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Westbury House

The Palladian Westbury House built in the 18th century. © Firle House

Situated at the extreme western end of East Meon parish, Westbury House is on the rim of West Meon village; it had been owned since 1722 by the Gage family of Firle Place, East Sussex. Also known as Wesberie, Westburia, and Westbyrie it is recorded as part of the Ulnod of Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) and is assessed at 3 hides in Domesday. Robert le Ewer was the ‘yeoman’ of King Edward II (1282 – 1327) and was given permission to fortify the house; he held Odiham Castle on behalf of Edward, then fell out with the king. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was owned by the Fawconer family. Then, in 1722, Westbury was purchased by an Irishman, Sir Peter Warren; in 1745 he captured Louisburg on behalf of the New England colonies and was promoted to rear admiral of the blue. He captured three French ships worth £1,000,000 – a fortune. In 1747 he won a great naval victory off Cape Finestere and was made a Knight of the Bath. He married a fabulously rich American lady, Susanna daughter of Stephen de Lancey. The combined wealth enabled them to build a fine Palladian house at Westburyand to commission the celebrated early 18th century landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman to design the grounds.

 

Charles Bridgeman’s design of the grounds at Westbury House.

The approach to the house was along a tree-lined drive off the road from West to East Meon. The drive looped into an oval on the north side of the house, and on the south side were pleasure grounds. Surrounding the house and gardens was a working estate with a farmyard, barns and stables, fields and timber plantations. In the early 19th century, Westbury passed to Warren’s grand-daughter, Suzannah Maria, who had married her first cousin, Viscount Gage. (The first Baron Gage of Castlebar and Viscount Gage of Castle Island, had been ennobled in 1720, under the Irish Peerage.) The Gage family was based in Firle Place, East Sussex, and the couple divided their time between there and Westbury.

The 1851 census lists Westbury as occupied by the brother of the fourth Viscount, Thomas William Gage, with 8 house staff. From Westbury Manor farm he managed 1,340 acres, of which 1046were in the parish of East Meon. The Viscount’s father owned a further 1,156 acres in East Meon and the Tithe Apportionments show that most of the parish land to the west of the main village was owned by him including tenanted farms at Riplington, Drayton, Peake, & Coombe, and parts of Hyden.

Lands owned by Lord Gage and farmed by Hon T.W.Gage and tenant farmers.

 

The Hon Thomas William Gage & niece.
© Firle Place

The 1851 census lists Westbury as occupied by the brother of the fourth Viscount, Thomas William Gage, with 8 house staff. From Westbury Manor farm he managed 1,340 acres, of which 1046were in the parish of East Meon. The Viscount’s father owned a further 1,156 acres in East Meon and the Tithe Apportionments show that most of the parish land to the west of the main village was owned by him including tenanted farms at Riplington, Drayton, Peake, & Coombe, and parts of Hyden.

The Sartoris family

The 1861 census shows that The Hon Thomas William Gage had left Westbury House, which was then rented by the Sartoris family who were distant relatives of the Gages and well-known in London’s artistic circles. May’s mother Adelaide was one of the illustrious theatrical family, the Kembles, and one of the greatest opera singers of her time. Adelaide was a great hostess and friend of many of the great artistic, literary and musical figures of their age – including Robert Browning and Frederick Leighton, who visited Westbury during their tenancy.

Portrait of May Sartoris by Frederick Leighton, with Marland Mill and West Meon church featured.

Leighton painted this portrait of May Sartoris, which contains features of the West Meon landscape: Marsland windmill in the top left corner, the village church (since burned down and replaced) on the right. We were asked by the curator of the Kimbell Art Museum, Malcolm Warner, to advise him as to where she would have stood for the portrait. The answer must be that she posed indoors, and that Leighton sketched the landscape details and added them later.

Adelaide and her wealthy husband Edward lived at Westbury as tenants from 1859 to 1863 when Edward inherited the nearby Warnford Park from his maternal uncle Edward Tunno and they moved there. In 1866, Viscount Gage put Westbury up for sale, and it was bought by John Delaware Lewis.