South Hill Park

South Hill Park

"This is an article about an arts centre in Berkshire. For the London street and murder scene of the the same name, see South Hill Park"

South Hill Park is a 24 acre (96,000 square metre) site that lies to the south of Bracknell town centre in the Birch Hill estate. The original South Hill Park mansion was built in 1760 for William Watts for his retirement from service as a senior official of the Bengal Government. The house was originally on two floors, built in the Italian manner, decorated with stucco, with a front entrance and tower in the baroque style. The grounds included 30 acres (121,000 m²) of common land, which William Watts enclosed. In return he built almshouses on a site opposite Easthampstead Parish Church about half a mile away. The almshouses were eventually demolished by order of the Marquess of Downshire in 1826.

After his death, the Honourable Henry Bouverie lived in the house until 1787 and was followed by Sir Stephen Lushington until 1807, when George Canning, the celebrated Statesman, acquired the property early. He was Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs under William Pitt, Foreign Secretary and both Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of his death in 1827. Sir John Soane modified the house during this time.

The Earls of Limerick were the next owners, around the time of the Easthampstead Enclosure Award of 1827. Kelly's Post Office Directory for Berkshire shows that Sir James Matheson was in residence in 1847, and 1853 he sold the estate to Sir William Goodenough Hayter, son of the Judge Advocate General. In 1868, South Hill Park was referred to in Cassey's Directory as "one of the principal mansions in the neighbourhood of Easthampstead" - and as the residence of the Right Honourable Sir William Goodenough Hayter, Bart, Q.C., J.P., D.L.. Sir William's busy political career apparently made him somewhat depressed and he was found drowned in South Hill Park lake in 1878.

Kelly's Directory of 1883 contains a description of South Hill Park, referring to it as the seat of Lady Hayter, "a compact residence of brick faced with cement, standing in a park of convert|800|acre|km2 [3.2 km²] in which there are four lakes; the private gardens are very beautiful, being laid out in terraces'."

Sir William Hayter's son, Sir Arthur Divett Hayter, born in 1835, rebuilt most of the mansion towards the end of the 19th century, in brick and Bath stone, incorporating one wing of the original house.

Due to a fire towards the end of the 19th century, the house is considered haunted. The supposed hauntings are from two children who died, when the nursery caught alight. This is especially true for the modern Studio Theatre area which is located on the site of the nursery.

In the grounds of South Hill Park a plaque records the planting of a tree by William Gladstone in 1893.

Sir Arthur became Lord Haversham in 1906. Haversham Drive, in the Easthampstead neighbourhood of Bracknell, has been named after him.

The staff at the time consisted of three footmen, three housemaids, one lady's maid, one housekeeper, one butler, one valet, labourers, gamekeepers, scullery maids and kitchen maids. The Haversham Coat of Arms can be seen over the main entrance of the building and is described as "azure and escallop between three bulls' heads couped or". The crest surmounting the coat of arms also shows a bull's head and gold shells.

Lord Haversham died on 10 May 1917. Lady Haversham was still in residence in 1920 when she erected a marble tablet in Easthampstead Parish Church as a memorial to 62 men connected with the Parish who lost their lives in the 1914-18 war.

After the death of Lady Haversham in 1929, leaving no direct heir, the house passed into the hands of Major Rickman O.B.E., Lady Haversham's nephew, who was the last person to own and live in it as one house and is best known for shooting himself in the Gun Room in 1940.

During the 1939-45 war the house was occupied by the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, evacuated from Margate. In the late 1940s it was converted into five luxury flats with the main reception being common to all.

From 1953 the house was owned by the BBC, who converted parts into studios and acoustically treated some of the rooms.

In 1963 South Hill Park was included in an extension of the new town designated area of Bracknell and the Bracknell Development Corporation acquired the property. The house was let in 1965 to Ferranti Limited, who used it as offices and laboratories until early 1972.

In 1972 a proposal for adapting the house into an Arts Centre with an additional theatre was agreed with the intention that the immediate surrounding gardens, lawns, trees and two lakes would be preserved. The South Hill Park Trust was established and the South Hill Park Arts Centre opened in October 1973.

In 1984 the 330 seat Wilde Theatre was completed, which has drawn large numbers of people to the area since its opening. A new Dance Studio and Bar extension, along with additional dressing rooms, rehearsal and storage space were added to the theatre in 1988/89.

The Bracknell Gallery opened in 1991.

External references

* [ South Hill Park Arts Centre]
* [ Royal Berkshire History: South Hill Park]

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