Merry Gardens was an orchard and tea garden, and the location of Woodgreen’s infamous Merrie Sundays “which occurred when the Merry Trees were full of fruit. These were a species of black cherry, sweet and juicy, and people came from miles around to eat their fill. The days always ended in drinking and fighting until a clergyman of the neighbourhood was so shocked at the proceedings that he bought up the Merry Garden and stopped the ‘Sundays’”.
It Happened in Hampshire, 1936.

Location and extent of Merry Gardens in 1875

The shocked clergyman was Henry Hinxman (1824-1901), a prominent Methodist preacher (in 1887, he paid the majority of the costs for a major renovation of the Methodist Chapel). Henry moved into Merry Gardens in 1875 and the site was broken up over the next few decades. Until its ignominious end, however, the Merry Gardens had been a respectable and well-known local attraction for most of the 19th century.

The Salisbury and Winchester Journal
Monday, 12th August 1839
Woodgreen – The Merry Gardens were filled, on Thursday last, with several parties from Fordingbridge and the adjacent villages. The day passed off very pleasantly, and quadrilles, lancers, and country dances were kept up till a late hour. Although there is no fruit (owing to the late severe frost), yet we sincerely hope the place will be visited by parties from the neighbourhood. Great praise is due to the worthy Proprietor of the Gardens and his housekeeper, Mrs Chalke, who did everything in their power to add to the comfort of the parties present. The Breamore band was engaged for the occasion.

At the time of the Court of Claims in 1801, the site was owned by a William Drudge. At some point, the property was passed to a James Stride. He was an elderly widower with no children and he put the property in trust for his niece, Sarah Chalk. She was a young widow (her husband had died in 1829 – the same year as Jame’s wife) and she became his “companion and housekeeper and had chief management of his affairs and business”.

Sarah married a carpenter from Dorset, Edwin Still, in 1850. It appears that James didn’t wholly approve: he immediately made an indenture to strength his niece’s claims to the property.

James died in 1854 and Sarah and Edwin continued to run Merry Gardens until 1870, when Sarah died suddenly (see the newspaper report below). Within a week of her death, Edwin had married a young Woodgreen girl, Fanny Chalk, and moved back to Dorset. Curiously, their three eldest children were born in Woodgreen in 1866, 1867 and 1870!

Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 19th Feb 1870
AWFULLY SUDDEN DEATH - Many of the inhabitants of Salisbury and the neighbouring places who have during the summer months enjoyed a cup of tea and a trip on the green sward at the pleasure gardens familiarly known as the "Merry Gardens" at Woodgreen, will be sorry to hear of the sudden death of its obliging and respected proprietress. It appears that the deceased was sitting at dinner when she said she felt poorly, and very shortly after she exclaimed "O dear" and expired.

Without the well-respected Sarah at the helm, Merry Gardens, and its Merry Fair, seems to have gone off the rails in the next few years. It passed briefly to a James Bedford but was put up for auction in 1874. Harold Hinxman bought the property for £545 and expressly stated that his intention was to break up the “merry gardens”.

The track through Merry Gardens is called Steel’s Drove. This is probably a misspelled reference to Edwin and Sarah Still.

The Western Gazette, Friday October 23rd, 1874.
One mile from Breamore Railway Station
Mr. Hannen is favoured with instructions to SELL by AUCTION, on WEDNESDAY, Oct. 28th, 1874, at the Bat and Ball Inn, Breamore, at four o’clock in the afternoon, by order of the owner, Mr. JAS. BEDFORD;
All those most desirable, compact, and picturesque FREEHOLD PREMISES, known as “The Merry Gardens,” delightfully situate at Woodgreen, and now in the occupation of Mr. JEFFERIS, at the low annual rental of £25, whose tenancy expires at Lady-day next.
The premises consist of a good and substantial 12-roomed house, with stable and other outbuildings, large and small orchards, piece of arable land, and ornamental garden, with large bowers for tea parties and lawn for dancing or croquet. The whole extent is 2a. 3r. 0p., common of pasture and common of turbary in the New Forest is granted on payment of 1s a year.
This sale offers a most adventageous opportunity to an active and obliging couple to do a good summer trade, the Merry Gardens having been for many years a very favourite resort for visitors, and may now, by attention, be made even a more attractive place of amusement and recreation.
To view apply to Mrs. JEFFERIS on the premises, and for further particulars to the AUCTIONEER, at Fordingbridge; Mr. W. BOOTH, 69, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London; or Mr. GEORGE KENT, Fordingbridge, Hants.
The Western Gazette, Friday November 6th, 1874.
THE MERRY GARDENS - ON WEDNESDAY, the far-famed and well-known little freehold property at Woodgreen, called “The Merry Gardens” was put up for auction by Mr. Hannen, of Fordingbridge, and after some spirited biddings from the large party assembled in the sale-room, was sold to Mr. Charles Moody, of Salisbury, at £545. We understand that Mr. Moody purchased for a gentleman who intends making alterations as will be requisite for a private residence, and Mr. Moody expressly stated that the “merry gardens” would be altogether broken up.
This James Coventry photograph from about 1897 may depict Merry Gardens (but many years after its heyday)