Wight Life

Drawing of Haseley Manor from the south-west

Haseley Manor from the south-west

The people of Haseley

by John D Whitehead

First published August/September 1974

HASELEY is one of the Island's forgotten manors. Lying to the north-east of the main road between Arreton and Horringford, not far from Newchurch, it is in the most fertile part of the Arreton valley, watered by the Eastern Yar and sheltered by Arreton, Mersley and Ashey Downs.

A thousand years ago Haseley was more important than it is today. It was then the prosperous property of the great Earl Harold whose vain attempt to repel William the Norman cost him his life at Hastings. William's Domesday record tells us that the manor had a great farm, so flourishing that, after the Conquest, William retained it in his own keeping. Then it was called 'Haselie' and, sometime just before 1100, William's red-haired son gave the manor and farm to his friends, the De Bohuns.

In 1135, Engler de Bohun bequeathed the property to the Abbey of Quarr; it seems probable that the monks formed it into a 'grange' and did a great deal to improve it by draining the land and erecting farm buildings. They also built a chapel for the Haseley workers. But Henry VIII decided the fate of Quarr and, with it, of Haseley since it was still in the possession of the Abbey. Both were sold to the highest bidders and, thus, became the property of the brothers, John and George Mills.

John Mills was a Southampton merchant but, with his brother, he ran an even more lucrative side-lineas the progenitor all of apresent-day property speculators. They had already found buyers for the vast amount of second-hand building materials which the Abbey offered within the thirty acres which it covered. George brought his wife, Dowsabell, to live at Haseley while he was supervising the destruction of Quarr. Building materials were at a premium in those days, and every stone and slate was of value. The astute George made a very good thing out of it and was able to live in such luxury at Haseley that Sir John Oglander records that he 'kept a brave howse and lived worshipfully'. Sir John, incidentally, paid a visit to the site of Quarr a few years later and tells us that he was unable to find even the foundations of 'ye greate church'. George Mills was certainly thorough.

So, with Quarr and other similar projects, both on the Island and on the mainland, successfully completed, George was, at his death, able to leave his widow very comfortably provided for, as well as being undisputed mistress of Haseley. She, apparently, heaved a sigh of relief and made haste to find other amusements.

Her first conquest was Sir Edward Horsey who had become Captain of the Island in 1565. He was a blunt, rough, hard-drinking sea-captain whose credit had been swollen by numerous victories over French pirates; he was only too glad to exchange the austere and strictly male atmosphere of his quarters within Carisbrooke Castle for the comfort and freedom of Haseley with its willing and buxom hostess!

Mrs Mills enjoyed her widowhood! When the first novelty of playing host to Horsey had worn off — or maybe it was at his suggestion — she embarked upon a plan that was even more incredible. She turned Haseley into a 'finishing school' for the young ladies of the Island. Even in these days of easy morals the mind boggles at the picture of such a menage. There can be little doubt that those young ladies had no need to ask their mothers any questions by the time they 'finished'. Suffice to say that, according to Sir John Oglander, Dowsabell 'browght up moste of ye yonge gentlewomen in ye Island and had ye swage of ye Island for many yeres'.

Sir Edward Horsey died of the plague at Haseley on the 28th of March, 1582, but Dowsabell lived on until 1603 and was buried in the chancel of Arreton church. On her death, as she and George had had no children, Haseley passed to their nephew, Sir Richard Mills. He, however, had no interest in Island properties and, in the time of James I, he sold the manor to Sir Thomas Fleming.

Curiously enough, this Sir Thomas was a descendant of the John le ffleming who had come to the Island as Chief Mason at the time of the building of Quarr Abbey. Thomas was persuaded by his father, who was a Newport mercer with a house at the corner of the Cornmarket, to become a lawyer. This he did to such good effect that he became sergeant-at-law, Recorder of London, Solicitor General (1595) and Lord Chief Justice of England (1607). He married his cousin, Mary James, at St Thomas church in Newport on February 3rd, 1570 and he did a great deal to restore Haseley before his death in 1613. His son, as a matter of interest, married Dorothy Cromwell, aunt of the notorious Oliver.

Through the three hundred years which followed, during which Haseley was the Fleming home, the family almost entirely rebuilt the house. The only part of the original which they left untouched is a portion of the east wing which retains part of the 14th century roof, over what used to be the wool room and has since been partitioned off into living rooms. In the north wall of this wing is the coat of arms of Henry VII, but it has obviously come from elsewhere, possibly from Quarr, since the tail of the dragon appears on a separate stone above its own head.

All the old mullioned windows had gone before the turn of the century and, indeed, two west wing windows have since then been replaced by very large, but not too modern, picture windows.

Other than that, and the addition of a few rather ungainly pots atop the tall chimneys, there has been little change over the past 150 years and the house has sunk into a sleepy oblivion far removed from the days when most of ye yonge gentlewomen of ye Island desported themselves in its grounds.