West Ashling Park, Chichester, England

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Postcard Ashling  

First created in the 19th century, the park was initially without a name. A house in the position of the present one is shown on the Enclosure Map of 1822 where a plot owned by Admiral Stair Douglas is described as a manor house and pleasure grounds. However, the surrounding fields which were later to form the park, all appear to be in agricultural use. Rear-Admiral Douglas died in 1826 when the properties passed to his son Stair Douglas, then aged 22, who was training to be a priest. By the time of the Tithe Map of 1838, the Reverend Stair Douglas is shown as owner of a number of plots to the north and west of the centre of West Ashling but although the family then possessed more land there is no evidence of a park. One plot shows a house and offices at the location of the Admiral's manor house which is also the location of the present West Ashling House; that house could be the one which existed until the middle of the 20th century. A fascinating feature of the map is a plot described as "New House, Pleasure Grounds etc." and the map shows a building surrounded by an area which fits that description. Subsequent maps do not show a house in this position. Investigation has shown that the Admiral's widow continued to live in the manor house and Mr. Douglas and has wife Maria occupied the "New House" until it was pulled down in 1866 when the widow died. That can be taken as the beginnings of the park which is clearly visible in the 1875 Ordnance Survey Map (25 inches to the mile).

The 1875 map has some interesting features. For the first time, the house is called West Ashling House and a significant area is given over to parkland, dotted with trees and paths which can be clearly distinguished from the surrounding farmland. The track leading from the western edge through an avenue of trees and then south-east to the house is a carriage drive which existed at least until 1887. The area close to the house looks more like garden, being described as a "pleasure ground", the buildings there resembling those on the Tithe Map. The south and east boundaries of the property are roads while the northern edge is about half way to the east/west road which is now the B2147. The western boundary is less clear but probably included the wooded area, pond and spring adjacent to Northbrooke Mill. After the death of Mr. Douglas in 1874, Maria Douglas continued to live at West Ashling Park until her death in 1886 when the estate passed to C. E. Legge who was the eldest son of the Mr. Douglas's sister Elizabeth Louisa.

Charles Egerton Legge who owned West Ashling Park until his death in 1913 was a considerable character being known variously as "Ashling's Squire" and "Duke of Ashling". Among his many actions recorded in the Parish Magazine were creation of a cricket field, erection of a shooting range and an offer of playing space at Ashling Park for the football club. He also arranged for school treats and the annual Fête of the Forresters to take place in the park as well as a series of days in July when parishioners could walk in the "well kept grounds". Among the changes made by Mr. Legge were two large fish ponds on the western edge of the park, one fed by the spring, with a weir between them. The 1897 map also shows more clearly, the house and its immediate environs including glass houses next to Southbrooke road. The main access now appears to be from that road as the carriage drive has disappeared. However, the major development of West Ashling Park, undertaken by Mr. Legge, was an extension to the north as far as the east-west road (now the B2146) which, at that time, passed on the north side of the Congregational Chapel. This phase marked the greatest extent of the park and lasted from 1898 till 1915. As might be expected, he employed at least one gardener who gave a talk to the parish in November 1902: the Parish Magazine reported that "Mr. H. Marshall (gardener of C.E. Legge) says he has grown a pear (Pitmaston Duchess) 17½ ounces 11 3/4inches round". This report suggests that Mr. Legge took considerable pride in his estate. An earlier newspaper report in 1896 recorded that "The chief prizes for cut flowers and table decorations went to Mr C. Egerton Legge, of Funtington, ....".

C. E. Legge died in 1913 leaving West Ashling park to his niece, Alice Georgina Legge who sold the estate to a group of people including Anna Myers on 14 April 1915. Later that year, on 19 October 1915, Mrs. Myers sold the western part of the estate including the cricket ground which still exists. Thus, rather than having its major axis in an east-west direction, West Ashling Park was oriented north-south and then had more or less the same shape as today. In 1920, by which time Mrs. Ida Scott was the owner, the Funtington and West Stoke Fête, Flower and Vegetable Show took place on the cricket field with dancing in the evening in the grounds of Ashling House by kind permission of Mrs Scott. The Gardens of West Ashling House were illuminated by fairy lights. A number of further reports in the Parish magazine during the twenties and thirties, when events took place at West Ashling House, refer to "Mrs Scott's beautiful grounds". This suggests that Mrs. Scott and her daughters fulfilled a role similar to C. E. Legge and maintained the gardens and park to the same high standard. A glimpse of how the property looked in 1930 is to be found in an advertisement which shows a photograph of the house and grounds. The text mentions glass houses which can be seen on the maps before and after 1930 as well as gardens and grounds lying on three sides of the property and consisting of lawns, bulb and sunken gardens, walled kitchen garden, orchard and park land. The reason for the advertisement has not been established and Mrs. Scott and her two daughters, Kathleen and Brida continued to live there until the house was partially destroyed by a fire in the forties.

In 1947 Viscount and Viscountess Portal bought West Ashling Park. Part of the old house which had survived the fire was refurbished but a new house was designed by Robert Lutyens, son of Edwin Lutyens, in the style of his father, and is the house which can be seen today. Charles F. A. Portal had been Air Marshal during World War II but following his retirement he is reported as having taken great interest in the garden and house at West Ashling, as well as being involved in voluntary work. To the south of the house, the green houses and cold frames were retained along with the fruit trees such as figs, espaliered apples and pears and the orchard. The garden was developed to the south and west, with several climbing plants including wisteria and rose; a notable new feature was a beech hedge forming a semi-circular arbour which first appeared in 1949. Initially, internal fences within the park were removed but later, much was turned over to agricultural uses, particularly after Lord Portal's death in 1971. The final significant change to the boundary of the park occurred in 1968 when West Sussex County Council re-aligned the B2146 at the north of the property so that it passed to the south of the old Congregational Church. Trees were planted along the new boundary and along with the clump to the south of the old Congregational church, now form a screen. On the death of Lady Portal in 1996, the property passed to Rosemary Anne Portal, Baroness Portal of Hungerford who sold the estate later that year. 


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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017