Stoneham War Shrine     Discovering the Park


North Stoneham Park: its origin and development (1992), by C K Currie


The Saxon landscape: discussion

This study has shown that the wide expanses of heathland on the west of the North Stoneham estate had been brought under an organised management from an early date. Early tenth century charter evidence on neighbouring estates suggest that commons had already been marked off from surrounding land, and that access was controlled by gates. Such management of common lands with gated access is indicated for North Stoneham Common in the tenth century.

Excavated bone evidence from Hamwic suggests that well-organised cattle farms were supplying the town with meat throughout the eighth and ninth centuries (Bourdillon 1980, 181-85). As North Stoneham can be shown to have had direct communication routes with Hamwic at this time, it must have had an important role in this supply.

There is a possibility that North and South Stoneham once formed one large estate, whose principal purpose came to be to provide food to an important mid-Saxon port. Detached portions of South Stoneham are evidenced at Weston, on the opposite bank of the river to Hamwic, as well as apparent rights of the church of South Stoneham within the town (Hase 1975). Charter evidence seems to suggest that transfer of lands between the north and south divisions were still incomplete in the tenth century. From the evidence that is available, a large single estate once stretched along both banks of the Itchen, from the estuary mouth up as far as the southern boundaries of Bishopstoke and Otterbourne. The subdivision of large Saxon estates, in the upper Itchen valley north of Winchester, from the eighth century has been demonstrated by Klingelhoffer (1990, 31-39). A similar pattern may have developed around Southampton, which had already been subdivided by the early tenth century.

Disruptions caused by viking raids are thought to be responsible for the decline of Hamwic. The charter evidence, which shows the granting of the Stonehams to church estates in Winchester, may be partly reflecting the shifting of power in the region northwards. As the economic basis of the Stonehams declined, so the urge to reorganise them and their boundaries must have been felt. This activity seems to coincides with the final decline of Hamwic, although there appears to be some delay before the process is completed, probably by the first half of the eleventh century (Currie forthcoming).

Settlement patterns in North Stoneham, and the surrounding area seems to have been well-established by the time of Domesday. Expansion from the late Saxon period put pressure on the predominantly cattle farming communities in the area. This is reflected in a decline in the rural hinterland's ability to provision late Saxon and medieval Southampton. This pressure is not apparently relieved until the sixteenth century (Bourdillon 1980, 185). From the time of the earliest records in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, continued assarting is recorded on lands that were formerly used for cattle pasture. The larger local landowners made efforts to obtain these rights for themselves, and to enclose the former commonly-held lands. Population pressure continued until the fourteenth century, when there was probably some relaxation in the demand for land. Extensive areas of common still surviving in 1810 suggests that either settlement retreated from the more marginal lands, or the situation reached an equilibrium in the late medieval period whereby remnants of the mid-Saxon system were allowed to survive (Currie forthcoming).

There is only limited evidence for open field systems in the area. The Saxon charter for South Stoneham suggests that there were open fields within this manor in the mid-eleventh century. These were probably within the manor of Portswood, as they are mentioned alongside the eyot of Port's Bridge (Grundy 1927, 250). There is no firm evidence for open fields within North Stoneham. River navigation seems to have had an important role in the local economy. Saxon charters refer to the landing place at Bishopstoke, and a 'new river' somewhere near Swaythling (Grundy 1927, 250). These references probably refer to a two way trade, but it is most likely that the transport of provisions down river to Hamwic, and later Southampton, was the more important route.