Landed Gentry

Frederick Ponsonby, 10th Earl of Bessborough


One notable feature of the Rowlands Castle area is the existence of three large country estates – Stansted, Idsworth and Staunton – each with its own interesting history. This article focuses on the owners of these estates over the centuries. The history of the houses is described in Mansions and the features of each land estate can be found in the Three Estates.

References to the Landed Gentry can be found in local churches and graveyards. They contributed to the local community by offering land for the current Recreation Ground, the Parish Hall, and also for funding local schools. Older residents still have warm recollections of annual visits to their ancestral homes (listen to Sonya Teale’s audio tapes).


Sir Jervoise Clarke-Jervoise, 2nd Bart

The Clarke Jervoise family, comprising seven hereditary baronets – from 1770 to 1933 – owned the estate until it was sold off in 1974 following the death of Major Arthur Clarke Jervoise (1882-1974).

The estate has a much longer history going back to Norman times, but since the early 1800s Idsworth’s history relates to the baronets of the Clarke-Jervoise family. Originally, the estate was centred on a house and grounds close to St Hubert’s Chapel on the eastern bank of the eastern Lavant. During the 1860s, however, it was relocated westwards, to a plateau across the valley, to distance it from the railway line then being built to link London to Portsmouth. The original house was demolished but significant features remain including a fine large barn, a walled garden and a deteriorating avenue of lime trees running up the opposite hillside. The new mansion was built by Sir Jervoise Clarke-Jervoise on the plateau to the west of Finchdean.

Clarke-Jervoise:     Owners of Idsworth                                                         
1Rev Sir Samuel Clarke-Jervoise, 1st Bart1770-1853Age 73Corpus Christi, OxonMP 7 times
2Sir Jervoise Clarke-Jervoise, 2nd Bart1804-188985 MP 7  times 1768-1808
3Sir Arthur Henry Clarke-Jervoise, 3rd Bart1856-190246Eton; Coldstream Guards 
4Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Clarke-Jervoise, 4th Bart1831-190877Coldstream Guards 
5Sir Harry Samuel Cumming Clarke-Jervoise, 5th Bart1832-191179Harrow; Merton College, Oxon 
6Sir Eustace James Clarke-Jervoise, 6th Bart1870-191646  
7Sir Dudley Alan Lestock Clarke-Jervoise, 7th Bart1876-193357  
8Major Arthur Francis Clarke-Jervoise1882-197492  

Former resident Guy Phelps –  who until recently lived in  the Idsworth hamlet formed in the outbuildings of the current House – has written a helpful article about the family:   Idsworth: ‘The Rise and Fall of the Clarke-Jervoise Dynasty’

Editorial: Unlike the Earls of Bessborough at Stansted and Sir George Staunton at Staunton Park, there are relatively few documented references describing the Clarke-Jervoise family. RCHC is interested to learn more about the family. If you can help, please write to the Editor.

Staunton Park

Sir George Thomas Staunton – Henry Stone – General Sir Fitzwygram

In 1820, at the age of forty, Sir George Thomas Staunton (1781-1859) purchased the original mansion and estate from George Arkell, a Portsmouth man. In 1861, the estate was bought by the second significant owner – William Stone MP (1834-1896). He built a new Victorian mansion on the plateau overlooking the lake. In 1875, however, the estate was bought by General Sir Frederick Fitzwygram, succeeded by two generations of his family.

Staunton Estate and its owners are comprehensively described by Derek Gladwyn in his history “Leigh Park – a 19th Century Pleasure Ground”, published in 1992 by Middleton Press. It describes Sir George Thomas Staunton, 2nd Baronet (1789-1859) in considerable detail as the most influential of the three main owners.

A shorter publication has also been written for The Spring (Havant) Museum.

Sir George Thomas Staunton, 2nd Baronet

When George Thomas Staunton bought the house and estate in 1820 he was nearly 40 years old, well established in life and society, having already served as an MP. When redeveloping the estate, his wide experiences of travelling to the Far East influenced his outlook. But, importantly, much of George Thomas’s early development can be attributed to his father, Sir George Leonard Staunton (1st Baronet) who gave his son a flying start in life.

In addition to an unusual education, delivered by domestic tutors with a focus on languages, George Thomas also went to Trinity College but was withdrawn after two terms! His father’s main influence, however, included taking him on diplomatic missions to the Emperor of China, enduring long voyages to the Far East.

George Leonard’s background shows that he was born in 1737 in County Galway. In 1753, for health reasons, and at the age of sixteen he was sent to the south of France for education and university where he gained a degree in Medicine. In 1760 he returned to London then shortly went on to Grenada in the West Indies where he practised as a doctor.  In 1771, however, he came back to London again,  and married Jane Collins (daughter of a bookseller, publisher, and banker). Returning to Grenada, they had two children, both dying in infancy.

By way of a further digression, Lord George Macartney, 1st Earl, who was George Leonard’s friend, was appointed in 1776 as the Governor of Grenada (they were the same age and with different but compatible personalities). Meanwhile George Leonard had also qualified in Law, and in 1779 was awaiting appointment as Attorney General for Grenada. (That same year Grenada was captured by the French and who returned them both to France. Apparently, George Leonard negotiated an exchange for both himself and Lord Macartney). Subsequently, Lord Macartney – who had already established a reputation as a diplomat after a successful mission to Catherine II of Russia – was appointed Governor of Madras and was accompanied by George Leonard as Private Secretary.

When George Leonard next returned to England after the birth of his son (George Thomas), he pursued those intellectual pursuits that had interested him previously. Sir George Leonard was a Fellow of the Royal Society (1787) and The Linnean Society (1789). In 1790 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law by Oxford University.  He was a friend of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) the botanist and Edmund Burke (1729-1797). He was also preoccupied with his son’s education – unusually by tutors – including attending meetings of learned societies.

In 1791, George Leonard prepared for the voyage to China as part of an Embassy to meet the Emperor. One of his immediate tasks was to hire two tutors in Naples, to teach Chinese to his son. When his close friend, Lord Macartney was appointed as the Ambassador, George Leonard became Secretary (with authority to take over if Lord Macartney died). George Thomas went too, with the title of ‘Page’. The voyage to India and beyond to China was long in a small flotilla of sailing ships including HMS Lion. While the outcome of the mission did not result in specific trade deals, it was adjudged successful – particularly by developing George Thomas as a Chinese linguist and expert in Chinese law. His father also gained distinction by documenting the mission.  The mission also allowed the study of plant biology too. These experiences of a lifetime accompanying his father, provided an immense influence over the development of George Thomas.

On his father’s death in 1801, George Thomas succeeded him as 2nd Baronet. However he did not learn of his father’s death until seven months later as he had gone on a second visit to China, employed as a Junior Clerk by the East India company (EIC). After his fifth visit to China, he decided to withdraw from the Far East, having also transferred his attention to the collection of exotic plants.

When purchasing the estate in Leigh Park (now part of the neighbouring Borough of Havant) Sir George Thomas Staunton re-developed it as a ‘Victorian Pleasure Ground’ a fashion in vogue at the time. The local road was diverted away from the House (when the current ‘Middle Park Way’ was only a track). Much of the landscaping including lakes and woodlands also had numerous features reminiscent of his Chinese adventures. There were fine glass houses, and a number of follies. In recent decades those that endured have been restored to remind us of the ‘Pleasure Ground’.

William Henry Stone MP (1834-1896) eventually bought the estate for £60,000 in 1861, two years after George Thomas’ death. William Stone, then aged 27, replaced the original house with a larger Victorian Mansion overlooking the lake, with a purpose-built stable block nearby.

Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Fitzwygram (1823 – 1904) bought the estate in 1875. He was distantly related to Sir George Tomas Staunton. The estate was retained largely as developed by the two earlier longer-term owners. It passed to his daughter Angela on the death of his son in 1920. Some of the estate was sold between the Wars by Angela.

Most of the remaining estate was requisitioned during World War II, and subsequently purchased by Portsmouth City Council for local housing. The northern part, however, became a Country Park in multiple landownerships, but administered ultimately by Hampshire County Council (who now manage it jointly with the nearby Queen Elizabeth Country Park).

Owners of Staunton Park
1Sir George Thomas Staunton, 2nd Bart1781- 1859Age
 *Purchased Leigh Park Gardens in 1820 MP Six times
2William Henry Stone1834 – 189662Harrow;  Trinity College, Cambridge: Made Fellow 1859*Purchased Estate in 1861 Built new Victorian House 1865
3Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick John Fitzwygram1823 – 190481Eton; FRCVS;  MP twice*Purchased Estate in 1875

Editorial: A pamphlet about Lieutenant-General Fitzwygram has been published by The Spring Museum, Havant

Stansted Estate

Vere Ponsonby, 9th Earl 

Frederick Ponsonby, 10th Earl 

The latest family to own the estate are the Earls of Bessborough. The 9th Earl, Vere, purchased the estate in 1924.

Stansted, the third estate referred to in this article, although having a Rowlands Castle postcode, lies wholly within the adjoining County of West Sussex. The Estate comes very close to the railway line at the centre of Rowlands Castle Village. Historically it has employed local people and is of prime recreational and walking interest to many villagers. In 1996, Frederick, the 10th Earl transferred ownership of the estate to the Stansted Park Foundation – a registered charity – which commits to opening to the estate to the public.

Earls of Bessborough:  owners of Stansted House
1Edward Ponsonby, 8th Earl1851-1920Age 69Barrister 1879 1884, Speaker, House of Commons
2Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, 9th Earl  1880- 195676Harrow;  Trinity College, Cambridge;   Inner Temple 1903MP twice            * Purchased Stansted 1924
3Frederick Neuflize Ponsonby, 10th Earl  1913- 199380Eton:  Trinity College, CambridgeMP twice            Succeeded his father in 1956 Created ‘Stansted Park Foundation’ in 1983  
4Arthur Mountiford Longfield Ponsonby, 11th Earl1912-200290Harrow;  Trinity College, Cambridge    
5Myles Fitzhugh Longfield Ponsonby, 12th Earl1941-             Harrow;  Trinity College, Cambridge; FICA  
The Earls of Bessborough – the Ponsonby family

The current dynasty of the Earls of Bessborough originated in 1735, with an Irish peerage which still continues today. It was first awarded to Brabazon Ponsonby in the County of Kilkenny (he had represented an Irish constituency in the Irish House of Commons). Heirs to the earldom also hold the title of the Viscount Duncannon (an Irish title).

Vere (1880-1956), the 9th Earl, bought the Stansted Estate in 1924. (The mansion had by then been rebuilt following a serious fire in 1900). Vere had a distinguished career, serving in the army during World War I. He was a member of the London County Council before being elected as a Member of Parliament at Westminster. He was appointed Governor General of Canada from 1931 until 1935. In 1937 he was awarded the Earldom of Bessborough, the first of a new English peerage. Thereafter, he served in the House of Lords. He was succeeded in 1956 by his son Frederick Ponsonby (1913-1993), who became the 10th Earl of Bessborough.

Frederick had also been a member of the UK House of Commons, served briefly in World War II at Dunkirk, latterly taking up a diplomatic role at the British Embassy in Paris from 1944-48. After the War, he became one of the first MEPs, serving as the first Vice-President of the European Council. He subsequently sat in the House of Lords and held ministerial appointments. Like his father, he was interested in drama and the arts, and became a founder member and then Chairman of the Chichester Festival Theatre Trust. Overall, both he and his father had most illustrious careers.

He and his wife were obviously delighted in the Stansted Estate about which he wrote three books:

  • ‘A Place in the Forest Being the Story of Stansted in Sussex’, 1958 
  • ‘Return to the Forest’, an autobiography, 1962
  • ‘Enchanted Forest, The Story of Stansted in Sussex’, 1984

Editorial: these books can normally be purchased at the House, when open in the summer

In 1983, Frederick transferred the estate to a charitable trust, the Stansted Park Foundation, both to preserve the property and estate, and to address financial issues. Frederick died in 1993.

As he had no male heir, this caused the English Earldom to become extinct. He was, however, succeeded by his cousin Arthur Mountifort Longford Ponsonby (1912-2002) who became the 11th Earl (an Irish Earldom). (The family connection was that Arthur’s grandfather was the son of Walter Ponsonby, 7th Earl of Bessborough).  Myles Ponsonby (1941-) the 12th Earl is Arthur’s son.

Myles lives in a farm adjacent to the Estate, and maintains a strong family interest, currently serving as chairman of the Stansted Park Foundation (a registered charitable trust).  

A complete Stansted Park Timeline was provided courtesy of the former Director of the Estate.

Southleigh House and Estate

Sir Rudolph Dymoke White (1888-1968), 2nd Baronet

By way of a postscript, it should be mentioned that there is also a fourth mansion at Southleigh Estate – being mostly south of the Rowlands Castle Parish boundary.  There are two tracts of land within the Parish – one now developed as a Spire Hospital, and the other as a large landfill site (now in process of restoration to woodland). Geographically, this fourth estate also links or bridges between the Staunton Estate to the west, and Stansted Estate to the East.

Southleigh House (now in Havant Borough) is a fine mid-Victorian construction and a Grade II listed building. The grounds have been designated as a Special Area of Conservation. The site has been redeveloped for offices and industry.  Unlike Staunton Park or Stansted, however, it is not open to the public.

As this chapter focuses on Landed Gentry, Sir Rudolph Dymoke White was an owner of the site. He was a local politician who represented Fareham constituency in Parliament from 1939 until 1950.

Dymoke’s son was Lieutenant Colonel Sir Lynton Stuart White (1916-2005), 3rd Baronet, who subsequently lived in Woodbrook, East Meon. He was educated at Harrow School, then Trinity College Cambridge. Following distinguished military service, he was elected and re-elected to Hampshire County Council from 1970 to 1984, serving as Chairman of the Council for the last seven years. He represented the Catherington Division which then included the three parishes of Rowlands Castle, Clanfield and Horndean.

Sir Lynton White (HCC Art Gallery)


The Landed Gentry during the past two hundred years – fifteen individuals mentioned above – collectively endured the the Industrial Revolution, the ‘British Empire’, two World Wars and into the 21st century.

It is striking how much they were involved in public service, with at least six of them being elected to Parliament (Westminster or Ireland), usually at several elections. Two of the Earls sat in the House of Lords, one holding two ministerial appointments. In keeping with the times of the British Empire, several were appointed Governors or Governor Generals, and more locally several served as Lord Lieutenants of their counties, particularly Hampshire, Sussex or Surrey.

Their backgrounds focus on:

* most of them were titled – hereditary Earls or Baronets
– they usually owned a home in London, and also other large estates
* most went to the best two schools – Eton or Harrow
* most went on to university, particularly Trinity College, Cambridge
– military service appears as an alternative to university
* importantly, most engaged in public service as members of Parliament
* some were recognised further as Governors, or Lord Lieutenants
* they provided benefactions within their local communities.

Editorial: for further reading about the Three Estates, please click on: Introduction, Three Estates

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