Church House is situated in the Dorset village of Shillingstone. The house was built as a farmhouse for the the Portman Estate and its first residents would have been tenant farmers on the estate. Its probable that the house was originally known as Church Farmhouse being located adjacent to Holy Rood Church, but the 'farm' was dropped when it changed roles from farmhouse to private residence sometime in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.
The Portman Estate once owned extensive lands and property in Dorset, including many farms and houses in Shillingstone and an impressive stately home at nearby Bryanston. However at the beginning of the 20th century, consequent of the first World War, two heirs to the estate died within 10 years of each other and this had serious consequences for the family finances. Over the period 1920 to 1930 the Dorset estate was sold off to help settle death duties payable to the Crown. Church House and many properties like it in Shillingstone were sold into private hands and the stately home was sold to become Bryanston school - a role which it still performs today.
The Portman Estate
The Portman family finances are much healthier now than they were 100 years ago. The Estate has extensive holdings in Marylebone in London, which is at the heart of London's West End. The property portfolio extends from Marble Arch along Oxford Street and then north encompassing the four garden squares of Portman, Manchester, Bryanston and Montagu. The 10th Viscount Portman appears regularly on the UK 'rich lists' as you might imagine!
Changes through the centuries
When Church House was built more than 300 years ago it was a small cottage with one main room downstairs and one upstairs room - a one-up-one-down as we would say! The house was enlarged at sometime in the 19th century and then again at the beginning of the 20th century, when a suite of Edwardian rooms were added. Throughout these changes, the house has retained its traditional brick construction and thatched roof characteristic of this part of England.
An arisocrat connected with a Founding Father
When the house was sold by the Portman Estate in 1921 it was purchased by a Mr Cox but had a sitting tenant, Lady Harriet Octavia Legge. It seems likely that the 20th century additions to the house were made for this well-connected member of the English peerage who required facilities in keeping with her rank, including a 'butlers pantry' and an acetylene gas plant to provide gas lighting. Interestingly, if you look back through Lady Legge's ancestry, you find an Elizabeth Washington, whose cousin John Washington left England for Virginia to found an American dynasty!
300 years of history
In its lifetime the house has seen in twelve monarchs of the realm starting with Queen Anne who ruled from 1702 to 1714 and a great many significant world events including the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Waterloo, the Battle of Trafalgar, the American Civil War and 2 World Wars. The house was standing before the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution during which times enormous social change took place. One can only wonder at the many different lives that have been lived out here and at the conversations that the occupants might have had about current affairs!
The Wilsons who are the present custodians of Church House, are pleased to share something of this lovely old house with you!