Did French Canadian forces torch historic house?

The first Westgate House after rebuilding.
The first Westgate House after rebuilding.

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On July 25, I published a photograph of a large house north of Westbourne, near Emsworth, that was destroyed by fire. The blaze started in the early hours of March 26, 1940.

The premises, Westgate House, was the former home of a WM Christy who had died some weeks before the fire.

The present Westgate House, just 30 years old

The present Westgate House, just 30 years old

The entire house was wrecked and the contents, which were to go for auction the week after the fire, were destroyed too.

For many years the remains of the building stood untouched but brick by brick it was taken down. Much was taken by builders and much more by locals until the early 1950s when the remains were demolished.

The present owner tells me there was some evidence that French Canadian forces, who were billeted in local houses including Westgate House, set fire to the building.

They apparently had adverse opinions of fighting in a European war and set fire to many local buildings. It got so bad, apparently, that local farmers started pulling down disused buildings.

In the mid-1980s the site was bought by a local man who wishes to remain anonymous and on the site he had built a magnificent mansion.

The stone pillars were formed from stone from Caen in northern France by French stonemasons.

Masons who had finished their work on Chichester Cathedral were employed to build the new house.

The modern house is the second to be built on the site although the first was once entirely rebuilt. That one was constructed between 1607 and 1609 for a John Dury. In 1657 it was sold to a Richard Cotton of Bedhampton and formerly of Warblington Castle, the former home of Margaret Pole, a cousin of Henry VIII.

She was executed on Henry’s orders in May 1541. The castle was later demolished on the orders of Oliver Cromwell in 1642. Just the gatehouse tower now remains.

Westgate House was completely rebuilt between 1780 and 1810, the new house substantially altered in the Ionic style.

The house was uninhabited in 1881 but rebuilt once again in 1882. It remained the same until the fire of 1940.