The Development of the Leckford Estate
At the time of the Domesday Survey the manor of Leckford Abbess – as it was then known – was owned by the Abbey of St Mary, Winchester. Originally in possession of the crown, the manor had been granted to a mass priest called Edulf by King Edred in 947, on the condition that half the land would pass to the Abbey when he died.
After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 ownership reverted to the King, and in 1544 Henry VIII gave the manor to Sir Richard Lyster and William Thorpe. Thorpe died in 1548, and his son and heir, Francis, died three years later, leaving his younger brother George to inherit the land. The manor was sold in 1567, and eventually passed to Thomas Phelipps and his wife, Charity, in 1616. It remained in their family for over a century.
In 1736 Elizabeth Bolney, the sister and heir of Sir James Phelipps, fourth baronet, conveyed the manor to his kinsman, Sir Henry Joseph Tichborne, who died in 1743. By his will the manor passed to his two daughters, Mary Blount and Frances Brounlow Doughty. Frances left her share of the property to her second son, George, and Mary Blount sold her share to Henry King. George and Henry sold the manor in 1780 to William Longman and a Mr Lywood.
These two men divided the estate between them; Mr Longman took the house and manorial rights, and Mr Lywood took New Farm.
Mr G M Miles-Bailey bought Abbess Grange (now the Abbas) from William Longman’s executor in 1900, and the manorial rights six years later. He owned the property until 1929, when he sold it to John Spedan Lewis.
Leckford and the John Lewis Partnership
When John Spedan Lewis bought Leckford Abbess in 1929, he also took possession of stables and outbuildings, the coachhouse, entrance lodge and chauffeur’s cottage as well as the gardens, plantations and about 200 acres of land. The village of Leckford and nearly 1,700 acres of additional land were also included in the purchase. Mr Lewis changed the name of the main house to Leckford Abbas in 1937, and he continued to live there with his family and staff until 1945 when he decided that it was too small for his needs. He then bought the much larger Longstock House, on the other side of the river Test, and moved there, giving Leckford Abbas to the Partnership along with the ownership of the Leckford Estate.
The Founder planned to develop Leckford as a country club for Partners and assumed that the Abbas would be used ‘as a fishing lodge, for which it is really much more suitable’. He wanted to house some Partners permanently at Leckford, and others at weekends. The rest of the accommodation would be used for weekend visitors or for convalescents.
In 1948 the first Partners used Leckford Abbas for weekend breaks or longer holidays. The weekly cost was £3 5s for full board, based on two people sharing a double room.
Partners and their guests can now stay at the thatched Fishing Cottage, as well as at the Abbas. The cottage has a sitting room and two double and two single bedrooms, while the main house has eight double and two single bedrooms and several public rooms.
In 1934 John Spedan Lewis first had the idea that spawned a camp on his land at Leckford, but it wasn’t until 1937 that the first visitors came. They were invited to stay in the Hampshire countryside and help with the Leckford fruit harvest, picking mainly loganberries, raspberries and blackberries. Accommodation and bedding would be free, although Partners would have to pay for their food.
“In the first experimental year,” the Founder wrote, “the campers will be lodged in buildings that were used formerly for the chicken farm that has been closed down. They are really wooden huts, measuring 20 feet by 15 feet…The tenants of each will have plenty of privacy in which to talk freely of their neighbours without apprehension of proceedings for libel.”
Mr Lewis wanted to “make a good summer holiday possible for Partners who, because they have a number of young children and not much money, find it difficult to get, during the holiday season, satisfactory accommodation at a reasonable price.”
The old schoolhouse in Leckford village was used as a clubroom for concerts and whist drives, and a six-room bathhouse was to be built in the village for campers to use.
The camp opened from July to September in that first year and was very popular, although several improvements were made following a discussion chaired by Mr and Mrs Lewis in October. Mattresses appeared on the camp beds, and hanging rails for clothes were installed in the huts. A piano and table tennis and darts equipment were also purchased.
Four more huts were built in 1939 after heavy bookings, but the camp was closed during the Second World War, reopening in 1947.
During the 1950s and 60s the camp went from strength to strength. A new dining room and recreation room were built during the winter of 1961-1962, and all the huts were gradually replaced with new cedarwood versions. Electricity and flush toilets had been installed in each chalet by 1968.
In 2008 the chalets were replaced with luxurious timber lodges complete with flat screen TVs and built-in barbecues.
Leckford and Waitrose
John Spedan Lewis always envisaged the estate as a part of the Partnership which should be a profitable addition to the retail business, as well as a place for rest and recreation. Over the years the importance of the development of the farming which took place at Leckford increased and in August 2001 the estate became part of the Waitrose division, allowing the farm to link with the expertise of Waitrose to provide a market for their high quality produce.
In 2003 the Estate was awarded the LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) marque accreditation, a sign of high environmental standards and the farm is a model of best farming practice. This link has provided both Leckford and Waitrose with a wide range of opportunities to demonstrate their achievements with events, including the Leckford Festival, which demonstrates the Partnership’s commitment to a continuing support for British farming.
The camp now opens from May to September each year and is still extremely popular, especially with families. Although campers no longer have to help with fruit-picking, there are plenty of other activities to keep everyone entertained!