Bishopstoke Village History Website – a Model for Others

Bishopstoke Mill, about 1910

Two friends discovered a common interest in Bishopstoke and went on to create one of the best local history websites, with more to follow, writes Barry Shurlock…

Early directories of the county have lengthy entries for the village of Bishopstoke, but the tithing of Barton-and-Eastley in the parish of South Stoneham scarcely gets a mention. Fast forward the film and today the town of Eastleigh virtually overwhelms the remnants of old Bishopstoke and newcomers may not even realise that here was a village that at Domesday was in the hands of the Bishop of Winchester.

This means rich pickings for local historians, since change is a motor of research. Contrast the many other villages where you can lay an early manorial map over a modern map and see that little has altered materially over hundreds of years.

Tracking change with maps is one of the tricks of a new website that is gradually being built by local enthusiasts (www.bishopstokehistory.uk). It all started in about 2009 when Chris Humby and Allen Guille realised they were bidding for the same postcards on ebay and decided to work together to make a collection for the village.

Asking around they found that there were others in the area interested in keeping memories of the village alive –  as well as the Eastleigh & District Local History Society – including Joan and Rod Simmonds, Malcolm Dale, and Stan Roberts.

Chris said: “Allen and I agreed to pool resources and work with others. As a group, we didn’t want a formal organisation with a constitution, AGM etc, but wanted to keep it very informal. The Bishopstoke History Society we have set up is therefore simply a small group of local people who want to tell the story of the village”.

“We decided to hold talks locally. We didn’t know how it would go and we even had to borrow a projector. But it worked – we got about 40 people for the first talk and decided to hold more, with some of our later talks attracting an audience of over 100.”

“Once we got going, people came forward to donate or loan family documents and photographs and we have now an archive of 5-6,000 photographs and documents which have been digitised.

“For some while, we were wondering what to do with all this material so it can be seen and used by others. We are not getting any younger, and we wanted to get it out there. So, the new website will, we hope, bring to fruition something, that we, as a group have been working on for more than 10 years, and some of our individual members for much longer.”

The result is a model of a website for any local society. It is clean, simple, well organised, and full of interesting, well-written material. An introduction tells the story of Bishopstoke by means of maps, starting with one of 1613 from Winchester College and going on to the arrival of Bishopstoke Station in 1839 (renamed Bishopstoke Junction in 1852) and the progressive transfer of the London and South Western Railway Carriage and Wagon Works from Nine Elms, which was complete by 1890.

With the Locomotive Works moving to Eastleigh in 1910, ‘big brother’ was firmly in charge, with 13,000 inhabitants recorded in the 1911 census, compared to Bishopstoke’s 2,000. In the 1920s the village lost its administrative status when the two councils amalgamated.

So, here is the story of a traditional village swallowed up by a neighbouring giant. Based on a large number of talks given mainly by Chris and Allen, the website forensically tells the history of Bishopstoke in all its parts, using a large number of photographs. Today it’s hard to credit, that Bishopstoke was once a charming rural village with mills and riverside walks.

The website brilliantly captures all this, with long and detailed accounts of the grand houses built in the first half of the nineteenth century. One of these, Longmead House, was designed for the Barton family in 1866 by the famous architect G.E. Street. It had 23 bedrooms (but only one bathroom, even then a luxury), a chapel, and extensive stabling. It stood until 1939. It was so highly regarded by connoisseurs that it formed part of Street’s submission to design and build The Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand.

Another grand house was The Mount, built in 1844 for the Twynam family, who had been landowners in the area since 1680. Later it was owned by Richard Gilman, a trader in Hong Kong involved in setting up the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, a forerunner to today’s HSBC. For many years the house was used by the NHS as a sanitorium. In 2012, Anchor Developments created a retirement village for assisted living. The old house has been refurbished and roads named after past occupiers of the site.

There is a nice story about a spat over fishing rights on the Itchen in 1874 between Thomas Chamberlayne, the man who owned most of Eastleigh, and a Captain Hargreaves who lived at The Mount. Chamberlayne wanted to stop the public fishing on what he regarded as his river. Southampton Magistrates agreed, but only exacted a derisory fine of one shilling.

In contrast, in the same court on the same day a bricklayer from St Denys was fined 10 shillings with 18 shillings costs for poaching on the same river.

Bishopstoke Mill, already in place at Domesday, survived until 1931. In the 1950s, the owner of a haulage company on the banks of the nearby millstream built a water-wheel to generate his own power, but was roundly condemned by the utilities for not having a licence to generate electricity and for misusing the water.  Today he might be in line for a Queen’s Award!

There are fascinating accounts of other parts of the village with many photographs  –the churches, parish halls and schools, as well the stories of local roads – Church Road, Spring Lane, and Hamilton, Guest and Sedgwick Roads.

They reveal a living community – the corner shops, the builders, the carnivals and charity events –and provide a rich resource for local residents to engage with their neighbourhood. For example, Upper Scotter Road (now there’s a name!) was where the Cousens family ran a laundry.  They still own its crimping machine.

There is much more on this wonderful site. For a start, it also does for Eastleigh what it does for Bishopstoke. There are articles on early Eastleigh, a great deal on its railway history, and accounts of the airfield (cradle of the Spitfire), World War I and the other parts of the Barton-and-Eastley tithing, such as Barton Manor, its mill and much else.

The enormous changes that have taken place in Bishopstoke are evident in a ‘then and now gallery’, with old photographs alongside modern ones. Work continues on the site and new stories are still being found. Chris is researching the tale of the Collier family who worked for Revd Sidney Sedgwick, rector of St Mary’s Church from 1905 to 1922. She was the cook/housemaid and he the sexton and in 1912 they decided to emigrate to the USA and buy a farm in Idaho.  Unfortunately, they booked a passage on RMS Titanic: she and a daughter survived, he did not.

From an article by Barry Shurlock first published in the Hampshire Chronicle.

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