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Bishop’s Waltham in 1835

BISHOP’S WALTHAM, a parish and market-town in the lower half of the hundred of the same name, which lies in the Portsdown division of the county of Southampton; sixty-two miles S.W. by W. from London, and ten miles E.N.E. from Southampton. It has immemorially been the property of the see of Winchester, whence the affix ‘Bishop’s.’ Domesday describes it among the lands of the see in Hampshire, and says that it was held in demesne, and had always belonged to the bishopric. It was then, as formerly, assessed at twenty hides, but there were actually thirty. It was in the time of the Confessor worth £31, was afterwards worth £10, 10 shillings, but was then worth £30. There were seventy villagers and fifteen. yeomen, employing twenty-six ploughs ; there were seven servants : and Radulphus, a priest, held two churches belonging to the manor, with two hides and a half. There were three mills which paid 17 shillings and 6 pence.

Leland speaks of Bishop’s Waltham as ‘a praty townlet. Here the bishop of Winchester hath a right ample and goodly manor-place, motid about, and a praty brooke running hard by it. The manor-place hath been of many bishops’ building ; most part of the three parts of the lease court was buildid of brick and timbre by Bishop Langten ; the residew of the inner part is all of stone.’ The brook mentioned is the small river Hamble, the source of which is about a mile from the village, and passes through a piece of water which is described as having been a large and beautiful lake, half a mile long and a furlong broad; but it is now deprived of this character by the growth of rushes and the encroachments of the soil.

The bishop’s castle, mentioned by Leland, was originally built by Bishop Henry de Blois, brother of King Stephen ; but much of the grandeur which it ultimately attained is attributed to the architectural taste of William de Wykeham, whose favourite residence it was, and who there terminated his active life at the age of eighty. The great hall in the second or inner court was 65 feet in length, 27 in breadth, and 25 high, and was lighted by five large windows of magnificent proportions. The castle was demolished during the civil wars by the parliamentary army under Waller ; and the ruins, which consist of the remains of the hall and of a square tower, are now mantled with ivy. The park in which it stood has since been converted into farms. The town is chiefly remarkable for the neighbourhood of this castle.

It has however a trade of some activity in leather, of which it sends large quantities to Guernsey, London, and the neighbouring fairs ; there is also some business in malting. Its market is held on Friday ; and there are fairs on the second Friday in May, July 30th, and the first Friday after Old Michaelmas-day. The parish contained 438 houses in 1831, when the population amounted to 2,181 persons, of whom 1,115 were females.

The church, which is dedicated to St. Peter, accommodates 1,100 persons. The living is a rectory, with a net income of £915 per annum, in the diocese of Winchester, the bishop being patron. There is an endowed charity school in the town founded by Bishop Morley, who endowed it with an annuity of £10 ; this sum has been augmented to £38 by subsequent benefactions, and now provides instruction for thirty-six boys. There are also two national schools in the town, containing together eighty boys and as many girls.

Waltham forest, in this vicinity, was in the early part of the last century infested by a formidable and resolute gang of deer-stealers who called themselves ‘hunters,’ but were more generally known by the name of the ‘Waltham Blacks,’ because they blackened their faces in their predatory enterprises. They are mentioned by this name in the act of parliament which was passed against them, and which was therefore, as well as from its extreme severity, called the Black Act. This act declared more deeds to be felonies than had ever before been comprehended in a single statute. On this account, when Bishop Hoadly was advised to re-stock Waltham Park, he refused, observing that ‘it had done mischief enough already.’