Before I continue the intriguing story of Rex Morley Hoyes (last blog), I would like to write something of the history of Marwell Hall, the historic British, Grade 1, Listed home, which my great uncle, Rex, bought in 1934 with his second wife, Patricia Blackader (formerly Lady Waleran). When I first searched the 1934 UK phone book for Rex M Hoyes' address, I had no idea of the surprise which lay in wait for me. The name Marwell Hall Estate sounded charming enough, however, as soon as I saw the magnificent manorial home, pictured above, I was more than curious to discover the history of the home and the surrounding estate. When I discovered that the original house had been built in 1320 and that in the 16 th century, King Henry VIII had granted Marwell Hall to the Seymour family, this amateur historian embarked on yet another exciting journey into the past. As I have conducted my research from Australia,I acknowledge that this account of the history of Marwell Hall is only as accurate as my sources, which I will acknowledge at the conclusion of my story.
Marwell Hall Estate is now a Zoological Wildlife park. Situated in the parish of Owslebury, Hampshire in the south of England. Marwell Hall is about 9.6 km from Winchester, on the Roman road from Winchester to Portsmouth.(see map below right). Evidence of settlement in Owslebury, has been found, dating as far back as the Iron age and the Romans. In the ancient Saxon times of King Edgar the Peaceful, Owslebury was pronounced as oselbryg. In around 964 AD, King Edgar granted land at Owslebury, to the Bishop of Winchester. The Domesday Book, of which I have a well read copy, shows land at Owslebury held by the Bishop of Winchester, prior to and after the Norman Conquest (William the Conqueror). Much of the land which became the Marwell Hall estate, was used as parkland by the Bishop for hunting, grazing cattle and timber getting. The area where Marwell Hall stands was known then, as Twyford with Marwell. Local legend says that the name Marwell comes from, mere meaning water and well meaning a spring. There are several natural springs in the grounds of Marwell Park and Fisher's Pond is about 2 km away adding credibility to this story. In the 1100's, the Bishop of Winchester, Henry de Blois established a College of Secular Priests, where a number of buildings including a chapel were built, on a moated site at Lower Marwell.
In the early 14 th century, the Bishop of Winchester was by then, a Henry Woodlock (1305-1316), who granted land at Twyford with Marwell to a Walter Woodlock, (believed to be a relative of Henry Woodlock). Walter Woodlock was granted a licence to enclose the land at Marwell in about 1310, and paid rent for the property to the Bishop. The Manor or Country Estate became known as Marwell Woodloke or Woodlock. The original home which Walter Woodlock built at Marwell between 1314 and 1320, was a timber framed construction called a base cruck which was 8 metres by 13 metres in size. A base cruck construction was common in Hampshire and other parts of England in this period and was defined by the cruck blades or timbers which rose from the ground up to a tie-beam or collar-beam which supported a separate roof construction.
By the early 16 th century, the Bishop of Winchester, Bishop Fox, granted use of Marwell Hall to the Corpus Christi College at Oxford and revenues from the estate helped to fund the college. In about 1551, the Bishop of Winchester surrendered Marwell Hall Estate and all of its land to the Crown in return for a fixed income of 2000 marks. King Henry VIII granted the estate to Sir Henry Seymour whilst he was courting his sister, Jane Seymour (who became wife number 3). Henry Seymour at the time, already held Twyford Manor adjoining Marwell Woodlock (Marwell Hall). Legend tells us that at the precise moment that Anne Boleyn was beheaded, King Henry and Jane Seymour were married in a secret ceremony at Marwell Hall prior to their official public marriage. Whether or not this tale is true, there is no doubt that the story lends a certain air of romance to Marwell Hall's history. What is known, is, that King Henry VIII spent time at Marwell Hall after his marriage to Jane Seymour. Henry and Jane's son, Edward VI is known to have visited Marwell Hall on a number of occasions and the Royal Arms and initials ER can be seen carved in a stone panel above the fireplace in the Great Hall. The Seymour Crest (pictured left) can still be seen today in the library, now known as the Seymour Room. Much remodelling of the house was done by Sir Henry Seymour and the medieval Great Hall still remains the central core of the building today (pictured above above). A square dovecote, which survives today, was built during the time that Sir Henry Seymour owned Marwell Hall. This building, which was converted to a dairy in the 1800's, has walls 1 metre thick built of brick and flint and is thought to have housed around 700 bird's nests. In the middle ages, doves and pigeons were a valuable source of meat and only manorial lords were permitted to keep the birds. Most dovecotes were built from stone and were round in shape. When a dovecote was timber framed, it was usually square as is the one at Marwell Hall or rectangular in shape (dovecote at Marwell Hall pictured above).
Sir Henry Seymour's descendants, including Sir John and Sir Edward Seymour, occupied Marwell Hall until around 1638, when the family fell out of royal favour and were reduced to poverty. Sir Henry Mildmay, a friend of King Charles I, took possession of Marwell Hall and the adjoining Twyford Manor. They were occupied by his descendants, until the 19th century,beginning with his grand-daughter, Letitia. Marwell Hall Estate was the stage for some interesting happenings and escapades in the 1600's. During the English civil war (1642-1651), Marwell Hall was the site of a skirmish, when a drunken party of Royalists moving from Winchester, took on a party of 60 Roundheads who were staying at the Hall. The Roundheads won the battle despite being outnumbered( being sober helped!). During the late 17 th century, King Charles II is known to have visited Marwell Hall on a number of occasions making the hall a very royally frequented estate.
In 1940, a firm of solicitors who had acted for the Mildmay family for many years, handed 22 boxes of family records to the British Records Association. Many of these records were related to Marwell Hall and in 1972 these were sent to the Hampshire Archives, where, now catalogued, they provide a wonderful source of information about the estate. Meticulous records were kept by the Mildmay family which date back to 1447 and they include lists of tennants at Marwell Hall as well as expenses and sundries, journals and events. These records provide an irreplaceable source of information about Marwell Hall. Information regarding these documents can be found at the following link: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=041-mildmay&cid=-1
According to several sources, William Long purchased Marwell Hall and occupied the estate from 1798 until around 1839. William Long wh was a prominent surgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, made major alterations to the house between the years 1812 and 1816. He rebuilt the upper storeys and was responsible for remodelling Marwell Hall to appear as it stands today. The huge Cedar tree which still stands on the lawn at the rear of Marwell Hall, several hundred years old, with a girth of almost six metres, is believed to have been planted by William Long.
By the middle of the 19 th century, the owner of Marwell Hall was John Gully, an MP for Pontefract and a race horse trainer from Danebury. John Gully was reputed to have had two wives and 24 children!
Marwell Hall was purchased in 1882, by Rowland Standish, whose family occupied the estate until the last of his descendants, William Standish, died in a car accident in 1933.
No manorial home is complete without at least one resident ghost. Marwell Hall is well known for the spirits which haunt its rooms. Jane Seymour is said to haunt the corridors of Marwell Hall. Another spirit to frequent Marwell, is King Henry's previous wife, Anne Boleyn. Anne's ghost reportedly wanders the corridors of the mansion plotting her revenge on Jane Seymour! The most famous of Marwell Hall's ghost stories is that of the Mistletoe Bough. According to this ghostly tale, during a party, that was held one Christmas Eve for a young newly married couple, it was decided that the guests would play a game of hide and seek. The bride was the first to hide and after a while the guests discovered that she was nowhere to be found. Although they searched all night long and into the next day, there was no trace of the girl. Many years later, the young woman's skeketon was discovered, by workers, in an old chest in a room at Marwell Hall. By her side was a piece of Mistletoe. She had become trapped in the chest when the lid had closed tightly, turning the chest into her grave. The young bride has been heard wandering through the corridors of Marwell Hall. Details of ghosts that have been investigated and detected at Marwell Hall can be found at http://www.paranormaltours.com/ .
Along with its distinguished, Royal and ghostly past, in July 1934, Marwell Hall went to auction and was purchased for 5750 pounds, by my great uncle, Rex Morley Hoyes and his wife Patricia (nee Blackader and formerly Lady Waleran). Whilst Marwell Hall was in the possession of Rex Hoyes, the estate became very much involved wartime activities. A secret airfield was built in the grounds of Marwell Hall and operated there from 1941 until 1944. The airfield was an important site for the conversion of Spitfires to Seafires and of American bombers and fighter planes for use by the British RAF. Rex was Managing Director of Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft Ltd from 1937 and the company moved part of its operation to Marwell Hall where their aircraft production and conversion would be safe from enemy bombing at Southampton. This dispersal airfield, as Marwell was known, was a highly kept secret, well camouflaged amongst the woodland on the estate. So well hidden was it that many of the test pilots, most of whom were women (another well kept secret), overflew the airstrip on more than one occasion. One of the aircraft hangars that was built on the grounds, during this period, is still standing today and is heritage listed. At Marwell Hall, Rex entertained such distinguished guests as Lord Mountbatton ( whom he called 'Monty') and Winston Churchill. Rex and Pat were known to entertain the War Cabinet at Marwell Hall for weekends during the war years. It is not known exactly when Rex sold Marwell Hall. There has been some conjecture that he sold the estate whilst Pat was overseas opening Malcolm Clubs (for servicemen) during the war and that she returned to England in 1948 find it sold. Rex had remarried in 1848 but the details of the sale are unknown. ( read more about Rex Morley Hoyes and the secret airfield at Marwell Hall in the next blog). (Pictured above is the location of the Marwell Airfield in the grounds of Marwell Hall).
The London Times reported an auction of parts of the Marwell Hall Estate on October 26 1959. 'In a recent auction held by Mssrs James Harris & Son, parts of the Marwell Hall Estate, near Winchester, which was recently purchased by Sir John Blunt, Lower farm, extending to 179 acres was disposed of for 23,000 pounds.'
In September, 1963, the London Times once again reported the auction of Marwell Hall Estate. By now much of the original estate had been divided and sold off and the remaining 348 acres was for sale. 'The well known first class Agricultural, Residential and Sporting MARWELL HALL ESTATE, Owlesbury,Nr, Winchester, comprising, A beautifully equipped Country House of Tudor origin: 3 reception rooms, study, billiards room, 6 principal bedrooms, 2 dressing rooms, 4 bathrooms, 7 secondary bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, oil fired central heating, main electricity, private water supply, garage and stable block, well timbered grounds and parklands together with 9 well modernised cottages, a first class Dairy Farm extending to about 200 acres with well equipped modernised and attested farm buildings.Valuable woodland extending to about 130 acres. Extensive shooting rights available. In all about 348 acres'
In 1969, John Knowles purchased the Marwell Hall Estate with plans to turn the estate into a Zoological Park focusing on endangered animals.
In 1972, Marwell Zoological Park opened to the public with endangered species such as the Siberian Tiger and the Scimitar-Horned Oryx.
Since then, the Zoo has gone on to open an education centre and has helped to save many species of endangered species of animals from all over the world. Many of the endangered animals from Marwell Zoological Park have been re-introduced back into their native environments in places such as Brazil and Tunisia.
The stately home at Marwell Zoological Park, once the home of the Seymour family, and visited by King Henry VIII, and King Charles II, is available for functions such as weddings and conferences, offering the Seymour Library Room (capacity 40 people) which bears the Seymour Coat of Arms, The Long Room (capacity 80 people) named after William Long, the Woodlock Room (capacity 40 people) which is the medieval hall and the Tudor Rose room which features a grand entrance, high ceilings and an ornate staircase.
View from inside Marwell Hall
Wedding at Marwell Hall
Another pleasant feature at Marwell Hall is the Formal Garden which includes some ancient trees and is located near the back lawn of the Hall. These three gardens, the Knot garden, the Parterre garden and the Kitchen garden, represent garden styles of the 16 th and 17 th centuries and and visitors can explore the ancient historical and ecological importance of the garden.
London Times Online
Detail in the Great Hall at Marwell Hall