A look inside Eyeworth Lodge in the New Forest
PUBLISHED: 12:06 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:11 23 January 2017
Strutt & Parker
It's hard to believe that this peaceful and historic home has an explosive past. Emma Caulton explores Eyeworth Lodge in the New Forest to discover more
High black gates slowly swing open, gradually revealing a secret parkland paradise. The driveway curves away between manicured paddocks punctuated by statuesque chestnuts, oaks and beech trees. It ends in a gravelled flourish around an Elizabethan-style knot garden in front of a country house that juxtaposes distinguished and homely, with canted double height bays either side of an Arts & Crafts style porch.
Who would have thought this was here? That such a substantial house could be hidden in plain sight, on the edge of Fritham and surrounded by open Forest? But this is not just any house. This is Eyeworth Lodge and part of the New Forest’s history.
The site is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The core of the present house dates back to the 17th century, when it was a royal hunting lodge. It is probably best known, however, as part of the Schultze Gunpowder Factory, operating from around 1865 until 1921, and at its peak the largest nitro-compound factory in the world.
Yet little evidence of that factory survives. Gazing across the lush gardens to where leafy paddock meets charming dell, it is hard to imagine this tranquil setting as the location for a huge industrial enterprise; and such a dangerous one at that. “The factory was made of wood because gunpowder is terribly volatile and they kept blowing themselves up!” explains John Jarvis who, with wife, Jan, has lived at Eyeworth Lodge for nearly 20 years.
We are in the drawing room, in the oldest part of the house, a generous room that feels comfortingly snug with its exposed beams and open fire, and the couple are recounting their home’s past lives; both fascinated by the fact that a factory, along with a ‘village’ for a hundred or so workers, existed in the middle of the New Forest, yet there is so little left.
John explains that the site was ideal as the New Forest was a source of charcoal, a major component in gunpowder, and it was a safe distance from any built-up area. Jan says: “The factory manufactured what was back then considered an exciting breakthrough - smokeless gunpowder that allowed those in battle to see who they were firing at.
“Until Nobel’s gelignite took the wind out of their sails and gunpowder became old technology,” adds John.
The most obvious reminders of its past are Powder Mill Road, now an off-road cycle track but once used to transport explosives, safely bypassing Fritham, and Eyeworth Pond, a reservoir created to provide water for the manufacturing process, today a beauty spot enjoyed by visitors and New Forest ponies.
With Eyeworth Lodge’s explosive past safely behind it, the house has become a peaceful retreat.
John again: “It’s a haven. People are not even aware this house is here. It’s a fantastic position. You don’t hear a sound and there’s no light pollution...”
Yet it was not the house, its history or the location that attracted John and Jan to Eyeworth Lodge. It was the wine cellar.
“That’s why we came here,” explains Jan, “because John collects wine and his criteria included a wine cellar, which is difficult to find in the Forest.”
As luck would have it, Eyeworth Lodge’s previous owner, Thierry Cabanne, was a French wine merchant, who had constructed an impressive wine cellar; it even had a lift.
While the wine cellar may have been immaculate, the rest of the house was “unfinished” (as Jan describes it) and required considerable work to turn it into the beautiful, comfortable family home it is today.
If you look, you can just about see the joins between the centuries: the 17th century core, Victorian frontage, and Thierry’s more recent 20th century additions.
“You can see the layers showing how the house has developed and I for one like that. I don’t think you can stick things in aspic, but you do have to do it sympathetically.”
What has evolved is a big, light-filled house (there are seven bedrooms in the main house, plus two cottages) that still manages to seem cosy. It has the charm of past centuries while including features suited to modern life. And the interiors flow: from the grand entrance hall with original pitch pine staircase to the formal Victorian dining room and the country kitchen/breakfast room (with prerequisite Aga) which has been opened up into a family sitting/dining space with woodburning stove. This flow has been achieved in part by Jan’s subtle colour scheme of neutrals and naturals which harmonises the house while providing a backdrop to their collection of paintings. She also mixes furniture of various ages and styles, creating a warm, welcoming home.
This is also a practical house with two utilities, one kitted out as a workshop, original larder, boot room (“for all our clobber”), two studies (one each), master bedroom with vast bathroom and two dressing rooms (one each again) and a studio with separate entrance (another Thierry addition), where Jan practises yoga. That family/dining room is useful, too, and opens onto a sheltered terrace, a great space for entertaining, overlooked by a run of smart weather boarded stables. Jan fondly remembers her horses’ heads nodding over their stable doors. She is effusive about the stabling: “It is a fantastic set up. An enormous space with tack room, drying room, and a second storey with access to a viewing platform. It’s amazing if you’re a horsey person. If not, here’s a little project. You could do up cars. Or a musician could put a studio up there and make as much noise as they like.”
Perhaps the Lodge’s best feature is its views.The front sitting room has two big bay windows. All the principal reception rooms and nearly all the bedrooms look south across the gardens to paddocks and open Forest.
As Jan’s a keen gardener, those gardens are a highlight. “I’ve done a huge amount to the gardens. Thierry had put in the wonderful swimming pool and the mature trees were here, but apart from that there was very little.”
There are raised lawns used for bowls and croquet, deep, abundant borders, a walled kitchen garden, walls of pleached ilex, sculptured plants such as sarcococca ruscifolia with a heady scent of vanilla, and elegant curving topiary - “they were meant to be clouds… I get a bit fanciful.”
Jan has designed gardens to provide year-round colour, structure and interest, with vistas borrowed from the surrounding Forest. We pass through a rose garden and down into a delightful dell with a burbling stream. “We come here with a drink and the dog; it is a very special spot.”
They are downsizing now their sons have left home, but the gardens continue as a work in progress. Jan is developing a little maze on one side and a rose walk on another to highlight an old oak she calls, “the star of the place”. Looking around, Jan sighs, “I’ve done my best; I’m leaving it on a high.”
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