The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Hammoon House

John Newth has been to visit a home which started life as a Victorian hunting-lodge

The original main entrance to the house, with the cedar of Lebanon to the left

When the 2nd Viscount Portman built Bryanston as his Dorset seat in the 1890s, it was not the only change he made to the face of his estates in the county. At about the same time, he built hunting-lodges in the villages of Hammoon, Durweston and Child Okeford, so that his family and guests could hunt in comfort with the Portman Hunt. The lodges were convenient destinations for a morning’s ride or places at which to change horses during a day’s hunting. The family and their guests would stop for lunch and then depart; the lodges were rarely slept in by the family, nor were they anything like a home.

Its original purpose explains why the lodge at Hammoon, today Hammoon House, turns it back on the rest of the village and faces down the valley. The hunt would meet in the field at the front of the house, although the house itself is approached from the road at the back by a gravelled carriage drive. The front of the house is marked by a magnificent cedar of Lebanon standing on the edge of the ha-ha.

The single-storey orangery was added to the southern side of the house by the present owners

Hammoon is an ancient parish and a very small village on the river Stour. Long before the Portmans, Hammoon had been the enclosure or farm (OE ‘ham’) of the de Moion (later spelt Mohun) family, which is a literal explanation of the derivation of its name. The de Moions were a Norman baron family which came over with William the Conqueror, accompanied by a retinue of 47 knights. By 1086, Hammoon was held by William de Moion. The family had lands in the south of the county too, next to Chesil Beach, providing a disappointingly prosaic explanation for that most romantic-sounding of Dorset names, Moonfleet.

The drawing room. The two children in the portrait are Christine Bueno’s Radcliffe grandmother and great-uncle, whose mother was a Weld.

The house at Hammoon remained part of the Portman estate until 1923 when, together with a number of other farms within that area of the Portman estate, it was sold as East Farm, accompanied by 323 acres. It was described in the sales particulars as ‘One of the Best Grazing Dairy Farms in Dorset’ and as ‘eminently suitable for a Gentleman’s Residence.’ For some forty-five years after the last war it was owned by Angela Hughes, a distinguished ornithologist and a national pioneer of conservation-friendly farming, who played a major part in re-introducing the otter to the River Stour where it flowed through her land.

Built at the height of the age of Victorian self-confidence, the house nevertheless avoids the more monstrous excesses of the architecture of that time. Its plan was very simple, with four large rooms on the ground floor – drawing room and dining room at the front, kitchen and servants’ hall behind – four rooms above that and servants’ quarters on the top floor. The mouldings in the front rooms indicate their importance, being absent from the rooms behind. The one original fireplace is in one of the front rooms, too. All the rooms are pleasingly proportioned and the house has converted with considerable success into an elegant and comfortable modern home.

The dining room

The material used in the construction was shuttered concrete, which was relatively new at the time. While it was still wet, lines were drawn in it to imitate blocks of stone. It means that the house has a sturdy look and feel about it, but putting nails into walls to hang pictures is far from easy!

The original single-storey rear extension was added to in the 1950s by the addition of a further floor, but otherwise the house had been little changed structurally until Angela Hughes sold it in 1995 to Antonio and Christine Bueno. At that time the house had ‘eight bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms’, as Christine Bueno puts it, so it was time for major renovations. The Buenos were living in London then, but they spent more time in Dorset when their youngest daughter, Emily, something of an afterthought, went to Sherborne School for Girls. ‘It became our main house five years ago and the last curtain went up three years ago,’ Christine told me.

For Christine Bueno, moving to Hammoon was something of a homecoming, since she spent much of her childhood in Dorset. She was born a Lees, great-granddaughter of Sir Elliott Lees of South Lytchett Manor, the 1st baronet, who fought with the Dorset Yeomanry in South Africa in the Boer War and was awarded the DSO; the present baronet, Sir Thomas, is her late father’s first cousin. It gives her intense pleasure that some important Lees family portraits have found their way back to Dorset and are now hanging in Hammoon House, including ones of Sir Elliott and his wife, Florence. There are also portraits of the Weld and Radcliffe families, which are connected to the Leeses by marriage.

The hayloft converted to a billiard room

As well as modernising the house, the Buenos made some additions, including a handsome south-facing orangery and a garden outbuilding for which they used the bricks rescued from a demolished garden wall, and originating from an Elizabethan mill at Bere Marsh near Shillingstone. The separate stables at the back of the house (today, the front) were converted to a comfortable sitting room and the hayloft above to a billiard room, complete with RSJs to support the weight of a full-size billiard table. The next project is to enclose some of the area behind the main house to create an entrance hall.

Christine was in her time, and probably still is, the youngest woman ever to have been called to the Bar (although she did not practise). She and Tony met when they were Bar students; today, Tony is a QC specialising in commercial banking law, a Recorder and a Bencher of Middle Temple. One of their most charming additions to the house is a painting commissioned from the Pimperne artist, Nick Hely-Hutchinson, of the spot in the Inns of Court where they used to meet after a hard day among the law books and do their courting. Their two elder daughters have followed them into the profession, one qualifying as a barrister and the other as a solicitor, but the youngest is showing more interest in politics.

Macmillan Cancer Support is today the beneficiary of Christine’s talents in her role as its Chairman in Dorset. The county owes her and Tony a debt of gratitude as well for taking on one of its more interesting Victorian houses and modernising it without losing its character.

The soothing sound and sight of doves are a feature of Hammoon House

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