There is evidence for human settlement at Embley for over a thousand years. In the mid-ninth century, the manor was part of the landholdings of the kings of Wessex. Two centuries later, the Domesday Book, compiled on the orders of William I, records that ‘Emelei’ was held by Bernard Pancevolt. It is not impossible that he was a Norman knight who had served with the Conqueror in 1066.
In the early modern period a number of families are known to have held Embley, the most long standing being the Kirkbys and Ashleys. In 1783 the estate passed, through marriage, into the hands of the Heathcote family to become part of their Hursley Park estate, one of the largest in Hampshire. They rapidly augmented and improved it before family circumstances intervened and persuaded them to offer it for public auction in 1825.
Much of the main building was originally constructed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the Kirkby and Ashley families were in residence. By the 1830s, when the Nightingales took possession the accommodation was deemed insufficient for and the family went abroad from 1837-1839 as William Nightingale’s designs for alterations and additions went from drawing board to reality. The main change was the creation of a completely new West Wing. In addition, on the north side of the building, a new porch was constructed, together with a bay and balcony which extended almost the entire length of the front of the house, and which allowed for the provision of domestic offices, kitchen block, pantries and boiler house.
Over the past half century, the internal arrangements have changed a great deal to allow the main building to be used as boarding accommodation (and other facilities) for Hampshire Collegiate School. Regrettable though this might seem to some, it usefully serves to remind us that the Nightingale period in Embley’s history is but a chapter in a much longer story.