This beautiful demesne of H. Mitchell, Esq., is situated in one of the most charming parts of the Undercliffe, screened from the north and east by lofty hills and ivy-covered rocks. It is approached from the main road by a unique carriage drive forming a tunnel cut through the solid rock of a lofty crag, the tunnel being decorated with shells and antlers.
- Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening - Volume 31 - Page 419, 1895
|The Undermount tunnel|
|View from George Brannon's Vectis Scenery, 1848 New Edition|
(scan from gmwarner.com) - Undermount is the left-hand foreground house.
|Detail from print in Brannon's Vectis Scenery, 1840 edition|
This view shows both Hadfield's Lookout (left, with flagpole)
and Pulpit Rock (centre, with cross)
White's problems with the estate would probably make a long saga, starting with a private local Act of Parliament, passed 21st June 1836, entitled An Act to enable the Reverend James White and the Persons for the Time being entitled to certain Estates situate in the Parish of Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight in the County of Southampton, devised by the will of Charles Fitzmaurice Hill, Esquire, deceased, to grant Building Leases (see The Law Journal), via at least one piece of litigation over rights of way - White vs Leeson - to a second Private Act in 1843, An Act to confirm Two existing Leases ... etc. In modern terms, it appears at first glance a piece of egregious land profiteering, but such private Acts to overturn land settlements were pretty routine in the 19th century; inheritors of long-standing estates were often stuck with large tracts of land that were inherently unprofitable (because of restrictions on profitable land development such as building) and impossible to break up for sale. The situation only ended with the 1882 Settled Land Act, that allowed landowners to sell more or less as they pleased (see Great estates and Private Acts). Anyhow, that's another story.
Queen Victoria is said to have stayed a night at Compton in 1857, but I haven't yet verified this. I get the impression a deal of doubtful information has accreted to the history of Compton via news articles and estate agents' hype. One website says Lady Elizabeth had been Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria: it seems not; this was a different Lady Elizabeth Campbell née Baillie. Nor was she, as another site says, a bridesmaid of Queen Victoria (their names are well-documented - see this Esoteric Curiosa blog reprint from Lady's Realm, 1899). Another detail that so far doesn't check out is that Sir John Pringle was connected to the "Pringle fashion company": again it seems not, as Sir John was an ex-military man, and the founder of Pringle of Scotland wasn't anything to do with the Pringle aristocrats, but one Robert Pringle, a thoroughly self-made entrepreneur who started out as an apprentice stocking maker. I think more research is needed on the precise VR connection.
Early one evening we passed through a gate under an arch, or rather through a tunnel of massive masonry. It looked as if we might be making our way into a dungeon. At the other end, however, we emerged into a wide and lovely expanse of lawn, grove, and garden ; here a large circle inclosed with a wire screen, the screen wreathed with flowering plants ; there a high wall lined with wall-fruit — peaches, apricots, apples, and pears ; here a path disappears in a bower of branches interlacing overhead, and at the other end leading you out on the edge of the cliff above the sea ; and in the midst of all a mansion, with greenhouse full of fine tropical plants, and festoons of delicate vines hanging from the ceiling..... particularly under the ownership of Henry Michell, who bought the house from the late Pringles' estate in 1883 (ref: The Times, Friday, Jan 01, 1909).
- WP Breed, Aboard and abroad in eighteen hundred and eighty four, 1885, Internet Archive ID aboardabroadinei00bree
The front commands a splendid view of the English Channel, as seen through the stately elms and lesser ornamental foliage plants which abound to the water's edge. Passing through ranges of orchid houses, ferneries, stoves, and vineries, stopping only to notice a splendid house of maidenhair ferns in varieties, we reach a vinery containing chrysanthemums reserved for exhibition cut blooms. Mr. Frank Orchard, the gardener, is at home amongst the chrysanthemums. Having previously won honours in other parts of the country, he entered for and secured the Isle of Wight challenge cup last year for thirty-six cut blooms, and is now preparing for the final tussle next week at Ryde. The collection here comprises about 700 plants of all sections. The principal show is in the magnificent conservatory attached to the residence, amidst lofty palms and tree ferns, and overhung with Bougainvilleas, Cobaias, Jasminums, and other creepers which hang suspended from the iron girders that support the dome. The effect is grand, and the approach to the reception rooms is flanked on the right and left by two well-arranged groups on a raised stone balcony, others being dotted amongst the ferns and Pr???s, a group of Pompons around the fountain basin beneath, and well-trained standard chrysanthemums on the balcony steps, the whole being very effective far into the winter months.
- Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, Volume 31, age 419, 1895
|The Garden at Undermount Bonchurch Isle of Wight with St Boniface in the distance|
A Foord Hughes, Wikigallery, permitted non-commercial use
My particular interest in the location sprang from topographical descriptions, and it was very strange to see that the tunnel's peculiar decorations still exist. They're not merely shells and antlers, but also fossils, clusters of flints, and the odd skull.
|A cow skull, I think|
In the grounds of one of the latter, Undermount, stands an isolated rock, surmounted by its mimic battery and flagstaff, which has formed one of the themes of admiration of nearly every guide-book hitherto published. The little fort is, however, now dismantled, and its tiny artillery, whose iron mouths used to breathe their sulphurous defiance to each petty privateer of the enemy which came in sight during the last war, is now removed from its proud station, and has become the occupant of a saluting battery in the grounds of Mountfield, on the cliff below.I only just made the connection: Hadfield's Lookout gets a mention in John Neal's 1830 Authorship: A Tale - Internet Archive ID authorshipatale01nealgoog - in which the narrator climbs a rock with a flagstaff in "Bowchurch", and marvels at the landscape. See, previously, A New Englander hates on the Sandrock.
- The 'Undercliff' of the Isle of Wight : its climate, history, and natural productions, George A. Martin, M.D., London : J. Churchill, 1849 (Hathi Trust).
The view was delightful, and rich, and various, and like nothing I had ever seen before. I remember thus much, and I remember too that whatever there was to see, I saw, and that before the day was well over, I (But for my life I cannot say now whether it was while I stood on that rock or after I had peeped over and crawled away) among a multitude of things, the memory of which had escaped me before my head was on the pillow that very night, I saw — a huge high wall— so huge as to appear like a part of the foundations of our earth, and so high that I mistook a white cloud sailing over the top, for smoke. It was like the vapor that follows the discharge of cannon that are too far off to be heard ; a wall stretching over leagues and leagues of territory ; cottages underneath my very feet (I could have jumped through the roofs) grouped here and there among the trees and the rocks and the gushing water and the wild shrubbery, as if they were copied from old pictures ; on every side of me the bulwarks of an empire, great square blocks which appeared as if they had been wrought by the hands, or piled up where they lay by the power of giants ; here a cottage or two garnered up in the holes of the rocks, and there half a dozen more literally folded among the ruins of what appeared like the overthrown barrier of a huge citadel — a barrier overthrown by flood, or by earthquake, or by fire from above — not by the wrath of mortal man ; here a heap of the greenest foliage I ever saw, overhanging a roof, the loveliest I ever saw (not seven feet high), and a little bit of smooth rich turf, yet greener than the foliage of the young trees, and as lively as the plumage of a parrot — ' Green to the very door ' — and hedged about with flowering shrubs and great rocks, much higher than the roof, and scattered clumps of blackberry — bushes, with never a bit of a pathway to be seen, so that you could not conceive how the people got there alive, nor how they got the children there that you saw laughing and rolling about, or hiding in the shadow of the rocks, or creeping half sideways over the smooth turf.I've featured this image before ...
All this I did see, and I saw it either while I was on the top of that rock, holding by the flag-staff, afraid to move lest the rock should tip over among the houses, and afraid to let go, lest I should be blown away ; or I saw it, after I had escaped ...
|Bonchurch: Undermount Rock aka Flagstaff Rock aka Hadfield's Lookout|
from Rambles in the Isle of Wight, John Gwilliams, 1844
|Hadfield's Lookout aka Flagstaff Rock, Bonchurch|
|at the summit|
|View across Upper Bonchurch|
|View over lodge: the railings mark the edge of a major drop to the driveway|
I'd like to thank again Richard and Maxine Dewhurst for very generously showing us around, and giving permission for photography and writing up the visit.
Compton Undermount, the tunnel and Hadfield's lookout are private property and not open to the general public.
See www.undermountbonchurch.co.uk for details of accommodation.
Addendum, May 2014: I just found this nice image from Charles Tomkins' 1796 A Tour to the Isle of Wight, which actually shows Hadfield's Lookout.