This beautiful building has a lot of history. It was most recently a Care Home, which was closed in 2016 after damming reports on the quality of care and treatment of patients. Since then it has been abandoned and fallen into the decayed state it’s in today. The care home is one of the most interesting and largest abandoned places to explore in Hampshire. This has made it a very popular location for Urban Explorers, and unfortunately this, along with the length of time the building has been left derelict mean it is crumbling into disrepair. Read on to discover this building’s fascinating history as a home and a school, its tragic fire, its scandalous years as a care home, why it is a top Urbex location in Hampshire today, and what the future holds.
History of Westbury House
Westbury House was originally built in the 18th Century. In 1747 it was purchased by Sir Peter Warren, a successful Irish naval officer who commanded British forces in the attack on the French fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. He married a wealthy American- their combined wealth enabled them to build Westbury as a Palladian mansion and develop the gardens significantly. Westbury passed to Sir Peter Warren’s granddaughter, Suzannah Warren, who was married to her cousin, Viscount Gage.
In the middle of the 19th century , opera singer Adelaide Sartoris and her husband Edward lived in the home. The Gage family sold the house to John Delaware Lewis, an English Liberal Party politician in 1866. He then passed ownership onto his second-cousin, Colonel Le Roy Lewis, who lived in the house during a dramatic and devastating fire in 1904.
During the fire, which almost completely destroyed the mansion, the family and 30 servants escaped. Tragically, however, Jane Henley died on the roof due to shock. The Times, on 24th November 1904 reported:
“In this disastrous fire which destroyed a Hampshire Mansion, it was through the strenuous efforts of the owner, Colonel Le Roy-Lewis, that his wife, five children and some 30 servants were all saved.
A fire, which resulted in the almost total destruction of Westbury House, West Meon, near Petersfield, the residence of Colonel Le Roy-Lewis D.S.O, occurred early yesterday morning. Owing to the efforts of Colonel Le Roy-Lewis himself, no lives were lost by fire, but the housekeeper, an elderly woman named Jane Henley, who had been in the service of the family for many years, died on the roof from shock and fright before she could be rescued. The cook, whose name is Hall, jumped from the roof in her fright and broke her wrist. She was removed to Winchester Hospital.
The escape of the occupants was most exciting. The French governess, who occupied a bedroom at the rear of the main part of the house, raised the alarm at about 3am. Her cries were heard by Colonel Le Roy-Lewis, who immediately did what he could to rouse the family. Rushing out of his bedroom he found the staircase burning and the corridors filled with smoke, and all means of escape cut off. His first impulse was to save his five children ,and he ran through the flames to the children’s wing and found that that part of the house was safe. Getting out of a window, he scrambled along a narrow ledge to a stack pipe, down which he slid to the ground, a distance of about 40 ft. He rushed to the stables, and with some difficulty roused the stablemen, and with the aid of three of them tried to raise a heavy ladder to the French governess’ window, but it fell and broke.
A messenger was despatched to Petersfield on a bicycle, some eight and a half miles distant, and the Petersfield Fire Brigade arrived about 6 o’clock, but they could do no more than play on the burning building and prevent the fire from spreading to the childrens’ wing, a new part of the house which had only been built some three years.
The mansion itself is an old one, standing in a well-wooded park of 500 acres, and is in the Queen Anne style. It contained many fine pictures and some rich carving by Gibbons. Most of the rooms were wainscotted in oak, and there was a fine library. All these have been destroyed, only a few articles of furniture being saved. The family lost all their personal belongings.”
Colonel Le Roy Lewis was quick to rebuild the house, with no expense spared, creating the building that stands on the site today. In 1924 the house was turned into a preparatory school for boys. This school closed in the 1970s, making way for the house to be used as a care home.
The Care Home
Westbury House Nursing Home was opened in 1982. It provided accommodation and care for up to 70 people at a time, and catered for people with brain injuries or illnesses affecting the nervous system. It had an occupational therapy facility and charged residents between £600 and £800 a week. In 2016 the Care Quality Commission rated the care given as “inadequate” and stated that the care home “posted a significant threat to people’s health and wellbeing.” The care home was shut down and left abandoned. However, this was not the end of the scandal. In 2019 it was widely reported that confidential and sensitive patient files had been left in the property. These were cleared in 2020.
Today- An Urban Explorer’s Paradise
Westbury House is fascinating to explore. From the basement to the roof it is a paradise for Urban Explorers. The grand library and games room, haunting mirror, winding staircases and tall ceilings hint at the grandeur of the building in its heyday. Seeing patient’s rooms, wheelchairs and other medical equipment brought about a sobering mood. There is water damage to some floorboards, so care needs to be taken on upper floors. The building is very popular with Urban Explorers- we saw two other groups during our visit.
The owner of Westbury House, Dr Usha Naqvi, has submitted plans for the building to be demolished and replaced with 10 modern houses. A final decision on this application has not yet been made, however it is likely that the plans will change rather the be accepted, as the local council has advised that building 10 new homes in such a rural area may not meet planning policy.
“At present, it is considered they would be contrary to the strategic policies in the South Downs Local Plan in particular having regard to the replacement dwellings policy and the number of new open market dwellings within designated countryside.
Any future scope for new dwellings within a country estate approach would need to be justified in terms of robust viability evidence, design rationale and the landscape and cultural heritage enhancements which could be achieved.”