The history of Lepe probably goes back to Roman times, when Lepe may
have been a small port. There is evidence of a Roman road linking Lepe
at the head of Southampton Water.
The origins of the name Lepe, according to Professor Richard Coates,
President of the English
Place Name Society, is:
"Old English 'hliep(e)'='leaping place', especially for deer;
a fence to allow deer to jump where other animals are restrained. A
common name type in forest areas. Possibly a jumpable stream, or other
such crossing place."
Lepe (using its original spelling 'Leape' or 'Leap') has appeared in
old maps since
The Ship Inn, an ale-house in the mid 18th century, forms the basis of the
current Lepe House. Nearby Gardener's Cottage (Grade II listed) probably
existed at that time as well. As shown in Thomas Milne's 1791 map, there
were certainly other dwellings at Lepe during the latter part of the 18th
century when Lepe was briefly a site for naval shipbuilding.
Moody Janverin was asked by the Admiralty to create a shipyard at Lepe
The gravel beach with the low cliff behind provided him with the site
for the building of the Greenwich (1,053 tons), which was launched in
1748. This was followed in 1749 by the 28-gun
Fowey (513 tons). Janverin also took over the building of the Woolwich
which was being built by John Darley at nearby Buckler's
Janverin left Lepe in 1749 and the site remained unused until 1763 when
Henry Adams, who was building ships at Buckler's Hard, built the 64-gun
Europe (1,379 tons) at the yard. The Europe was launched in 1765.
A coastguard station was built on the Lepe Estate to combat the smuggling activities
in the region shortly after the modern-day Coastguard
was formed in 1822. Completed in 1828, the Coastguard
Cottages (Grade II listed) and the Watch House remain largely unchanged
today. These appear in C & J Greenwood's 1826 map of Hampshire and
are clearly shown below in the 1871 Ordnance Survey map of the area.
The commander of the first crew appointed as coastguards was Lieutenant
Lepe Estate has been in the ownership of the same family since it was
acquired, together with Exbury Estate, from the Mitford family in 1879.
House was sold to Lionel de Rothschild in 1916. He bought the remainder of Exbury Estate, including Exbury House, in 1919. Lepe House has been substantially added
to over the years, particularly between 1895 and 1925.
World War II
The House was requisitioned by the Navy in 1943 and became the Headquarters
of the J-Force Assault Group for the West Solent embarkations before the
D-Day Normandy landings. The concrete hard and access ramps, which enabled
tanks to be loaded onto landing craft, remain in evidence on the foreshore.
Perhaps the best description of Lepe, and nearby Exbury, at this time
is to found in the novel Requiem for a Wren
by Neville Shute. Details can also be found in Cyril Cunningham's Beaulieu River Goes to War,1939-45.
The House was returned to its owners after the War.