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The Village History - Introduction

Extracted from an original typed history of the Ship Inn, by an unknown author and in the possession of the Pub's landlords since the 1960s. In 2014 Glenn Gilbertson published the full version with added references and a new chapter which is available from the Friends of Bishop's Sutton.

The Village History
Also Known As...

Sudtunam [982]

Sudton(e) [1086]

Sudzune [1136]

Sutton(a) Episcopi [c1190]

Sottone [c1270]

Sutthone [after 1284]

Sutton Episcopi [1540]

Bishop's Sutton [1564]

Margaret Highton c. 2000

Nearly thirteen hundred years ago part of this rich land was given by the saxon King Cynewalh to support the new Cathedral Church in Winchester at the time the Bishop's stool was was moved from Dorchester in 676. Later part became a Royal Manor and was left by King Alfred in his will to his son Edward the Elder and it remained in Royal hands for two hundred and fifty years, whence it passed into the possession of the Diocese of Winchester, with only a short break, for 250 years.

At the Domesday Survey the Manor was in possession of Count Eustace of Boulogne who married Mary of Scotland. Their daughter and heiress Maud married King Stephen.  In 1136 King Stephen exchanged his manor in Sudzune[*] with his half-brother Bishop Henry de Blois of Winchester for another Manor at Morden, Surrey.

It is Henry de Blois, a great Castle builder and founder of St. Cross[**], who made Sutton so important in mediaeval times. He lived in a time of violence and civil war and after rebuilding Wolvesey Castle in Winchester he took sides in the struggle between Stephen and Matilda, beseiged her in Winchester Castle from which she escaped in a coffin, and destroyed the city by fire. It is thought that de Blois was responsible for building the church of St. Nicholas here, and it is possible that after Henry II confirmed to him the grant of the Manor, he started to build a palace or manor house.  Certainly by the end of the 12th century there was a substantial palace here.


De Blois' Palace was a substantial building, for 350 years later we hear that "The Manor House, being a verie old house sometime walled round with stone now decayed, well watered with an olde ponde or moote adjoining it." A hundred and fifty years ago there were still vestiges of a strong and extensive building of flint and mortar.


The beginning of the 13th century was an exciting time in Sutton with many royal visits. King John visited Sutton three times in 1205, once in 1208 and twice in 1212.  Sutton was prospering for here was held a great Tourn at Hocktide and Martinmass[***] and in 1208 the Bishop established a fulling mill. Also the wheat rents of the Manor were higher than in any other manor of the Bishopric. The Bishop also drew 100 loads of wood and 200 poulty yearly, all indicative of a prosperous agricultural community.

Bishop's Sutton's other fame in meiaeval time was due to the "Old Road" or Pilgrim's Way which passed through Sutton. This road was from Winchester to Canterbury. The road's course was along the north bank of the Itchen to Itchen Stoke, then crossing by the ford at Ovington it ran over the downs direct to Sutton and on to Farnham. Many of the Pilgrims returning home along the Pilgrim's Way would have stopped at the church in Sutton dedicated to St. Nicholas and there reflected on the miracle St. Nicholas performed in saving the life of the three children a wicked inn keeper and his wife has killed and put in the salt tub.


The great St. Giles Fair, 12th September, established by William the Conqueror in 1070 at Winchester, gradually developed and at the beginning of the 13th century was in its prime and lasted as long as 24 days. It was a fair of international exchange, traders from all over England bringing wool cloth, cattle, sheep and pigs, and of the finer goods, the work of gold and silver smiths of London. Many of the traders would have passed through Sutton on their way to the Fair. During the Fair Winchester was entirely under the control of the Bishop and all trading in Winchester and for 7 leagues around was suspended for its duration. But he did not forget the throng of traders assembling at Sutton, and to provide for their amusement and provisioning the town had its own Fair on the eve of St. Giles Day and for several days after. The Sutton St. Giles Day Fair lasted right up until the middle of the 18th century.


These lively days at Sutton began to fade as Henry III's quarrel with his Barons developed into Civil War and the Barons began to take the side of Simon de Montford. Amongst his supporters was Sir Adam de Gurdon, a great soldier, Baliff of Alton and Custos of Alice Holt and Wolmer Forest. After the defeat and death of Simon de Montford at Evesham, Adam was disinherited. Sutton had been in Royal favour for most of the 13th century [however] London had become more and more the seat of government[****] and with the loss of Royal favour Winchester declined and with it the importance of Sutton. The collapse of the wool trade and removal of the wool staple from Winchester to Calais was the final blow and the town had passed its peak.


Nevertheless during [the 14th century] Sutton was still a lively place. The influence of the church was still growing and with an ever increasing number of religious houses hundreds of people would still be travelling to and fro along the Old Road past the "Ship".

By the beginning of the 1th century the Bishops of Winchester had lost interest in their Manor at Sutton. Bishop Fox leased the Manor to lewis Wingfield in 1500 and from this time onwards all direct management of the farms[*~] and mills by the Bishop  and his staff had ceased.  Western Court farm had long before, in 1324, been let to William de Overton.

The 17th century brought Civil War to Hampshire and an important battle right into the bounds of the parish at Sutton. Ten thousand Royalists ranged along Sutton Common faced ten thousand Roundheads on Cheriton Down. Each side so intent on victory for their cause that the battle lasted all day until the lane from Sutton Scrubbs to Cheriton by tradition "ran with blood". This battle, known as the Battle of Cheriton or Alresford Fight, took place on 29th March 1644, a victory for Parliament, defeat for the Royalists.

By the middle of the 19th century the Railways were supreme. Their average speed was 30 miles per hour. The final blow for Sutton was the opening of the Alton line in 1865 [*~~]

It is by this time that Bishop's Sutton had declined to be the small quiet village it is now.

*  See Also Known As...

** The Hospital of St.Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, built in Winchester between 1133 and 1136 by de Bois. It is not only the oldest charitable instution in Great Britain, but one of the biggest almshouses. It is still working today.

*** Hocktide: mediaeval  term and festival denoting the Monday and Tuesday in the first week following the second Tuesday after Easter. Martinmass: St. Martin's Day, November 11th. celebrating the feats of St. martin of Tours, the end of the autumn seeding for wheat and effectively the start of winter.

**** Up until the 12th and 13th centuries Winchester was the capital of England, and included the Royal Mint. Gradually over this time both the Capital and the Mint moved to London, and Winchester's power declined.

*~ Manor Farm and Western Court Farm are still in existence today.

*~~ The Winchester to Alton Branch line finally closed in 1973 thanks to Beeching, but reopened in 1983 as the heritage Mid Hants Railway - also known as the Watercress Line. The trains pass Bishop's Sutton on the northern ridge.

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