Plans to build 5,000 homes on a historic landscape immortalized by artist John Constable have been scrapped, it turns out.
The famous land on the edge of the South Downs in Hampshire was recreated in watercolors by the 19th-century artist because he found the area so inspiring.
The scenic landscape he captured in his ‘A View at Hursley’ was jeopardized by controversial plans to build an entire city on it.
Developers came up with proposals to build 5,000 homes, two elementary schools, a high school, a park and ride and a health center — all powered by three solar farms.
However, the plans have now been scrapped after a massive backlash.
Old Master John Constable’s ‘A View at Hursley’ is inspired by the rolling greenery in the picturesque village of Hampshire
An aerial view of Hursley showing the location marked in red with the proposed 5,000 new homes that would have been built
Hursley Parish Council Chairman David Killeen, Hampshire County Councilor Jan Warwick and historian David Key at the site
An aerial view of Hursley House showing the village of Hursley against the land where the proposed development site would have been
The ‘unspoilt’ area where developers wanted to create ‘Royaldown’ is in the countryside between the ancient village of Hursley – considered one of the most historic in the country – and the cathedral city of Winchester.
The area has a ‘unique history’, not only because of Constable’s paintings, but its history goes back to King Alfred fighting the Danes, then to World War II and the development of the Spitfire.
Councilor Brian Laming, who represents the area to Winchester City Council, welcomed the news of the scrapped plans.
Hampshire County Councilor and Hursley resident Jan Warwick observe a possible location where John Constable based his art
Keep Architecture’s aerial plan of where the new Royaldown development could have been, with Hursley on the left
The 72-year-old Liberal Democrat said: ‘It’s a huge victory for us, so many people have done the work to try and stop this.
“The plans have been there for four or five years, so to top it off after that time is very special – it’s been a long battle.
‘It has a unique history and landscape. This area must be preserved, not only for its history, but also for the environment.
“It was of great concern to us, it was a substantial construction, it would have overshadowed Hursley and [neighbouring parish] Oliver’s battery.’
Situated on the edge of the South Downs, the landscape was immortalized by 19th century artist John Constable in watercolors
Hursley Parish Council President David Killeen in the Community Shop & Post Office where he works in the village. He said the 5,000 houses “would have turned a rural area into an urban area”
Local historian Dave Key said Hursley was a popular destination for some of England’s most prominent artists in the 18th and early 19th centuries and it was not surprising that Constable frequented it.
One of the artist’s paintings from the stately Hursley House is currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, while another painting can be found at the Clarke Art Institute in Massachusetts, USA.
Mr Key said the proposed site was one of the most “historic areas in England” and plans would have “destroyed” it.
He previously said: ‘The whole Hursley area has an incredible history. It has a visible documented history from the 7th century and a more detailed history from the 12th century.’
Hursley House is a Grade II listed mansion from the 18th century and was used during the Second World War by engineers who developed the Spitfire.
British Art Romanticism: The Life and Times of John Constable
Born in Suffolk in 1776, John Constable is considered one of Britain’s foremost artists.
He is best known for his landscape paintings in Dedham Vale, the area where he grew up.
His most famous painting, The Hay Wain, is now on display at the National Gallery.
The Harvestman was one of six large canvases depicting the area around Flatford Mill in Suffolk.
Another painting in the series, The Lock, became one of the most expensive British paintings ever sold when it fetched £22.4 million at auction in 2012.
Despite his works now attracting huge fees, Constable was not financially successful in life.
He also struggled to gain recognition from his peers and was not elected to the Royal Academy until age 52.
He died in March 1837, aged 60, of apparent heart failure, and was buried with his wife.
His children John and Charles are also buried in the grave.
Mr Key added: ‘The vast expanse of the lower country running from Winchester to Hursley has been commented on by writers and artists, from the earliest travel writers such as Daniel Defoe to figures such as John Constable, who painted three views from the house.’
The plans met resistance from the public, local councilors and Conservative MP for Winchester Steve Brine, who said they would “concrete large swaths of countryside”.
Hampshire County councilor and Hursley resident Jan Warwick said it would be wrong to ‘overshadow’ the village’s history.
David Killeen, chairman of the Hursley Parish Council, agreed, saying the 5,000 homes would transform the village “from a rural area to an urban one.”
The Royaldown plans have been submitted by developers from the Lightwood Group to Winchester City Council’s Strategic Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (SHELAA).
Royaldown has now been removed from the rating plan.
The site, which is owned by a single landowner, is not specifically covered by national, regional or local landscape designations.
Constable painted three paintings at Hursley House – one has since been lost, but the other two are said to depict views of the estate to the north and south.
The north-facing photo is held at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts, and it is this landscape that is in danger of being lost if the Royaldown proposal goes through.
The south-facing watercolor is currently part of the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and is said to show the view across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.
Mr. Key, who had studied the two images, both painted in 1804, said that while it was difficult to be completely sure, he was sure that the north-facing image showed the lowlands in danger.
In 1958, IBM began using the mansion and grounds as development labs, and the ground floor of the house now houses the IBM Hursley Museum.