It is not known when the original Tedworth House was built, but it is known that when Thomas Smith bought the Estate in 1650 a substantial, fine country residence was already well established. John Smith, the grandson of Thomas, became the third of the Smith dynasty to own the House. He was to become a famous political figure entertaining the rich, powerful and famous at Tedworth House. John Smith was MP for Beeralston in Devonshire in 1691 and then Andover in 1695. He became Lord of the Treasury in 1694 just before the opening of the Bank of England, Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1699 and Speaker of the House in 1705. Queen Anne made him the gift of a 47,000 acre estate in Snowdonia. This included the Llanberry slate mine from which he derived a considerable income. Almost all of the slate roof tiles in Tidworth were imported from these mines.
A series of Smith heirs continued to inherit the House until William Smith, an Army Captain, died without an heir in 1773. It was his sister Harriet who provided hereditary continuity when she married Thomas Assheton, the Governor of Chester Castle, at South Tedworth Church in 1724. Out of respect for the long line of Smiths, Thomas Assheton adopted the family name, becoming Thomas Assheton-Smith. On marriage, he also took over the Snowdonia estate and its very lucrative slate mines. In due course his son, Thomas Assheton-Smith II inherited the estates. A formidable character, he was a keen sportsman and hunter of renown. Like his predecessor, he too became MP for Andover as well as Squire of Tidworth. Later he became Lord Lieutenant for Caernarvon. Thomas and his wife had 8 children, 5 daughters and 3 sons. One of his sons distinguished himself at the Battle of Trafalgar as a Royal Navy Officer but died at sea a few years later. Thomas Assheton-Smith II died aged 77 in 1828 and his son Thomas Assheton-Smith III (1776 -1858) then arranged for the virtual demolition of Tedworth House which was rebuilt to his specification. It is largely this house, rebuilt between 1828 and 1830, that stands today.
Just up the road from the House, Assheton-Smith III built the impressive Stable building in a hollow square to house his Hunt, which became one of the most famous in the country. By 1845 it housed 50 horses and 400 hounds. He was a brilliant horseman and sportsman and cleared vast tracts of land for the use of his hunt, laying the foundation of what we know today as Salisbury Plain. He eventually opened up 400 square miles of hunting country around Tidworth and it is known that, in 1830, he would go up to London in a carriage pulled by six horses in the early morning to attend Parliament and return after lunch to ride with the Hunt.
In 1845 a private gas works was installed close to Home Farm for lighting the house. All that remains of this is a cupboard containing valves which controlled the supply. The Duke of Wellington was a regular visitor to the house and as an accomplished billiards player he had many close matches with his host. Said at that time to be the richest commoner in the country he had an annual income equivalent in today’s rates of £1M per year, most of which came from his Welsh quarries which produced 1.2M tons of slate a year.
Assheton-Smith III died in 1858 aged 82 and was buried in Tidworth. He was known as the foremost horseman in the country and was Master of Hounds for 50 years, cutting the brush from 1500 foxes with his pocket knife. As Assheton-Smith III died childless his estate was split up; the house was left to his favourite Godson Francis Sloane Stanley and the Welsh estates to his nephew George William Duff. Thus ended the 200 years of the Smith dynasty.
The new owner declined to move to Tidworth and let the Estate to a series of wealthy and distinguished tenants including Lord Broughton who became a Cabinet minister and Secretary for Ireland. The next tenant was Edward Studd, a rich planter recently returned from India. He stabled 20 racehorses in Tidworth and built a racetrack in Tedworth Park. He trained the 1866 Grand National winner Salamander which came in at 40-1. Edward Studd’s life underwent a fundamental change when he attended an evangelist meeting in 1876. He sold his horses and much of his furniture and became an evangelist preacher.
In 1877, Stanley put the House up for sale and it was bought along with the 6,600 acre estate by Sir John Kelk, a renowned civil engineer who had just sold his previous estate at Bentley Priory, (which became famous as the Command centre for RAF Fighter Command in World War II). Kelk planned major alterations : In 1878, using a workforce of 200 men, he restructured the house and also planted the magnificent rows of Lime trees which stand today. He also built St Mary’s church, which was used as the South Tidworth village church until it was declared redundant on 1 Sept 1972 when the parishes of North and South Tidworth were joined ecclesiastically.
In the house, new facings of Portland Stone were used extensively around the building together with ornate stone work around the windows. Kelk also installed the magnificent stained glass windows in the outer and central halls; each section containing scenes of birds, animals, insects and fish. The North facing windows in both halls contain the Kelk coat of arms in full colour. Kelk also added the carriage porch to the North side. He died in 1886 and was succeeded by his son, Sir John William Kelk, the second Baronet.
Sir John William Kelk sold the estate to the War Office in 1897, consisting of 6,616 acres of land including Tedworth House, 13 farms, 8 farmhouses, 107 cottages, and the Ram Inn Pub. For this, he received £95,000. At the same time, for the sum of £450,000, the War Office purchased 40,000 acres of Salisbury Plain for military training.
Tedworth House was handed over to the newly appointed Commanding Royal Engineer, Salisbury Plain, Col R M Barclie, who located his Staff and the Drawing Office there while he supervised the building of the new Barracks.
Tedworth House and its beautiful parkland, have played a full part in Tidworth’s military life, with horses continuing to feature prominently: The park continued to provide a venue for the Meet of the Tedworth Hounds and the first Southern Command Horse Show was held there in 1927. The Army Horse Trials were first held in 1952, but discontinued in 2002.
Polo has been associated with the Park since the arrival of the first cavalry regiments, with Garrison troops themselves levelling the pitches, one of which still bears the name of the Commander of the Cavalry Brigade, Brigadier B D Fisher, CB, CMG, DSO. Polo matches are still played in the Park today, with the Tidworth Polo Club hosting one of the most important fixtures on the polo calendar, when teams from the Army and the Royal Navy compete for the Rundle Cup. The Royal Navy has often been able to count HRH The Prince of Wales and members of his family among its team members.
The House has also witnessed the Tidworth Tattoos, which took place on the polo ground in front of the house. Beginning in a small way in 1920, with searchlights installed on the roof of the house, the Tattoos quickly grew to rival those held in Edinburgh and Aldershot in popularity. These International Tattoos continued until 1972. Special Tattoos were held to mark the Millennium in 2000 and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.
During the second World War, Tidworth was an American base and Tedworth House became the Red Cross Club, run by Mrs Theodore Roosevelt Jr, from where, (it is rumoured), hamburgers and ‘donuts’ were first introduced into this country! In 1944, Theodore Roosevelt Jr was the first Allied general officer to wade ashore on the Normandy beachhead with the US 1st Infantry Division.
The house has been home to Army Nurses from the Tidworth Military Hospital in Candahar Barracks before becoming the Garrison Officers’ Mess. It has hosted balls, meetings, receptions – and has also played its part on the international political stage, providing a venue for the signing of an Anglo-French military agreement in the 1990s and an Anglo-Dutch Bi-lateral Agreement in 1998.
On 18th February 2011, Tedworth House ceased to be the Garrison Officers’ Mess and a new chapter in its history began …
Tedworth House is now a Recovery Centre for wounded, sick and injured Servicemen. For further information, click on the links below :