78 Hursley

78 Hursley

Story of 500-year-old Hursley home to be told

by Andrew Napier, Hampshire Chronicle

THE story of one of Hursley’s oldest surviving buildings is finally being told – 500 years after it began – and with a little help from the Hampshire Chronicle.

Today, 78 Hursley Street is the home of 88-year old retired architect Michael Prendergast. Michael and his wife Mary moved into no. 78 in 1976, little realising what lay behind the 18th-century frontage of the house they had just purchased.

It was only when the couple began works to update the house’s interior that a far older building gradually revealed itself, its exterior hidden for years behind a Georgian façade, whilst centuries-old architecture had been smothered by layers of wallpaper.

Slowly, the long-forgotten medieval hall house emerged as Michael and Mary continued to uncover its past, from an ancient cellar, the door to which had been papered over, to a walled up cupboard and a mysterious ornate beam.

Now, Michael has published an architectural and social study of this intriguing ‘lost’ house. 78 Hursley will be available to the public at the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester and through local libraries.

Michael said: “I read architecture at Manchester University under Professor R.A. Cordingley who was a pioneer in the study of English domestic and vernacular architecture. He recorded many of our now lost village and countryside buildings, and I’m sure he would have loved to have been part of our discovery at 78 Hursley.

“Finding that the home Mary and I had bought was in fact something else altogether rekindled my interest in building history, and I’ve been fascinated by this building ever since. I wanted to capture and share its story, which is why I’ve produced this labour of love, 78 Hursley.”

Although Michael and his wife Mary carried out some research over the years, it wasn’t until 2017, with the help of a friend and support from the Hampshire Field Club’s Bill Fergie and Edward Roberts, that Michael began to realise his hopes of publishing a study of no.78. This included many hours of research at the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester and a visit to Bursledon Brickworks Museum.

Completed in 1517, the house originally belonged to the Merdon estate, and its first recorded tenant was Richard Foote who in 1588 paid 6d rent for six poles*, on which were ‘the cotage and yard’. (*A pole is a measurement).

Ralph Tresswell Map 1588
Hursley in Ralph Tresswell’s Map 1588

“Richard was likely to have been a husbandsman – two up from a serf, basically – who would have been a free tenant farmer on the estate and who paid dues to rent land on which he could grow food or keep livestock,” said Michael.

In the 1730s, the house was rented to shopkeeper Robert Morley, whose family remained in the village for over 150 years. In 1909 a grocer’s bill dated 1817 was discovered during repairs to the shop (reported in the Hampshire Chronicle, February 6 1909). It was made out to Butler & Cable for haberdashery and groceries totalling £1. 8. 3 ¾, and payable to R. Morley.

The 1817 grocery bill found under the floorboards at No 78 Hursley
The 1817 grocery bill found under the floorboards at No 78 Hursley

In 1840 the Post Office service was launched, and no.78 became a home and business to a long line of postmasters and mistresses. Today, one part of the house still operates as the village’s post office.

78 Hursley with the Post Office on the left-hand side

No less than 15 postmasters and mistresses have lived and worked here, according to research carried out by Michael’s wife Mary. This included Louisa Dennis, who held the post between approximately 1864 and 1867.

The 1851 Census shows her married to Theodore Dennis, the village surgeon, and having six children. When Theodore died in 1858 he left Louisa less than £600, and in May 1868, aged 53, Louisa bravely set sail for Canada on board the Germany with some of her children, settling in Montreal where she died in 1897.

Today, the brick and slate stable that is thought to have housed the Post Office horses survives in Michael’s garden, as a coal store. “We’ve found all sorts of weird objects over the years, but one of my favourites is a medicine bottle we discovered in the cellar that we believe once contained some form of emission control for the horses!”

More detective work by Michael uncovered a second Hampshire Chronicle article, from February 22 1819. It revealed the underhand goings-on of Robert Morley who was fined £5 ‘for adulterating flour with alum and pearl ash’; and £2 / 50d for having ‘false and different weights’. The bake house he used survives at 78 Hursley to this day.

Blacksmith and postmaster George Henry Jones and wife Eliza in the garden at Number 78
Blacksmith and postmaster George Henry Jones and wife Eliza in the garden at Number 78

By the mid-1970s the house had been empty for many years and was put up for sale for the first time since it was built in 1517, to be bought by the Prendergasts.

Now, 500 years later, people can enjoy a fascinating delve into the architectural and social history of this incredible survival.

Michael’s study is dedicated to his wife Mary who died in 2004 and who loved no. 78 Hursley. It is available at the Hampshire Record Office and through local libraries.

Published in the Hampshire Chronicle, 11 February 2018