A CENTURY ago, Southampton had many grand houses on its outskirts, but times have changed from the grand days of the aristocracy and many of these houses and the elegant lifestyles that lived within them have long since disappeared.

Townhill Park is the last remaining grand country house in Southampton.

Originally a farmhouse, and then a gentleman’s residence, Townhill Park House was bought by the family of Lord Swaythling in 1897 on the marriage of the eldest son and heir, Louis Montagu.

As a show of love for his beautiful bride, Louis requested the house be enlarged and improved for Lady Gladys. The splendid panelled hall was built as a music room for her and the house was furnished with exquisite antiques and valuable paintings. In 1912 the improvements continued out into the grounds as Louis commissioned eminent architect, Leonard Rome Guthrie, in collaboration with one of the greatest English garden designers, Gertrude Jekyll, to create the beautiful garden for Lady Gladys.

Within the house an army of servants, maids, footmen and cooks, made the luxurious lifestyle of the family possible, while in the grounds twentyfive gardeners were employed to tend to the garden, alongside garden-boys, earning 37p a week, who swept leaves, pushed wheelbarrows, and trapped rats for 2p a tail.

Lord and Lady Swaythling entertained lavishly. The years before the First World War saw the heady days of country house weekends, shooting parties, elegant dances, and even visits by Queen Mary and Princess Alice.

The Swaythlings had three sons and a daughter. Their eldest Stuart became the third Lord Swaythling in 1927, while Ewen served in naval intelligence during the Second World War, and Ivor became a Communist and worked in films with Alfred Hitchcock.

Their only daughter, Joyce, married a wealthy husband and went to live in Wiltshire.

Country-house life at Townhill Park House ended with the Second World War. Lord Stuart, who had become Third Baron Swaythling in 1927, loaned the house to the Red Cross as a convalescent home for soldiers, before selling the property to Southampton Council for housing development after the war in 1948.

The house then took up many other different forms, serving as a boarding school for disabled girls and later as a hostel for Merchant Navy cadets, but when Townhill Park House became a conference centre the grounds became neglected and fell into decay.

However, when the Gregg School bought the estate in 1994, both house and gardens received Grade II Listed status, and restoration work had to be undertaken.

A group of volunteers, with the help of Hampshire Gardens Trust, undertook the arduous task, and they have now been returned to their former glory. The public are invited to celebrate the garden’s centenary on Sunday between 2-5pm. The special celebration of the garden’s centenary is being marked by the installation of a new archway to the garden, with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by Gilly Drummond, Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire, taking place at 3pm.