The Farm House
For farmers who had prospered from increased efficiency and enlarged holdings, a new fashion emerged. Service areas (dairy, brewery, bakery &c) had been part of the farmhouse and were an intrinsic part of the farmyard. Now, well-to-do farmers saw themselves as the equal of city burghers and wanted their houses for themselves; they converted or built them apart from the working farm, overlooking gardens and landscape; their families withdrew into ornate parlours with soft furnishings and often boasting a pianoforte.
The original Lythe House farmhouse, for instance, had been built in the seventeenth century; by the mid 19th century it had grown from the original farm household building, of which only a few beams now remain, into a substantial 19th century house with its back to the farmyard and its private rooms looking north out over a formal garden and the road . The farmyard was now behind, and largely out of sight of, the house.
Upper House Farm is now occupied by William and Emma Vokes [Farm Servant] with five children and one grandson, two of the sons listed as ‘Agricultural Labourer’ (aged 17) and ‘Carter Boy’ (aged 15). Hillhampton has been divided into three cottages, one occupied by Thomas Merritt , another ‘Farm Servant’, his wife Anne, three young children, and Sarah Snelling, Anne’s mother; the other two cottages were occupied by Edwin Money [Farm Servant] with wife, son and boarder, Henry Hall, and by William Blackman [Farm Servant] and wife. Lythe House, on the other hand, has Farmer Richard Harrison in residence with his wife, four children and two female servants, as well as separate accommodation for another William Weeks [Coachman]. Harrison was a newcomer to the parish, and apparently wealthy, so may not have been an active farmer.
In 1897, Magdalen College sold its holdings in Oxenbourne, including Hilhampton to Samuel Brothers Darwin of Portsmouth; most of the land was farmed by Henry Berry. Many farm buildings would have fallen into complete disrepair, but for an unexpected fashion among city folk.
The rural idyll
‘Those who dwell amidst the vulgar and impossible artistry of modern villadom,’ wrote the Arts & Crafts architect Baillie Scott, ‘may visit now and then some ancient village, and in the cottages and farmhouses there be conscious of a beauty which makes their own homes appear a trivial and frivolous affair.’ Despite the depressing reality of rural life, urban Victorians were fed a romantic vision, for example in the paintings of Helen Allingham who illustrated Thomas Hardy’s novels with sentimental images of thatched cottages and picturesque gardens. This love affair with the country led professional families to buy vacant farmhouses and convert them into weekend retreats; the railway, and the undemanding schedules of wealthy businessmen, meant some could even commute daily to London. One consequence of the Victorian rejection of the industrial landscape and its values was a growing feeling that the countryside was indeed a paradise, everything that the ugly, overcrowded city was not.
Several farmhouses in the parish were, as we shall see, occupied and substantially improved by incomers, a movement which was to gain impetus in the twentieth century.