Of all the secrets that the South Downs possesses, Hinton Ampner is probably one of the best kept. I stumbled across this wonderful country house last year whilst enjoying a scenic drive en route to Goodwood House (where I was doing an Internship at the time). What a marvellous find it was! 2014 has been a rather difficult year for Hinton, and it is only now after many months, that the house has been reopened to the public following restoration to the roof after it suffered severe damage in the February storms.
Hinton has had a rather colourful past. The original Tudor manor that once stood near to the site of the current house was pulled down as it was believed to be haunted in 1793. A Georgian house was built, and this was later enlarged in 1864. The house that stands today is principally the sole vision of its last owner, Ralph Dutton, Lord Sherbourne (1898-1985), who had a great passion for all things Georgian. Consequently, on his inheritance in 1935, he swept away the dark and oppressive Victorian interiors and replaced them with lighter, fresher and arguably more elegant neo-Georgian interiors. Guided by his architects Lord Gerald Wellesley and Trenwith Wells, he sought to rediscover and breath life into the original 18th century decorative scheme that had been hidden for the past century or so. Disastrously, a major fire in 1960 destroyed most of Dutton’s hard work, and much of the collection was lost in the flames.
Dutton, determined not to be beaten, decided to rebuild and recreate the 18th century interiors. Dutton had an appreciation for the style advocated by Robert Adam and consequently saved, bought and relocated many original Adam fixtures and fittings. Dutton even rescued an original Adam ceiling from 38 Berkeley Square, before its destruction, and reinstalled it in the Dining Room. This was destroyed by the terrible fire, so Dutton had the ceiling recreated. The Sitting Room has a fireplace from Adam’s demolished Adelphi Terrace, and the Dining Room has a giltwood pier glass (one of a pair) designed by Adam in 1773 for Derby House, Grosvenor Square.
Dutton was a great collector of Georgian and Regency furniture, as well as 18th century Italian paintings, including Esther fainting before King Ahasuerus by Francesco Fontebasso (Venice 1709 – Venice 1769) and David kneeling in his Palace before the Prophet Nathan by Tobias van Nijmegen (b. Nijmegen c.1665). His interests included high quality ceramincs, and there are fantastic examples of Sevres porcelain and Staffordshire figurines.
The beautiful gardens at Hinton were recreated alongside the house, and as such demonstrate the same good taste and style favoured by Dutton. Consisting of manicured lawns, terraces with hedges, topiary, ornaments, a dell, a fabulous little temple and wonderful mature trees and planting, one cannot help but marvel at the beauty and tranquillity. The restored walled garden is delightful, as is the short stroll to the parish church of All Saints, dating from the 13th century, which really cannot be missed.
If ever you are travelling through the South Downs and need a quick stop to recollect your thoughts and to restore your inner calm, then make sure that you discover Hinton Ampner as I did. Although recreated interiors are not usually my ‘thing’ it must be said that Hinton has something quite special to offer. It is a house that everyone could imagine living in. It has that wonderful balance of elegance and homeliness that makes it infinitely welcoming to weary travellers and visitors alike.