3rd May: Why move Exbury village?

[album of photos taken in Exbury Gardens on 3rd and 10th May]

Having previously learnt that Exbury village had been moved from what is now “Lower Exbury” to its present location, I kept wondering what had prompted such a drastic measure.  The move occurred around the end of the 18th century to start of the 19th when William Mitford owned Exbury House and the estate. I read that he wanted to create a “model village” at the new location but would it not have been easier to have done that at the previous site?  Knocking down the Chapel and building a new church and creating a new graveyard would seem a major decision.

The view from Exbury House at the time of the first Ordnance Survey (~1811)

I think it was while looking at Google Earth that I realised that the previous location of Exbury village would have been in the line of sight from Exbury House.  Research on the web indicated that Capability Brown’s landscaping ideas were going out of fashion by the end of the 18th century and were being replaced by a style in which the distant view would be of a wild “unfettered” landscape. William Gilpin, a strong advocate of this style visited Exbury about  this time (see for example The Eighth Wonder of the World, Exbury Gardens and the Rothschilds by Lionel de Rotheschild and Francesca Murray Rowlins, p.52).

I’ve tried to relate the view from Exbury around the time of the first Ordnance Survey.  It is actually hard to locate the exact house position but I think that my figure is about right.  It does appear that, given the landscaping fashion at the end of the 18th century,  Exbury village would have been considered a blot on the landscape!  So it seems very likely that the village was moved in order to “improve” the view from the House.  However, to be charitable, it is likely that the buildings in the new village were superior to those in the old one.

The view from Exbury House today.

I decided to visit Exbury and see what the present day view is like.  Looking at Goole Earth, present day tree growth within Exbury gardens restricts the view to the west somewhat compared to the start of the 19th Century, but it is clear that moving the village has left a pastoral view over fields, and, in the distance, the Isle of Wight.  As a visitor to Exbury Gardens, you cannot get to a central position on the Exbury House lawn nor see the view from the top of the House steps.  No doubt more of the Isle of Wight would be visible from those positions.

Here are some photos taken as I skirted as close as allowed to the private House grounds…

[album of photos taken in Exbury Gardens on 3rd and 10th May]

Postscript:  while walking in the northern section of Exbury Gardens on the 11th June 2023 I came across this information board about William Gilpin.  I was interested in the “Did you know?” paragraph saying that, under guidance from Gilpin, William Mitford “opened up a view to the Isle of Wight from Exbury House and also put in a ha-ha”.  Since Gilpin died in 1804, this fits with the time that Exbury moved and also dates the ha-ha before 1868, the date given in on of the Exbury guides.