For the past 7 years, my journey to work has taken me through the village of Kingsclere in North Hampshire. With its stunning example of a Norman church, a village centre of tidy streets full of examples of 16th – 18th Century houses, it feels an historic place, that may have had held some importance in the past.
To the south on the downs, are the stables which have bred champion racehorses, and as you drive over White Hill the connection with racing is clear to see with the gallops.
I have often wondered about the name Kingsclere, (as also Highclere & Burghclere are near by). ‘Clere’ often refers to a clearing but the ‘Kings’ part was intriguing.
Ok… so maybe it’s not real shock to find out, that several Kings have been associated with the area, most notably King John, (r.1199 – 1216), who had a hunting lodge upon the slopes above the Village. While we’re in the solving mood, Clere relates to to ‘Clere Manor’ a Norman ancestral estate in the area. Keith Briggs in the Journal of the English Place-Name Society has much more detail on this.
About 2 years ago, I was researching the ancient Royal Forests of Hampshire, and there was one called ‘Freemantle’ which as far as I could tell was in this region. I remembered, from an earlier walk near White Hill, a farm called ‘Freemantle’ we walked by, on the edge of North Oakley. These Royal Forests of the Norman period, (like the New Forest in Hampshire), were a mixture of woodland and open spaces with hunting lodges for the Kings party to use. I guess the hunting party of a King was pretty free to roam where they wanted, so although there were inclosures, the boundaries were a bit fluid. I think there is a further blog for ‘Freemantle’ and the Royal forests to be written here…
So as normal, my first port of call was an O.S. map, and then check some historic examples online – National Library of Scotland’s database is a great one to cross reference. Sure enough, on the old maps, it says “Supposed site of King Johns House” marked close where the Hannington Radio mast is today. On later editions this seems to have been removed. From excavations, almost no building remains has been discovered there, but this site that has been rebuilt and used several times, now with its transmitter station, and a resevoir. (Being on high ground there is also evidence of prehistoric activity, so it shouldn’t be a surprise this spot could have been prefered by King John).
The slopes of White Hill and by the Hannigton Radio mast, the site of King Johns Lodge?
Where there is (literal) concrete evidence though is Johns Father, Henry II (r. 1154 -1159) who had earlier connections with the Kingsclere area… He is know to have developed a residence at nearby Tidgrove Manor. (There is even evidence of his wine order from 1176!). The remains of this house have been excavated and researched by archaeologists from University of Southampton & The Kingsclere Heritage Asociation in recent years. So we can speculate that John built the other property nearer Kingsclere as a lodge as he enjoyed hunting in the area and visiting so much. He has a Castle near Odiham too.
As for other Kings, In the 13th Century, John’s son Henry III, (r.1216 – 1272), improved and enlarged Tidgrove, which was being called “Freemantle” by this time, and his son Edward I kept ties, but with the passing of time they were less inclined to visit as other matters of state and rebellions took their attention! The records show The lands of Freemantle were still shown to bepart of the Crown Estate at the time of Queen Elizabeth I, but the land was held by Trustee’s before Lord Cottington (1579 – 1652) acquired the land, ideally placed between his two large estates of Hanworth and Tisbury near Salisbury.
Today its ‘Cottington’s Hill’ that can be seen clearly marked on O.S, maps.
Kingsclere hasn’t really changed that much. Its grown a little with time, has a by-pass and is pleasant to wander around if you have some spare time. But the best connection to its royal heritage today would be a walk along from White Hill to Cannon Heath Down. Theres a good chance you’ll catch the race horses training. Afterall its ‘the sport of Kings’.
If you want to read more on Tidgrove’s and Freemantle’s history see here.