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Buried in time – the Titchfield baselard

A Deadly Weapon

A baselard is a type of long-bladed dagger with an H-shaped hilt, popular as a civilian weapon in the 14th and 15th centuries and even carried by priests. A register of 1395-1419 from Exeter recorded that only 13 of the beneficed clergy owned books although many of them possessed baselards. This is despite the fact that such weapons had been forbidden by church councils for centuries.

The Titchfield Baselard

The Titchfield Baselard

Their length – typically 300mm – meant that they could only be worn visibly, suspended from a man’s belt to provide a sense of security. A satirical song dating from the time of Henry V (early 15th century) described a man who ostentatiously carried a baselard but who probably lacked the courage to use it in self-defence:

There is no man worth a leek,

Be he sturdy, be he meek,

But he bear a baselard.

Baselards were generally owned by people of high status: from 1388 onwards, servants and labourers were forbidden to carry such arms.  In the mid-14th century the weapons were shown on tomb effigies as part of the dress of deceased knights; later they became popular with wealthy merchants, and were sometimes depicted on monumental brasses.  Although they were often carried merely for show, a baselard was the weapon wielded during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 by William Walworth, Mayor of London: he used it to strike Wat Tyler on the head before the rebel was run through with a sword.  In the 19th century the original weapon was “still preserved with peculiar veneration by the Company of Fishmongers” of which William Walworth had been a member.

The Titchfield Baselard was found while dredging the River Meon.  Typical features are its double edge and the two equal-length cross pieces which give the hilt an ‘H’ shape.  The grip has not survived; it could have been made of wood, horn or bone. There are many variants of spelling of Baselard, such as Basilard in the early 14th century; the word derives from the original place of origin of such knives, Basel in Switzerland.

The remains of Titchfield Abbey, which were transformed into a private house by Thomas Wriothesley.

The remains of Titchfield Abbey, transformed into a private house by Thomas Wriothesley.

The hundred of Titchfield lies in the Meon Valley, between Fareham and Southampton. Before the Reformation, there was an abbey at Titchfield, founded in 1222 for a colony of White Canons. Ten years later, Henry III granted the manor of Titchfield to Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. The manor remained with the abbot until the Dissolution in 1537.  Henry VI was married to Margaret of Anjou in the abbey in 1445; in consideration of its services, he granted the abbey liberties and immunities, including the right to hold an annual fair lasting five days. In 1424 the abbot received permission to enclose a park consisting of 10 acres of pasture and 50 acres of wood.

We will never know how the Titchfield baselard came to be in the river. One could speculate that it had been disposed of there, having been used for criminal purposes; alternatively its owner got rid of it because its possession flouted clerical and secular law.

The baselard is on display at Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham.


Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.


Buried in time – a fulling mill at Beaulieu Abbey

A bird's-eye-view; the estate road separates the 'annexe' from the 'barn'

A bird’s-eye-view during the dig; the estate road separates the ‘annexe’ from the ‘barn’

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.

Getting to grips with the 'wet end' while Ken Barton discusses progress with Lord Montagu

Getting to grips with the ‘annexe’ while Ken Barton discusses progress with Lord Montagu

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.

The 'wet end' of the annexe; culverts, tanks and channels.
The ‘wet end’ of the annexe; culverts, tanks and channels.

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.

'After you' excavating the silts from the culvert - the things we do for archaeology

‘After you’ excavating the silts from the culvert – the things we do for archaeology!

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 arched exit for the culvert

The arched exit to the culvert

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.

The limestone sconce - or candle holder.
The limestone sconce – or candle holder.

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.

A last day 'party' - I think we were just sad that the dig was at at end! or possibly exhausted.

A last day ‘party’ – I think they were just sad that the dig was at at end! or possibly exhausted.


Further reading

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.