The first Duke of Wellington's Stratfield Saye (Hampshire) estate was accumulated by its previous owners, the Pitt family, which held property in the Isle of Purbeck and elsewhere in Dorset by the sixteenth century. The family was established in Hampshire by Sir William Pitt (d1636), comptroller of the royal household under James I, and his son Edward Pitt (d1643), who acquired Stratfield Saye from the Dabridgecourt family in 1629-30 and Stratfield Turgis, a former estate of the Marquess of Winchester, in 1634. These estates were consolidated by piecemeal purchases during the seventeenth century. Property at Heckfield (Hampshire) came to the Pitt family from the Sturt family in the late eighteenth century, as a result of a mortgage agreement of 1757. In the late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century the Hampshire estate was further extended and consolidated by piecemeal purchases and exchanges.
The diplomat George Pitt (d1803) was created Baron Rivers of Stratfield Saye in 1776 and Baron Rivers of Sudeley Castle (Gloucestershire) in 1802. (His ancestor the royalist George Pitt had married Jane, daughter of the second Earl Rivers and widow of George Brydges, sixth Baron Chandos, from whom a property at Sudeley Castle, subsequently alienated to the Marquess of Buckingham in 1810, had passed to the Pitt family.) The Hampshire estate was sold by George Pitt, second Baron Rivers (d1828), to Parliamentary trustees for the use of the first Duke of Wellington in 1817-18. From 1818 to 1918, under the Dukes of Wellington, the Hampshire estate was further enlarged, including by the purchase of Wolverton and Ewhurst from Sir Peter Pole in 1837 and Hartley Wespall from the executors of WHT Hawley in 1875. A property at Great Bourton (Cropredy, Oxfordshire), bought by the Duke of Wellington in 1854, was exchanged in 1855 with New College, Oxford, for an estate at Heckfield and Mattingley. In 1883 the Hampshire estate extended to some 15,847 acres, with a further 494 acres (at Beech Hill, Swallowfield, etc) lying immediately adjacent in the county of Berkshire.
The Pitt family's Dorset estate, with family property in Wiltshire (Rushmore, near Salisbury, etc), and the barony of Rivers of Sudeley Castle descended from the second Baron to his nephew Horace Pitt-Rivers (d1831), who was succeeded by his son George Pitt-Rivers (1810-66), fourth Baron. On the death of the sixth Baron in 1880 the barony was extinguished but the family property passed under the will of the second Baron to the anthropologist General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900), a nephew of John Lane Fox of Bramham (Yorkshire), and thence to his descendants the Pitt-Rivers family of Rushmore (Wiltshire). (The Pitt-Rivers family papers in Dorset Record Office include deeds and legal papers relating to Pitt family properties in Hampshire, Berkshire, Dorset and elsewhere, as well as rentals and stewards accounts for the Stratfield Saye estate eighteenth-early 19th century.) In 1883 General Pitt-Rivers owned 24,942 acres in Dorset and 2,762 acres in Wiltshire, a total of 27,704 acres worth 35,396 a year.
The Manor and estate of Stratfieldsaye were purchased from George, Lord Rivers (2nd Baron Rivers of Stratfieldsaye) in 1818, for 263,000, by a body of trustees appointed by Parliament, as part of the nation's reward to the 1st Duke of Wellington for his military services. (The estate, along with other properties subsequently purchased, remains vested in these statutorily-appointed trustees (who include the Prime Minister, ex-officio) rather than in the Dukes themselves; the latter pay the annual rent of a flag, presented to the sovereign on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo). Lord Rivers had inherited it from his father, George Pitt (created 1st Baron Rivers in 1776), who died in 1802; the estate had been in the Pitt family since about 1630, when William Pitt (d. 1636) bought it from the Dabridgecourt family, who appear to have held it since the end of the thirteenth century (D.Y., Collections for the History of Hampshire, ; W. White, History...of Hampshire, 1859). The house, which was rebuilt or at least added to around 1700, stood in a park of about 1500 acres.
Opinion seems to be divided, at best, as to the wisdom of the purchase. Although the architect Benjamin Wyatt apparently felt 'no hesitation in saying, that the estate possesses great beauty and dignity; and is capable of being made a princely place' (E. Longford, Wellington: Pillar of State, 1972), D.Y., in his History cited above, wrote about it in 1795 as follows: 'The rooms are in general low, and small: the only good ones being added by the present Lord Rivers, who has spent much money on the park and grounds, which are, though well-wooded, rather flat, and deficient in natural advantages, and the stream, which runs through them, too much of a serpentine'. Mrs. Harriet Arbuthnot, writing in 1821, apparently thought that 'it is not a nice place, seems damp and low, and the house but an indifferent one for him' (E. Longford, op. cit.); Pevsner, in his Buildings of England series (N. Pevsner and D. Lloyd, Hampshire..., 1967), explains that 'it was a choice dictated by the excellent quality of the farms more than by any special qualities of grandeur or beauty of the house itself'. The most potent comment is perhaps that found in the DNB, in the article for the 1st Duke: 'a bad investment, which he [the Duke] used to say would have ruined any man but himself. He enlarged and improved it, spending on it for many years all the income he derived from it'. It seems that it was no Blenheim.
Geographically, the estate took in most of the parish of Stratfieldsaye, and part of the surrounding parishes of Stratfield Turgis, Hartley Wespall, Heckfield and Swallowfield; over the ensuing century it was consolidated and built up by the purchase of farms, cottages, land and other near or adjoining property. In addition, the trustees also held on the Dukes' behalf an estate at Wellington, Somerset (purchased in 1812: DNB); another major acquisition was the Wolverton and Ewhurst estate, encompassing some several thousand acres in the parishes of Wolverton Ewhurst, Baughurst, Tadley and thereabouts (north-west of Basingstoke), purchased from Sir Peter Pole and his trustees in 1831/32. Ewhurst Park House, described by White (op. cit.) in 1859 as 'a commodious mansion in a large and well-wooded park' was let to various tenants during the nineteenth century (including Alexander Lord Russell, 7th son of the 6th Duke of Bedford, who lived there c. 1880-1905), but thereafter it seems to have been the preferred country residence of the 4th Duke of Wellington (d. 1934), who leased Stratfieldsaye House to his son the Marquess Douro in about 1921. A further large addition was the Manorial estate of Hartley Wespall, purchased from the executors of W. H. T. Hawley in 1875. The Wolverton and Ewhurst estates were sold by auction in 1943, and the Wellington (Somerset) estate in 1972.