THE BUILDING AT HURSLEY
In the year 1718, Hursley was sold by Cromwell's two surviving daughters for 36,000 pounds to William Heathcote, Esq., afterwards created a baronet.
The Heathcotes belonged to a family of gentle blood in Derbyshire. Gilbert Heathcote, one of the sons, was an Alderman at Chesterfield, and was the common ancestor of the Rutland as well as the Hursley family. His third son, Samuel, spent some years as a merchant at Dantzic, where he made a considerable fortune, and returning to England, married Mary the daughter of William Dawsonne of Hackney. He was an intimate friend of the great Locke, and assisted him in his work on preserving the standard of the gold coin of the realm. He died in 1708, his son William and brother Gilbert attained to wealth and civic honours.
Sir Gilbert was Lord Mayor in 1711 and was the last who rode in procession on the 9th of November. Both were Whigs, though the Jacobite Lord Mayor, whose support was reckoned on by the Stuarts, was their cousin.
At about twenty-seven years of age, William Heathcote married Elizabeth, only daughter of Thomas Parker, Earl of Macclesfield, and had in course of time six sons and three daughters. He was M.P. first for Buckingham and afterwards for Southampton. He was created a baronet in 1733.
There were plans drawn for enlarging the old lodge in which the Hobbys and Cromwells had lived, but these seem to have been found impracticable, and it was decided to pull the house down and erect a new one on a different site. Tradition, and Noble in his Cromwell, declared that the change was from dislike of the Cromwell opinions and usurpations, but Mr. Marsh considers this "mean and illiberal" and combats it sharply.
The new and much more spacious building was placed a little higher up on the hill, with a wide bowling-green on the south side, where in dry summers the old foundations of the former house can be traced, the walnut avenues leading up to it. The house was in the style that is now called Queen Anne, of red brick quoined with stone, with large-framed heavy sash windows and double doors to each of the principal rooms, some of which were tapestried with Gobelin arras representing the four elements--Juno, with all the elements of the air; Ceres presiding over the harvest, for the earth; Vulcan with the emblems of fire; and Amphitrite drawn by Tritons personifying water.
There was then a great central entrance-hall, in the middle of the northern side of the house, with stone steps going up at each end, outside, but, as we see from drawings and prints of the time, with no carriage-approach to the house, so that people must have driven up to the front door over the grass.
Sir William died in 1751, fifty-eight years old. His son, Sir Thomas, born in 1721, was the builder of old Hursley Church, which was begun in 1752, and completed the next year, only the tower being left of the former edifice. In 1808 some few capitals of the old pillars remained in parts of the village, and were adjudged by Mr. Marsh to be Saxon. It was said that the inside was very dark, the ground outside being nearly on a level with the windows, and six or eight steps descending to the floor.
It was all swept away, and the new structure was pronounced by Mr. Marsh to be exceedingly "neat, light, and airy." It was 82 feet long, and 49 broad, with two aisles, and an arched ceiling, supported on pillars. It might well be light, for the great round-headed windows were an expanse of glass, very glaring in sunshine, though mitigated by the waving lime-trees. The plan and dimensions followed those of the old church, and were ample enough, the north aisle a good deal shorter than the chancel, and all finished with gables crow-stepped in the Dutch fashion. It was substantially paved within, and was a costly and anxiously planned achievement in the taste of the time, carefully preserving all the older monuments. A mausoleum in the same style was built for the Heathcote family in the south-western corner of the churchyard, and gradually the white- washed walls of the church became ornamented (?) with the hatchments of each successive baronet and his wife, the gentlemen's shields with the winged globe as crest, and the motto Deus prosperat justos; the ladies' lozenge finished with a death's head above, and Resurgam below.
Sir Thomas was twice married and had eight children. He died at sixty-five years of age on 29th of June 1787. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the second Sir William, who was born in 1746, and was member for the county in three Parliaments. He was a man of great integrity, humanity, and charity, very affable and amiable, and unassuming in his manners, "and he died as he had lived, fearing God." He married Frances, daughter and co-heiress of John Thorpe of Embley, and had seven children.
His eldest son, Sir Thomas, married the heiress of Thomas Edwards Freeman, of Batsford, Gloucestershire, in 1799, and was known as Sir Thomas Freeman Heathcote. He was member for the county from 1808 till 1820, when he retired. He is reported to have known an old man who said he had held a gate open for Oliver Cromwell, but this must have meant the grandson, who died in 1705.
Sir Thomas died without issue in his fifty-sixth year on the 21st day of February 1825.