Cannon Heath Farm, Kingsclere
In the 1860s George Whistler, the farmer at Litchfield Grange, Ashe, was also the leaseholder of nearby Cannon Heath Farm, Kingsclere (1). Cannon Heath Farm was owned by Lord Bolton, a major landowner in the Basingstoke area and the lord of the manor of Kingsclere (2).
When George Whistler died in November 1868 the lease of Cannon Heath Farm was a legacy for his children. His will specified that the management of the farm was to be shared by his three sons Richard, Alfred and Septimus (3). A Kingsclere directory for 1875 named the ‘Whistler Brothers’ as the farmers at Cannon Heath Farm (4).
Alfred Whistler became the resident farmer at Cannon Heath, a role that he had been preparing for. In the 1861 census, while his father and brothers were living at Litchfield Grange, Alfred, aged 21, was a lodger in Kingsclere at an address in Swan Street. He was described as a ‘farmer’s son’ to suggest that he was overseeing his father’s interest in Cannon Heath Farm. Alfred’s Swan Street landlord was William Lewis, a draper and grocer. William’s daughter Phyllis Lewis, who was to become Alfred’s bride, served as a shop assistant for her father’s business (5).
Alfred’s brother Septimus Whistler, who worked the farm at Litchfield Grange, emigrated to America in 1880. Richard Whistler became established as the tenant farmer at Lower Farm, Winkfield Park, Berkshire. He died in 1887 and, three years later, his widow and children left England for a new life in Australia.
Alfred Whistler and Phyllis Lewis were married on 6 July 1870 at St Maurice’s Church, Winchester (6). The farmhouse at Cannon Heath Farm became the home where they raised their eight sons (George, Alfred, Frederick, Walter, Albert, William, Charles Septimus and Gilbert) and four daughters (Jenny, Alice, Kate and Annie). In the 1871 census for Kingsclere, Alfred Whistler was a ‘farmer of 1060 acres employing 15 men and 3 boys’.
The old churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Kingsclere, that was cleared in 1965, had the Whistler memorial: (7)
Alfred Whistler Dec 26th 1921 aged 82 years.
An interesting literary association is the book Watership Down by Richard Adams about the adventures of a group of rabbits in the area around Cannon Heath. In his autobiography, The Day Gone By, Richard Adams describes the view from his childhood home near Newbury and mentions Cannon Heath (8):
The superb view to the south was across the open country of ploughland, meadows and copses typical of the Berkshire-Hampshire border, stretching away four or five miles to the distant line of the Hampshire Downs – the steep escarpment formed by Cottington’s Hill, Cannon Heath Down, Watership Down and Ladle Hill.
William, the son of Alfred and Phyllis Whistler, was born at Cannon Heath Farm in 1886. In the 1930s William Whistler and his wife Elizabeth Warner became tenants at Hannington Farm in the Kingsclere district. William’s association with farming at Hannington continued to his death in 1978. The owners of Hannington Farm from 1832 to 1943 were the Dukes of Wellington. In 1952 the farm was purchased by Anstace (Ann) Mary Gillett (9).
As a widower, William Whistler married Ann. To provide a memorial to her husband, Ann Whistler commissioned Laurence Whistler to design and engrave a window installed in All Saints’ Church, Hannington, described as: (10)
. . . this window shows the Scythe of Time rising up – with William Whistler’s dates of birth and death on the two handles – to point to a sheaf of corn. But the sun behind it has almost eaten through it. A flock of Hampshire Down sheep are being driven by a border collie – derived from one which belonged to the artist. The sheep and the corn together illustrate the fact that Mr. Whistler was a farmer on the chalk downs of Hampshire.
William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, 1859, pp. 472–6, reprinted at the webpage: Kingsclere History.
Postal and Commercial Directory of Hampshire with the Isle of Wight, 1865, at the website: Historical Directories.
(1) An 1859 Kingsclere directory listed George Whistler as the farmer at Cannon Heath Farm. In the 1861 census George Whistler was living at Litchfield Grange. An 1865 directory named George Whistler as the farmer at both Litchfield Grange and Cannon Heath Farm.
(2) ‘Plan of land the property of Lord Bolton at Kingsclere’, 15 March 1884, HRO reference: 11M49/E/P3; ‘Kingsclere’, V.C.H. Hampshire, Vol. 4, pp. 249–267. William Henry Orde-Powlett (1818–1895) succeeded as 3rd Baron Bolton in 1850 (webpage: Baron Bolton).
(4) Post Office Directory of Hampshire, Wiltshire & Dorset, 1875, at the website: Historical Directories.
(7) The webpage: Kingsclere History contains a plan of the memorials in the Kingsclere churchyard made before the churchyard was cleared in 1965. On the plan Grave No. 169 was for Alfred and Phyllis Whistler and Grave No. 115 was a memorial to George Whistler May 17th 1888 aged 16 years and Charles Septimus Whistler Oct 18th 1918 aged 30 years.
(9) Ken Smallbone, The Encyclopaedic History of Hannington in Hampshire, Vol. 1, The Twentieth Century, (published in two books), 2002, pp. 222–223 & 343–345. William Whistler and Elizabeth Warner (1902–1960) were married in 1927.