Houghton & Bossington Community Website
The countryside in the part of Hampshire around the villages of Bossington and Houghton along the banks of the River Test has been inhabited by man for more than 4000 years.   The conditions which originally drew men here still exist today and, although the technology of farming has improved dramatically in recent times particularly in the last 50 years, the essentials remain the same.
The first known visitors to the valley were a party of mesolithic (middle stone-age) hunter/gathers who built a camp on the eastern side of the valley bottom near the site of Horsebridge station where, in 1994, an archaeoligical dig unearthed evidence of both hunting and fishing, primitive traps, together with the small flint tools typical of the period. The finds were dated to about 8000BC.
The Roman Period

Map of Romanisation of BritainIn 50BC a new wave of invaders came over from the Continent.
The first task of the invading Roman forces was to build a network of magnificent roads across the countryside to facilitate both trade and the rapid movement of troops. Such a road was driven between Winchester and the new Roman city at Old Sarum and ran through Buckholt, across Houghton Down, down through Bossington Farm, over the River Test and passed close by where Horsebridge station stands today and up over the hill at Ashley. In 1783 a pig of lead was found in Bossington, a little west of the place where the road crosses the Test.

Now in the British Museum, it bears the inscription in Latin: “British (lead), the property of the Emperor Nero, consul for the fourth time on 1 January; pontifex maximus and consul from 1 July; Desilverised. The stamp of Cnaeus Pascus”. It can therefore be dated to the second half of 60AD. There is much evidence for Roman Bossington, but little is known about Houghton at this time. However two Roman coins have been found in Houghton which would suggest that Roman occupation of the village was every bit as early as at Bossington.

The Saxon Period

Britain Anglo-Saxon homelands settlements 400-500BCWe do not know exactly how, or when, Bossington and Houghton became the Saxon villages that their names indicate. Bossington is probably derived from a leader called “Bosa” – a known Saxon name (there was a Bishop Bosa of York in the 7th Century ). The word-ending “ing” generally means “the people of” and “ton” simply means an “enclosure” or “hamlet”.  Bossington therefore means “The village of Bosa’s people”. Similarly “hough” usually means a hill or a mound and therefore Houghton probably means “The village by the hill”, referring to the slope of Houghton Down above the village.

In many ways Houghton is an archetypal Saxon village: it is a long ribbon development straggling along the riverbank. As the Saxon invaders  originally came from the sea, following in their boats the course of the major rivers upstream, it was natural that they should settle first on the riverbank where their boats were moored.  Little is known about Saxon Bossington but it is likely to have been near the present church ofSt James.

Christianity came to the valley during the 6th and 7th centuries.  At first, services were probably conducted in the open.  Later simple wooden churches were built at both Bossington and Houghton and smaller chapels at Pittleworth and North Houghton. All, or most, were in turn rebuilt in stone in the 12th century.

The Norman and Medieval Period

Today, 14 October, in 1066 saw the Norman Conquest: Battle of Hastings – in England. It took place on Senlac Hill, seven miles from Hastings. The forces of William the Conqueror defeated the English army and killed King Harold IIAfter defeating Harold II’s Saxon army in 1066, the Normans swept ruthlessly through the country imposing their will on every village and town. The old Saxon aristocracy was mostly displaced and ownership changed hands for ever. The impact can be imagined and nowhere more so than in the heartland of the Saxon race, Wessex. William the Conqueror subsequently commissioned a survey of his new Kingdom: the Domesday Survey. The Survey shows that there was one large manor in Houghton, called Houghton Drayton, and four smaller estates. The large manor was held by the Bishop of Winchester and comprised 24 hides and 28 ploughs. There were 36 villeins and 46 bordars; 14 slaves; 4 mills assessed at 70s; a fishery at 3d; a meadow of 156 acres; woodland pasturage for 22 pigs; 3 burgesses assessed at 30d. There were 2 churches. Wibert the clerk had the living from these, including  ½ plough valued at 60s. It also noted that a certain William Peverel farmed 1 hide of the manor, as did one Walter.The whole manor was valued at £30.

Battle of Hastings map 1066Domesday gives us a reasonable picture of what was happening in our valley at the end of the11th century. The mixture, if not the scale, of agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing is not dissimilar today.  Allowing for the fact that the Survey only refers to the adult male population and what is thought to have then been the size of the average family, it is estimated that the total population of the village would have been 400-450.

In the autumn of 1348 the Black Death arrived in England and quickly spread through the West Country.  As Hampshire lay on the trade routes from the South and the South West, the county was badly infected.  50% of Hampshire’s clergy died and it seems likely that this reflected the mortality rate of the wider population.  There is inside the church in Houghton the most poignant testimony to the scale of the disaster. In the nave there is a list of all the parish priests who served the village. For the fateful year of 1348 the names of no less than four priests are recorded.  It is only too clear that the Plague did come to Houghton and the village suffered badly.

On a more romantic note, the year 1415 saw Henry V make his claim for the French crown. He summoned his army to assemble at Southampton for an invasion of France.  While it waited for favourable winds one division of the army pitched its camp in Sie-Marsh meadow, near Bossington House.  Ever since, this site has been known as the Agincourtfield. Legend even has it that the King himself heard Mass in the little church of St. James.

Early Modern Houghton and Bossington

Map of Hampshire in the 1600sThe sixteenth century was a period of momentous change within England following Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries, including the nearby Abbeys at Romsey and Mottisfont.  Some magnificent wall paintings are preserved in a tudor house within the village which attest to these major changes. They were painted in 1580 and are dominated by the arms of Queen Elizabeth I and carry the legend:  God preserve in health oure noble Queene Elizabeth.  Amen.  ANO DOMI 1580.  The royal coat of arms appeared in many churches and important houses across the country in the wake of the break with Rome and were used to demonstrate loyalty to the Crown.

In 1637 a charity was established by a George Pemerton of Winchester which provided for the poor people of Houghton.  Pemerton left a farm and lands that he owned in Houghton in trust to the Corporation of the City ofWinchester.  The trust stipulated that various distributions were to be made annually on St. George’s day out of the rents and profits from the farm.  Most were made to the people of Winchester, but “fortie six shillings and eight pence” was to be paid “yearlie for ever on St. George’s daie to the poore people of the parish of Houghton”.  The charity is sadly no more.  However, throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries money was indeed paid out by the churchwardens on 23rd April every year to the deserving poor of Houghton and it continued to be paid until well into the twentieth

The Civil War 1642 – 1646

The most traumatic event to occur in the seventeenth century was the English Civil War.  It is safe to conclude that the war had a profound affect on the people of Houghton and Bossington, as it did on most communities throughout the country.  The war’s toll on the population was proportionately much greater than either of the world wars.  0.6% of the population died in the Second World War.  2.6% died in the First World War.  Yet, a staggering 3.6% of the population is estimated to have died in the Civil War.  The Battle of Cheriton in 1644 was the only major battle to take place in Hampshire.  Nonetheless, there were numerous skirmishes across the county during the course of the war.  Musket shot dating from the Civil War period has been discovered on land in Pittleworth and it is clear that soldiers were in this area at various times.

Map of the English Civil War 1642The records largely fail to record the experiences and feelings of the ordinary people.  That they suffered much is beyond doubt.  The records show that, at the very least, the conflict led to the replacement of the Parish rector.  Francis Alexander is recorded as having been “plunder’d in those Times” and was removed as Rector of Houghton.  His successor, James Sessions, was clearly no more acceptable to Parliament and was himself ejected as Rector in 1650 and replaced by a Presbyterian called Thomas Warren.  Warren remained in possession until the Restoration of the Monarchy.  He refused to comply with the Act of Uniformity of 1662 and was duly turned out of the living in August 1662.

The indications are that both villages were royalist in sympathy during the Civil War.  Clearly, the sequestration of Alexander and the ejection of Sessions demonstrate that the rectors were royalist.  The Sandys family of nearby Mottisfont Abbey were also royalist, and all the other evidence points to considerable enthusiasm for the King’s cause in this region.

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Community

Map of Hampshire in the 1800sIn 1665 there were just 9 households in Bossington, and there were 58 households in Houghton and North Houghton.  Records for 1788 show there were then around 30 people living in Bossington and  330 in Houghton.   The fact that this was a time of strict public morals is indicate in an entry in the Houghton Parish records for 9thFebruary 1713: Deborah and Mary (Twins) the children of Robert Wake and Deborah his Wife (her maiden name Murphy) who were married no longer ago than the 16thNovember last past so that though ye children were born in wedlock, yet ye parents were guilty of Ante-nuptial fornication.

The record for February 1713 is also, sadly, a testament to the high levels of child mortality.  In addition to recording the baptism of the Wake twins, the register records the baptism of “William the son of Robert and Sarah Russell”.

Tragically, the record for 22nd February states: “All and every one of which three children last mentioned (Wakes and Russells) were buried in Houghton”.

The Nineteenth Century


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By the beginning of the nineteenth century many of the houses that make up today’s village had been long-built and the common lands had been enclosed and hedges grown such that much of the village then was as it remains today.  The most obvious difference though was the road system.  The road from Horsebridge used to run to the south of Houghton Mill, continuing on to Bossington almost at the very side of Bossington House and then branching to the north west and passing through Houghton and on to Stockbridge.  The road to Broughton from the south end of Houghton did not then exist.  At the beginning of the nineteenth century that it was decided to build a bridge on the north east side of Houghton Mill so that the road then passed in front of the mill as it does today.  At the other end of the village, the road to Stockbridge did not turn sharply to the left as it does now, but continued to follow the river and passed on the eastern side of Houghton Lodge.  The road was moved in about 1820.

There were three working mills for much of the nineteenth century.  Houghton Mill had been rebuilt at the latter part of the eighteenth century after it was destroyed by fire on the night of Tuesday 9th February 1768.  Millers were widely resented and disliked at this time and it would appear that the fire at Houghton Mill was an act of arson as a “Reward and His Majesties pardon” was offered for the “discovery and bringing to justice” of the “malicious persons responsible.”   Houghton Mill continued as a working mill for much of the nineteenth century.  After it ceased to grind corn it was used to generate electricity for Bossington House until the watermill was finally removed in 1960.

There were two other mills in Houghton: one at North Houghton and the other at Horsebridge.

The Swing Riots

‘Captain Swing’

In July 1830 rural disturbances began in Kent which rapidly spread across much of Southern England in the following months, and which engulfed Hampshire the following November.  Agricultural workers desperate for better wages and regular employment rioted, attacked the threshing machines that they believed had displaced them and burned down hayricks, barns and other farm buildings.  The disturbances also saw the distribution of threatening letters signed by a mythical “Captain Swing”, from which the riots took their name.

Overt disturbances in Hampshire began to occur on 17th November 1830.  On Sunday 21st November rioters assembled at King’s Somborne and went about destroying threshing machines.  They forced the landlord of the King’s Arms in Stockbridge to give them beer and then marched on Houghton Mill before going to Bossington House – the seat of one of the major local landowners – and smashing the windows.

Inhabitants and Occupations

Houghton Population Trends

In 1801 the population of Houghton was recorded as 340.  By 1841 it had increased somewhat to 400, and in 1851 it had increased to 438.  In 1859 the village boasted two shoemakers, three shopkeepers, a wheelwright, a carpenter, two blacksmiths, a beer seller, a brewer and victualler, a corn miller and several farmers.   By 1867, Houghton had its own post office, now “The Old Post Office”.  By then, the village also had a resident jockey: Thomas Cannon who lived at “Snail’s Creep” in Church Lane, and which he apparently named after one of his winning horses.  The fact that there should be a jockey living in the village is unsurprising given Houghton’s close proximity to Stockbridge and the Stockbridge Races.  The Stockbridge Races enjoyed a huge reputation equivalent to any of the country’s major race meetings  today.  Indeed, it was the Stockbridge Races that brought Edward, the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtrey to Stockbridge.

Bossington Population Trends

The population of Bossington was fairly constant during much of the nineteenth century.  It was recorded as being 61 in 1801 and as 60 in 1841.  Local legend has it that in about 1830 the then lord of the manor displaced the majority of the inhabitants and levelled the village along the lines of the Highland Clearances. However, the evidence suggests that, although a number of houses were indeed knocked down in 1827 and some residents moved away, many of the occupants were in fact rehoused in another part of the village.

A Bygone Era

Rates and Accounts

The Churchwardens’ Rates and Accounts Book for the 1800s reveals a bygone era.  It records payments made to all manner of parishioners for the killing of vermin.  In 1804, for example, among many other parishioners paid for killing pests, John Roe was “paid 3d for half a dozen old sparrows”, James Walice was “paid 1/6 for 6 Hedgehogs”, Peter Walice was “paid 4d for 1 polecat”,  John Tubb was paid 2½d for 15 sparrows” and John Bulpot was “paid 6d for 3 stoats”.

The bell ringers were paid 5s. to ring the bells annually on Coronation Day and a further 5s. to ring them “at Gun Powder Treason” [i.e. November 5th] every year.  The last recorded payment for bell-ringing commemorating the Gunpowder Plot was in 1859, and the last recorded bell-ringing on Coronation Day was in 1861.

The Twentieth Century

The Village Changes

Well into the twentieth century official records still refer to Houghton Drayton and north Houghton.  The two villages only officially became Houghton at sometime after the Second World War.  Residents of Houghton and visitors to the village still enjoy the beauty, peace and tranquillity of this exceptionally beautiful river valley and many of the elements of the village are unchanged. The Ordnance Survey map of 1909 shows that there have been very few, minor changes during the twentieth century.  Most if not all of the houses shown on the 1909 map still survive. For the most part developments in the twentieth century were not really visible from the village road  just a few developments on infill plots and three small estates (Steven’s Drove, Chapel Close and, in 1999, Alexander Close).

The really dramatic changes in the twentieth century have been in the villagers themselves in their levels of education, their aspirations and in their occupations.  In 1900 Houghton had only the most rudimentary commercial establishments to meet its day-to-day needs and virtually no occupants engaged in anything other than agriculture, service and shopkeeping. The first motor car was purchased by a local doctor in 1905 and mains electricity did not come to the village until 1934. Mains water did not arrive until 1966.

The atmosphere in the earliest part of the century is best summarised by a contemporary account in the Hampshire advertiser in 1934 which described Houghton as “the Hampshire village where time has lingered” and states that:  “it remains an unspoiled village of great charm and rare beauty… rare beauty because the twentieth century rediscovery of the countryside has left few villages unscathed by petrol pumps and bungalowmania. Houghton is one of them!” 

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