Watercolour of Hinton Place.

Hinton Place: a Georgian country house mystery

The history of Hinton Place, destroyed in a fire in 1777, is retraced by Stephen Gadd through contemporary topographical sources.

Within George III’s extensive Topographical Collection at the British Library is a drawing, entitled ‘Hinton Place, near Christ Church Hants, the seat of Mr Clarke. Burnt down 17’ – the full year is not given but the fire occurred in February 1777. The laid paper, its ProPatria watermark, and the opaque gouache paint used to represent the windows are all consistent with dating the drawing between 1770 and 1790.[1] Mystery surrounds Hinton Place, and this drawing is unfortunately rare evidence of the building’s existence.

Hinton Place

Hinton Place.

This drawing shows Hinton Place. The house was built in 1720 by Sir Peter Mews, however it was destroyed by fire in 1777.

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Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Hinton Place is said to have been built in 1720 for Sir Peter Mews, who was Chancellor of the Diocese of Winchester and lord of the manor of Hinton Admiral. The previous year Sir Peter had married a wealthy heiress, Lydia Jarvis, a large part of whose £9,000 fortune had been consumed in the redemption of burdensome mortgages on his estates.[2] He had also bought the extensive Honour of Christchurch from the Earl of Clarendon in 1708, and with it the right to nominate one of the two MPs for the rotten borough of Christchurch. All of the papers relating to the house itself are assumed to have been destroyed by the fire, but documents concerned with running the estate survive and were probably kept in the bailiff’s office in the unaffected south wing of the house. It is among these other papers and later additions that evidence can be found to piece together a more richly detailed picture of Hinton Place.

The survival until at least 1834 of a dovehouse, evident as a black block to the rear of the rebuilt house on a map of 1796,[3] suggests that Hinton Place was probably built on or close to the site of the original medieval manor house: the manor included a single dovehouse (columbar’) when it was sold in 1592, as can be seen in a deed held at the British Library. Drains found under the lawn to the south of the present house and thought to be of 16th-century origin are further evidence of an earlier house of high status on the site.

On first sight, the present-day mansion at Hinton Admiral appears to be very similar to the house of 1720. However, the insurance assessment made over the three weeks following the fire states that the original house was 95 feet wide, and was completely gutted by fire leaving only the walls standing; on rebuilding, it was reduced to a width of only 74 feet, losing a column of windows on each side of the front elevation. Photographs of the National Trust property at Clandon Park show very similar destruction after the fire there in April 2015, where a full-height lift shaft provided an easy path for the spread of fire: the 1777 assessment at Hinton Admiral described a grand wooden staircase which reached from the basement to the very top of the building, and which must have served as a similarly effective flue for the fire. A full ton of lead was recovered from the rubble, presumably from the roof which after some years of neglect had been entirely re-slated just two months earlier.[4]

Although the architect of Hinton Place is unknown,[5] its curved collonades are clearly reminiscent of those at Buckingham House, designed by William Winde in the early years of the 18th century.[6] An inventory of Hinton Place made in 1751 after the death of Dame Lydia Mews,[7] together with evidence, reveals that the Hall of the house was probably a scaled-down version of that of the Queen’s House at Greenwich (designed by Inigo Jones a century earlier), with a gallery running around all four sides at first-floor level. Both Halls also had what was described in the insurance assessment as a ‘square dotted pavement’, a black and white marble floor. The Gallery at Hinton was sufficiently extensive to accommodate a fireplace, and one of the Gallery’s functions is indicated by the ‘Old Musick 2 Guitars & Lute’ found there in 1751. Sir Peter was the nephew of a Royalist bishop who as an artilleryman had fought for King Charles I and later for King James II against the Duke of Monmouth. But he was also the lawyer son of a Parliamentarian soldier, and so would have been anxious to show himself a worthy successor to the Earl of Clarendon, and to demonstrate his social rank to be clearly above that of the Christchurch burgesses whom he represented in Parliament. Therefore, in the Gallery at Hinton Place were displayed (together with several ‘history’ and ‘battle pieces’, and portraits of Sir Peter himself and of Lady Mews) portraits of Bishop Mews, King Charles II, Nell Gwyn, and King Henry VIII. These figures ideologically dissociated Sir Peter, a Tory MP who was knighted by Queen Anne, from the Hanoverian dynasty and from the troublesome political inclinations of his local burgesses. Social tensions are indicated by the fact that scattered around the house in 1751 were three swords, a pike, four pistols, three other guns, and in Mother Pike’s room a blunderbuss!

View of Buckingham House from W.H. Pyne, The History of the Royal Residences

View of Buckingham House

William Henry Pyne’s view of Buckingham Palace, then Buckingham House, was published in his volumeThe History of the Royal Residences.

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Sir Peter’s interest in architecture is perhaps revealed by the 1683 edition of Andrea Palladio’s ‘First Book of Architecture’ listed in the 1751 inventory. The elegant, brick-fronted Marlow Place (which survives in Marlow, Buckinghamshire) is not dissimilar in size or appearance to Hinton Place, and was also built in 1720. As at Marlow, Hinton Place had ‘eight rooms to a floor’, declared by an advertisement for its lease in 1752.[8] The design of Marlow Place is firmly attributed to Thomas Archer, who though not well-known today was one of only nine architects singled out for praise in the introduction to the 1717 edition of Colen Campbell’s architecturally-influential ‘Vitruvius Britannicus’.[9] His brother, Andrew, sat in Parliament on the same Tory benches as Sir Peter Mews, and from 1715 he lived at Hale, just 18 miles to the north of Hinton Admiral; although Archer is often noted to have been favoured as an architect by specifically Whig politicians, he in fact maintained a pragmatic political neutrality and accepted commissions from Tories too, and so his involvement at Hinton Place is at least a possibility. Chettle House in Dorset (20 miles from Hinton Admiral) has a galleried hall and is, like Marlow Place, firmly attributed to Archer; its internal doors are constructed of eight-panels, just as specified in the 1777 insurance assessment for Hinton Place. The Grand Staircase at Hinton rose ‘from the Ground floor to the top of the House, with Rails & twisted Ballasters, Carvd bracketts & wainscoted up the Sides hand rail High’, and the space was topped with a ‘Sky Light’, rather reminiscent of William Samway’s c.1670 design for The Grange near Winchester.

Sir Peter might not have spent much time at Hinton Place, finding it more convenient to fulfil his Diocesan and Parliamentary duties from another estate which he had begun to assemble at Stoke Charity near Winchester, where he died in 1726 at the age of 53. Since the building of Hinton Place had begun, Sir Peter had raised more than £5,000 by mortgaging other property; he had spent more than £7,500 on his new estate, and was committed to completing the purchase of the manor of Stoke Charity with a further £6,800. When he died he was therefore considerably more indebted than he had been before his marriage just seven years earlier. His widow, Lydia, was clearly rather shocked to inherit these debts, and despite offloading the Stoke Charity estate in 1728 seems never to have stabilised her finances sufficiently to continue building work or landscaping at Hinton Place; one of the rooms listed shortly after her death in the 1751 inventory is unfurnished and tellingly identified as ‘The unfinished Room’. Lydia, of whom it was maliciously said that ‘her father sold old clothes about London streets and that her mother was a market woman’, was later to be remembered for the eccentric enterprise she showed in replacing the wheels on her carriage with rollers in order to evade the Carriage Tax on wheels introduced in 1747 (the 1751 inventory lists a ‘Chair on a Rowler’), and for the pies which she fetched from her kitchen at Hinton to be sold in the streets of Christchurch.[10]

When Hinton Place was offered for lease again in 1774, it was described as ‘A very handsome, genteel, modern-built House’, which ‘commands a most delightful Prospect round the adjacent Country, the Sea, the Isles of Wight and Purbeck’. Rather less encouragingly, the advertisement continues, ‘N.B. The Houses, Offices, and Gardens, have been uninhabited by Gentlemen for some years past, consequently are out of Repair’. Lydia’s eldest nephew, Jarvis Clerke (former governor of the English colony at Surat, India), had been lined up to inherit Hinton Place as early as 1727 when she wrote her will, but he died in the house in 1749 having already taken up residence there. It fell to his brother, Benjamin Clerke, to inherit the house on Lydia’s death, but he too died in 1758, leaving Hinton Place in trust to his only surviving child, the 12-year-old Joseph Jarvis Clerke. Joseph probably went to live with relatives in London, where he was also to inherit other property. He did eventually settle at Hinton Place, but presumably not until after the house was offered for lease in 1774, and perhaps not long before the fire, judging by the recency of repairs listed in the insurance assessment. Although he never married, Joseph was not alone in the house, for in his will he left extraordinarily generous bequests not only to his housekeeper, Ann Sarjant, but also to ‘her’ daughter, Louisa. For as long as she lived, Ann was to own the medieval baronial hall at Christchurch now known as the Constable’s House. She was also to have a yearly payment of £100 charged on the Honour of Christchurch, perhaps ten times the typical annual salary of a housekeeper. Louisa was to receive £30 a year until she reached the age of 21.[11]

The contract for 'rebuilding, repairing and altering' of Hinton Place after the fire was made on 10 May 1777, at a price of £2,769, just £32 less than the insurance payout received from the Sun Fire Office. ‘Repairing and altering’ suggests that much of the original masonry was to be retained, notwithstanding the contraction of the sides of the building. Joseph Jarvis Clerke himself laid the foundation stone at 6pm on 9 June 1777, and already by November the house would have been roofed and watertight, had ‘Mr Jenkins not been behind hand with the Lead Work (which is usually the case with him)’![12]

Work on the house continued after Joseph’s death the following April, and was sufficiently advanced in November 1779 for his 26-year-old cousin and heir, George Ivison Tapps, to install his widowed mother and his furniture, which took 29 days to unpack. Decorating and furnishing the house continued for much of the year following his arrival. Being 18 years old when his parents married, Tapps had been born in domestic circumstances which perhaps paralleled those of Louisa Sarjant; on account of his illegitimacy, it was necessary to break the chain of inheritance (the entail) created by Lydia’s will in order for him to inherit Hinton Place. George’s lawyer father, who had been a rather unlikely seventh in line to inherit when the will was written, made sure that this was done in good time, as Hinton Place would otherwise have passed to the distant Jarvis relatives who were later to be acknowledged in George’s own will.[13]

The 1796 map might give the impression that Hinton Place had been built in extensive park land, but this is not the case. Agricultural land around the house which had been sold off in the last decade of the 16th century was brought back into the estate in 1658, but from 1704 the Tory paternalism of Peter Mews dictated against the absorption of tenants' land into parks. Furthermore, Stephen Switzer’s ‘Ichnographica Rustica’, published in 1718, suggested that considerable expense could be spared if neighbouring fields and paddocks were fenced simply, so that it would ‘look as if the adjacent Country were all a Garden’. By 1774 there were only ‘16 acres of inclosed Meadow and Pasture Land adjoining’ the house, little more than sufficient to accommodate the Avenue at the front, and there was but one fish pond in the walled garden at the rear.[14]

Although timber ‘Park Gates’ were made in October 1780, the house and grounds began to acquire their present-day grandeur only after George’s marriage in 1790 (to which his wife brought wealth in excess of £6,500). An additional pond was dug in 1792, and new walks and gardens laid out; the open parkland to the front of the house exceeded 70 acres even before parliamentary inclosure in 1805 ordered the re-routing of the road which had limited the length of the Avenue. Extensions to the north and south of the main house (designed by Robert Nasmith), more than compensated for the reduction in size of the building after the fire.[15]

The place name ‘Hinton’ derives from Old English hēah (dative hēan) + tūn, meaning ‘high farmstead’, at once indicating both the antiquity and physical elevation of settlement on the site, which was recorded in the Domesday Survey as ‘Hentune’. The sea views noted in 1774, and described in 1752 as ‘an extensive Prospect of the Sea’, are now largely lost behind mature trees, but modern mapping technology, utilising LiDAR data, reveals not only that it would have been possible to see large expanses of sea from the first floor windows of Hinton Place, but also that the front of the house was aligned with a clear view to Constitution Hill, eleven miles distant to the north of Poole. Furthermore, the wings of the house framed the more local landmarks of Christchurch Priory and St Catherine’s Hill.[16]

Map of Hampshire by Isaac Taylor

Map of Hampshire

This map of Hampshire was engraved by Isaac Taylor and dedicated to Charles Powlett, 5th Duke of Bolton in 1759.

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Just before his death, Benjamin Clerke had subscribed to the publication in 1759 of the first detailed map of Hampshire, surveyed by Isaac Taylor, a copy of which survives in King George III’s Topographical Collection. Clerke’s name is recorded on the map, as is the name by which his residence was actually known, ‘Hinton House’.[17] Mysteriously, until this article was written, it seems that nowhere but on the drawing in the British Library was the house referred to as ‘Hinton Place’.


This article could not have been written without the goodwill of Sir George & Lady Tapps-Gervis-Meyrick, Mr George W Meyrick, and the Trustees of the Hinton Admiral Estate; it was considerably improved by the expertise and generous advice of many others, including Dr Helen Lawrence-Beaton.


[1] This analysis was made by Alexandra Ault, Cataloguer of Coloured Views, King's Topographical Collection. BL Maps K.Top.14.73 Hinton Place, near Christ Church Hants, the Seat of Mr Clarke Burnt Down 17, 1770-90.

[2] Their marriage settlement described the property at Hinton Admiral in the same terms as much earlier deeds, as merely a ‘Capital Messuage’, and so the building date of 1720 noted by Joseph Jarvis Clerke is very plausible. The idea that the balance remaining of Lydia’s fortune was alone sufficient to fund the building of Hinton Place is not. MHA, 252/42/8; MHA, 282/28/6/2 Trust Deed on marriage of Sir Peter Mews and Lydia Jarvis, 1719.

[3] It was not unusual for historic buildings to be swept away in order to improve vistas, a notable example being the demolition of Salisbury Cathedral’s medieval bell tower in the late 18th century. MHA, 7/7 Map of the Manors of Hinton Admiral and North Hinton, and of some estates adjoining, 1834; HRO, 9M73/138 Malmesbury Estate Tithe Map showing tithings of Burton, Winkton and Hinton, 1796; BL, Additional Ch. 58796 Exemplification of a Common Recovery of the manor of Hinton Admiral, 28 Nov 1592; Lady Jean Meyrick (15 Apr 2016, personal communication with Stephen Gadd).

[4] MHA, 216/T19 Measurement of loss in Hinton Mansion House of Joseph Jarvis Clarke, 24 Feb 1777.

[5] This is not an unusual state of affairs concerning houses of the period: Nikolaus Pevsner, Elizabeth Williamson and Geoffrey K. Brandwood, Buckinghamshire, (London: Penguin, 1994), 65-66.

[6] See W. H. Pyne, The History of the Royal Residences of Windsor Castle, St. James's Palace, Carlton House, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Buckingham House and Frogmore, v.2 (London: 1819), Plate 45 [BL 60.g.11-13].

[7] TNA, C12 1433/13 Chancery Pleadings: Clerke v Biddulph, 1751-1753; MHA, 216/T18 Inventory of the goods and chattels of Dame Lydia Mews, including books and livestock, 31 May 1751-5 Jun 1751.

[8] 'To be Lett', London Evening Post (11-14 Jan 1752).

[9] Helen Lawrence-Beaton, A Forgotten Baroque Master: Thomas Archer (1668-1743), PhD Thesis, University of Bristol, (2016); Colen Campbell, Vitruvius Britannicus, or the British Architect, (London: 1717),  [British Library HMNTS 649.b.5.].

[10] HRO, 18M54/C1/1/28 Bundles of Stoke Charity estate papers, c.1680-1740s, bundle 6; SHC, DD/GS/3 Glastonbury Antiquarian Society: Large volume made up by Thomas Serel, ?-c.1885; HRO, 16M79/16 Notebooks for Bingley's History of Hampshire: Christchurch, with Holdenhurst and Hinton, 1807-1813.

[11] The Castle Hall brought additional rental income of £10 10s per annum. 'Hampshire. To be Lett', St. James's Chronicle: or, the British Evening-Post (13-15 Mar 1774); TNA, PROB 11/1042/23 Will of Joseph Jarvis Clerke of Christchurch , Hampshire, 4 May 1778; Christopher Christie, The British Country House in the Eighteenth Century, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 121; MHA, 220/7/6/3 Rental of the Estate belonging to Joseph Jarvis Clerke, 14 Oct 1777.

[12] MHA, 279/T14 Bundle of letters to Joseph Jarvis Clerke, 1776-1778; MHA, 216/T19; MHA, 252/42/8; MHA, 300/BC51/3 Correspondence: John Oake at Winkton to JJ Clerke in London, 24 Nov 1777.

[13] MHA, 207/4/34 Account of George I Tapps Esq for furniture removals etc, 1 Feb 1779-4 Jun 1780; TNA, CP 43/735/323 Court of Common Pleas: Recovery to break entail on the Christchurch estates, 1767.

[14] MHA, 249/D3/48 Copy of deed of exchange of the Poor’s Land at Hinton, 30 Mar 1658; Stephen Switzer, Ichnographia Rustica: Or The Nobleman, Gentleman and Gardener's Recreation (London: D. Browne, 1718), xxxvii.

[15] MHA, 207/4/12 Receipts for payments to William Walden for carpentry and building work, 1779-1781; MHA, 303/1 Settlement previous to the marriage of Mr Tapps with Miss Buggin, 23 Jul 1790; MHA, 226/BC46/1 Letters to Sir George Ivison Tapps, 1792-1804; MHA, 226/BC44/4 Letters to Sir George Ivison Tapps, 1792-1833; MHA, 226/BC44/2 Letters to Sir George Ivison Tapps etc, 1792-1833.

[16] A. D. Mills, 'Hinton', in A Dictionary of British Placenames, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); LiDAR Composite Digital Terrain Model (DTM), Environment Agency, 2016,  <http://www.geostore.com/environment-agency/survey.html#/survey> [accessed 3 Apr 2016].

[17] BL, Maps K.Top.14.5.11 Isaac Taylor: Map of Hampshire, including the Isle of Wight, 1759.

  • Stephen Gadd
  • Stephen Gadd is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Winchester, researching 'A Stream of Failures: Navigation of the Salisbury Avon and Christchurch Haven, c.1650-1750’.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.