Cholderton Estate today is the result of a far-sighted Victorian
acquisition of several farms and parcels of land on the Hampshire-Wiltshire
border At its greatest extent, the estate stretched to some 5,000
acres (2,000ha), but today it is about 2,500 acres (1,000ha).
estate has remained in the family of its creator, Victorian entrepreneur
and polymath Henry ‘Inky’ Stephens, whose family name
will always be linked with the famous ‘blue black’ ink.
Today’s owner, Henry Edmunds, took over the estate in 1975
on the death of his father.
well as being an experienced estate manager, Mr Edmunds is a skilled
and passionate naturalist, and it is this passion for natural history
that has led him to manage the estate in sympathy with the natural
understand the estate, it is important to look at it in its natural
and historical contexts.
entire Estate is located on the chalk uplands of southern England,
and was once primarily given over to sheepwalks – huge open
areas of unimproved downland that supported large numbers of sheep.
Early maps show no woodland in the area apart from Hills Copse (which
is undoubtedly ancient woodland) and possibly the oddly named Windy
Dido, which has uncertain origins. It seems that much of this downland
was replaced by ploughed farmland early in the 19th century, before
the present Estate was created.
excavations in the Windy Dido area support the theory that this
landscape was cleared of its original woodland cover in Neolithic
times and was farmed for as much as 4,000 years, perhaps up to and
beyond the Roman conquest. After this time, the land became grassland,
grazed by huge numbers of sheep in medieval times.
places, the chalk soils are thin. Famously ‘hungry’,
they hold little in the way of rich organic material and require
regular applications of manure to keep them in good heart. It is
this ‘challenge’ with such soil types that attracted
Stephens to the area in the first place; he wished to show that
a scientific approach to agriculture could achieve good results
no matter what the circumstances. In this he was spectacularly successful,
creating a model example of farming for Victorian agriculturalists.
of the landscape of the Estate today is the result of those 19th-century
innovations. This applies particularly to the numbers of trees and
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Cholderton Estate lies in a part of Britain that is one of the richest
in Europe for visible remains of the prehistoric past.
– perhaps the most famous prehistoric monument in the world
– is only a few miles to the west, while all around are burial
mounds, hill forts, earthworks and remnants of early farming. All
of this attests to a landscape that was first colonised in the Neolithic
period – possibly 6,000 years ago.
Estate itself lies in the shadow of Quarley Hill, a site used for
various purposes throughout the Bronze Age, and still important
in Iron Age times. It is the earthworks and other manmade features
on the Cholderton Estate associated with Quarley Hill that have
been most closely examined by experts. Concentrated in the region
of the Windy Dido woods, these consist of a series of long linear
ditches and associated ancient field patterns. Excavated by a team
led by Barry Cunliffe (who established his reputation during work
at Danebury Iron Age Hillfort a few miles to the east), the area
showed a complex and long period of use that changed over time.
Quarley Hill certainly served as a focus, possibly because it is
a natural landmark, and several linear earthworks presumed to mark
boundaries can still be seen radiating from the hill. One of these
branches across what is now Windy Dido, and it was this and nearby
features that Cunliffe’s team excavated. Closely associated
with the linear earthwork is a series of remarkably symmetrical
field patterns. These probably date to the Middle or Late Bronze
Age, but were abandoned after a comparatively short time. The linear
earthwork outlived the field system and was re-cut on at least two
occasions, a fact that underlines its importance. It was clearly
a significant boundary, and remained so for something like 1,000
excavations also showed that between these times and the early 20th
century there was probably no arable farming carried out in this
particular area, and this supports the view that these chalklands
became downland grazed by sheep.
on the Cholderton Estate there are numerous burial mounds and other
ancient earthworks. As is usually the case, these have been damaged
by amateur excavations and by agricultural machinery in the 19th
and 20th centuries. Of particular note are three round barrows not
far from the Windy Dido earthworks. These are scheduled ancient
monuments, and form part of what was once a cemetery containing
at least 12 round barrows. Part of the northern boundary of the
Estate follows the line of the Hampshire-Wiltshire border, and this
itself follows the line of the Devil’s Ditch, an ancient linear
Stephens (1841–1918) was a remarkable man, even by the standards
of a time that many see as the Golden Age of British intellectual,
scientific and creative achievement.
is most famous as the proprietor of the ink business that still
bears the family name, but he was also a chemist and MP (he held
the Finchley seat from 1887 until 1900). In the estate at Cholderton,
which he began to assemble in the 1880s, he showed multiple interests
in arable agriculture, aboriculture and architecture and in breeding
Charles’s father, Henry Stephens (1796–1864) had invented
the ink, but Henry Charles was a partner in the business, and on
his father’s death became its sole proprietor. Henry Charles
had been born in Finchley, north London, where his father had practised
as a doctor, and he eventually bought Avenue House in Finchley in
1874. The house and its gardens were bequeathed to the people of
Finchley and remain a local amenity, although the house was damaged
by fire in 1989.
Henry Charles Stephens died in 1918, the Cholderton Estate was taken
over by his grandson, Captain Lewis Edmunds. What Captain Edmunds
inherited was a model of Victorian advanced farming, along with
such features as a walled garden complete with an elaborate series
of ponds especially built to display aquatic plants of many sorts.
Edmunds died in 1975, and the Estate was taken over by the present
owner, Henry Edmunds. He has done much to protect the inheritance,
despite death duties that amounted to 80% – an overhead that
still affects the financial status of the enterprise.
Edmunds has protected and nurtured much of what makes Cholderton
special. The Hampshire Down sheep
and the Cleveland Bay horses remain
only because of his dedication and affection. The same can be said
for the natural history interest at Cholderton: without Henry Edmunds’
continued commitment to conservation it is certain that the considerable
wildlife interest – some of it unique – would have gone
Hampshire Down Sheep
Charles Stephens approached the stocking of his Estate as seriously
as his other undertakings. Since this was downland on the Hampshire-Wiltshire
border, Hampshire Down was the obvious sheep breed to choose. The
breed has been kept pure on the Estate ever since, and Cholderton
is now one of the most important gene banks for this breed.
of the Cholderton flock
The Hampshire Down owes its origins from the
crossing of the Wiltshire Horn and the Berkshire Knot with infusions
of Southdown. From the 1830s to 1850s the breed type gradually became
stabilised, culminating in the formation of a breed society in 1889.
By 1911, almost 200,000 ewes were registered by 514 members of the
The breed was of extraordinary economic importance
in the South of England with a very large number of farms, particularly
on the lighter soils, relying on folded flocks of Hampshire Downs
to provide fertility for subsequent arable crops. The flock was
also a valuable cash crop in its own right, by the sale of fat lambs,
cull ewes, wool and pedigree breeding stock.
The Cholderton Flock was founded by Henry
Charles Stephens in 1890 and by 1911 the combined total of ewes
and tegs had reached 2,772 with 562 rams being registered. The sheep
were folded on a variety of root crops over the winter with vetches
or sainfoin and grass leys providing the summer grazing. The sheep
were tended by fourteen shepherds.
About this time, the Estate was visited by
Professor A Hall. In his ‘Pilgrimage of British Farming’
he records that the fame of the flock had “gone forth into
all lands”. He was also impressed by the excellence of the
wheat and barley grown in rotation following the sheep.
Cholderton sheep have taken prizes at shows
all over the South of England, recording their first win at the
Royal Show in 1904 with a two-shear ram.
Captain L Edmunds took over the flock in 1919.
Upon his death in 1975, Mr Maurice Flower wrote: “For many
years he had been a keen and able supporter of our breed, carrying
on to ever greater heights at shows and sales. The famous flock
was one of the first to be registered. At the present day the flock
has the largest number of sheep of any in the breed”.
The ownership of the flock passed to Henry
Edmunds in 1975 and he has since concentrated on maintaining the
numbers and quality of this outstanding breed.
Today there is growing recognition of the
superb quality and flavour of Hampshire Down Lamb. Her Majesty the
Queen has recently formed the Windsor Flock of Hampshire Downs,
partly from the purchase of ewe lambs from Cholderton. These ewes
are providing lambs for the Windsor Estate farm shop.
A leading supermarket has expressed the desire
that half of all the lambs that it sells from 2004 onwards will
be by a Hampshire Down Ram.
Certainly we are witnessing the swinging of
the pendulum where quantity and price are not the only production
criteria. The quality and flavour of the Hampshire Down are proving
to be pre-eminent.
The Cholderton Flock is therefore
not only representative of the epitomy of quality in the British
sheep industry, but also a testament of the rural history of Hampshire
and Wiltshire when the sheep ruled supreme and the shepherd was
the Master of the Farm.
Cleveland bay horses
for the Cleveland Bay horses that the Estate is best known. The
Cholderton Stud was created in 1885, when the breed was already
threatened by cross-breeding. Henry Stephens believed the Clevelands
were the perfect horses for carriage work as they were strong, agile
and uniform in colour and size. They were also used as the Estate’s
workhorses until mechanised power took over. The
Cholderton Stud remained on the Estate as purebred horses, and have
economic value again as stock that
can be sold.
A detailed history
of the Cholderton stud
The founder of Cholderton Stud was Henry Charles
Stephens. At his Finchley home Mr Stephens had a stable block for
twelve horses, where he kept some of his Cleveland Bays for driving
to and around London. He also owned the 5,000 acre estate at Cholderton
where he put into practice his theories on ‘scientific farming’,
the estate being run along the lines of an agricultural research
In 1885, a year after the Cleveland Bay Horse
Society came into being, Mr Stephens purchased ‘Ryedale Lass’
bred by William Jackson of Kirkby Moorside, to become his foundation
mare. Mr Stephens gave John Lett of Scampston, near Malton a free
hand to purchase on his behalf the best stock available. He bought
‘Beauty’ bred by John Pearson, ‘Madam’ bread
by John Welford and ‘Countess of Salton’ bred by Christopher
‘Lucks All’ purchased from John
Welford became the principal stallion for a number of years. ‘Wellington’,
foaled in 1897, became one of the most famous stallions. There were
fifty six pedigree Cleveland Bays registered before the Cholderton
prefix came into being in 1897 with the registration of ‘Cholderton
At the end of the century there was a brisk
export trade and many Cholderton horses were sent to South Africa
and North America. Classes at the Royal and Great Yorkshire shows
were well filled and many championships won by a number of Cholderton
horses over the years. At about this time, Frank Coombs was a stud
groom at Cholderton and he recorded that many horses of the heavy
breeds, including Suffolks, were used as well as Cleveland Bays;
but experience soon showed that the Clevelands were best for farm
Carters working a pair of horses were expected
to stay at work until they had ploughed an acre. The teams of Clevelands
were able to meet this requirement by starting work at 8.30am and
returning to the stables at 3.00pm, whilst the heavy horse teams
had to start at 7.00am returning at 4.00pm. At harvest and other
times when exceptionally long hours were worked, the Clevelands
were capable of more hours continuous work than the heavier breeds.
Henry Charles Stephens became a life member
of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society in 1888 and was elected President
in 1895. He died in 1918 by which time he had bred a further sixty
three horses carrying the Cholderton prefix.
Captain Lewis Edmunds, Mr Stephens’
grandson, took over the Cholderton Estate in 1918 and continued
the tradition of breeding and working Cleveland Bays. In 1921 ‘Cholderton
Ryecroft’ was foaled and later purchased by the Society for
use as its travelling stallion. His dam was ‘Cholderton Queen
of Pearls’ whose portrait hangs in Cholderton Park today.
Captain Edmunds was elected to the Council of the Society in 1920.
In 1928 ‘Cleveland Farney’, a horse bred at Cholderton,
was sold to Alexander Mackay Smith from the United States of America,
where he founded the Farnley Stud. Large numbers of Clevelands were
also maintained at Cholderton, mainly for working on the estate.
In 1946 two Cholderton bred Cleveland Bays
were sold to King George VI. These had the distinction of drawing
state carriages in a number of important parades at the end of the
Second World War, including those for Field Marshall the Viscount
Montgomery and Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. In the victory procession
on 8 June 1946 these same horses drew the carriage carrying Winston
Churchill. This was a great honour for the Cleveland Bay Horse and
for the Cholderton Stud. Cholderton horses have been used on many
Royal and State occasions, including the Coronation.
‘Cholderton Druid’ was foaled
in 1948 and this horse served many years in The Royal Mews. He was
also the sire of ‘Cholderton Minstrel’, foaled in 1957,
who was later to sire ‘Mulgrave Supreme’ who was saved
from export by HM The Queen. ‘Mulgrave Supreme’ stood
at stud for many years and was to have a big influence on the gradual
resurgence of the breed after the 1960s. In 1953 Captain Edmunds
was elected President of the Society.
As recently a the 1960s, Clevelands could
be seen working the land at Cholderton and in 1964 ‘Cholderton
Yvonne’ returned from ten years service at the Royal Mews
to assist in teaching three year olds to work on the land. In recognition
of the Cholderton Stud’s supply of horses to the Royal Mews,
Captain Edmunds was awarded a Royal Warrant. He died in 1975 but
lived long enough to witness an upturn in interest in the breed
and could take pride in the knowledge that in the 1950s two of the
remaining four stallions upon which the survival of the breed depended
were bred at Cholderton.
Captain Edmunds bred fifty five Cleveland
Bays and his last stallion, ‘Cholderton Yeoman’ was
taken to America by his daughter, Mrs Joanna Dorman. ‘Cholderton
Yeoman’ was well received and won many prestigious awards.
Sadly, Joanna died prematurely and with her demise the Cleveland
Breed lost one of its greatest advocates in the USA.
Today the Cholderton Stud is in the care of
Henry Edmunds who, like his father and great grandfather before
him, firmly believes in the preservation of the breed. He is committed
to there being a large and influential stud of Cleveland Bays at
Cholderton. There are currently ten purebred mares at the Cholderton
Stud with nine purebred foals dropped in 1999.
I heard that four
bays, apple brown,
Were brought into the hall, after the armour
Swift as the wind, identical.
Beowulf gave them as he gave the treasures.
Beowulf. Anon, ca
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