Hampshire Treasures

Volume 1 ( Winchester City District)

Page 13 - Bishops Waltham

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The first reference to Waltham was in 721 AD and relates to Saint Willibald receiving his education 'at the minster (mother church) called Waltham'. At the beginning of the tenth century Alfred and his son Edward were providing, in southern England, fortified places for refuge against the Danish attacks. Consequently, in 904 the king (Edward) exchanged his land at Waltham for Portchester (including the castle) which belonged at that time to the bishops of Winchester. Portchester Castle thus became once of the king's perfect refuges, or burghs.

The bishops continued to hold this substantial manor over the next 600 years, and in 1135 Bishop Henry de Blois built the first palace. The palace ruins that survive today are, however, mainly of the buildings erected by William of Wykeham in the fourteenth century and by Bishop Langton in the fifteenth century. The palace and its owners attracted settlers to its gates and so a small prosperous market town grew up in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately during the seventeenth century Civil War much of the palace was destroyed.

The Domesday Survey mentions a 'park for beasts' in its entry for the episcopal estate, whose boundaries are still traceable today to the west of the palace and town.

The present Church of St. Peter is earlier than C1200. The proportions of the nave may represent those of the Norman period and imply a building of considerable size. However in recent years a fragment of tenth century Anglo-Saxon cross shaft has come to light in the church-yard, which may well indicate the site of a late Saxon church, if not an earlier one as suggested by the eighth century reference to St. Willibald.

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