Architectural history

Thatched cottages

Architecture through the ages

The architectural history of the New Forest National Park reflects the materials that were available to people at the time. The absence of building stone, chalk and flint stone controlled the amount of development, and the earliest buildings were constructed from the plentiful local supplies of timber, earth and gravel. The materials and design of buildings did not change until the onset of tile and brick industries in the late 15th century.

Royal Hunting Lodges

The stone fragments of former royal hunting lodges deep in the Forest are the earliest surviving buildings, dating from the 13th to 15th centuries. Many of the lodges were constructed of timber frame with plaster infill and slate roof.  Each was surrounded by earthworks or palisades to provide protection from thieves, undesirables and livestock.

Medieval churches

The seven medieval churches in the New Forest often started as chapels attached to the local manor. St Nicholas’ Church in Brockenhurst is considered to be the oldest church as Brockenhurst is the only New Forest village for which a church was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 AD.  

Lyndhurst’s Royal Manor

The village of Lyndhurst is regarded as the ancient capital of the New Forest, and the Queen’s House (known as the King’s House if the monarch is male) was the royal manor in the middle of the hunting forest. What can be seen of Queen’s House today dates from the late 1600s, but it also contains some medieval and Tudor material.


The social history of the New Forest and its reliance on commoning ensured the poverty of the local population.  Although some fine houses still exist, many of the domestic buildings that have survived are humble hovels - little cob cottages with thatched roofs.  

Cob was made from earth or clay and gravel puddled together on the ground with water, to which binding materials such as straw or dung were added. The walls were built in stages as each ‘lift’ had to be allowed to dry before more cob could be added.  Foundations were shallow (many hovels had none) and made of rubble. Roof structures were basic timber and pole rafters gathered from the Forest. Windows were small and few.

Cob buildings were a community effort and were not expected to last indefinitely as the materials could be broken down and reused in a new building. The Forest people who laboured to build the hovels would probably be surprised to know that their homes have survived until now, and that they have great architectural and historical importance.

Country Estates

Beaulieu is thought to be the oldest continuously functioning estate in the New Forest, transferring into secular control in 1538 after the dissolution of the monasteries.  

Some buildings around Beaulieu used limestone taken from the abbey after its monastic buildings were demolished. The village’s small but densely packed High Street contains mellow and quite sophisticated 17th and 18th century houses that are evidence of the Estate’s longstanding prosperity.

Another ancient estate is Newhouse (1609) near Redlynch, with one family line of inheritance from 1633 to the present day. Newhouse was designed in a Y-shape to represent the three arms of the trinity and is one of only two ‘trinity’ houses in Britain. The Hinton Admiral Estate dates from 1720 and was followed by the Pylewell, Exbury, Cadland, Hale, Warrens and Hamptworth Estates.

Fashionable Development in the 1800s

Country houses designed by major architects such as Sir John Soane and John Nash were built near Lyndhurst in the 1700s, preceding fashionable developments in other Forest villages from the 1850s onwards.  

Wealthy gentlemen bought land and built country residences sited within grounds landscaped to look like parkland.  Villages such as Burley, Minstead and Boldre were popular because they were further away from the new railway lines and were therefore considered more exclusive.  

Well-known architects also gained commissions to design local churches for growing populations: good examples can be seen at Emery Down (designed by Butterfield), Brockenhurst (Romaine-Walker) and Lyndhurst (William White).

Peterson’s Folly

One notable New Forest landmark is Peterson’s Folly at Sway. Built in 1879 by retired judge Andrew Peterson as a monument to himself, the 66 metre (218ft) high tower is made from unreinforced concrete and is now a listed building.

Victorian Villas

Towards the end of the 19th century, the middle classes became wealthier and were attracted to move away from towns and cities to the more healthy countryside.

Red-brick villas appeared in the New Forest in great numbers, especially in the north-east area near Southampton. Some of these traditional and simple houses near the open Forest still operate as commoners’ holdings.

Squatters’ Shacks

Several Forest villages were first settled by squatters, for example East Boldre, Woodgreen, Blissford and Bull Hill at Pilley. Some of their cabins or shacks still survive: built of makeshift materials such as timber or corrugated iron, they have a unique charm.

Since World War II

Since the end of the World War II, pressure has increased for ever larger buildings in and around the New Forest.

Architects face the challenge of designing buildings that are recognisably of their day while respecting the long history of building in the New Forest.


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