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. https://britishpilgrimage.org/old-way/

Titchfield Emblem and the New Entry Signs

Residents in Titchfield wanted to freshen up the first impression on entering the historic village of Titchfield. The old entry signs were a bit battered and did not do the historic village any justice. The first challenge was how to best summarise Titchfield as a historic village, so in 2017 Sean Searight took the lead in chairing a team of local enthusiasts who decided an emblem was the best way to pack the key historic places and moments into a colourful emblem.  Designs started over some beers in the Queens Head pub and became more colourful as the evenings progressed! 

The design was finally completed in 2018 and was then presented through consultation processes at village fetes and other media channels. Once endorsement had been secured earlier this year, it was agreed that the signs should be up and ready for July’s Village in Bloom Competition. Look out for the new fresh signs as you drive through: Saint Margaret’s Lane, East Street and Posbrook Lane. Many thanks must go to those locals who helped to organise the purchase and fitting of the new entry signs: Mark Rowe, Kevin Fraser, Phil Burner and Joe Folland (from the Traffic Department in Hampshire Highways). 

More recently residents have proudly raised their emblem in the form of banners, flags and bunting erected in their Christmas tree stands and across the frontages of their homes and businesses. Saint Peters church started the celebrations off on Saturday 13 July with emblem bunting fluttering across the entrance for a wonderful wedding! The village emblem colours are out in force complimenting the wonderful flowers planted by enthusiastic locals ready for an amazing Village in Bloom in July. 

Lord Montagu’s address


I am delighted to be taking part in today’s inauguration of St Peter’s as a Heritage Church. A place of worship dating back over 1000 years, which contains so many significant links with the past, fully deserves to be put on the heritage map of Southern England.

Whilst this project is about celebrating all aspects of the church’s history, I am really here to continue a family association which goes back over 400 years. I am referring, of course, to my ancestors’ monument and vault which has been situated in the South Chapel for over half of its seven-century history.

Four generations of Wriothesleys who served eight English monarchs through 150 turbulent years, and whose lives were inextricably woven into the history of Hampshire and of England, are interred here at Titchfield. So when you are feeling in a contemplative mood, stand over their final resting place and reflect upon the fact that from them, over 80 British Peers can trace their lineage; that’s quite a dynasty.

The rise of the Wriothesley family began with Thomas who in 1524, at the age of nineteen, entered the service of Thomas Cromwell and became Clerk of the Signet. Wriothesley’s services to the King were later rewarded with extensive lands in Hampshire including Titchfield and Beaulieu. Both were former abbeys, and both were converted into residences. Place House in Titchfield, Palace House in Beaulieu. He was knighted and in 1544 and became Baron of Titchfield and Earl of Southampton in 1547. His son, Henry, later 2nd Earl, was honoured by having King Henry VIII as his Godfather.

In his will of 1582, the 2nd Earl ordered that two monuments should be built, one for his father Thomas and mother Jane, the other for himself. But there was a significant delay and the result was a single monument bearing three effigies, all carved from marble and alabaster. Additionally, there is the rare depiction Henry, 3rd Earl of Southampton as a young man, kneeling and praying.

For those seeking other links with history, one cannot fail to be moved by 3rd Earl’s connection to the greatest writer of the English language. Shakespeare only dedicated his work to one man, Henry Wriothesley, to whom the poet pledged his love “without end.”

The 3rd Earl was also a leading figure in the Virginia Company. The Port of Southampton was the point of departure for the Pilgrim Fathers and the Mayflower was amongst the ships he financed, and which landed safely in the New World two years before his death in 1624.

But this isn’t just a monument to figures in history, it is also a remarkable work of stone carving; the materials, the scale, positioning and the design were all used to express status and power. The work of Flemish sculptor Gheerart Janssen and his son Nicholas, this is amongst the finest and the best preserved Elizabethan monuments in England. So whilst this church has much else to merit its heritage status, for me this is its jewel, and one which deserves to be more widely appreciated.

In the centuries which have followed since its creation, we must be grateful that the monument has been more admired than abused, and so whilst the passing years took their toll, worshippers and visitors came to acknowledge the monument as a very special piece, worthy of their care and protection. William Pavey, writing in 1719, was possibly the first to recognize this. Later, in 1839, RHC Ubsdell’s watercolours were another form of appreciation. It was the recent discovery of these which gave us the information required to produce an accurate facsimile of the 2nd Earl’s funerary achievement which now hangs in the same place as the original.

As one of the senior Wriothesley descendants, and the only remaining family member to be living in a property acquired by the 1st Earl of Southampton, my great grandfather was one of the first to take the lead in raising funds for restoration work in 1902. My father similarly initiated a campaign for repairs which were carried out in 1979. Additionally, work to the South Chapel in the 1950s was funded by grants, public appeals and fundraising under Rev. Norman Miller’s direction.

In fact, the work of maintaining historic buildings and their contents never ends, but how we present the legacies inherited from previous generations will inevitably evolve over time. This occasion represents a new chapter in that process.

For me, there are parallels with Beaulieu Abbey, a visitor attraction where we combine worship with the telling of a story about the church and its historical, religious, cultural and political role. And if we’re to do this properly, we shouldn’t just rely on ‘handed down’ accounts as there is scope to undertake new research which can help to fill in some of the gaps in our understanding. In addition to re-examining the established evidence and documentation, we have the opportunity to enlist new imaging and scientific techniques which can inform our approach to conservation while making a significant contribution to the historical record of the Parish.

It was this, combined with a growing public interest in my ancestors, that persuaded me to establish The Southampton Monument and Vault Initiative, a partnership with St Peters and the University of Southampton. It is early days but, guided by a mission of preservation, discovery, and commemoration, it is my hope that this initiative will complement the work already taking place here in rediscovering St Peter’s past and helping it to develop as a heritage attraction.

I will finish with the words of an author whose connections with Titchfield and the 3rd Earl continue to be a subject of study and speculation.

this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

These words might also describe the spirit of what Titchfield embodies today, reaching back over 1000 years, but also welcoming the future and the opportunities it presents.

Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester and founder of Titchfield Abbey

Peter des Roches was a very powerful figure in early 13th century England. He hitched his star to the fortunes of King John and held the highest offices of state as well as being the very rich Bishop of Winchester. Towards the end of his life he founded the abbeys at Titchfield and Netley as well as a small priory at Selborne. He also founded Hales abbey in Worcestershire (the parent house of Titchfield) and Clarté Dieu in Touraine.
He was born in Touraine, possibly at Château-du-Loir at an unknown date. We might infer that he was born between 1170 and 1175. The family was a powerful one in the region and a brother or possibly a cousin, Guillaume des Roches (d. 1222), was seneschal of Anjou and one of the leading figures in the government of Philip Augustus, king of France. Peter, as a younger son, would not inherit any land and had to chart his own path through life.
He did not initially join the church and in his youth was better known as a warrior. Roger of Wendover, the chronicler, remarked that in his youth des Roches had been better versed in how to lay siege to a castle than in preaching the word of God and it is apparent that this military reputation stayed with him throughout his career.
He first comes to notice in 1197 as a witness to a charter by Richard I. The detail of this is irrelevant but it does show that des Roches was already a significant man at court during Richard’s late reign. He was appointed prior of Loches, dean of St Martin’s at Angers and treasurer of the collegiate church of St Hilaire at Poitiers. These were all offices that would yield him income while the actual duties were performed by men at these various sites. He was clearly a capable administrator and after Richard’s death in 1199 he attached himself to King John who rewarded him handsomely.
After the loss of Normandy in 1203 Peter des Roches crossed the channel with King John and was a leading member of John’s household. was rewarded with a rich haul of benefices, including the churches of Cave, Hales, Kirby Misperton, and possibly Dartford, a prebend and the office of precentor in Lincoln Cathedral, and a perpetual vicarage at Bamburgh. In April 1204 he was granted the right to dispose of prebends and rents within the vacant see of Chichester, and following the death of Bishop Godfrey de Lucy in September 1204, was proposed as the king’s candidate for the vastly wealthy see of Winchester. His election was disputed and it took almost two years of wrangling and the intervention of the Pope before he was enthroned as Bishop in March 1206. Des Roches was now one of the most powerful figures in England.
He had skills in finance and exacting taxes that John, who was keen on administrative affairs, keenly appreciated. John also trusted him to bring up his eldest son Henry (later Henry III) from 1212. He was appointed Regent in 1214 while John made an expedition to Poitou. Naturally he supported John during the civil and for his pains lost his role as justice after the signing of Magna Carta in 1215.
After John’s death in 1216, des Roches was able to return to power as a supporter of the young king. A significant number of barons recognised Prince Louis of France as their king but the royal party prevailed and at the Battle of Lincoln on 20 May 1216, the warrior-bishop led a contingent of crossbow men who, it is said, were instrumental in winning the day. Des Roches also took many prisoners and greatly enriched himself by the ransoms.
He was now once more at the centre of government although he had to struggle against the preferences of other powerful barons, most notably Hubert de Burgh, as as de Burgh had greater support from the Council, des Roches decided to step down in 1220.
It is one of the oddities of the Middle Ages that is sometime hard for us to understand, that men who were plainly secular in their daily approach to life could still be conventionally pious. Thus des Roches took himself off on a pilgrimage to Santiago da Compostela in the spring of 1221. In his absence, Hubert de Burgh and his other enemies began proceedings against some of his allies. When he returned he faced accusations of withholding revenue collected as Sheriff of Hampshire from the exchequer and was eventually assessed a large fine of £500 in 1927. He then went off on a Crusade and did not return to England until 1231.
Henry III was no longer a minor and was increasingly in charge of affairs and he brought his old mentor back into court as a baron of the exchequer. Hubert de Burgh’s position was now in decline and des Roches was able to run the tables on his old enemy and have him excluded from office in 1234. Unwilling to stop there, des Roches started proceedings against other enemies and in consequence pushed the country into a civil war that lasted almost a year. He overplayed his hand, and although the rebellion was eventually quashed, the cost to the exchequer was huge, and Henry lost confidence ins old advisor.
At the start of April 1234 des Roches was ordered to leave court and to meddle no more in political affairs. His aides were also stripped of office. Des Roches was allowed to retire relatively unscathed, and in the spring of 1235 sought relief from his problems in England by a further series of adventures abroad, joining Pope Gregory IX (r. 1227–41) and the emperor Frederick II in a campaign against the Roman commune. His relations with the emperor were soured by letters, sent by King Henry, warning Frederick against des Roches, while the pope is said to have favoured him only out of greed to obtain access to des Roches’s vast wealth. In 1236, following representations from the pope, he received licence from Henry III to return to England; he is said to have arrived back about 29 September, broken in health, and one of his first acts was to draw up his will. During the last eighteen months of his life he was appointed to preach a crusade for the rescue of the Latin empire of Constantinople, helped quell disturbances at Oxford against the papal legate Otto, and, ironically, is said to have urged the king to favour his native barons against the newly introduced alien, Simon de Montfort (d. 1265). Des Roches died at his manor of Farnham on 9 June 1238. His heart was buried at nearby Waverley Abbey, his body in Winchester Cathedral, in a tomb still marked by a black marble effigy.
Peter des Roches was a man of huge wealth and his income as bishop of Winchester rose during his tenure from £1500 to £3000 a year. These values seem paltry today but in the 13thcentury he was the equivalent of a multimillionaire. He could therefore well afford his legacy of monastic buildings. Winchester cathedral was enlarged  and he founded the monasteries named at the head of this article, including of course. Titchfield. This will be discussed in another post.