The Hermitage at Middlecroft has some stories of monks, ghosts and tunnels firmly established in local memory. Some people think that the site was a monastic settlement or grange attached to Quarr Abbey in the Isle of Wight. A small community of monks may have occupied the site to look after St. Ann’s Well, which was in Brockhurst Road opposite the junction of Ann’s Hill Road. This has not been verified by any written source. The myth of a tunnel connecting the site to Alverstoke church hinges on the discovery of a part of this mysterious ‘tunnel’ when Southcroft Road was dug up in the 1930s by the Gas Board to improve services. It is likely that this brick-lined tunnel was just an old sewer or drain. Why would anyone need a tunnel to Alverstoke from there?
A Board of Ordnance map dated 1774 and another of 1783 shows the whole area lying either side of Ann’s Hill Road as farm land with a lane (now Middlecroft Lane) clearly marked, turning south to where the Hermitage is today.
At the end of the 18th century the Hermitage land was purchased by John Collins, a prosperous builder/brick maker. The land was to remain in the same family for over one hundred years. He excavated part of the site for ‘brickearth’ a common practice all over Gosport.
The 1857 the ordnance survey map shows the building and what looks like a garden, now called ‘The Hermitage’, with an orchard planted on the east side of the garden next to the lane and other trees around the house. On the 1841 Tithe Map, the two parcels of land to the west, abutting on the Parish Boundary, are registered as arable. Thus the Hermitage appeared to be a ‘small holding’ and was to remain so until after the Second World War.
John Collins’ granddaughter Maria Vigar died in 1884 and the property was taken over by John O’Halleran Webb, a master miller, from Middlesex who had been living at the Hermitage for over ten years, as shown by the 1871 and the 1881 census returns.
The Brockhurst Millers and The Hermitage.
The Master Miller at Brockhurst was William Vigar. He lived in The Hermitage at Middlecroft. One map refers to the Middle Croft Lane as ‘Vigar’s Lane’.
William left The Hermitage to his wife Mary Vigar in 1818. Their son John became Miller at Brockhurst Mill. John Vigar was made ‘Hayward’ of Alverstoke from 1835 to 1850 by the Alverstoke Leet. He owned the Brockhurst Mill with its bakehouse, piggeries and stables and the Vigar’s cottages on the corner of Mill Road and Forton Road. Corn millers continued to live at The Hermitage until the 1870s. Mary Vigar died in 1854. She left her properties to her daughter Maria and then after her to her son. George who was the Miller at Brockhurst.
John Vigar died shortly after his mother Mary in 1854 aged 62. John O’Halleran Webb, Master Miller, lived in The Hermitage at Middlecroft according to the 1871 and 1881 census. He took over from George Vigar as miller.
The later years
Between 1896 and 1901 Mr Webb died and by 1907 Leopold Jerome is listed in Kelly’s Directory as the owner . Mr Montague Foster purchased the Hermitage from Mr Webb’s executors and the two larger pieces of land to the west were separated from the Hermitage and its garden. In the early 1930’s Mr. A. White started to build the Southcroft Farm Estate surrounding the house with bungalows but leaving the garden as a haven of peace within the estate.
The Wildlife Garden
In the 1980’s the orchard became overgrown and the land was sold off for development. The house remained separate. Following a lengthy campaign by local residents and Gosport Borough Council the land was saved from development and in 1995 it became a protected Open Space owned by the Council. The gardens consist of a winding path following a circular route through different areas of wild planting and trees, with a small pond and several quiet seated areas. Interpretation boards explain the wildlife to be discovered and identify the trees and plants
Read more here:
Hermitage Wildlife Gardens