on fire whilst Ralph Dutton was out taking a walk and the fierce fire turned the book-collection to cinders which he later restocked with those of fine English writers, poets and travel writers! Ralph himself was a writer and the Library was his preferred room for reading, reference and writing.
We looked out for the panels in the marble fireplace that came from French Queen Marie Antoinette’s Palace near Paris and furniture pieces from Indian Coromandel-coast-wood & Sri Lankan wood as well. Additionally notable are the porphyry (hard purple rock with feldspar crystals) decorative ornamental pieces like vases and urns.
Next we entered the Sitting room or the Study with red damask walls and exceptional18th century paintings, all recreated after the 1960’s fire. Painter Fuseli’s depiction of Shakespeare’s ‘winter’s Tale’ reminded us that that it was in vogue in the 18th century to illustrate Shakespeare’s work. Most belongings from this room survived the fire!
Whilst in the dining room our attention was drawn to the elaborate plasterwork ceiling and splendid gilt wood pier-glass, both designed by the famous 18th century architect and interior designer Robert Adams. Both were rescued from old houses being demolished and put here! Many times in a year the china on the table is changed from Dutton’s lovable collection.
Upstairs bedrooms –of ghosts and today
We were quite excited to go upstairs as that used to be the haunted part of the Hinton Ampner house in the 18th century. The stories of haunting commenced when a Stewkelay family daughter married a Lord Stawel who came to live here. When she died he had an illicit relationship with her younger sister that bore a child and later the child mysteriously disappeared. People often heard sounds and saw figures so much so that the house lay deserted for years!!
Today a simple main staircase led to a central passage connecting all bedrooms with ‘en suite’ bathrooms. Ralph Dutton’s large bedroom, well-lit with a big bay-window held the stunning panoramic view of the garden and the valley beyond.
Ceramics- Dutton’s passion
Back on the ground floor we browsed through the outstanding ceramic collection of Lord Sherbourne –Ralph Dutton,that had survived the fire! The Volunteer explained the making of white bodied porcelain ceramics, real gold gilded ceramics, sturdier ivory-white Bone china, Earthen ware and Biscuit porcelain! For the easier understanding of visitors the entire collection was exhibited in six-Lots.
Of Gardens and Park of the estate
It was not humanly possible to explore the 1650 acres of the Hinton Ampner estate in one day only- the home to the Dutton family for 400 years and now managed by the National Trust. Admiring the 9 different varieties of Lilies we walked from the Lily Pond towards the Paved Terrace and Main Terrace. Behind them is the beautiful Sunken Garden leading to the 180 meter Long Walk and the Park in the distance.
While walking back we stopped at the picturesque All Saints Church surrounded by the East Lawn and Orchard where Ralph Dutton and his ancestors lay to rest.
At the Tea shop we discovered that the Walled Garden nearby supplied products used in the Café and sold in the tourist shop! Soon we headed for London with memories of the beautiful House that survived ghosts and fires to regain its splendour!