Time travelling at Fareham’s Westbury Manor…

The gardens are a hidden oasis (Photo: Fareham Borough Council)

The gardens are a hidden oasis (Photo: Fareham Borough Council) - Credit: Archant

Whether you stumble across its gardens, exhibits and café by chance or are a regular visitor, Fareham’s Westbury Manor conjures up plenty of surprises. Viv Micklefield stops off for a spot of time travelling

Displays vary from local history items to possessions of residents past

Displays vary from local history items to possessions of residents past - Credit: Archant

Stepping into a local history museum and gallery, either you are ambushed by a bombardment of attractions, or, its treasures remain teasingly concealed beneath an invisibility cloak. At Fareham’s Westbury Manor, be prepared for a gradual reveal as the other side of the threshold could, initially, be mistaken for a private house.

Where once a small army of servants might have served-up dinner it’s tempting to linger in what’s now the museum shop with its pick of Hampshire fayre for sale. But with framed oil paintings of a bygone Fareham providing teasing glimpses of what awaits, and shrieks of excitement floating down the elegant turned staircase which, reputedly, is based on an earlier installation bought at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first floor beckons.

“Westbury Manor is special because of the collections, the stories, and the building itself which is quite unique as it’s a rare survivor of a pre-Victorian farmhouse and manor house right in the middle of a shopping centre!” says Erica Munro, Hampshire Cultural Trust’s former regional curator who, until recently, oversaw the day-to-day running of this Grade 2 listed property. “A little oasis”, is how she sums-up Westbury, yet whilst these walls offer temporary sanctuary from the hurly-burly of 21st century life, the lid soon lifts on some far earlier settlers.

“You’ll find examples of Stone Age flint tools, discovered at Warsash and Hill Head, as well as Bronze Age axes and Iron Age artefacts. But if I had to save one item it would be a Roman curse that’s been written on a piece of lead,” Erica highlights. “The writer curses a thief who has stolen money from him and appeals to the gods to inflict a punishment by rolling-up this relic and throwing it into the River Hamble - you can really feel the anger in his words. It came from just an ordinary man but is absolutely fantastic.”

Closer inspection of the display cases surrounding a giant Journey through Time board game brings rewards in the shape of a child’s tiny shoe, once hidden within the Tudor walls of Titchfield’s Bugle Hotel, and a walking stick fashioned from a narwhal tusk by one of HMS Warrior’s apprentice seaman. However, as Erica points out, these objects are the tip of the iceberg - still more donations and acquisitions catalogued by the museum during the past 30 years lie at the Cultural Trust’s Winchester HQ.

So how do you create a museum from scratch? One person who knows is local resident Anne Baxandall, a retired history teacher and chair of the Friends of Fareham Museum at Westbury Manor.

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“My particular interest is the history of the Fareham workhouse,” says Anne. “And I was instrumental in setting up this display.” But, as she explains, it was a bequest during the 1980s that saw public support for a museum in the town become a reality.

Find out about The Strawberry Story

Find out about The Strawberry Story - Credit: Archant

“A lady called Winifred Cocks had left her house to Fareham Borough Council for use as a museum, but sadly it was an unsuitable building, on the town’s northern edge. So, after much negotiation, it was agreed that this would be sold to fund an alternative site. Westbury Manor, which by this time was owned by the Council, was derelict however, it was a superb building with large well-lit rooms so the Friends asked for donations from local people and I was one of those whose garage soon became full of various objects.

“I remember some coat hangers that came from one of Fareham’s shops which had closed down, and one of the best things that we were given is the beautiful Georgian fireplace, which was rescued from Cams Hall before its demolition. You can still find this on display in the museum’s café.”

Memorabilia from local companies is also evident in Westbury’s celebration of both the Hampshire Strawberry Story and of Fareham’s pre-eminence in manufacturing bricks, chimney pots and clay pipes - a product of its natural resources, and its development as a key trading post over the course of 300 years.

“The creek and the local naval industry certainly influenced the growth of Fareham into a semi-industrialised town,” says Erica, “And to demonstrate that nothing stands still, maps from 1985 and 1990 show how quickly the strawberry fields have been replaced by new roads and homes. It’s interesting to see how this evolution in land use changes who lives here.”

And there’s been a transformation in Westbury Manor’s own award-winning garden too which can be glimpsed through the stairwell’s arched window. According to Matt Wakefield, Fareham Borough Council’s horticultural development officer, this is the most heavily used green space locally. Yet, interestingly, the garden was only reinstated a little over 20 years ago.

“Before then the land formed part of Market Quay car park,” Matt recalls. “People might think it’s an unusual shape, but the perimeter is based on measurements held at the Hampshire Record Office.”

He continues: “Originally there was a desire to create a theme to the garden loosely based on the globe and plant travellers. Three years ago, it was time for a change and we brought back predominantly herbaceous borders. We’ve since re-introduced some of the plants that would have been around at the turn of the century.”

Against a backdrop of Echinacea, Campanula and Allium, the garden will be a riot of colour once the ornamental beds burst into bloom. And with Westbury’s temporary gallery similarly turning heads, Erica predicts visitors will be beating a path to its door during the coming months.

“There’s just time to see Ripping Yarns: the life and books of Percy Westerman. And then, as part of Hampshire’s Royal Blood programme, the Right Royal Revels are taking place this summer.”

Thanks to some bold moves, Westbury Manor is now a great showcase of local history and well worth a visit.

Westbury Manor’s potted history

• Early 17th century: A farmhouse stands on the edge of the small market town of Fareham.

• 1750s: A new Georgian brick façade gentrifies the property - for the next 150 years it’s the private residence of seven Royal Navy admirals.

• Mid to late 19th century: Following rear and side wing extensions it becomes one of West Street’s largest buildings.

• 1932: Fareham Urban District Council buys Westbury for its HQ until 1976 when the newly created Fareham Borough Council moves out.

• 1984: The Fareham Society and later the Friends of Fareham Museum rally public support for a museum in the town, searching for a suitable site.

• 1990: Westbury Manor re-opens as a museum and gallery.

• 1993: The Victorian garden is restored.

• 2014: Hampshire Cultural Trust takes over responsibility.

Getting there

• Where: West Street, Fareham PO16 0JJ

• When: Weekdays 10am-5pm; Saturday 10am-4pm; free entry.

• How: Westbury Manor sits alongside Fareham’s pedestrian shopping centre, next to Fareham Bus Station and ten minutes’ walk from the train station; Market Quay car park is the closest.

• Contact: 01329 822063 | hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk/westbury-manor-museum


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