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Gosport Society

Charity number 289942

Bury Hall

    By H.T. Rogers O.B.E.

Bury Hall, so often confused with Bury House or Bury Lodge, and now the site of Northcott House Old People's Home, was one of the most lovely and graceful mansions in old Alverstoke. It is time its story was told as although it will be remembered with affection by many hundreds who served in the Home Guard, of which it was the Headquarters, it has now completely disappeared and will soon be forgotten by a new generation.

It was in 1815 that Captain John Brett Purvis, R.N. brought his cousin and bride to his new house in Alverstoke standing in 70 acres of gardens and pasture land. John came from a distinguished naval family. His grandfather had been Comptroller of the Navy, his uncles all held senior rank, and his father, who had served with Lord Howe, was a famous Admiral with a large estate at Boldre in the New Forest. Between them the happy couple were allied to many of the most notable families in Hampshire.

John's wife, Renira, was a daughter of Commodore George Purvis, R.N. of Blackbrook Cottage, Fareham, better known today as Bishopswood, the home of the Bishops of Portsmouth. Her brother had married Mary Jane Austen, the daughter of Admiral Sir Francis Austen, K.C.B. of Portsdown Lodge and a niece of Jane Austen, the celebrated novelist.

If you have read Jane Austen's books of the period and knew Bury Hall you can probably imagine the scene as the domestic staff lined up to greet their new mistress. The lofty vestibule and entrance hall 35 ft. long and 16 ft. wide culminating in an inner hall and a spiral stone staircase, with the housemaids no doubt dropping a curtsey to the bride and bridegroom. On the left of the hall the great dining room with bay windows opening out on to the colonnade and double doors leading into an equally large drawing room and ante-room. Near the stairs was a smaller room described as the gentlemen's room, where the men could smoke their pipes.

On the right a further hall leading to the butler's pantry, housekeeper's room and a large kitchen with a servants' hall in the basement and extensive cellarage for wines and stores. A back stairs led to the servants' bedrooms and five secondary bedrooms. The main bedrooms were ranged around a circular balcony overlooking the hall and lit by a dome shaped skylight. The rooms facing south looked out on to trim lawns and parklands with a view of the Solent in the distance.

In the stables there was a double coach house and a granary with nine stones. Close by was a small farmery with a cow house for seven animals, a piggery, fowl house and a gardener's cottage. There was also a large walled-in kitchen garden and some glass houses 130 ft. in length. The estate included Bury Hall Farm in Alverstoke Village, and then continued along Stokes Bay to the boundaries of Alverbank House and Bay House, down what is now Gomer Lane to Privett and back to Bury Cross.

In the fullness of time John Brett Purvis, now a Rear-Admiral, retired from the Navy loaded with honours and prize money, a magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of the County. Under his care the estate had grown to 108 acres and included a cottage on the site of the house known today as 'Alvara', formerly 'Ryde View'. John had two sons: George, who appears to have been somewhat of a weakling, was gazetted a Lieutenant in the 78th Highlanders, but it is doubtful if he saw any service as he died at his home at No. 11 The Crescent at the early age of 22 years in 1851. Richard Purvis, the second son, succeeded to the estate.

Bury Hall had now become the Great House to the village. Bay House and Alverbank might well have been the social and political centres, but it was the Hall and its farms which provided the villagers with employment. Following family tradition Richard joined the Royal Navy and like his father attained Flag Rank. At one time he had been Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Sir Charles Hotham, after whom he was to name his son.

Charles Hotham Purvis does not appear to have lived long at Bury Hall after his father died in 1875, and in 1878 the estate was put up for auction in five lots. Four lots were sold leaving just the house and Bury Hall Farm with about 41 acres of land. There then followed a succession of tenants including one rather formidable lady, Mrs. Lane, who had the endearing habit at Christmas of presenting red flannel petticoats to the more virtuous of the village maidens.

When Charles Purvis died in 1905 the property was purchased by Major C. E. G. Stalkartt, M.D., who had just returned from St. Helena to take charge of Haslar Military Station Hospital. Major Stalkartt promptly sold off the farm but vastly improved the house by putting in the magnificent oak panelling on the ground floor. After his death his two sons found that such a large house was quite uneconomic and a few years before the last war sold to Mr. G. V. Northcott, who broke up the estate for development. Then came Hitler, all building ceased, and Bury Hall stood derelict. This is not the place to write the story of the Home Guard. Suffice it to say that in 1940 I found myself in charge of 2,000 men, 13 rifles, and 39 rounds of ammunition - a situation which quickly eased when American arms began to arrive. It became necessary to find a Headquarters for the Gosport Sector and Bury Hall was ideally suitable by its size and location. The old house burst into activity, with lecture rooms, offices, canteens, messes, guardrooms, while the grounds were littered with all the paraphernalia of war - barbed wire, slit trenches, Nissen Ammunition Huts, etc.

Much good natured fun is poked at the Home Guard today, but it would still have given a good account of itself. Gosport was essentially a service town and a high percentage of local men were either ex-service or came from service families. The older ones may not have been able to run but they knew how to use a rifle as a regular Army Unit once found when challenged to a shoot. Not until afterwards was it disclosed that every man in the winning Home Guard team was a ex-Royal Marine Musketry Instructor.

Bury Hall did not escape the war unscathed. Throughout April and May 1941 bombs fell in and around the grounds, one just missing a corner of the building and severely damaging houses in The Avenue. On August 19th a stick of bombs fell across the drive exploding in the trees at the entrance and causing havoc in Bury Hall Lane, where there were a number of casualties and houses demolished. The structure of the old house was badly shaken.

Then came 'D' Day, with long lines of tanks waiting in Jellicoe Avenue to embark from Stokes Bay, and Movement Control making use of Bury Hall communications. With the war over, and the property empty again, the vandals soon finished off what the enemy had begun. Lead was stripped from the roof and everything useful taken.

At the end of the first world war the people of Gosport had raised sufficient money to build a hospital as a memorial. At a Public Meeting a decision was now taken to build an Old Peoples' Home with bungalows and a central block. A vast amount of work was undertaken by a committee headed by Alderman John Gregson, Alderman A. R. Nobes and Alderman A. Bales. With great generosity Mr. G. V. Northcott offered Bury Hall with 34 acres of land and donations amounting to £10,000 while Council official and local contractors offered their services freely and without charge.

The old mansion was found to be too badly damaged to be of use and sadly it had to be pulled down. Ten years later, by one of those happy personal chances which happen once in a lifetime, I had the honour to be elected Mayor of Gosport, and it fell to my lot to invite Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother to open the new building on the site of my old Headquarters. On a Summer's day on July 20th 1955 in peaceful surroundings far different from those war years, Her Majesty congratulated the people of Gosport on their efforts and added 'This is an achievement of which all who live here may be truly proud'. One felt that old Admiral Purvis also would have been proud of his old home.