FLORENTINE ceilings, a beautifully-carved staircase and soft-oak panelling adorn a charming country house just outside Basingstoke.
Set in attractive grounds, there is still plenty of evidence which shows how Sherfield School – a co-educational independent establishment which caters for pupils up to the age of 19 – was once an English manor house.
Zoe Wheddon, the school’s head of world languages and assistant head teacher for the lower senior school, has compiled a fascinating booklet, called Sherfield History.
It tells the story of Sherfield, a property which dates back to the 12th century. The manor was granted by Henry II to his Marshall, William Fitz Aldelin. Prior to that it was part of the manor of Odiham.
Zoe’s booklet explains that for the next few hundred years, the manor passed between various noble families, eventually being purchased by the Marquis of Winchester and later by the Duke of Wellington. The current building was built in 1870 and was named Buckfield Manor the wood in which it was built. It replaced a 300-year-old house called Archer Lodge which had burned down.
Towards the turn-of-the-century in 1897, the building became known as Sherfield Manor when the fine site was encased and extended.
The work was carried out by Lord James Benjamin Taylor, using the same builders who built Tylney Hall, in Rotherwick. Many of the manor house’s features can still be seen and visitors cannot fail to be impressed with the fine staircase, which was carved in situ by Italian artisans.
Zoe said: “The story goes anecdotally that they were paid a penny and an onion a day – I don’t know why. The staircase is highly prized and highly valued, not just by us, but also the Victorian Society – they’ve said that it’s an absolutely fantastic example of its kind.”
Some of the ceilings are rumoured to have come from a palace in Florence.
“I am not sure if they brought bits over from Florence or if it was designed from a copy from a Florentine palace,” said Zoe.
Zoe’s research took her to the Hampshire record office, in Winchester. There she uncovered an amazing story of heroism associated with the family which owned house at the time of the First World War.
Zoe said: “On the day I went, they were digitising a scrapbook and they couldn’t work out where in Basingstoke the pictures were from. I recognised Buckfield Manor.
“Looking through the scrapbook, there were pictures of people skating on the lakes and people shooting in their beautiful outfits and children and their families just relaxing together. That family warmth is still here at Sherfield – you can tell that this was a family home.”
The Liddell family moved into the manor in 1908. By all accounts, they were very popular. They were the last to host a Court Leet and Court Baron – courts responsible for jurisdiction over minor offences, local administration and the regulation and customs of the manor.
The eldest son Aidan Liddell was a First World War hero. As a captain in charge of a machine gun section, he saw action on the frontline with The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
He received the Military Cross in 1915 after being mentioned in dispatches and was known for helping to save the life of his seriously wounded company Sergeant-Major. Captain Liddell was invalided home, but recovered and he decided to joined the Royal Flying Corps – the predecessor to the RAF.
While flying on reconnaissance over Belgium, Capt Liddell was shot and severely wounded in his right thigh, momentarily losing consciousness. His aircraft dropped 3,000ft before he regained control and landed back behind Allied lines. His actions saved not only the aircraft, but also the observer who was with him. He became only the third airman to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery, but sadly Capt Liddell died of his infected wounds a month later. He just was 27.
Capt Liddell was buried with full military honours, in what was described as the biggest funeral Basingstoke had ever seen, at South View Cemetery.
The next family to live at Sherfield Manor was that of the 13th Earl of Winchilsea in 1926, who passed it to his son the 14th Earl a year later. His brother was Denys Finch-Hatton, a famous big game hunter, who was portrayed in the 1986 Academy Award winning film Out of Africa, played by Robert Redford.
In the Second World War, the manor, like so many grand houses around Basingstoke, was used as a military hospital.
Then a girl’s boarding school called North Foreland Lodge, originally from Kent, but displaced by the war, moved to the house in 1947.
“The school moved all around the country and were in a hotel at one point,” said Zoe. “So after the war they wanted a permanent home and that’s when they chose Sherfield.”
Zoe added: “Many people come to visit us.
“Sherfield History is, and will be, meaningful for people who visit the school and obviously it is important to archive the history of the place.”
Copies of the booklet can be obtained at the school’s reception.