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

Wig, Powder and Windows

Excise men on the lookout for smugglers

When Phoebe Merrick told her audience that she was going to talk about tax, there was a good natured groan from the audience. Who loves taxation? – although we all recognise its necessity for good government, and of course it has a history.

Phoebe worked for most of her career as an excise officer and opened by explaining the difference between customs and excise – customs is the collection of customary duties on imports and exports, whereas excise duty is a later invention which assessed charges against products at the point of manufacture.

Excise duties made their first appearance in England during Cromwell’s government in the 17th century. They were naturally focussed popular products such as alcohol and were unpopular in equal measure. The tax was paid at the point of manufacture and was relatively easy to administer and hard to evade. It is, as Phoebe pointed out, a tax on quantity rather than quality. Even today, a vintage bottle of Mouton Rothschild will attract the same amount of tax as a bottle of cheap plonk.

After some success with new taxes governments extended the range, but not always with good results. A hearth tax, which appeared at first glance to be a reasonable tax on property, was difficult to enforce as inspection required access to the house. It was abandoned and followed by a window tax which only required external inspection. This tax persisted until the 19th century and even today some blocked-up windows are visible reminders of attempts to avoid the tax.

The job of an excise officer in the 17th and 18th centuries could be hazardous. Some citizens were inclined to act violently to the idea of being taxed and the excise officer often had to call for help from the military and later the police. Not least of their issues was the delivery of the money collected, mostly in coin, to safety in London. In an age before bank notes and more sophisticated means of transferring money, revenue officers had to transport the money on slow-moving pack horses on uncertain roads. Attack and potential robbery was always a danger.

The talk was informative and delivered with wit and style. Whether or not any one in the audience will feel better about paying taxes in future is an open question, but one thing is certain, we are all better informed about the history and development of excise taxes.

Excise men raiding an illegal warehouse at London Docks