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- John Keble's Parishes - 1/32 -

Transcribed from the 1898 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email



To explain the present undertaking, it should be mentioned that a history of Hursley and North Baddesley was compiled by the Reverend John Marsh, Curate of Hursley, in the year 1808. It was well and carefully done, with a considerable amount of antiquarian knowledge. It reached a second edition, and a good deal of it was used in Sketches of Hampshire, by John Duthy, Esq. An interleaved copy received many annotations from members of the Heathcote family. There was a proposal that it should be re-edited, but ninety years could not but make a great difference in these days of progress, so that not only had the narrative to be brought up to date, but further investigations into the past brought facts to light which had been unknown to Mr. Marsh.

It was therefore judged expedient to rewrite the whole, though, whenever possible, the former Curate's work has been respected and repeated; but he paid little attention to the history of Otterbourne, and a good deal has been since disclosed, rendering that village interesting. Moreover, the entire careers of John Keble and Sir William Heathcote needed to be recorded in their relations to the parish and county. This has, therefore, here been attempted, together with a record of the building of the three churches erected since 1837, and a history of the changes that have taken place; though the writer is aware that there is no incident to tempt the reader--no siege of the one castle, no battle more important than the combat in the hayfield between Mr. Coram and the penurious steward, and, till the last generation, no striking character. But the record of a thousand peaceful years is truly a cause of thankfulness, shared as it is by many thousand villages, and we believe that a little investigation would bring to light, in countless other places, much that is well worth remembrance.

For the benefit of those who take an interest in provincial dialect, some specimens are appended, which come from personal knowledge.

The lists of birds and of flowers are both from the actual observation of long residents who have known the country before, in many instances, peculiarities have faded away before the march of progress.

The writer returns many warm thanks to those who have given much individual assistance in the undertaking, which could not have been attempted without such aid.



The South Downs of England descend at about eight miles from the sea into beds of clay, diversified by gravel and sand, and with an upper deposit of peaty, boggy soil, all having been brought down by the rivers of which the Itchen and the Test remain.

On the western side of the Itchen, exactly at the border where the chalk gives way to the other deposits, lies the ground of which this memoir attempts to speak. It is uneven ground, varied by undulations, with gravelly hills, rising above valleys filled with clay, and both alike favourable to the growth of woods. Fossils of belemnite, cockles (cardium), and lamp-shells (terebratula) have been found in the chalk, and numerous echini, with the pentagon star on their base, are picked up in the gravels and called by the country people Shepherds' Crowns--or even fossil toads. Large boulder stones are also scattered about the country, exercising the minds of some observers, who saw in certain of them Druidical altars, with channels for the flow of the blood, while others discerned in these same grooves the scraping of the ice that brought them down in the Glacial age.

But we must pass the time when the zoophytes were at work on our chalk, when the lamp-shells rode at anchor on shallow waves, when the cockles sat "at their doors in a rainbow frill," and the belemnites spread their cuttlefish arms to the sea, and darkened the water for their enemies with their store of ink.

Nor can we dwell on the deer which left their bones and horns in the black, boggy soil near the river, for unfortunately these were disinterred before the time when diggers had learnt to preserve them for museums, and only reported that they had seen remains.

Of HUMAN times, a broken quern was brought to light when digging the foundation of Otterbourne Grange; and bits of pottery have come to light in various fields at Hursley, especially from the barrows on Cranbury Common. In 1882 and 1883 the Dowager Lady Heathcote, assisted by Captain John Thorp, began to search the barrows on the left hand side of the high road from Hursley to Southampton, and found all had been opened in the centre, but scarcely searched at all on the sides. In July they found four or five urns of unbaked clay in one barrow--of early British make, very coarse, all either full of black earth or calcined bones, and all inverted and very rough in material, with the exception of one which was of a finer material, red, and like a modern flower-pot in shape. Several of these urns were deposited in the Hartley Museum, Southampton.

Of the Roman times we know nothing but that part of the great Roman road between Caer Gwent (or Venta Belgarum, as the Romans called Winchester) and Sorbiodunum (Old Sarum). It can still be traced at Hursley, and fragments of another leading to Clausentum (Southampton) on the slope of Otterbourne hill.

In Dr. Milner's History of Winchester, written at the end of the last century, he describes a medallion of mixed metal bearing the head of Julius Caesar, which was dug up by a labourer at Otterbourne, in the course of making a new road. He thought it one of the plates carried on the Roman standards of the maniples; but alas! on being sent, in 1891, to be inspected at the British Museum, it was pronounced to be one of a cinquecento series of the twelve Caesars.

The masters of the world have left us few traces of their possession, and in fact the whole district was probably scarcely inhabited; but the trees and brushwood or heather of the southern country would have joined the chalk downs, making part of what the West Saxons called the Jotunwald, or Giant's Wood, and the river Ytene, and so Itchen seems to have been named in like manner.

These were the times when churches were built and the boundaries of estates became those of parishes. The manor of Merdon, which occupied the whole parish of Hursley, belonged to the Bishops of Winchester by a grant of Oynegils, first Christian King. Milner, in his History of Winchester, wishes to bestow on Merdon the questionable honour of having been the place where, in the year 754, the West Saxon King Cenwulf was murdered by his brother in the house of his lady-love; but Mr. Marsh, the historian of Hursley, proves at some length that Merton in Surrey was more likely to have been the scene of the tragedy.

Church property being exempted from William the Conqueror's great survey, neither Merdon nor Hursley appears in Domesday Book, though Otterbourne, and even the hundred of Boyate or Boviate, as it is in the book, appear there. It had once belonged, as did Baddesley first, at first to one named Chepney, then to Roger de Mortimer, that fierce Norman warrior who was at first a friend and afterwards an enemy to William I.

The entire district, except the neighbourhood of Merdon Manor on the one hand, and of the Itchen on the other, was probably either forest ground or downs, but it escaped the being put under forest laws at the time when the district of Ytene became the New Forest. Probably the king was able to ride over down, heather, and wood, scarcely meeting an enclosure the whole way from Winchester; and we can understand his impatience of the squatters in the wilder parts, though the Cistercian Abbey of Beaulieu was yet to be founded. Indeed Professor E. A. Freeman does not accept the statement that there could possibly have been thirty-nine village churches to be destroyed in the whole district of "Ytene."

The tradition lingered to the present time at Otterbourne that the corpse of William Rufus was brought back in Purkiss's wood-cart from Minestead to Winchester for burial in the Cathedral, along a track leading from Hursley to Otterbourne, called at each end King's Lane, though it is not easy to see how the route could have lain through both points.

The parish of Hursley lies in the hundred of Buddlesgate, and division of Fawley; and the village is situated on the turnpike-road leading from Winchester to Romsey, and nearly at an equal distance from each of those places.

The parishes by which Hursley is surrounded were, when Mr. Marsh wrote, Sparsholt on the north; Farley on the north-west; Michelmersh and Romsey on the west; Baddesley, North Stoneham, and Otterbourne on the south; and Compton and St. Cross on the east.

The whole parish was then upwards of twenty-eight miles in circumference, and contained 10,590 acres of land, of which 2600 were in common, 372 in roads and lanes, about 1000 under growth of coppice-wood, and the rest either arable or pasture.

The soil in the parish of Hursley, as may be supposed in so extensive a tract of land, is of several different sorts; in some parts it is light and shallow, and of a chalky nature; in others, particularly on the east and west sides of the parish, it is what is called STRONG land, having clay for its basis; and in others, especially that of the commons and fields adjoining, it consists principally of sand or gravel. Towards the west, it is entirely covered with wood, not in general bearing trees of large size, but some beautiful beech-trees; and breaking into peaty, boggy ground on the southern side. The

John Keble's Parishes - 1/32

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