Idsworth Before the Railway

Over lockdown I found a hand drawn map of the Idsworth valley, traced from the 1830’s tithe map.

The map, coloured ink on tracing paper glued to a woven backing, shows the valley prior to the building of the railway.   Idsworth valley runs North from Rowlands Castle, more or less on the line of the railway, through Finchdean and past St Hubert’s church, in a field at Idsworth.

Other than St Hubert’s Church the main historical feature is the site of Old Idsworth House, which has existed on the site since before 1271.   Old Idsworth House lied just to eh South of St Hubert’s.  It was an Elizabethan courtyard house which dominated the valley, with extensive parkland and tenant farms.   A notable feature was an avenue of 200 lime trees, planted around 1725, which ran West from the house across Charton down.  

In 1798 the Idsworth estate was sold to Jervoise Clarke-Jervoise, who remodelled the house.  His son Sir Samuel Clarke-Jervoise, who in 1798 was also the rector of St Hubert’s church, inherited the house.    By 1823 Samuel was investigating moving as his wife was desperate to move from the “horrid, dank, dark, valley of Idsworth”.  

From 1834 Samuel and his wife spent the majority of their time in London and Brighton, so it was son, another Jervoise Clarke-Jervoise, who determined the future of the house, greatly assisted by the building of the London to Portsmouth railway in 1849.    Compensation for the railway passing through the Idsworth estate, reported to be of £30,000, was paid by the London & South Western Railway.   This payment largely financed the building of the present Idsworth House, on higher ground to the South West of the old house.   The house can be seen from the backroad between Rowlands Castle and Horndean.

The Elizabethan House was demolished leaving only the stables, which became the current Idsworth farm.     Several features of the garden and parkland remain, including a dovecote and the icehouse.

The map, combined with the Tithe records, provides a fascinating insight into the time prior to the railway, with details of land ownership, occupancy, fieldnames and land use.  

The 1844 Tythe records show that although most of the land was owned by Idsworth Estate only the parkland surrounding ‘the mansion’ was occupied by the Clarke Jervoise family.   The majority was let to tenant farmers with arable cultivation dominating the valley floor.   Chapelfield, with St Hubert’s church in the centre and several small ponds, was used for pasture, as was ‘The Park, to the South of Idsworth House and the area enclosed within the Lime avenue.    The land to on the west of the valley was farmed by Henry Boys, with that to the North of St Hubert’s, including Walnut Tree field farmed by George Martin.

The road running from Rowlands Castle, through Finchdean and past Idsworth Church appears much as it does today, although in the 1840’s it was still a major route to Petersfield and beyond.   The line of the Lavant river is however very different, as it is on the other side of the road – the original course being under what is now the railway.

The map also shows the handful of houses which formed Rowlands Castle, mainly clustered around the village green, which prior to the railway adjoined the Castle grounds.   Hopefully this will inform research on the village in this period.

Tim Cowin

Chairman – Rowlands Castle Historical Society