There have been three manors on this site, Norman, Elizabethan and Victorian. The Norman manor was a substantial set of buildings set in a square shape, 200m SW of the church*. These were used as the home farm after the building of the Elizabethan manor, but were burnt in an arson attack in 1860. The surviving stones were used to level the terrace in front of the Victorian manor, so only pits and bumps in the woodland mark the site today.
The Elizabethan manor, known as the Brocas manor after the family who owned the estate for 300 years, was built of brick and flint, using some of the Norman stones for doorways and windows. Sir Richard Pexall died in 1571 having erected only the south wing of the manor house, which Jane Austen came to know two centuries later as the Digweed family home.
The Victorian manor was built by Henry Harris soon after he bought the estate from the second Duke of Wellington in 1877. Built of brick in the Gothic style, this was a real mansion. With 4 great reception rooms, a billiard room and 22 bedrooms, this was the centre of a gentleman’s estate. The home farm was moved to Bassetts, 700m WNW, and good houses and a school built for the estate workers.
In 1932 a fire destroyed the Victorian manor. The owners, the Onslow-Fanes, decided to rebuild by completing the Elizabethan manor. This E-shape mansion in flint with stone mullioned windows became the hunting and shooting centre of North Hampshire before its requisition in WWII. Vandalised afterwards, this mansion was demolished in 1970, the rubble lying under the M3.
The Victorian manor carriage house and servants’ quarters, which had survived the 1932 fire to house WWII rescue equipment and briefly Hilsea College, were converted in the 1990s into the fine brick and stone house we see today.
No Victorian mansion would be complete without its grounds. Henry Harris used the stones from the Norman manor to build up the terrace which overlooked the village of Steventon, a view now blocked by trees. The parkland covered over 100 acres of the 2000 acre estate, most of which produced grain, though planting more woodlands allowed the hunting and shooting activities of a typical upper-middle class landowner.
Beyond the Tudor house, he had a fernery-cum-grotto constructed, using some of the Norman masonry and Pulhamite, which is being restored by the current owners. On the other side lay the Victorian Garden, now restored as the Garden House.
*Along with the manor’s ownership, the Victoria County History describes the development of the church. This retains most of its Norman character, can be visited in daylight hours or at this link using Gerry Dutton’s virtual tour.
George Austen was rector for the last third of the Eighteenth Century, during which time daughter Jane was born and brought up in the rectory which then stood at the bottom of the lane leading up to the manor. Austen/Knight and Digweed memorials adorn the church’s interior, while many of the manor’s former owners lie outside.