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The Royal Blood exhibition ‘Heads and Tales’ is now on show in three of the Hampshire Cultural Trust museums; Andover, Fareham and Aldershot. Andover features the Iron Age and Saxon periods and rehearses the story of Dead Man’s Plack, in Harewood Forest, where King Edgar the Peaceable (959-975) is reputed to have slain his right-hand man, Aethelwold.
Having sent his loyal servant on a wife-scouting mission to Devon, where the fair Aelfthryth was reputed to be a maid without compare, Edgar was just about coming to terms with the unfavourable reports when he tripped over a beautiful woman in the Forest. He followed her home and found that it was none other than Aelfthryth. Aethelwold, bewitched by her beauty, had decided to keep her for himself – a bad move. The King ordered him to saddle up and accompany him on the hunt – whereupon he ran him through with a spear. The ‘Plack’ – a stone cross – marks the spot where it happened. He then took Aelfthryth as his bride.
The story found a champion in landowner Col William Iremonger, who had the cross put up in 1825. An Oxford Professor, Edward Freeman, then poured cold water on it, but that only incensed the famous naturalist, William Hudson, who while out searching for rare spiders in Harewood Forest, ate his lunch in the shade of the cross and imagined he saw the whole tragedy unfurl in front of his eyes. He was so taken by the story he put it in print (1920).
Edgar and Aelfthryth had a son (Ethelred) and following the King’s death, Aelfthryth was implicated in the murder of his son by a previous marriage – Edward (‘the Martyr’) – at Corfe, so that her son could take the throne. Again it is thought that the medieval chroniclers painted a far worse picture of her than she deserved, and she had nothing to do with the heinous crime.
Aelfthryth’s close connection to the Harewood Forest area seems to have been through Wherwell Priory, which she is variously credited with founding, or endowing with gifts. She died there around the year 1000. Comparatively recent work has discovered the plan of the abbey (Priory) church and shown that some of the buildings still survive intact, but a number of graves found in an archaeological dig were left in situ, as the development work was tailored in such a way that they would remain undisturbed.
One hundred and fifty years after Aelfthryth, Wherwell was again at the heart of the action, following the ‘Rout of Winchester’, but that’s another chapter.
William Henry Hudson, 1920, Dead Man’s Plack and an Old Thorn
Wherwell Priory – survey and excavations – Hampshire Studies 53, Roberts; 55, Clark and Roberts; 58, Manning and Rawlings.
Series by; Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone.
In the late 1980s the ruins of a building to the north of the original Beaulieu Abbey Church were investigated and excavated by the Hampshire Museums Service; there had been some previous work at the site in the early 1970s. The building, dated by pottery evidence to the 14th and 15th centuries, was known locally as ‘the Wine Press’, presumably because of its proximity to an early 18th century vineyard. However, the nature of the subterranean features and water-logged conditions of the site rule out any connection with wine-making.
The L-shaped complex comprised an east-west orientated barn-like structure and a north-south wing (called the ‘Annexe’ in the report). The survival of the complex after the Dissolution of the Cistercian Abbey, in 1535, may be due to its subsequent use as barn.
Though much of the masonry was robbed in the 18th century, partial walls of roughly dressed limestone remained. The excavation revealed interesting features such as a 5m square ‘tank’ in the NE corner of the Annexe, containing an arched and capped drain and six rectangular vats. The report calls this area the ‘Wet End’ of the Annexe. A linear mound running north from the building has been interpreted as an aqueduct – the height of the bank being such that water obtained in this way could have driven an overshot wheel.
Cistercian monks were required to meet all their needs through their own labours and those of lay-brothers, and estate management included industrial processes in addition to agricultural ones. A Beaulieu Account Book of 1269-70 records that there had been a limekiln and brewery as well as a large piggery and vegetable-growing areas.
The Abbey’s main revenue, however, was derived from wool: its wool exports were so considerable that a large Wool-House (now the Dancing Man Brewery) was built in Southampton in the late 14th century. The processing of cloth also took place at the Abbey – the 13th century Account Book records that there was an early fulling mill where the finishing of woollen cloth would have been carried out.
In later years the Wine Press building may have housed such processing functions. These involved the dampening and stretching of cloth, and water power may have driven falling stocks which beat the cloth mechanically in order to scour and felt it. Formerly, this process would have been done by beating with the hands or feet, or by hand-wielded clubs. Weaving and drying could have been carried out in the large barn-like structure which, incidentally, had been shortened by 10m during its working lifetime.
Among the finds was a limestone sconce, found in the Wet End of the Annexe. This was a bracketed candle-holder, and would originally have been attached to a wall.
Proc Hants Field Club and Arch Soc, 52 (1997), K.J. Barton, R.B. Burns and David Allen, Archaeological Excavations at the ‘Wine Press’, Beaulieu Abbey, 1987-1989, pp. 107-149.
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.