The name ‘Stanbridge’ is believed to have derived from ‘Stone Bridge’ a crossing over the River Test, used as a route to a Saxon palace near Andover. One of the first references to the site was made by King Alfred’s tutor. He wrote that Alfred’s father, King Æthelwulf ‘was dead and buried at a place called Stomrugam’ in around AD 857.
At some time in the 1700s, a skeleton, thought to be that of King Ethelwulf, was lifted from under the stone floor of the present chapel and reburied in Winchester Cathedral, along with bones of other Saxon Kings that are now contained in mortuary chests.
An unnamed manor, thought to be Stanbridge, is described in the Domesday Book. It was confiscated from a Saxon thane, Chief Cheping, who may have been killed at the Battle of Hastings, and given to one of William the Conqueror’s most famous generals, Sir Ralph de Mortimer.
The ‘Manor of Staunbridge’ is recorded in the ‘Book of Fees’ of 1244 as being owned by the Mortimer family. In 1245 it was sold in two lots and the manor was bought by Richard de Havering.
In 1362, Thomas Kenne inherited property from his parents, including Stanbridge Earls. The estate consisted of a large, rectangular, timber framed hall house, a water mill and about 26 acres of land.
By 1450, the original estate had been split into three separate estates, Stanbridge Earls, Ranvilles and Ervilles. They were purchased and reunited by John Kirkby. The estate became wealthy and the son, William, ‘married well’ and bought more land.
The Kirkbys owned Stanbridge Earls until it was taken from them in 1652 because they had supported King Charles 1 during the Civil War. By then, the estate consisted of ‘…sixteen messuages (houses with outbuildings and land), four cottages, twenty barns, two water mills and one dove house in Stanbridge, Romsey, Roke, Michelmarsh and Awbridge and also free fishing in the River Test.’. Its new owner, Roger Gollop, was a Parliamentarian and magistrate of Southampton.
The estate was passed down the family until it was sold to John Fifield in 1703. An eccentric relative, John Fifield, inherited it in 1748. He refused to let any timber be felled on any of the properties, and he regarded repairs to the house as useless extravagance. The building fell into disrepair. Roofs collapsed, joists and beams rotted.
Fifield’s son, another John, set about rebuilding the house after he inherited it. His son-in-law, Charles Hall, took over the estates until he committed suicide at Stanbridge Earls in 1870. In the following year, Florence Nightingale’s father, William, bought Stanbridge. The property passed to another daughter, Lady Verney who sold it to Sir Basil Montogomery in 1895. Like previous owners, Sir Basil added new sections including two three-storey wings at either end. The house was sold to Henry Hansard in 1905. He commissioned the stained glass coats-of-arms in the present staff common room.
Lord Greenway, perhaps the most flamboyant of Stanbridge’s owners, bought Stanbridge in 1917. He was a great host, held many banquets and parties in the house, and employed nine house staff, seven gardeners and a chauffeur. The next owner added luxurious bathrooms and entertained on a grand scale but went bankrupt
In 1942, during the Second World War, Stanbridge Earls became the first ‘Flak Shack’ - a rest and relaxation home for American Air Force Officers. Roke Manor served a similar function, and together the bases were known as Station 503. In the same year, the estate was broken into lots and auctioned. Walter Hutchinson bought the house and around 60 acres.
On Hutchinson’s death in 1950, a Mr Beisley bought ‘…The particularly desirable and extremely valuable historic residence and agricultural estate of nearly 426 acres with an attractive XV11th century residence of great charm and character and beautifully situated in timbered grounds with two lodges.’
Stanbridge Earls became a school founded by a charitable trust in 1952.