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Hastening on his embassy and finding everything consonant to general estimation, he concealed his mission from her parents and procured the damsel for himself. Returning to the King, he told a tale which he made for his own purpose, that she was a girl of vulgar and commonplace appearance, and by no worthy means of such transcendent dignity.
This caused the King to lose interest in Elfrida, but eventually he had reason to suspect that he had been duped by his friend. To put the matter to the test, the King appointed a day when he would visit this far-famed lady. Her husband, greatly alarmed by this prospect, went ahead to his wife, confessed what had happened and besought her that she would protect him by attiring herself as unbecomingly as possible. Elfrida appeared to consent this stratagem, but instead adorned herself at the mirror and omitted nothing which could stimulate the desire of a young and powerful man”.

Nor did events happen contrary to her design, for, as the Chronicler states, "he fell so desperately in love with her the moment he saw her that dissembling his indignation he sent for the Earl into a wood at Warewell under the pretence of hunting and ran him through with a javelin".

There is in the depth of Harewood Forest in the parish of Longparish (Middleton) a cross, commonly known as "The Monument" which bears this inscription on the plinth :

"About the year of our Lord DCCCCLXIII (AD 963) upon this spot beyond the time of memory called Deadman’s Plack, tradition reports that Edgar, surnamed the peaceable, King of England, in the ardour of youth love and indignation, slew with his own hand his treacherous and ungrateful favourite Earl Athelwold, owner of this forest of Harewood, in resentment of the Earl’s having basely betrayed and perfidiously married his intended bride and beauteous Elfrida, daughter of Ordgar, Earl of Devonshire, afterwards wife of King Edgar, and by him mother of King Ethelred II, Queen Elfrida, after Edgar’s death, murdered his eldest son, King Edward the Martyr, and founded the Nunnery of Wor-well”

On the back of the plinth is another inscription saying

"This Monument was erected by Col William Iremonger AD MDCCCMV (1825)"

The murder of King Edward the Martyr, Queen Elfrida's stepson, at Corfe Castle, is a matter of history. Edward went to visit his stepmother and half brother at Corfe Castle on 18 March 978, nearly three years after his father unexpected death in July 975. Why he went is not known, but that evening, after a day’s hunting, the young king was murdered by thegns at the gap of Corfe and his body was thrown into a bog where it remained for nearly one year. Whilst there has never been any evidence to establish the complicity of Queen Elfrida, the result was that her own son, Ethelred, became King.

According to the chroniclers, Ethelred, who was only ten years old, was not party to this murder. When the report of his half brother’s death reached him, Ethelred wept. This so irritated his furious mother, that, not having a whip at hand, she snatched up some candles, and nearly beat his life out, so that he dreaded candles all the rest of his days. When he came of age, he forced her to retire from active political life. For her part Queen Elfrida thought that it was time to smooth her passage to a higher authority. Tradition tells that on her way to London, she came to the gates of Salisbury, but the people of Salisbury shut the gates and threatened to stone her. She went on to Amesbury, where there was a nunnery, and there she did penance for the bloodshed in which she had been concerned. As proof of penitence she founded Wherwell Abbey in AD 986, and became its first Abbess.

At some stage later she also founded the Parish Church. According to the chronicler, "And in the peace, which by the inhabitants is called Wherwell, founded the Church of the Holy Cross, beseeching Christ, that He who wounded on the (ever) memorable Cross, shed His blood for the redemption of the human race, might deign to grant her the pardon (purchased) by His death, His wounds and by the shedding of His blood rich (in graces)”

Queen Elfrida spent the rest of her days in quiet contemplation and penitence until one day in AD 1002 , looking in the river, she fell in and was drowned. In the Cartulary of Wherwell in the possession of Joshua Iremonger in 1743, it is thus touchingly put :

"in the year of Our Lord 1002, the 15 December, died the lady Elfrida of pious memory, Queen of Edgar the Peaceable, formerly King of England.”

Following the death of his mother, King Ethlered confirmed the rights of the nuns and further endowed the Parish Church.

"The King Ethelred, son of the Queen, endowed the same Church, and augmented it with various possessions, and with the agreement of blessed Dunstan, then Archbishop of Canterbury, and of St Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, instituted nuns in the aforenamed place of Wherwell that they might serve God there”.

[edit] Prosperity

In the years leading up to the Norman conquest, the Abbey thrived. By the time that the Domesday Book was drawn up, the Abbey is mentioned as holding in its possession Wherwell, Tufton, Goodworth (Clatford), Ann, Middleton (Longparish) and Bullington, which together were known as the Wherwell Hundred. Fullerton was part of Wherwell. Reckoning up the various classes on these six Manors, we find a total of 36 villeins, 48 borderers, 25 freemen (who were all in Wherwell) and 30 servants. The religious were not reckoned. In Wherwell there was wood for 25 hogs, and in Tufton and Ann there were copses for fences; while at Middleton there was a fishery for the use of the hall. The Abbey also owned properties in Winchester, in Flesmanger's Street (St Peter's Street), Scowitens Street (Jewry Street) and Colwern Street (Parchment Street).

A religious house was primarily a place of contemplation and retirement, but the Abbess of' a great establishment like that of Wherwell was also the Lady of many Manors. She discharged all the business of their management, and gave hospitality to travellers. She dispensed justice through her manorial courts, collecting fines from offenders and heriots (a kind of death duty) when the new owners wished to take up their rights. The Abbey of Wherwell even possessed the right to seize the chattels of fugitives. One case is recorded of a Henry Harold of Wherwell who had killed his wife Isabel. He fled to the Abbey, whereupon the Abbess promptly seized his chattels to be value of thirty five pounds four shillngs and eight pence. We only know of this case because the seizure was disputed by the crown, which felt, wrongly, that it, not the Abbey, had the right to the chattels.

Throughout its history the Abbey was an important place of sanctuary or refuge for those in need. In addition to Queen Elfrida, the list of refugees includes two other Queens of England, Queen Emma who as married to King Canute and Queen Eadygth, wife of Edward the Confessor as well as the sister of Edward the Confessor who became Abbesses in 1051. The Norman royal family never established such a close relationship with Wherwell Abbey, but, despite this lack of direct royal patronage, the Abbey retained a certain social cache amongst those well born ladies who could not find suitable husbands. It was also a useful haven for knights needing to find a safe place for their wives and daughters to live whilst they were off at the wars.

[edit] Destruction 1141

The Nunnery flourished under many good Abbesses until it was destroyed by fire in 1141 during the Civil War between Stephen of England and his cousin the Empress Matilda. The Empress had occupied Winchester and was besieging Henry, Bishop of Winchester in his castle, when Stephen's troops approached. Matilda sent a garrison to guard the crossing of the river Test at Wherwell. These were attacked by Stephen's troops, led by William of Ypres, “an evil man who respected neither God nor man”. The guards fled into the Abbey and claimed sanctuary. Stephen’s troops were in no mood for such niceties. William ordered the nuns to hand over Matilda’s men. The Abbess refused and William then ordered his men to burn down the Abbey, killing Matilda’s guards and driving out the nuns. The Empress herself was defeated at Stockbridge. This incident occurs in Ellis Peters's historical novel, “An Excellent Mystery”.

[edit] Later history

In 1215 King John granted to the Abbey the important right to hold an Annual Sheep Fair. The Fair was held, with interruptions, until 1920 on what is still known as the "Fair Piece". The Parish Church is dedicated to St Peter and Holy Cross, and the day of the Fair was chosen to coincide with the Festival of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Anglo-Saxon Roodmas Day which was celebrated on 14 September (old style - now 24 September). Apart from being a market place, the Fair also acted as a labour exchange. Farm hands would travel considerable distances to look for new masters. Carters would come with a plaited whipcord over their shoulders, and shepherds with a piece of sheep's wool in their caps.

From 1226 to 1257 the Abbey was ruled by a very remarkable woman, the Blessed Euphemia.

“Realising that the Lord had called her to rule the Abbey of Wherwell, not that she might live there at ease, but might, with care and dispatch, uproot, destroy and dissipate all that was most noxious, and direct that which would be most useful, she re-built the insanitary buildings in the court of the Abbey Manor”

“It is most fitting” says her convent chartulary, “that we should always perpetuate the memory, in our special prayers and suffrages, of one who ever worked for the glory of God, and for the weal of both our soul and bodies. For she increased the number of the Lord’s handmaidens in this monastery from forty to eighty, to the exaltation of the worship of God. To her sisters, both in health and sickness, she administered the necessaries of life with piety, prudence, care and honesty. She also increased the sum allowed for garments by 12 pence each. The example of her holy conversation and charity, in conjunction with her pious exhortations and regular discipline, caused each one to know how, in the words of the Apostle, to possess her vessel in sanctification and honour. She also, with maternal piety and careful forethought, built, for the use of both sick and sound, a new large farmery away from the main buildings and in conjunction with it a dorter and other necessary offices. Beneath the farmery she constructed a watercourse, through which a stream flowed with sufficient force to carry off all refuse that might corrupt the air. Moreover she built there a place set apart for the refreshment of the soul, namely a chapel of the Blessed Virgin, which was erected outside the cloister behind the farmery. With the chapel she enclosed a large place, which was adorned on the north side with pleasant vines and tress. On the other side, by the river bank, she built offices for various uses, a space being left in the centre, where the nuns are able from time to time to enjoy the pure air.”

She was equally attentive to secular business. “She also so conducted herself with regard to exterior affair” says the admiring chronicler, “that she seemd to have the spirit of a man rather than of a woman”. She levelled the court of the abbey manor and built a new hall, and round the walled court she made gardens and vineyards and shrubberies in places that were formerly useless and barren and which now became both serviceable and pleasant.

The dorter was rebuilt following the near disastrous collapse of the bell tower at matins one day. Despite the fact that the nuns were in the dorter below, some in bed and some at prayer, no one was killed or even injured. An “obvious miracle from heaven” which could only serve to enhance the Blessed Euphemia’s reputation. It is supposed to be her effigy, which is now at the West end of the Church. Formerly it was under a stone canopy in the wall of the churchyard, but fearing the stone would be destroyed by the passing of the years and the inclement weather, it was moved about 1940 into the Church, with the aid of grants from the Field Path Association, an Antiquarian Society, and the Lady of the Manor, Mrs Jenkins.

In 1266 Henry III granted to the Abbess and her successors, the right to hold a weekly Market to be held on Wednesdays. There is no trace of this now, but it must have been a source of considerable profit to the Lord of the Manor.

Rumours of bad behaviour amongst nuns were constantly circulating, especially susceptible to temptation were the Abbesses. For example in 1284 the stern reformer Archbishop Peckham wrote injunctions to the Abbess of Wherwell. Apart from prohibiting young boys from attending the school, which was run there to educate children, he reprimanded the Abbess on her personal behaviour. Apparently she had been stinting her nuns of food and drink, whilst causing magnificent feasts to be prepared for herself in her own room. Peckham ordered that whenever there was a shortage of food in the convent, she was to dine with the nuns, and no meal was to be laid in her chamber for servants or strangers, but all visitors were to be entertained in the exterior guest hall. If at such times she were in ill health, and unable to use the common diet, she might remain in her room in the company of one or two of the nuns. At times when there was no lack of food in the convent and when she was entertaining guests in her own room, all potations were to cease and all servants and visitors to depart at the hour of compline. To reinforce his injunctions and ensure that they followed to the letter, Archbishop Peckham appointed a certain J. de Ver to act as co-adjutress (whose duties were no doubt similar to those of a political officer in the Red Army).

Further injunctions were written seeking to reverse the introduction of individual cells. It was felt that proper behaviour could only be ensured if sleeping arrangements were communal and there were not even curtains in the dorter. But it was an up-hill struggle. In 1368 William of Wykeham wrote to the Abbess of Wherwell: “Lately, it has come to our ears by popular report of trusty men, that contrary to the honesty of religion you admit various religious men, especially of the mendicant orders, lightly and promiscuously to pass the night in your habitations, from which grows much matter for laxity and scandal, since the cohabitation of religious clerks and nuns is altogether forbidden by the constitutions of the holy fathers”.

Again in 1387 William of Wykeham wrote exceptionally full and formal injunctions to ensure the correct and proper claustration of all the nuns. He also complains of the abbess’ illicit detention of “certain distributions and pittances as well as in money as in spices” which divers benefactors had bestowed.

However, a study of the visitation documents makes clear that the nuns never really made any attempt to obey the rule, which imposed a strict enclosure upon them. In the end the church decided to try to regulate rather than control this behaviour. For example the rules for visiting friends ran as follows:

“No lady of religion is to go and visit her friends, but if it be once a year at the most and then for reasonable cause and by permission; and then let her have a companion professed in the same religion, not of her own choice but whomsoever the Prioress will assign to her and she who is once assigned to her for companion shall not be assigned the next time.”

Wherwell remained an important and peaceful place for years, looking after the needs of the surrounding neighbourhood and even helping King Henry VIII in 1523 by supplying 52 Archers and 118 Billmen when a muster of men was called in Hampshire to help in the war with France. But life in the Abbey was never to recover the peak it had reached under Euphemia and immediately thereafter. The most serious blow was the Black Death, which ravaged the area in the period 1348 and 1349. By 1501 the number of nuns had only recovered to 22, whilst at the time of the dissolution on 20 November 1539 this had risen to 25.

[edit] Dissolution 1539

A petition was presented to the King at the time:

"Great hurt and decay is thereby come, and hereafter shall come to your realm, and great impoverishment of many your poor obedient subjects, for lack of hospitality and good householding which was in them to be kept to the great relief of the poor people of all the country adjoining to the said monasteries, besides the maintenance of many servants, husbandmen and labourers that daily were kept in the said religious houses”.

The last Abbess of Wherwell was Morphuet Kyngesmill, cousin of the last Prior and first Dean of St Swithin's Cathedral at Winchester, and sister of one of the Commissioners of the Dissolution. She was able to arrange for herself an annual pension of £40 p.a. A considerable sum in those days. The former prioress of Wherwell, Alice Gilford, received a mere £6 p.a.

On 3 March 1540 the whole of the Abbey lands were transferred to Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warr, in exchange for manors in Sussex and a fifth of a Knight's service. One of the conditions of sale was that all the religious buildings be destroyed. These included: “The church ‘Quyer’ and steeple covered with lead, the Cloister covered with tiles and certain gutters of lead. The Chapter House, Frater, Dormitory, Convent Kitchen, and all the old lodgings between the Granary and the hall door covered with tiles.”

The buildings assigned to remain were “The late Abbess’ lodging with the houses within the Quadrant as the water leadeth from the East side of the cloister to the gate; the (In)firmery, the Mill and Millhouse with the Slaughterhouse adjoining. The brewing and baking houses with the Granaries to the same. The Barn and Stables in the outer court.”

[edit] Today

Very little of the original buildings can now be seen. Recent resistivity tests have located the site of the Abbey Church, see attached plan. The church was about 70 metres long with a large steeple, which must have been nearly as high as Salisbury cathedral. The cloisters have also been located immediately to the south of the church. Since the days of the Abbey the course of the steam has been moved to the west by about 10 metres in the area of the church. Mediaeval foundations can still be seen along the stream and the central core of the Priory Buildings are also much earlier than the house itself. The barn to the south of the main buildings, which used to be the stables, has recently been dated to the second half of the 13th Century. From samples of wood taken for analysis, it would appear that the building was constructed in two sections with the oak being cut in 1249 and 1279. The roof of this building remains very largely intact, and is considered one of the most complete 13th Century roofs in the country. The building is listed Grade 1.

Although the main buildings of the present Priory present a unified appearance, they have been extensively altered and added to over the years. The Priory is built around a very old core, possibly mediaeval. The south façade is late 16th Century. During the 17th Century and 18th Century there was a brick and flint building with the main entrance facing East (the main entrance is now on the north side). During the 18th Century the bow windows in the North East and South East corners were added. The present white regency façade was built in the period 1820 –1830. It is believed that at this time the dining room was constructed, the drawing room was enlarged and the main entrance moved to the North. During the middle of the 19th Century the main drive was relocated from Winchester Lodge and a new drive constructed to Andover Lodge. At the end of the 19th Century bow windows were added to the North West corner. During the early part of the 20th Century the existing office buildings were added. On the Priory side of the wall, by the Priory Churchyard gate, there is a stone with the following inscription:-

ANNO DOM 1649 HERE WAS THE MONASTERY OF WHERWELL ERECTED BY QUEEN ETHELRED. DEMOLISHED BY THE OVERACTED SEALE OR AVARICE OF KING HENRY, AND OF ITS LAST RUINES HERE BURIED THERE YET REMAINS THIS MONUMENT

In the West end of the Church, in addition to the recumbent figure of the Abbess (Euphemia) which has been mentioned, there are five other small fragments, two of them let into the wall, one of these representing the Harrowing of Hell. All these fragments were brought back into the Church in 1940 and 1941.

In the gable wall of the Old Vicarage is a 14th Century Cross.

The Abbey and Parish had no separate existence before the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540; the Superior of the Monastery (Abbess) was the Lady of the Manor. Up to the Dissolution there was a (male) Prebend on the Staff of the Monastery who acted as Parish Priest.

The estate belonged to the Lords de la Warr till AD 1695, and then passed into the hands of Edmond Boulter, a merchant of London, who sold all the outlying Manors except Goodworth Clatford. Boulter died in 1709 and bequeathed his estate to his nephew, John Fryer, a Pewterer of London and an Alderman who, when he died in 1726, left it equally among his three daughters Bithiah, Susannah and Delicia. Delicia married Joshua Iremonger in AD 1742; and he, in AD 1743, bought out his two sisters-in-law, thus becoming Lord of the whole of the two Manors.

In AD 1914 the Wherwell estate passed from the possession of the Iremongers into that of Colonel and Mrs Jenkins, whose daughter, Marjorie, Countess of Brecknock, held until her death in 1989. Her son, Marquess Camden, retained the land, but the Priory buildings with the surrounding parkland were sold in 1990 to Mr. and Mrs. James Hogg. The house is now called Wherwell Priory, not Wherwell Abbey as might have been expected. The name is believed to have been changed in the 17th Century. (The Priory was normally the officer next under the Abbot of an Abbey).

The Manor of Fullerton was Abbey Land until the Dissolution, after which, passing through a number of hands, in AD 1892 it became the property of Mr William Cory, whose sister later became the owner. She in turn left it to her nephew, Major Charles Liddell, MC.

After enjoying an independent existence for a thousand years the Parish of Wherwell was united with its neighbour across the river, Chilbolton. By the Union of Benefices Act, it was laid down that when one or the other of these Benefices became vacant, the surviving incumbent should be inducted to the joint benfice.

This occurred in 1943 when the Rev Alfred Lewis, Vicar of Wherwell, retired, whereupon the Rev Canon H L Marsh, who had been Rector of Chilbolton since 1935, became also Vicar of Wherwell.

The two parishes remain separate, and the right of Patronage is exercised alternately by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, represented by the Bishop of Winchester, (for Chilbolton) and by Lord Camden (for Wherwell).

Canon Marsh retired in 1948 when the Rev W W Russell-Chapman became Rector of Chilbolton and Vicar of Wherwell. He in turn retired in 1966 (and died a few weeks later) and the Rev Murray E Gawne was inducted to the livings of both Parishes. He was followed by Rev Christopher M Hubbard in 1977 who served both parishes until the end of 1990.

The Reverend Errol Williams, the present incumbent, was appointed in 1991 and is Vicar of Wherwell and Rector of Chilbolton. (Lord Camden has inherited, and retains the right to be Lay Rector of Wherwell and his ecclesiastical duties are carried out ‘vicariously’ by Reverend Williams - hence his title “Vicar of Wherwell”)

Little or nothing is known of any early incumbents, with the exception of the Rev Stephen Bachelor (or Bachiler), and his successor Rev John Bate (1605-1633) who seems to have been his brother-in-law. It appears that there was a suit in Star Chamber in which George Wydley of Clatford, who in some way combined the professions of medicine and theology, preferred a charge of slander against Bachelor and Bate, and Stephen Bachelor junior; in proof whereof he stated that they not only composed verses derogatory to his character and fame, but set them to music and sang them publicly and privately. The wording of the verses has not survived; only the statement that they would hardly be classed as parlour literature.

In addition to the pre-Reformation fragments there are four post-Reformation memorials, one an altar tomb of Sir Owen West, who died in 1551, and his wife. (West was the family name of Lord de la Warr at that time) and three let into the floor of the Nave.

(1) John Cropp who died in 1740 and Mary his wife (date illegible) (2) John West, son of Lord de la Warr, who died "a child" in 1656 (3) Mary, daughter of Ferdinando Hudleston Esq of Millom Castle in Cumberland, and wife of The Hon Charles West. (No date on tomb)

Many of the records of the Parish since the Reformation must have been lost in the fire, but the Parish Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths have been preserved, going back to 1634, and also the account books of the Overseers of the Poor, who were responsible for dispensing poor relief, in money or kind, are in existence from 1790 to 1794 and from 1806 to 1821.

From 1723 onwards there is an entry against each burial "a certificate was brought" or "an affidavit was brought", The certificate or affidavit related to the law whereby all burials had to be in woollen shrouds and the certificate had to be bought within 8 days of interment. If buried in a linen shroud, a penalty had to be paid into the hands of the Churchwardens for the benefit of the poor of the Parish. This is recorded for example, as having happened on October 6 1742 when Bethiah, wife of Nathaniel Brassey Esq was buried - there are many similar references in the burial register.

In 1781 a more formal register was introduced with printed instructions at the front and the sheets ruled to ensure that all necessary details were included:- these included the cause of death, and it is noteworthy that in the first 100 entries there was only one case of cancer, but many of "decline" (? TB or other debilitating illnesses which were unidentified, but the person slowly deteriorated until death) and fits, and of course old age - this was generally the cause if the person was over 60 years at death!!! Finally, in 1812 an act was passed "for the better regulating and preserving Parish and other Registers". After this there were three separate Registers, with a supplementary record of the publication of the banns at the back of the Marriage Register.

Stuck into the back of one of the Registers is the following Memorandum .

August 19 1771 We the Minister and underwritten inhabitants of the Parish of Wherwell acknowledge that there is no old accustomed road by the Mill to the Church, Vicarage House or Parsonage Yard, but the present way was first made about 20 years ago by Mr Iremonger….and that in testimony of his sole right in it the said way was shut up and the gates locked on Sunday July 14 1771 as a proper [illegible] against its ever being claimed as a public way.

Be it remembered likewise that there is no road through the Churchyard, but by permission of the Vicar.

Signed by R King, Vicar and 5 others.

[edit] External links

Coordinates: 51°09'N, 1°25'W


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