The land on which the house is built was given in 948 A.D. to the Abbess of Shaftesbury by King Edred. It seems to have remained the property of successive Abbesses until the reign of Henry VIII who dissolved the Monastery.
In the middle of the sixteenth century the land was bought by Robert Culliford of Devon who built a house on the site of the present one, and his family owned it until 1734 when it was sold to George Pitt of Stratfield Saye, who gave it to his younger son John.
It is interesting to note that one of the Cullifords only prevented Oliver Cromwell from taking away his property by providing some men to help with the destruction of Corfe Castle.
John Pitt pulled down the Culliford’s house and built the present one on the same site. It is believed that Culliford’s house was a small one covering the area now occupied by the hall and drawing room.
Pitt was a cousin of Lord Chatham the famous Prime Minister. His son William Morton Pitt sold the house and the surrounding land in 1807 to John Scott 1st Earl of Eldon, who was then the Lord Chancellor, an office which he held for 25 years during the reigns of George III and George IV. He was a great friend of George III and the confidant of many members of his family.
The Lord Chancellor was very fond of Encombe and came down as often as possible although the journey from London took three days.
The architect of Encombe is not known, but it appears probable that it was John Pitt himself who was, apparently, an amateur architect.
The design is in the current architectural idiom of the day, the style of Vanbrugh-Hawksmoor, but it “is used in an independent and intelligent way”. It also shows the influence of Palladianism, but the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments says “there is no decisive obligation to either. The design shows much original thought (for instance in the highly unusual East elevation) and must be accepted as the work of an accomplished amateur architect, John Pitt the owner”.
In 1870 the 3rd Earl of Eldon commissioned Anthony Salvin to make alterations, the main one being to move the entrance from the South to the North (and all that involved in internal re-planning) and the resulting impression is of a few vast rooms and a fine main staircase of 19th century workmanship, but in early 18th century style.
Originally two rooms with a staircase between them and an outside entrance where the middle of the three west windows are now. At one time there was a sea-water bath at the Northern end. The ram which pumped water up from the sea can still be seen at the top of Freshwater steps more than half a mile to the South of the house.
The only room which was not altered in 1870. The fine plaster ceiling dates from 1734. The hearth and consoles are very recent and are Purbeck marble. They came from the same bed as stone used in the repair of Lincoln Cathedral during the past few years. Sadly supplies of this beautiful stone are now almost exhausted and the whereabouts of the few remaining pockets are known only by one or two quarrymen.
This was originally the dining room and at one time had a staircase at each end. It is believed to be a part of Culliford’s house. The bust is of the 2nd Earl of Eldon, grandson of the Lord Chancellor. The miniatures are of this bust and that of the 1st Earl by Cheverton, who had invented a very ingenious way of copying larger busts. The sideboard was presented to the 3rd Earl by tenants of the Estate on his marriage.
This was originally the hall, the front door being where the centre window is now. The front drive was on the east side of the lake and continued past the front door to the stables to the south-west of the house.
Originally a room with an open colonnade as was the one where you entered the house. Later it was a billiard roomand later still a dining room.
This was originally the kitchen. It then became the dining room and after that a childrens’ play room and now back to a dining room again. While the pillars are Purbeck marble, the fireplace is wood and painted.