The house and its history
The Hartham Park that you see today is the result of a unique history.
We can only ever know a fraction of the events that have unfolded here and only ever catch a glimpse of the people that have made it what it is, but the attempt to find out more has uncovered some interesting connections and has shed fascinating light on a distinctive past.
Hopefully during your visit you will get a sense of the history and the people that helped shape not just the story of this house but the world about them.
Lady Anne James
1795 is an important date in the history of Hartham Park and a good starting point for this brief history. Lady Anne James’s (née Goddard) family had owned the estate at Hartham for over 400 years. She decided on the death of her husband, the Chairman of the East India Company Commodore William James, to move from their London home at Eltham. She commissioned the renowned architect James Wyatt to remove the farm house on the Estate and redevelop the property.
Some time before 1816 the house was purchased from the Estate by Michael Joy. He was an exile from North America in the aftermath of the War of Independence due to his sympathies for the British Government. His son, Henry Hall Joy, brings us to an interesting confluence of Hartham Park, Hartham House, an adjacent property no longer in existence and a leading literary figure of the period.
Hartham House. 1768
Hartham House had been owned by the Duckett family for a comparable period to that of the Goddards and Hartham Park. The Ducketts, like the Goddards, were a notable North Wiltshire family but they too had relinquished their ownership of the property and during the first decade of the 19th Century the property was owned by Sir Benjamin Hobhouse.
Sir Benjamin’s son, John Cam Hobhouse and Henry Hall Joy were close friends who took the Grand Tour together when they visited Venice in 1815. There are diary records of repeated visits and meetings with Lord Byron there. John Cam Hobhouse went on to become the executor of Lord Byron’s estate, as well as a vocal politician, ultimately ennobled as Lord Broughton of Gifford.
Early 19th Century
In the 1830s, Henry Hall Joy became the owner of Hartham House as well as Hartham Park in a land swap arrangement and he chose to knock down Hartham House.
Today there is very little indication that Hartham House ever existed, although The Garth, in the present Hartham Park courtyard, was the Farm House associated with the property and is the oldest building on the site. There is also a remaining ice house (subsequently turned into an air raid shelter during the Second World War) and the cast iron gates that mark the entrance to Hartham Park are crested by the Duckett coat of arms.
During the 1850’s Hartham Park was bought from the Methuens, to whom it had been sold, by Thomas Henry Allen Poynder and passed by inheritance to his son, William Henry Poynder.
Sir John Poynder Dickson Poynder
On the death of WH Poynder the estate passed to a nephew, John Dickson Poynder. In 1884 he succeeded his uncle, Sir Alexander Collingwood Thomas Dickson, as sixth baronet and on succeeding to his maternal uncle’s property he assumed by royal licence the additional surname of Poynder in 1888.
It was during the ownership of Sir John Poynder Dickson Poynder that the house became a focal point for political, social and recreational life in North Wiltshire.
Sir John became MP for Chippenham in 1892 and a Member of London County Council from 1898 to 1904. He also served in the Second Boer War as aide-de-campe to Lord Methuen, Commander in Chief, winning a DSO in 1900.
There are records of Winston Churchill having stayed at Hartham Park over the Christmas of 1896, during the summer of 1897 and again in 1899, and subsequent correspondence between the two men continued for much of their lives.
Circa 1906 Sir John had Hartham Park significantly remodelled, and the house hosted a great many gatherings, including visits by the Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, the third son of Queen Victoria who was attracted by both the shooting and the golf locally.
The grounds were landscaped by Harold Peto and superb Dutch water gardens built (now, sadly, largely overbuilt as a result of 1960s development.)
The Stické Tennis Court
Stické Tennis is a cross between lawn tennis, real tennis, and rackets, and is played in an enclosed court smaller than that of real tennis, using a standard lawn racquet and soft balls. The court’s floor and walls were made of 9 foot square wooden artillery targets which meant that the court dimensions were 27 feet by 81 feet.
Stické was invented by the Royal Artillery in the 1870s as it is similar to rackets and provided good exercise without “the heavy outlay incidental to the construction of a rackets court.” Further expansion of the game took place when Stické moved from the Army into the specially built covered courts on the country house estates.
Stické is still played today by a limited number of enthusiasts. Throughout the world there are only three courts that remain playable, two of which are in the UK. One is based in Devon at Knightshays Court, and the other is right here at Hartham Park in Corsham. The third one is used for badminton in the Vicergal Lodge complex Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Built in 1904, the Stické tennis Court at Hartham Park merits listing at grade II* and was first listed on 1st August 1986. The date of the most recent amendment was 24th July 2008.
The Second World War to the present day
Following Sir John’s death in 1936, the Hartham Park estate was purchased by the Nicholson family of Gin fame, who resided here during the Second World War. The upper floors of the house, previously the servants quarters, became the billet for one hundred WAAF personnel and, during the Battle of Britain and for the remainder of the war, a watch for 10 Group RAF Fighter Command. 10 Group Headquarters was at Rudloe Manor a mile and a half to the West.
From the 1960s onwards, Hartham Park has been used for business, briefly becoming the headquarters of the Bath and Portland Stone Company. Since 1997, it has become serviced office accommodation to a range of companies from start-ups to much larger and well-established names in the technology industry.