The Hartham Park that you see today is the result of a unique history.
Lady Anne James
1795 is an important date in the history of Hartham Park and a good starting point for this brief history. Lady Anne James’s (née Goddard) family had owned the estate at Hartham for over 400 years. She decided on the death of her husband, the Chairman of the East India Company Commodore William James, to move from their London home at Eltham. She commissioned the renowned architect James Wyatt to remove the farm house on the Estate and redevelop the property.
The result, completed in 1795, is at the heart of the present building, although now largely obscured or altered as a result of later developments. Lady James died before she could occupy the building and the property was subsequently leased. Sir Alexander Malet, who later went on to become Governor of Bombay, was born at Hartham Park in 1800.
Two houses, two histories
Some time before 1816 the house was purchased from the Estate by Michael Joy. He was an exile from North America in the aftermath of the War of Independence due to his sympathies for the British Government. His son, Henry Hall Joy, brings us to an interesting confluence of Hartham Park, Hartham House, an adjacent property no longer in existence and a leading literary figure of the period.
Hartham House had been owned by the Duckett family for a comparable period to that of the Goddards and Hartham Park. The Ducketts, like the Goddards, were a notable North Wiltshire family but they too had relinquished their ownership of the property and during the first decade of the 19th Century the property was owned by Sir Benjamin Hobhouse.
Sir Benjamin’s son, John Cam Hobhouse and Henry Hall Joy were close friends who took the Grand Tour together when they visited Venice in 1815. There are diary records of repeated visits and meetings with Lord Byron there. John Cam Hobhouse went on to become the executor of Lord Byron’s estate, as well as a vocal politician, ultimately ennobled as Lord Broughton of Gifford.
Early 19th Century
In the 1830s Henry Hall Joy became the owner of Hartham House as well as Hartham Park in a land swap arrangement and he chose to knock down Hartham House.
Today there is very little indication that Hartham House ever existed, although The Garth, in the present Hartham Park courtyard, was the Farm House associated with the property and is the oldest building on the site. There is also a remaining ice house (subsequently turned into an air raid shelter during the Second World War) and the cast iron gates that mark the entrance to Hartham Park are crested by the Duckett coat of arms. During the 1850’s Hartham Park was bought from the Methuens, to whom it had been sold, by Thomas Henry Allen Poynder and passed by inheritance to his son, William Henry Poynder.
Sir John Poynder Dickson Poynder
On the death of WH Poynder the estate passed to a nephew, John Dickson Poynder. In 1884 he succeeded his uncle, Sir Alexander Collingwood Thomas Dickson, as sixth baronet and on inheriting his maternal uncle’s property he assumed by royal licence the additional surname of Poynder in 1888.
It was during the period of ownership by Sir John Poynder Dickson Poynder that the house became a focal point for political, social and recreational life in North Wiltshire.
Sir John became MP for Chippenham in 1892 and a Member of London County Council from 1898 to 1904. He also served in the Second Boer War as aide-de-campe to Field Marshall Lord Methuen, Commander in Chief, winning a DSO in 1900.
There are records of Winston Churchill having stayed at Hartham Park over the Christmas of 1896, during the summer of 1897 and again in 1899, and subsequent correspondence between the two men continued for much of their lives.
Sir John had Hartham Park significantly remodelled during his ownership, and the house hosted a great many gatherings, including visits by the Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, the third son of Queen Victoria who was attracted by both the shooting and the golf locally.
The grounds were landscaped by Harold Peto and a superb Dutch water gardens built (now, sadly, largely overbuilt as a result of 1960s development.)
Stické Tennis at Hartham Park
In 1904, the Stické Tennis Court was added in the grounds to the north west of the house. Stické Tennis began at about the same time as Lawn Tennis, the artillery building a closed court at the gunnery range at Shoeburyness, Essex in 1877. Subsequently courts were erected throughout the Empire, and thereafter as its popularity spread, in country house estates.
The First World War, however, changed the world order and following 1918 there was neither the enthusiasm nor the youth of the country to sustain the game.
Today there are only three courts playable throughout the World. The one here at Hartham Park, where there is an enthusiastic and active stické tennis club, at Knightshayes in Devon and a further court that is presently used for badminton in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh within the grounds of the then Viceroy of India’s summer palace.
Sir John Dickson Poynder was appointed Governor of New Zealand in 1910 and raised to the peerage as Lord Islington. After two years he returned to become first Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies and then Under Secretary of State for India.
The Second World War to the present day
Following his death in 1936 the Hartham Park estate was purchased by the Nicholson family of Gin fame, who resided here during the Second World War. The upper floors of the house, previously the servants quarters, became the billet for 100 WAAF personnel, A watch for 10 Group, RAF Fighter Command, during the Battle of Britain and for the remainder of the War. 10 Group Headquarters was at Rudloe Manor a mile and a half to the West.
From the 1960s onwards Hartham Park has been used for business, briefly becoming the headquarters of the Bath and Portland Stone Company, and since 1997 under the current owner, Jeffrey Thomas, has offered serviced office accommodation to some 40 companies.
In addition the house also now contains one of the best local restaurants in the area, Jack’s Restaurant and Bar. Hopefully, this allows the house to be used and enjoyed very much in the spirit of hospitality for which Hartham Park has had a reputation for the past 225 years.
We are always interested in any additional ‘local knowledge’ about Hartham Park. Many people who still live locally had relatives working at Hatham, or have family stories associated with the the place. If there are other items lurking in people’s attics or family photo albums, or recollections stored away in ‘the little grey cells’ then I would be pleased to hear from them.
PRIMROSE LEAGUE Demonstration at Hartham Park 1896
On 22 July 1896 a Unionist demonstration was held at Hartham Park to celebrate the return of Sir John Dickson- Poynder from his round-the-world tour. It was the largest gathering of its kind in the area, with reports of up to 10,000 attending. It had taken months of preparation by Primrose League members from Chippenham, Corsham and Calne. The Primrose League, so named after the favourite flower of Benjamin Disraeli, was an organisation for spreading Conservative principles in Great Britain. It was founded in 1883 and active until the mid 1990s. It was finally wound up in December 2004.
The weather was fine. Anticipation of a memorable occasion was high. There was a Punch and Judy exhibition, Corsham band provided the music along with a band from Chippenham, there were swings and roundabouts and Mr. Bird from Corsham provided tea. Races had been organised, including a needle and thread race for young women and one for girls, a half mile flat race and an egg and spoon race. There was to be a bicycle parade, a donkey race and a gymkhana race. An hour, from 6 till 7, had been reserved for Political Addresses when The Right Hon. Graham Murray, Q.C., M.P. (Lord Advocate for Scotland), and Sir John Dickson-Poynder, Bart., M.P. both spoke. There was not a good start. News arrived that in the early afternoon a wheel had come off a conveyance near Biddestone ―and precipitated a number of people into the road‖. The occupants were from Kington St Michael; Miss Evans the school mistress was unharmed, as was Mr. Dyer, but Mr. Davies, well-known and highly respected schoolmaster, sustained fatal head injuries.
However, the jollities continued until the gymkhana race. Mr. John (Jack) Ogg, of the Station Hotel, Corsham, a most accomplished rider, lost his life. Jack was well known throughout this part of the country as a most accomplished rider. An eye witness recounts how going round the bend of the hill he lost his reins, the horse at once ran out of the course and the umbrella which he was carrying being in front of him he was unaware of the existence of a tree, he banged his head against a branch with such force that he broke his neck. Dr. Wood of Corsham and Dr. Smith-Batten of Calne attended. Jack was taken to the pavilion on a stretcher where he soon passed away. He was surrounded by his friends and a clergyman offered up a fervent prayer. The news was passed to Sir John, who cancelled the firework display.
Jack Ogg had been a member of the Demonstration Committee and it was he who had suggested the gymkhana race be included. He had suggested that each rider have to dismount to drink a bottle of soda, but shortly before the race this aspect was taken out. Jack expressed his regret as he had brought a very quiet horse which would have easily let him mount and dismount.
Jack and his wife Fannie had at least 3 children. Fannie took over the running of the hotel after Jack‘s death and in the 1901 census is shown as the proprietor of the Railway Station Hotel, with her brother, John Duck, managing the business. Fannie and Jack’s parents and two unmarried sisters had moved to Corsham, possibly to help the family.
The account of the Demonstration in the Primrose League Gazette on 1 August 1896 made no mention of the two deaths.