Rhinefield House has existed in its present form since the 1880´s, but there had been various lodges on the site since William the Conqueror hunted in what he named the New Forest in about 1097. It is believed that Charles I and Oliver Cromwell had their last meeting in the Lodge when Charles was en-route from prison on the Isle of Wight to his execution in Whitehall. In 1877 Rhinefield was given to Mrs Walker-Munro by her father on the occasion of her marriage. It remained in the possession of the family until 1950, when they were forced to sell to pay death duties.
There followed a period of uncertainty for Rhinefield during which several schemes for its viability were envisaged. The house became a private school for 10 years and in 1972, the freehold was purchased by Mr Oliver Cutts who carried out considerable refurbishment of the house and grounds until he fell out with the planning authority.
In 1982, it was bought by Nicholas Hotels, who developed Rhinefield into a hotel and luxury apartments, to be leased on a timeshare basis. Parts of the original cellars are incorporated into the leisure complex which includes an indoor pool, gym, sauna and spa pool, etc. The hotel accommodation and conference facilities occupy a new wing to the west of the house. Rhinefield is now owned by Hand Picked Hotels who have achieved 4* status for the hotel, as well as 2 red rosettes for the restaurant.
In the Armada Restaurant you will find a magnificent carving of the Armada set in the fireplace. This took nine years to complete and was carved out of one solid block of oak some 4ft thick. It provides the perfect backdrop to the masterpieces created by Chef and his team who delight in choosing only the finest ingredients to provide mouth-watering food complemented by a wide selection of fine wines.
The Alhambra Room, originally created by Mabel Walker-Munro as a gentleman´s smoking room for her husband, is now a private dining room. Designed as an exact replica of a room in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, it is elaborately embellished with onyx from Persia, magnificent copper and bronze, and hand-cut mosaic tiles.
Although Rhinefield House has existed in its present form since the 1880´s there have been dwellings on the site since the New Forest was first named by William the Conqueror in about 1097. To him the forest represented an area, conveniently close to his capital of Winchester, in which he could pursue his favourite sport of hunting. The creation of a Royal hunting preserve placed the area under Forest Law which curtailed the liberty of the indigenous peasants and threatened drastic punishment for interference with the potential quarry of their environment. Since this law precluded fencing, which would obstruct the free run of the game, domestic animals were allowed extensive grazing rights, which exist to this day. The forest was divided for administrative purposes into areas and walks, each supervised by a keeper (an office rather more exalted than its modern equivalent).
A large Master Keeper´s Lodge stood in Rhinefield Walk, and in 1628 the records show that the Earl of Holland authorized a sum of money to Woodward (H.M Keeper of the Timbers) to carry out work on the Great Rhinefield Lodge, as it was then called. The use of the Forest as an exclusive hunting ground waned during the reign of Charles II and the office of Keeper of the Walk became a Grace and Favour appointment. In 1789, Colonel Haywood, Deputy Warden, occupied the lodge and spent £530 on improvements.
By 1859 Rhinefield had become the home of a Forest Nurseryman who was responsible for the creation of the Ornamental Drive, famous for its colourful azaleas and rhododendrons, and the planting of many huge conifers in the grounds. Many of the Crown Lands were privatised in 1877. Grace and Favour appointments lapsed and vacant lodges were leased to private individuals. Rhinefield passed to the hands of the Walker family, which owned Eastwood Colliery, which has been immortalised in the novels of D.H.Lawrence.
In 1885 the only daughter of the family became engaged to a Lieutenant Munro RN, and her father´s engagement present was £250,000 with which to build a family home at Rhinefield. After their marriage in 1887 the couple adopted the name Walker-Munro and supervised the construction of an impressive countryseat comprising the Great House, a hunting lodge, stables, gardener´s bothy and a gate lodge. (There was even enough change left over to build a modest beach-hut which is best known today as the White House at Milford on Sea).
The oldest part of the house appears to be the fire-back in the central Grand Hall, which bears the date 1653. The previous lodge was demolished to make way for the present house, although the materials were carefully preserved and used in the construction of the present hunting lodge. The Great House designed by architects Romaine-Walker and Tanner of London incorporates a mixture of styles, both externally and internally, reflecting the personal tastes which the Walker-Munro´s acquired in their travels. Thus Tudor combines with Gothic architecture, while inside the Great Hall has many features of Westminster Hall and the master´s smoking room reproduces the splendour of the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Opinions of this mixture vary, but there can be no doubting the craftsmanship, which went into the construction. The house abounds with supreme examples of the art of wood carvers, stone masons, sculptors, plasterers, coppersmiths and even loo makers!
The Alhambra room alone took the Spanish workmen, who were bought over specifically for the purpose, two years to build. Other notable features are the Armada carving by Aumonnier with a surrounding by Grinling Gibbons, a ceiling canvas by Fragonnard, and the magnificent wood panelling throughout the house. The Orchestrium which occupies the organ loft is, sadly, not working and the manual is no longer in the Minstrel´s Gallery. Most of the original features of the house have been retained during the refurbishment and conversion. The Armada room is now the restaurant while the Alhambra room forms an extension to the Armada dining room. The principle bedrooms of the house are now two luxurious suites, and the timeshare apartments occupy the east wing, which were formerly the daughters´ and guest suites and servant quarters. Parts of the original cellars are incorporated into the leisure complex which includes an indoor pool, gym, sauna and spa pool, etc. The hotel accommodation occupies a new wing to the west of the house.
The grounds of Rhinefield are also a mixture: they encompass the type of informal woodland in which native forest trees jostle with more spectacular imports such as the giant redwoods, and the formal terraces, lawns and water features reminiscent of the great French and Italian gardens. Part of the refurbishment program has been the reinstatement of the gardens to their original splendour, helped and encouraged by the Hampshire Garden Trust who fortunately has plans and photographs of the original layout. The present owners are confident that, with the completion of the planned program of refurbishment and modification, they will have achieved the twin aims of restoring Rhinefield House to a condition worthy of its magnificent New Forest setting and providing unrivalled facilities for both business and pleasure in luxurious surroundings.
The Great House contains four suites for the four daughters who were part of the family plan to which Mother Nature was unfortunately not privy, since the lady of the house gave birth to a son in 1889. Her frustration, aggravated by the news that she could not bear another child, was to be a dominant influence on the family´s future. His mother took little part in her unfortunate son´s early upbringing which was left largely to servants. After a public school education and service with the army in France during World War 1, Major lan Walker-Munro emigrated to Kenya to become a farmer with financial assistance from his father. He married in 1919 and had four sons.
Controversy seemed to follow the Walker-Munro family. For example, they styled themselves "Lord of the Manor at Rhinefield", a wholly fictitious title which bought them into conflict with another local family, the Morants, who were official Lords of the Manor of Brockenhurst and Rhinefield. Their mutual antipathy even extended to a refusal to worship in the same church and in 1903 the Walker-Munros decided to build a church of their own (now St Saviours by the Watersplash in Brockenhurst). However this venture was short lived as Mrs Walker-Munro quarrelled with the incumbent, a relative whom they had themselves installed in the living, and work ceased.
The full significance of this only became apparent on the death of the husband in 1923. The church being unfinished, was not licensed for burials so, rather than let him lie near the Morants, she buried him in a copse on Ober farm, which at the time was the home farm. Mrs Walker-Munro was now a very wealthy woman and became the benefactress of many charities, to which she intended to leave her fortune to the exclusion of her estranged son. However, even this plan misfired. Having revoked one will and not signed its replacement, she died, effectively intestate and the unthinkable happened - the whole estate passed to her son. Frustrated to the end, she joined her husband in the Ober Farm in 1934. Rhinefield remained in the her family until after the death of her son in 1950 when crippling death duties forced his widow to dispose of it.