History of Stockton House
Stockton House was built in the 1860’s for a brewer in Hartley Wintney. It was originally set in a 77 acre estate stretching down to the station between Fleet Road and Elvetham Road.
The main driveway to Fleet road was planted with Canadian redwoods – known locally as Wellingtonias after the Duke of Wellington (who lived nearby at Stratfield Saye). A few of the trees survive, now more than 100 feet tall, at the top of the main drive.
The back drive, of beech trees, led down to Elvetham Road; Stockton Lodge is still there. The Courtyard, now on Waverley Avenue, used to be the laundry. The Coach House still bears the same name and now has its entrance on Stockton Avenue; the downstairs rooms used to house the coaches.
The house itself had an orangery on the south facing terrace. The basement contained the kitchens and staff quarters with windows opening onto a narrow walled passageway that surrounded the house; metal gratings let in a dim light. Banks of earth beyond the passageway created the illusion that the gardens came right up to the house.
All the main rooms on the upper floor were interlinked in a circle around the main hall so that the servants never had to use the main staircase. A large subterranean tank, collected rainwater from the roof for the house’s use; there was no mains water until the turn of century. Whether the Hartley Wintney brewer ever lived in the house is unknown; on the 1871 census, the only name given was that of a Miss Eliza Cox. We understand that the house was privately occupied until 1912. Much of the land had been sold off by then, with further sales around Waverley Avenue in the 1930s.
During the First World War, the house was occupied by evacuees from London. We were told by one of them, a child at the time who stayed in Fleet after the war, that the original marble on the main staircase was ripped out at the time, possibly for sale. Between the wars the house was a boys’ prep school. During the Second World War the house was used as a billet for Canadian soldiers. When we first moved in, some of the basement doors had signs in chalk and paint indicating that the rooms had been used as a guard room and for stores. There were still foundations of military huts in what is now the formal garden.
A shadow of its former self
After the war, a builder owned the house and converted it into flats. In 1967 the house was put up for sale and was due for demolition. The main hall had bare plaster walls and a flagstone floor. Many of the larger rooms had been subdivided and an enormous coal-fired boiler in the basement consumed, we were told 20 tonnes of coal a year. We later discovered that the house was riddled with dry rot, which had spread to the beautiful moulding surrounding the original domed skylight in the main hall. The roof leaked in 20 or 30 places into plastic containers in the attics.
Saved from the bulldozers
Stockton House was rescued from demolition by Peter Tweedie-Smith, Managing Director of a small private company. He changed the name of the company to Stocktonia Limited and, over the following 33 years until his death in 2000, he devoted his considerable creative energies to restoring the house to something like its former glory. At the same time, his wife Clare Tweedie-Smith set up Stockton House School. He also extended the grounds again by buying adjacent land. Just before he died, he had completed his last great project, restoring the main hall and installing the eight foot high oak front doors and the enormous oak fireplace in the hall. He had rescued these from his parents’ house, another Victorian house – in London – before it was demolished in the 1960’s. In his memory we built the portico to enhance the front entrance.
Fit for the Twenty-First Century
Since 2000 we have further restored the whole building and developed the Conference Centre. We have incorporated more Victorian features including some wonderful carved woodwork. Hidden within each room we have designed power, projection and internet facilities.
Outside we established an “Italianate” formal walled garden to complement the architectural features on the South side of the house. This has created a spacious terrace and a spectacular “outdoor room” for large functions and events.