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- John Keble's Parishes - 2/32 -

northern side is of good rich loam, favourable to the growth of fine trees, and likewise forms excellent arable land. This continues along the valley of Otterbourne, along a little brook which falls into the Itchen. It is for the most part of thick clay, fit for brick-making, with occasional veins of sand, and where Otterbourne hill rises, beds of gravel begin and extend to the borders of the Itchen, through a wooded slope known as Otterbourne Park.

The boundaries of estates fixed those of parishes, and Otterbourne was curiously long and narrow, touching on Compton and Twyford to the north and north-west, on Stoneham to the south, and Hursley to the west, lying along the bank of the Itchen.

The churches of both parishes were probably built in the twelfth century, for though Hursley Church has been twice, if not three times, rebuilt, remains of early Norman mouldings have been found built into the stone-work of the tower. And on the wall of the old Otterbourne Church a very rude fresco came partially to light. Traced in red was a quatrefoil within a square, the corners filled up with what had evidently been the four Cherubic figures, though only the Winged Ox was clearly traceable. Within the quatrefoil was a seated Figure, with something like scales in one hand, apparently representing our Lord in His glory. The central compartment was much broken away, but there was the outline of a man whom one in a hairy garment was apparently baptizing. The rest had disappeared.

These paintings surmounted three acutely-pointed arches, with small piers, and square on the side next the nave, but on the other side slender shafts with bell-shaped capitals, carved with bold round mouldings and deep hollows. Two corbels supporting the horizontal drip-stone over the west window were also clear and sharply cut; and the doorway on the south side had slender shafts and deep mouldings, in one of which is the dog-tooth moulding going even down to the ground on each side. This is still preserved in the entrance to the Boys' School.

These remnants date the original building for about the thirteenth century. It may have been due to King Stephen's brother, Bishop Henry de Blois of Winchester, who is known to have raised the castle whose remains still exist on his manor of Merdon, where once there had been a Roman encampment. So far as his work can be traced, the first thing he would do would be to have a similar embankment thrown up, and a parapet made along the top, behind which men-at-arms would be stationed, the ditch below having a stockade of sharp stakes. In the middle of the enclosure a well was begun, which had to go deeper and deeper through the chalk, till at last water was found at 300 feet deep--a work that must have lasted a year or more. Around the well, leaving only a small courtyard, were all the buildings of the castle meant for the Bishop's household and soldiers. The entrance to it all was probably over a drawbridge across the great ditch (which, on this side, was not less than 60 feet deep), and through a great gateway between two high square towers, which must have stood where now there is a slope leading down from the level of the inner court to that surrounded by a bank. This slope is probably formed by the ruins of the gateway and tower having been pitched into the ditch, as the readiest way of getting rid of them when the castle was dismantled afterwards. We are indebted to the late Sir John Cowell for the conjectural plan and description of the castle.

As soon as the Bishop had completed this much he would feel tolerably safe, but he would not be satisfied. He could hardly have room in his castle for all his retainers, and he could not command the country from it, except towards the south; therefore his next work was to make an embankment and the ditch on the outer side of it. It was then an unbroken semicircle, jutting out as it were from the castle, and protecting a sufficient space of ground for troops to encamp.

In case of an enemy forcing their way into this, the defenders could retreat into the castle by the drawbridge. The entrance was on the east side, and in order to protect this and the back of the castle, by which is meant the northern side, another embankment was made and finished with a parapet. Also as, in case of this being carried by the enemy, it would be impossible for the defenders in the northern part of the castle to run round the castle and into shelter by the main gateway, he built a square tower (exactly opposite to the ruin which yet remains), and divided from it only by the great ditch. On either side of the tower--cutting the embankment across, therefore, at right angles--was a little ditch, spanned by a drawbridge, which, if the defenders thought it necessary to retire to the tower, could at any time be raised (the foundations of the tower and the position of the ditches can still be distinctly traced). Supposing, further, that it became impossible to hold the tower, the besieged could retreat into the main body of the castle by means of another drawbridge across the great ditch, which would lead them through the arch (which can still be seen in the ruins, though it is partially blocked up). The room on the east side of this passage was probably a guard-room. In some castles of this date there were also two or three tunnels bored through the earth-work from the inner courtyard to the bottom of the great ditch, so as to provide additional ways of retreat for such men as might otherwise be cut off in those parts most distant from either of the great gates, in order to secure the outlying defence.

Henry de Blois must have been thinking of the many feudal castles of his native France. He was a magnificent prelate, though involved in the wars of his brother and the Empress Matilda. The hospital of St. Cross, and much of the beauty of Romsey Abbey, are ascribed to him, and he even endeavoured to obtain that Winchester should be raised to the dignity of a Metropolitan See. It does not appear that all his elaborate defences at Merdon were ever called into practical use; and when his brother, King Stephen, died in 1154, he fled from England, and the young Henry II. in anger dismantled Merdon, together with his other castles of Wolvesey and Waltham; nor were these fortifications ever restored. The king and bishop were reconciled; and the latter spent a pious and penitent old age, only taking one meal a day, and spending the surplus in charity. He died in 1174.


It was considered in the Middle Ages that tithes might be applied to any church purpose, and were not the exclusive right of the actual parish priest, provided he obtained a sufficient maintenance, which in those days of celibacy was not very expensive. The bishops and other patrons thus assigned the great tithes of corn of many parishes to religious foundations elsewhere, only leaving the incumbent the smaller tithe from other crops--an arrangement which has resulted in many abuses.

Thus in 1301, when Bishop Sawbridge or Points, or as it was Latinised, de Pontissara, founded the college of St. Elizabeth, in St. Stephen's, Merdon, by the Itchen at Winchester, for the education of twelve poor boys by a provost and fellows, he endowed it in part with the great tithe of Hursley. The small tithes having been found insufficient for the maintenance of the vicar, he united to Hursley the rectory of Otterbourne, giving the great tithes to the vicar of Hursley; and in 1362 Bishop Edyngton confirmed the transaction.

Mr. Marsh thus relates the transaction:-

"The Living of Hursley was anciently a rectory, and, as it is believed, wholly unconnected with any other church or parish. Unfortunately, however, for the parishioners, as well as for the minister, it was, about the year 1300, reduced to a vicarage, and the great tithes appropriated to the College of St. Elizabeth in Winchester. The small tithes which remained being inadequate to the support of the vicar and his necessary assistants, the church of Otterbourne was consolidated with that of Hursley, and the tithes of that parish, both great and small, were given to them to make up a sufficient maintenance--an arrangement which, in that dark age, was thought not only justifiable but even laudable, but which nevertheless deserves to this day to be severely censured, since not only the minister but both the parishes and the cause of religion have suffered a serious and continued injury from it.

"The person by whom this appropriation was made was John de Pontissara, alias Points, Bishop of Winchester, the founder of the college to which the tithes were granted; it was, however, afterwards confirmed by William de Edyngton, by whom the vicar's rights, which before were probably undefined, and perhaps the subject of contention, were ascertained and secured to him by endowment. This instrument is still in being, bearing the date of 1362. It may be seen in Bishop Edyngton's Register, part I, fol. 128, under the following marginal title:- 'Ratificatio et Confirmatio appropriationis Ecclesiae de Hursleghe, et ordinationes Vicarie ejusd.' The following is a translation of it, so far as the vicar's interests are concerned in it:- 'The said vicar shall have and receive all and all manner of tithes, great and small, with all offerings and other emoluments belonging to the chapel of Otterbourne, situated within the parish of the said church (viz. of Hursley). He shall also have and receive all offerings belonging to the church of Hursley, and all small tithes arising within the parish of the same, viz., the tithes of cheese, milk, honey, wax, pigs, lambs, calves, eggs, chickens, geese, pigeons, flax, apples, pears, and all other tithable fruits whatsoever of curtilages or gardens. He shall also receive the tithes of mills already erected, or that shall be erected. He shall also receive and have all personal tithes of all traders, servants, labourers, and artificers whatsoever, due to the said church. The said Vicar shall also receive and have all mortuaries whatsoever, live and dead, of whatsoever things they may consist. The said Vicar shall also receive and have all profit and advantage arising from the herbage of the churchyard. He shall also have and receive the tithes of all fish-ponds whatsoever, within the said parish, wheresoever made, or that hereafter shall be made. The said Vicar shall also have for his habitation the space on the south side of the churchyard, measuring in length, from the said churchyard and the rectorial house, formerly belonging to the said church, towards the south, twenty-seven perches; and in breadth, from the hedge and ditch between the said space and the garden of the aforesaid former rectory on the west, towards the east, sixteen perches and a half, with the buildings erected thereon.'

"Besides the above, John de Pontissara allotted to the Vicar the tithes of wool, beans, and vetches; but of the first of these he was deprived by Bishop Edyngton's endowment, and the latter have been so little cultivated that he has never yet derived any advantage from them, though his right to this species of tithes cannot, I suppose, be questioned, unless, indeed, they are comprehended under the term Bladum, and are consequently to be considered as the portion of the Impropriator. The tithes given by the Endowment to the President and Chaplains of St. Elizabeth College are--'Decimae Bladi cujuscunque generis, Foeni ac Lanae,' and no other.

"The church of Hursley is situated within the deanery of Winchester, and is a Peculiar; {17} a distinction which it enjoys, probably, in consequence of its having been formerly under the patronage of the

John Keble's Parishes - 2/32

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