by Jonathan Foster
Stand at the front gate of Pierrepont farmhouse on a quiet summer evening, listen intently and you may just catch the very faintest of echoes of Gavotte and Minuet and the rustle of silks and satins.
Fifty yards away on that grassy knoll ahead of you where the Jerseys now graze (as they are doing in the photograph below) was once a fine mansion called Clinton Lodge, after the then owner, the Earl of Lincoln, which the Duke of Kingston later bought, renaming it Pierrepont Lodge after his family name and adding a splendid ballroom and a new kitchen.
Not that the property had always been a rich man’s plaything, for in 1601 a John Inwood paid the Lord of the Manor of Farnham 2/6d [“half-a-crown”, or 12½ pence in today’s coinage] rent for “6 acres at Tankards Forde with a cottage and barn new built”. By 1690 it had been acquired by Frensham Beale Manor, when the rental was 8/- [eight shillings, or 40 pence]. Tankards, or Tancreds ford, about 200 yards away (and the origin of the name of today’s Tankersford Wood), was one of the few crossing places for the River Wey before Millbridge was built about half a mile upstream. A number of field names were written in the Court Rolls at that date, but sadly none of those names survive today.
When George Mabanke, a wealthy maltster of Guildford wrote his will in 1725, he described a larger farm — 40 acres in Farnham Manor and 20 in Frensham, with messuage and barn (which still stands today), occupied by a Thomas Farnham. The local history is of a long struggle to win small pockets from “the waste”, poor sandy soil only good for heather, “fuzz” (gorse) & rabbits, which can still drive CRT’s farmer Mike Clear to distraction, and, in those days, a haunt of rogues, vagabonds and smugglers. Twenty eight years and two owners after Mr Mabanke’s will, the Earl of Lincoln (known accurately, if unkindly, as Lincoln the Fat) was enrolled in the court rolls, bringing us back to where we started.
Evelyn Pierrepont, Duke of Kingston, should have had all life’s advantages, but alas! amiability and handsome good looks hardly compensated for a poor education and lack of sense.
To Frensham, however, he came in 1761, with his vast fortune and mistress Elizabeth Chudleigh, no better than she ought, by all accounts, and they disported and gambolled for ten years, by which time he had married the lady, she almost certainly bigamously, but his health was failing and Pierrepont Lodge was sold in short order through two rich merchants and a minor M.P. to Ralph Winstanley Wood, who, after a military career, had made his pile from salt.
Perhaps he had no need of a ballroom, or it was the thought of those disreputable vagabonds coming over the ford and passing in front of his house, but demolish it he did and built his own mansion half a mile to the west, calling it Highfield Lodge.
Here he indulged in the pursuits of a family man and country landowner, adding considerably to his property in Frensham and having his and his wife’s portrait painted by the fashionable Francis Wheatley. About 1817 disaster struck, though, when he lost his fortune to a son-in-law’s unwise investments. Happily, another son-in-law, Crawford Davison, came to the rescue and purchased Highfield, allowing his father-in-law to remain there the rest of his long life.
Crawford was a merchant in rice, but not typically avaricious, as he went out of his way to relieve the suffering of Frensham people after a poor harvest by supplying rice, and his description of the illness and death of his eldest son Thomas shows him as a kind and considerate Christian. In 1836 he died and the estate, now over 300 acres, passed to his surviving son, also Crawford, but the house must have been too large for this bachelor, as he only lived there a few years, then moved first to the Priory at Millbridge and then to Bentley with his sister Mary, renting out Highfield until 1862, when he sold it to Richard Henry Combe, of the brewery firm which later became Watney, Combe and Reid.
R. H. was a country lover who added greatly to the estate. He started his own pack of foxhounds in 1876, the year he completed his new house on the same site as Highfield. Designed by Norman Shaw and reverting to the name of Pierrepont, this is the building that stands there today.
His son Richard inherited in 1900 on his father’s death, by which time the estate had grown to 1500 acres and included Frensham’s Little Pond, Manor House and Hotel. A benevolent employer, he lived happily enough there with his wife, but their one son was killed in the First World War, so after their deaths in 1939 and 1941, the estate was put up for auction.
The house was requisitioned by the military, but the farm and other property were purchased by Major Allnatt, a property developer. As children, his son and daughter Jo were brought up on the farm, idyllic but spartan, tin baths and paraffin lamps, and it was to here she would return many years later to start her own beloved pedigree Jersey herd and, with great generosity, many years later gift it to the CRT.