Farringford aroused little interest or comment in the guide books of the early nineteenth century [see 19th Century Guide Books ], the one exception being William Cook’s A New Picture of the Isle of Wight, which seemed more concerned with the views than the house itself:
Farringford Hill : The seat of Ed. Rushworth, Esq. This elegant, newly-erected edifice, about half a mile from Freshwater Gate, is the residence of Mr Rushworth; as a situation certainly preferable to his more ancient mansion of Freshwater House, which, though spacious and convenient, and surrounded with good gardens and grounds, yet may be thought to yield to the eligible situation of this new house.
It is a tasteful structure of light brick, in the most cheerful of the Gothic style, placed on the declivity under the high down towards the Signal-house, and facing the whole extent of the island to the eastward. A more commanding situation could not well be chosen, and immediately contiguous is the beautiful display of the island of Freshwater, whose fertile and well-wooded lands appear as an extensive domain belonging to this house, and bounded by the river Yar.
It is finely sheltered from the prevailing south-west winds by the high down behind, and commands a view of the British Channel as well as the Solent Sea (seen in the Plate), separating the island from the Hampshire coast, which forms some very beautiful scenery from the house . The view of Freshwater Gate and Bay, with the whole range of coast to St Catherine’s, is particularly striking. And even from that distance, Farringford appears a conspicuous object. It is distant from Yarmouth about three miles. [William Cooke: A New Picture of the Isle of Wight. London, 1808]
[The illustration appears in second edition of 1812 & 1813]
The house was constructed from yellow/buff brick and comprised a central block with two parallel domestic wings adjoining on the west.Charles Tennyson is almost right when he writes, “…it seems that the house, as originally built, consisted only of the rectangular three-storied central block, with the kitchen and some of the other rooms at the back on two stories in the shape of a capital U.”
[Charles Tennyson: Farringford, Home of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson Society, 1976]
A good idea of the original house [see Original House] may be ascertained from a sale advert for the house, that appeared in The Times of 7th January 1818:
From the front door, a central hall stretched back to the main staircase at the rear of the hall passage. The living room was on the right of this front entrance, while the dining room was on its left. Both rooms were accessed from doors at the front of the hall. Behind these two rooms was located a library, which, judging by the dimensions listed, was where the reception room is today. This conforms very closely to a plan by architect, John Plaw (see “suggested plan for a house, illustrated in Rural architecture, by John Plaw. 1794” in - Regency Georgian Architecture). There were four bedrooms on the first floor, and four attic rooms.
The two wings to the rear of this central block contained the domestic areas, from where the servants worked. The north wing contained two stories, while the south wing was originally only a single ground floor storey. These two wings contained the kitchen, scullery, butler’s pantry, servant’s hall and laundry. From the servant’s hall, a staircase allowed access to four bedrooms for servants above. In Georgian buildings, the domestic rooms were either located in a basement or, in large country mansions, were situated on the ground floor below the first-floor piano nobile, the main living rooms of the family. However, in small and medium-sized houses and villas, it was advised that they should be located at the back and built as low as possible so as not to hinder the views: “The Offices should be extended in a right Line from the building Northwards (proposing the Front a South Aspect) join'd only by a Corridore, and so low built, that the Vista's from the Chamber Windows might not be prevented being seen at the Ends of the House.” [Lectures on Architecture. Robert Morris. London, 1734.] The basement at Farringford contained the beer and wine cellars, a larder and a diary.
In the Cooke engraving, the artist has also included what seems to be a small two storey structure, incorporated into the south domestic wing. It is off-set from the building line of the south elevation of the domestic wing and occupies, coincidentally, almost the same position as Tennyson's later 1871 New Study. Part of it has been poorly drawn, as the line that represents the south east corner is missing and thus there is a confusing conflict of perspective. The stone stringcourse of the main house continues along the front of this structure. An arch of the blind arcade on the south elevation of the domestic wing can clearly be see at the western end of the wing and there is a similar blank arch in the structure itself. That these do not contain windows and are decorative, brick filled arches can be discerned by the artistic convention that Cooke has used for showing brickwork: the same broken line hatching used for brickwork has been used in the arches. Looking at a modern plan of Farringford, it will be noticed that there are two substantial cross walls in the south wing that correspond neatly with east and west walls of this strange structure. These cross walls can be explained as a thickening of the wall to allow the insertion of chimneys and certainly it is clear that at least one contained a chimney.
Charles Tennyson was uncertain about the position of the original drawing-room and dining room in relation to the front door, placing them in two contrary positions in two separate works. In a publication of 1976, he wrote, “ The present drawing room was not part of the original house. The entrance door of this was where the drawing-room fireplace now is, the present anteroom immediately to the south, being the original drawing room. When the new room was built, the entrance was moved round to the north, and the delightful colonnade built along the north front. The change had the odd result of giving the house three rooms on the ground floor, leading out of one another, but it greatly improved the house, for the old drawing room only looked on the copse to the south, while the new room, through its great windows 12 feet high by 16 feet broad, commands one of the most beautiful views in England, Mediterranean in its richness and charm. This was added before the Tennysons arrived, as it was this ‘new’ view which first attracted Emily .”
[Charles Tennyson: Farringford, Home of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson Society, 1976.]
However, in 1955, he had written, “A sketch of 1812 shows the drawing room to the right of the front door. Tennyson used this room as his dining room, as the cornice, fireplace, and doors are of superior decoration. Both the front rooms had two windows, the one facing north east through the alcove, the other east and south. The present drawing room contained two dummy windows on the outside, and it was proposed that the one on the north wall should be reopened. But the supposed buttress on the roof behind the dummy gable was a chimney. When they opened the wooden back of the central mass they found that it had in fact been a fireplace. The portico was moved out to where the window is and the front hall passage extended. A room or hall was made on the north side, and possibly another on the south. The alteration would have taken place between 1812 and 1853. Another possibility is that the present drawing room was originally an entrance hall, if so there would have been a fireplace at each end.”
[Charles Tennyson, The story of Farringford, formerly the home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. British Holiday Estates Ltd. Freshwater, 1955.]
After much correspondence and research, Rev. Millar rightly concluded, ” If we look at the sketch (in your book) of 1812, we enter the front door, and find the drawing-room on our right (not on the left as you suggest). My reason for this is that the room, which the Poet Laureate used as his dining-room, has far better decoration, both as regards the cornice, the fireplace and doors, than any other room on the ground floor. The room to the left of the front door was the dining room, since our ancestors always placed this room as far from the kitchen as possible, so as to avoid the smell of cooking. What is now the front hall would have been the study or work room where the Master of the House could interview his Retainers and the room which is now the Bar, would have been the Morning or Breakfast-room. Both the two front rooms had two windows, the drawing-room North and East through the alcove; the dining room, East and South. The East window through the present Drawing-room door & book shelves, which has now, unfortunately been blocked up .” [M. Corr. 1955 April 28] His conclusions are further supported by the typical floor plan of a house this size, suggested by John Plaw in his Rural Architecture of 1796 [see Regency Georgian Architecture]. In addition, the room measurements of the original house further confirm this (see Original House).
“ Some time before Tennyson acquired the house, there had been built on the east side where the original entrance had been, a large drawing room, and on the west there were two storied wings to house the kitchen and other offices, so that the house assured the shape of the capital letter ”U”. Along the northern front to which the entrance had been transferred when the drawing room was built, were erected a Strawberry Hill Gothic porch and long colonnade , …”
Charles Tennyson, Stars and Markets. Chatto & Windus, 1957.
“ An ancient Retainer led us through an outer and inner hall, lined with books, then through an anteroom full of engravings & etchings, & from it - through a closed door, into a sort of dark closet where, as we could dimly see, hung on a row of pegs, several familiar garments in long black folds, and as many large floppy felt hats.
A door on the opposite side brought us at last to our destination - a cosy little room filled like the others with books & pictures. ... The room was empty, but tea-things stood on the table. ...
He [Alfred Tennyson] made off through the door - Mrs. Coleridge following. We girls hesitated - but he came back to say "You come too" so we all trooped after him through the same dark closet - through the ante room, & from it into the drawing room - a large room - with bay windows looking on to the lawn .”
Visit to Freshwater April 1886 [Ella Coltman's journal] among the papers of Mary Coleridge, poet in Eton College Library.
At some point before 1819, the park around Farringford on its north and east side was created by engrossing a number of enclosures that had existed previous to it. These can be seen on the 1793 Ordnance Survey map. The new amalgamated ground was known as the “Lawn”.
29 April 1819 Bargain and Sale [Edward Rushworth papers Box 5]
... the said Catherine Rushworth ... Doth bargain and sell unto the said Robert Gibbs his executors Administrators and Assigns All that the Manor or Lordship or reputed Manor or Lordship of Freshwater otherwise Pryors Freshwater in the Isle of Wight aforesaid with the Rights Members and Appurtenances thereof And Also All That Messuage or Mansion house with the Offices and other Outbuildings Shrubberies and Gardens thereunto belonging commonly called or known by the name of Farringford Hill situate in the parish of Freshwater aforesaid and late in the occupation of Edward Rushworth deceased ... And also All Those Lands adjoining to the said Dwellinghouse and Garden hereinbefore described formerly divided into several inclosures and called or known by the respective names Newcastle, The Two Acres, The Four Acres, Lockery Cross Field, Barn Bull, Hither Prospect Ground, Bramble Hill, Warne Close and Dores Field but now thrown into one and called or known by the name of the Lawn containing by measure Twenty acres two roods and thirty five perches (be the same more or less) and now in occupation of the said Catherine Rushworth ...
1. The Honourable Catherine Rushworth of Farringford Hill in the Isle of Wight in the county of Southampton Widow
2. Robert Gibbs of Thorley Farm in the Isle of Wight Gentleman
“ In October 1817 Rushworth died and by early 1821 his widow had sold the estate to Henry Shepherd Pearson of Lymington Hampshire who, by 1825 [sic], had sold it to John Hambrough (1798-1861) of Pipewell Hall Northamptonshire .” [Malcolm Pinhorn and Robert Adams, Farringford before Tennyson, 1967]
In fact, Henry Pearson owned Farringford for only a couple of years before selling it to Hambrough in 1823[see Parish Poor Rate].