Chawton House Library’s estate includes extensive parkland, which is managed through a mixed grazing regime, including sheep, cattle and horses. Parts of the land are let to local farmers, who use the land for their livestock, and one hundred acres of arable land are also let to the local tenant farmer.
The pre-2003 restoration work involved reverting the land from arable back to parkland, as it would have been in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The land is deliberately not intensively farmed, in order to help the local ecology and allow the grassland to become rich, and wild plants and flowers to flourish. The parkland has been planted with over seven thousand new trees.
Chawton House has established two permissive footpaths across the estate: the Mingledown footpath (established with the support of the East Hampshire District Council and Forestry Commission), which can be accessed from Chawton village, and a footpath along the A32 to Farringdon (established with the aid of a Countryside Stewardship grant).
Future plans for the estate will build on the principle of sustainable farming using traditional organic methods, including the introduction of rare breed livestock, such as longhorn cattle and downland sheep. Shire horses are kept on the Library estate, and are being trained to work the land in a traditional way.
The estate is home to five Shire horses: Summer, Charlotte, Isaac Storm, Royston and Speedy. The Library’s founder and chairman, Sandy Lerner, is a Shires enthusiast and instigated the housing of Shires on the estate. Royston is being trained with a hitch-cart, which can also be used to transport farm materials.
Their efforts on the land contribute directly to the conservation methods used to grow produce, clear logs (which are sold in aid of the charity) and educate and attract visitors. We anticipate seeing a definite increase in the use of the Shires around the estate, particularly for timber extraction in the woods; chain harrowing the land to aid grass management; and cutting lawns. Wherever possible, the Shires are used around the estate.
The horses are not only a visitor attraction on the estate, but go out and about to promote the Library and estate at events such as the Alton Show and Weald and Downland Museum events. With all these things, the emphasis is placed on educating the public about historical agricultural methods, as well as spreading Chawton House Library’s holistic aims regarding conservation and the preservation of history.
The horses’ place on the estate:
The horses are an important part of the Library’s estate, which also includes rescued chickens, and will also soon be home to a herd of Sussex Longhorn cattle. These animals live and work on a restored estate which is registered as of historical significance with English Heritage, and which is continually being worked on to resurrect many of its historic features. (These include a Luytens-inspired terrace; Regency walled garden designed by Jane Austen’s brother; shepherd’s hut found on the estate; a wilderness and ha-ha; and plans for restoration of the Edwardian glasshouses.) Our latest project, however, directly affects the horses and heightens their importance in our educational programme. The barn we have recently erected on-site relates most directly to our two latter aims of preserving local heritage and developing a working period farm. It is a working agricultural site, but can also be used for exhibiting eighteenth and nineteenth-century horse-drawn farm implements, including a tipcart, seed drills and ploughs. The barn is also be essential for the storage of winter fodder and may also be used as shelter for our Shire horses when conditions so require. The barn includes interpretative displays about sustainable farming methods and Chawton House’s commitment to conservation and ecology, which widens visitors’ understanding of the context within which we keep the horses, and provides practical support for our horses and their equipment.
Chawton House Library has residents in the form of rescued battery hens.
They were collected from one of the British Hen Welfare Trust centres at Epsom, Surrey. We are happy in the knowledge that they enjoy their retirement.