More morbid thoughts about mass epidemics.

In October 1347 a Genoese ship came into Messina harbour in Sicily. All of the crew were dead or dying. The harbour authorities quarantined the vessel and crew but it was to no avail as the disease (and they could not know this at the time) was carried by fleas hoisted by rats. Before long Italy was overcome with  the disease and then Spain and France. The disease reached Southampton in the summer of 1348 and from there spread uncontrolled throughout the land. In the middle of the 14th century the population of England was estimated at 5 million. 40% of the population succumbed to the disease and the population only recovered its 1348 level in about 1700.

Here is an article written by the late George Watts for the book Titchfield: A History, first published in 1982.

In the 1340s the disease called plague, which had not been known in Europe for 500 years, spread like a forest fire across Asia and Europe, and arrived in England in the late summer of 1348. This terrible epidemic came to be known as the Black Death. It remained as an endemic disease in England until the late seventeenth century, when the plague of London in 1665 is usually taken as marking the end of that particular long-lasting outbreak. Smaller isolated outbreaks have occurred since.

Plague has a number of forms: one, pneumonic plague, can be spread by coughing or sneezing; but the commonest form, bubonic plague, signalled by dark lumps on the body, seems to be most often spread by fleas living on rats. The spread of the plague is thought to have been connected with the development of medieval trade and agriculture, and the movement of carts and ships loaded with grain – and with rats.

Titchfield may have been one of the first places in England to suffer from the plague. The traditional date for its arrival in England is June 1348 in Weymouth: it was probably raging in Titchfield by September, for a large number of deaths were reported in the October and November manorial courts. We can guess that the infection had come to Titchfield direct by ship from France rather than overland from Dorset or one of the nearby towns. The plague raged in Titchfield throughout the winter, a very large number of deaths being reported in the March court of 1349, and further deaths in May. Altogether, the deaths of 123 Titchfield tenants were reported in those two years, and since there were probably no more than 150 tenants before the plague, the mortality among tenants may have been as high as 80%. What the mortality was amongst children, women and people too poor to be tenants we do not know. In the remote hamlet of Quob north of Funtley everyone died. In a Titchfield court of 1350 it was reported that to this court came Thomas Schad for the tithingman of Quob and witnessed that all and each of the tithing died in the present pestilence and that all land and tenements within the bounds have come into the hand of Lord John des Roches (the local landowner) who sent Schad to this day for the tithingman; he was in mercy but was pardoned and presented that all was well. It was three years before anyone appeared again to speak for Quob.

Outbreaks of the plague did not cease in 1349. There was a further epidemic in 1360-61, another in 1374, and more in later years. Through their appearances in the courts, we can see how these outbreaks affected particular Titchfield families. The Sweins, for instance, were probably the most important family group in Titchfield before 1349, six or more of the family normally holding land, and the family must have consisted of thirty or more individuals in 1348. Six Swein tenants died in the first plague and two in the plague of 1360-61; these two were succeeded by their widows, neither of whom had children surviving at their deaths. When Alice widow of Roger, the last known Swein of the fourteenth century died at the very end of Edward Ill’s reign, her land was taken by another villager. In fact Sweins reappeared in Titchfield in later centuries, perhaps by the return of a distant relative from a nearby village.

The Frends, a small family group with three branches before the Black Death, lost two tenants in the first plague and two in the second and were wiped out before 1379, disappearing entirely from Titchfield history. On the other hand the Kechs, who were one of the most important local family groups, with four or five tenants before the Black Death, had the extreme good fortune of coming through all the outbreaks up to 1377 without losing a tenant. In the rental of that year their principal representatives John and Henry Kech both appear with holdings they had collected from other families, John with holdings of 32, 10 and 8 acres, and Henry with 32 and 14 acres. The Hirchons, a smaller family group which had only branched out into several separate families in the 1320s were fortunate in quite a different way. They lost five members in the first plague, but came unscathed through the later outbreaks and showed great powers of recovery, having apparently inexhaustible resources of sons who took up less fortunate people’s vacant holdings wherever possible. In 1377 William, Thomas and Richard Hirchon all held 32 acre virgates, and two Roger Hirchons had smaller holdings.

People who survived the plagues then were often better off. But in general the population was lower, the market for goods of all kinds was smaller and there was a long period of economic depression, in Titchfield as elsewhere in the country. The population of the parish for two hundred years remained lower than it had been in 1349. We can trace the economic effects of the plague epidemics in the records of the abbey’s demesne farms as well as in the lives of its tenants. In 1348, for instance, the abbey had on all its estates 3,876 sheep; in 1390 it had only 2,859 and in 1420 only 1,396. Of oxen, cows, horses and pigs it had in 1348 a total of 810, in 1390 706. and in 1420 only 535. One important source of income affected by this decline was the sale of wool. We know that early in the fourteenth century the abbey had been selling to Italian merchants every year an average of 15 sacks of wool worth in all £90: that income must have fallen to £30 or £40 a century later. The abbey ceased to be the energetic and ambitious landlord it had been for the first hundred years of its existence. It was glad to collect what rents it could; some of its buildings fell into disrepair, and it was sometimes in debt. It interfered less and less often with the activities of tenants, who seem to have been allowed, for instance, to enclose their common fields and to fell their trees much more freely than in the years before the Black Death. Most strikingly, after a time the canons ceased to make those careful notes of their business and possessions which survive today to tell us so much about the village in the fourteenth century. As a result, we at present know relatively little about Titchfield in the fifteenth century, and there is still much research to be done.


We are mercifully unaccustomed to plagues or epidemics, but our ancestors lived with the fact that disease would break out from time to time and take many lives. They called it the Plague.

in the 16th and 17th centuries there were several serious outbreaks in London recorded in the years 1592, 1603, 1625, 1636 and the Great Plague of 1665. The response of the authorities was to close the theatres and those who could, like the earls of Southampton, got out of London.

The earl of Southampton had a salubrious bolt hole in Titchfield and we know he was here in 1592 and 1593. It has also been proposed that Shakespeare came to live in Titchfield during that year the theatres closed. That is speculation of course. King Charles I and his wife spent five weeks in Titchfield in the plague year of 1625.

Although it might seem inevitable that the plague would have been carried from London to Titchfield, this may not have been so.  I have looked at the Parish registers for those particular years.There is not much to be gleaned. If anything, they tell us that Titchfield was safe from the plague in this years. The burial patterns are normal and there is not a rash of burials that would suggest that there had been an epidemic.

Retreat to the country during the summer months seems to have been a sound policy for those who could afford to do so. 40,000 Londoners died in 1625, about 10% of the population. The 1665 outbreak was even worse.

Meeting Cancelled

Because of the uncertainty about the spread of the Coronavirus it seemed wise to cancel next Tuesday’s meeting on March 17th.

When the situation becomes clearer we will be able to plan future group activities, but for the moment please watch this website for future announcements.

Aplogies to all

Gothic Tourism

a Titchfield History Society talk

By Cheryl Butler

At the last minute Cheryl Butler kindly offered this talk, as the planned speaker was unwell. To most members the title didn’t give much away, but what a fascinating insight into 18th century life we received and such a local connection to Gothic Tourism.

The story of Netley Abbey, on the banks of the River Itchen, mirrors Titchfield’s own monastic past in that both Abbeys were dissolved by Henry VIII and turned into Tudor houses. In Netley’s case the house was left to become the picturesque ruin in the early 18th century and a magnet for the ‘Picturesque Movement’ in art and literature. The Romantic idea of Medieval Gothic (as opposed to the stark design of Greek and Roman architecture) appealed to the likes of artists John Constable and Thomas Rowlandson and writers such as Thomas Gray and Horace Walpole.

By the mid 18th century Southampton had become a spa town, attracting wealthy and retired visitors and as part of their engagements a boat trip to the romantic ruins of Netley became ‘de rigueur’.

The Gothic fashion for turrets, arches and other architectural embellishments led to houses being built in this style, either from new or converted from other ruins. Later in the century retirees who had previously worked for the East India Company plus the French Émigrés fleeing the revolution all brought additional influences in the form of a cornucopia of styles in architecture and ornament. An example was Southampton Castle owned by the Marquis of Lansdowne built in the early 1800’s. 

Artists and poets streamed into Southampton, the former to find patrons with bare walls in their new homes and writers seeking inspiration. At this time reading was a popular pastime for aspiring upper classes, with newspapers available and a circulating library in existence.

Southampton’s increased tourism required nurturing with pamphlets and maps which included illustrations. Excursions to Netley Abbey required these so the visitor could walk among the ruins reading the Netley inspired poetry with engravings included. A particular favourite pastime was having a picnic among the ruins, a practice which became so popular and, as much detritus was left behind, caused a degree of consternation among the locals. And we thought litter bugs were a 20th century invention.

As more and more visitors arrived, guidebooks got bigger and bigger and this required more stories to be written. Embroidering early rumours of ‘other worldly’ spirits and with tales of curses and hidden treasure, writers were never short of material.

Another writer who read contemporary gothic novels and was influenced by Southampton Society of the time was Jane Austen, who moved to the town with her cousin in her late teens and picnicked at Netley Abbey.

The Netley Abbey ruins have been the subject of an opera, a musical and ghost tours throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and they continue to hold a fascination, evidence being the proliferation of postcards, newly found stories and a couple of centuries of graffiti on the stones. 

Was this a missed opportunity for Titchfield or a lucky escape? 


Most people have heard of William Cobbett but our speaker Dr Richard Aldous really brought his story alive. William Cobbett was an agriculturist, soldier, journalist, politician and campaigner against corruption and for reform. He was a prolific writer who is estimated to have written 20 million words. He was controversial and frequently found himself in trouble.

He was born at the Jolly Farmer Farnham in 1763, and educated by his father whilst working on the family farm. In 1783 after a spell as a clerk he joined the army when intending to join the marines.

Posted to Canada he met his wife and returned to England in 1792 having reached the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major, Out of the army he started to campaign for soldier’s rights and was accused of sedition and fled to France.

He taught himself French and wrote a French grammar. He moved to the United States as revolutionary France was uncongenial and established himself as a pamphleteer, often using the pseudonym ‘Peter Porcupine’. His provocative style made many enemies and he had damages of $8000 awarded against him. To avoid paying these he returned to England where he continued his pamphleteering and campaigning. The government asked him to produce a propaganda sheet but Cobbett declined. Instead he founded his own newspaper ‘The Political Register’ in which he continued his campaigning. He was opposed to the Treaty of Amiens and urged a continuation of the war with France.

He started recording the proceedings of trials and parliamentary proceedings an enterprise he later sold to Hansard. Disgusted by Pitt’s abuse of patronage. Cobbett fought and lost a by-election at Honiton and was dismayed at the extent of electoral corruption.

In 1804 he moved to Hampshire buying Botley House and by 1808 was caricatured by Gillray as a “Man of Hampshire”. He was an agricultural innovator and founder of the Botley and South Hants Agricultural Society. He continued to campaign for workers rights whilst at the same time not being the best employer himself. In 1810 he spent 2 years in Newgate jail for treasonous libel.
When the Government suspended Habeas Corpus he fled to America where he wrote an English Grammar. Returning to England left Botley and moved to a plant nursery in.Kensington.

In 1821 he published a self sufficiency guide ‘Cottage Economy’ and then in 1822 embarked on the first of his rural rides for which he is perhaps best known. These continued until 1828 and were made on horseback so as to better engage with the countryside. He was a keen observer of the rural scene and critic of agricultural practices in the areas he visited. One ride along the south coast passed through Fareham and TItchfield. He was not impressed!

In 1831 he was again charged with sedition but was acquitted and he eventually entered parliament in 1832 as Member for Oldham. He died at Ash near Farnham and is buried in St Andrew’s churchyard.

Titchfield History Society January 21 2020

Titchfield on a Pilgrimage Route?

The British Pilgrimage Trust has been tracing old medieval pilgrimage routes and have recently discovered a route from Southampton to Canterbury. It is likely that the A27 runs close to the old footpath.

It is probable that Titchfield lay on this route and indeed it would make sense. Titchfield Abbey would have served as a refreshment point at least for travellers from Southampton and it would have been able to offer overnight accommodation if needed. Titchfield is about half a day’s walk from Southampton and it is probable that the pilgrims would have trekked on to Southwick for their overnight stay.

For more information about the British Pilgrimage Trust go to this link.

A New Publication

This book, which has been put together by some History Society members has dug into the archive of old photographs, and used some new photographs, taken by Phil Burner, to show the scene as it it today.

There are more changes in 100 years than you might realise.

The book is 122 pages and is on sale for £10.

We will take pre-orders at the Titchfield history Society Christmas meeting at the Community Centre, 17 December 7:30pm

The book will arrive from the printers later this week.

HARLOTS DUNG AND GLORY 1780 – 1860 By Andrew Negus

Last year Andrew Neagus treated the History Society to an early and light-hearted history of Portsmouth and its Dockyard. This month’s meeting. His second instalment covered the period of 1780 – 1860. By this time the Dockyard had become the largest Industrial complex in the world. It supplied the Navy and the growth of trade to the ever-expanding colonies. Portsea, the residential area was growing rapidly, housing many Dockyard workers. The point, which was protected by fortresses became a bawdry area, with 44 pubs/ brothels servicing the community and the sailors who came ashore. It was an area of poverty, squalor and filth, even though people worked, the pay was paltry. Press gangs operated to provide recruitment for the Navy, they toured the pubs and whore houses Many pubs had secret rooms for people to hide in when the press gangs arrived.
After losing the American War of Independence, Portsmouth became the departure point for the ships to the new colony of Australia, carrying both convicts and emigrants, the first ships carried 800 men and 200 women as well as vast quantities of supplies. The journey was 15000 miles and took over 8 months. The women’s ships were manned by sailors, and although there were many deaths throughout the convoy, more people arrived in the new world than those that had left (work it out for yourselves!). Convicts prior to departure were held in Hulks moored in the Harbour. By 1805 the Dockyard was huge. The threat from Napoleon saw the departure of Nelson for Trafalgar, before boarding Victory, he took a short detour to Bembridge to say his farewells to Emma Hamilton. His eventual triumph saw the Navy assume unrivalled power for the next 100 years. During this period the Dockyard expanded rapidly with the creation of the new Gunwharf and the Royal Clarence victualling yard at Gosport, which was huge, creating work and consequently Gosport expanded rapidly.
Andrew spoke of many of the famous sons of Portsmouth including Henry Ayers, who discovered the large rock in Australia which was named Ayers Rock after him. John Pounds who founded Ragged schools, became the inspiration for the Barnardo’s homes for children. Isambard Brunel and Charles Dickens were also born here. One person of notoriety was Jack the Painter, who supported the American War of Independence and tried to blow up the Dockyard, ending up being hung from the highest ever point of anyone hung, being the yard-arm with his body displayed at the harbour entrance in a gibbet for years thereafter.
From the growth of the Dockyard we learnt about the expansion of Portsmouth itself including the growth of Landport, and Southsea. He covered the building of the Canal and the Railway, the construction of the massive defences around Portsmouth and in the Solent, now known as Palmerston’s Follies. The development of Southsea by the Victorian architect, Thomas Owen, the creation of Southsea Common, kept clear of buildings in order to allow an open field of fire for the military. Thomas Owen financed, designed and built St Jude’s church, the spire of which was extended to provide a navigation point for ships entering the harbour.
We look forward to Andrew’s third instalment with eager anticipation.
Colin Wilton-Smith

Visitors from Beaulieu – September 26 2019

Titchfield History Society paid host to the Beaulieu History Society.  Their first stop was a tour of the Abbey, given by Marilyn and Colin Wilton-Smith, luckily the heavy showers forecast did not happen.  They were particularly interested in the Abbey due to the connections they have through Lord Montague of Beaulieu who is a descendant of the Wriothesley family, the second earl being married to Mary Browne, the daughter of the 1st Lord Montague from Cowdray Park in Midhurst.

We then proceeded to the Barn, where we had arranged a ploughmans lunch for them, with a talk on the Barn itself given by Ken Groves, our President.

Back on the coach which took them to the village, a short walk through to the Church where they were met by Richard Boden and David Mugford, who gave different insights into the church and some of its benefactors. Again special interest was taken on the Southampton Monument.

A big thank you to all the people who helped make the day go well.

Marilyn Wilton-Smith