There’s more behind the village of Hursley and The King’s Head then just bricks and mortar. Home to bishops, knights and kings, rumours suppose that the inn even received it’s name, The King’s Head, from the village’s close connection to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. Since then Hursley’s history is a tale of kingly proportions that involves rich heiresses, valiant war efforts and one of Britain’s biggest aviation icons. Let us tell it to you…
Hursley and The Cromwells
The Hursley Estate passed into the hands of Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver, in 1649. This wasn’t its first kingly connection – previous owners included Bishop of Winchester Henry de Blois, half brother to the last Norman King of England and grandson of William the Conqueror, and King Edward VII. It was in 1658, upon the death of his father and during his time at Hursley that Richard Cromwell himself became Lord Protector of the Realm adding another English ruler to the list. The family continued to own the estate until 1718.
The first King’s Head
Sir William Heathcote bought the Manor and Park of Hursley from Oliver’s granddaughters, Elizabeth and Anne Cromwell. It was Sir William who pulled down the old mansion house, by then in ruins, and built a Queen Anne style house in its place, much of which can still be seen today. Hursley remained with the Heathcote family for 181 years before they sold it in 1888 to Joseph W Baxendale for a cool £150,000. Today, he might be expected to pay in the region of £80 million. It was in their tenure that the original coaching inn was built on the site of The King’s Head in around 1810.
Heiresses, hospitals and war
George Cooper and his American heiress wife Mary bought the Hursley Estate in 1902. Lady Mary Cooper had inherited an immense fortune from her uncle and they already owned an estate in Scotland and a house in Grosvenor Square where the US Embassy now stands. During the First World War the family gave generously to the war effort donating £5 million, the largest private donation of its kind. Also, during the war, Lady Cooper founded the American hospital in Hursley Park. By the outbreak of the Second World War, the Estate employed around 200 people – almost all of the village.
The birth of the Spitfire
When Sir George died in 1940, the Hurlsey Estate house was requisitioned by Lord Beaverbrook and used by the design staff of Vickers Supermarine, creators of the historic Spitfire fighter-plane, who had been bombed-out of their Southampton base. The control centre of the Spitfire programme was located at Hursley House for the duration of the war. They produced over 85,000 aircraft spread over 65 different sites across the South Coast. The Supermarine design office continued at Hursley House post-war until 1957 when the staff re-located to South Marston in Hampshire. Hursley House was purchased in 1958 by IBM and the house and its grounds were used to home development laboratories.
Although today IBM still own the house and immediate parkland, the main estate is now under the ownership of several different families – each one proud of Hursley’s esteemed history and many regulars with us here at The King’s Head.