The Manor House & Chapel
There is evidence of human settlement at Embley for over a thousand years. However, much of the main building was originally constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1825, the Nightingale family took possession of the estate and made substantial changes to the Manor House with the creation of the West Wing, a new porch on the north side of the House and a bay and balcony which extends almost the entire length of the front of the house. Over the past half century, the internal arrangements have changed in order for the main building to be used as a school and boarding house. The Florence Nightingale Chapel was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester on 14 November 1953.
Inside the Manor House
On entering the house, the hallway is dominated by an oak staircase. The array of stags’ heads above is a reminder that the estate was considered to be one of the finest in the country for country sporting pursuits including hunting, shooting and fishing.
Off the hallway to the right is what used to be a billiard room (now the Nightingale Room) followed by the Drawing Room (now used as a meeting space and known as the Old Library). To the left of the hallway was the dining room with its vaulted domed ceiling. This room now serves as the main school library.
Down the hallway from the main entrance is what was William Nightingale’s library (now the Headmaster’s Drawing Room). The most notable feature of this room is the hidden door. This was covered and painted in the same style as the shelves either side of it, so as to conceal its true nature. Close inspection reveals Mr Nightingale’s impish sense of humour, for the titles there include Leather on Woods, Tales of the Doorway, Oaths Not Binding and Optical Delusions. The hidden door leads into what was then known as the garden room, described by Florence in 1839 as “one of the prettiest in the house, both as to paper and to everything.” It is now the Headmaster’s study.
Gardens and grounds
The 1825 sale particulars record that 1,300 acres were planted, criss-crossed by many miles of gravel drives. There was a walled garden, a grotto and a pyramidical fountain. The Nightingales introduced the Wild Gardens, with their Long and Short Walks and were stocked with species which are still rare. At the top of the Long Walk stands the semi-circular stone seat popularly known today as ‘Cromwell’s Seat’ – so called because it was reputedly brought here by the Heathcotes from Hursley. Richard Cromwell, son of Lord Protector Oliver, was a former owner of Hursley Park.
The most potent myth concerning the Embley grounds is that Florence Nightingale was seated beneath one of the giant cedars of Lebanon (towards the swimming pool) when she received the first of her callings from God on 7 February 1837.