The site of Bisterne Manor, occupied by a previous house, was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Betestre being occupied by the sons of Godfric Malf, who had previously owned it in 1066. The record of known occupiers, since 1349, number 32, and are all related in some way, and span four families only, spanning nearly 700 years.
These four families are by dates of occupancy:
Mills (1792 to present)
The immediate past owners, by date of occupancy, were Sir John Mills (1908-1954), and his son Major John Mills OBE (1954-2003), who died in 2012 and left the estate to his nephew, Hallam Mills, DL.
The present manor
Katherine Berkeley, sister of Sir William Berkeley and married, as a second marriage, to Sir John Brereton, built the central heart of the present house in about 1520. This forms the dining room today, but would probably have been a double-height Hall thatched with straw originally – possibly with a small accommodation unit on the flank. There are still signs of a very old part of the house in the northeast corner, notably a very ancient staircase.
In 1652 the Richard Compton added two wings flanking the central hall structure, adding considerably to the house’s dimensions.
In about 1834, the house was altered to accommodate art and furniture acquired on his Grand Tour by Francis Mills. At that time, the house was encased in mellow stucco to cover over the various different styles of bricks used over the years.
Finally, in late Victorian times, additions were made the rear of the house, and indoor sanitation, electricity and central heating installed.
The Manor has a detailed entry in Pevsner’s new (2018) Hampshire:South volume. It can be visited on Heritage Open Day, by appointment.
The Mills family own a 1580 Norden map of the estate, which clearly shows the manor and many fields inscribed with the names of the owners or tenants, interspersed with significant tracts of heath. Most of those hedge-lines still exist today, some 440 years later.
The Enclosures map of around 1810. When William Mills bought parcels of land south of Ringwood in 1792 from the Compton family, the pattern of the contryside was quite different.
There were numerous small parcels of land owned by different families; during the next 170 years, the many farms on the estate were consolidated as families no longer wished to keep their tenancies. In 1968, the estate terrier shows 16 tenants of the small farms at Bisterne. Now there are 3.
Many of the cottages shown on that map have disappeared, but the original hedgerows are still preserved as they were – all 18 miles of them.