Parish History




The market-town of Titchfield stands on the west bank of the River Meon. The river flows past the east end of the churchyard and makes its way placidly to the Solent some two miles to the south. However, to understand the history of Titchfield it is important to realise that for many centuries Titchfield was a port at the head of an estuary. It was not until 1611 that a bank was built at the mouth of the Meon, and the estuary drained.


The arrival of Christianity in England began with the Romans but no information has been found about this which is specific to the Meon Valley. There have been a few buildings, which may have been churches, excavated from this time and those which have been found are very small which suggests that before any churches were built the Church was present as a group of people. After the Romans left Christians became fringe people, mostly in Celtic Wales. However the Celtic peoples adopted the faith with great zest, but did not reject the Latin language or the pre-eminence of the Bishop of Rome. Celtic monks acknowledged the holiness of the Bible, took it literally and obeyed it wholeheartedly. From the Celtic word ciric, referring to the burial grounds around their simple monasteries, came the later word ‘church’. They were responsible for the maintenance and spread of Christianity at this time, to Wales, Brittany, Scotland and Ireland.

314 Britain had at least three bishops, but gradually became spiritually cut off from Europe
446 Saxons began to arrive in Britain. There were arguments over the dating of Easter and other disagreements about the souls of men after death. There was a lack of trade and a high level of corruption. Life in Britain had returned to the pre-Roman state of violence and paganism which we now call the Dark Ages
5th-6th Centuries Jutes, a low German tribe invaded Britain, and are known to have been in the Meon Valley
500 King Arthur took up struggle against the Saxons
550 Gildas denounced Britain as a society not fit to survive, but he made a large impact and it was claimed that within ten years monasticism had become a mass movement. Germanic peoples (Jutish) were settling in South Hampshire and other parts of southern England. Christianity was not handed on to the English by the British to any great extent, and there was great enmity between the invading Anglo-Saxons, the Britons and the English

The market-town of Titchfield stands on the west bank of the River Meon. The river flows past the east end of the churchyard and makes its way placidly to the Solent some two miles to the south. However, to understand the history of Titchfield it is important to realise that for many centuries Titchfield was a port at the head of an estuary. It was not until 1611 that a bank was built at the mouth of the Meon, and the estuary drained.


In 597 Augustine arrived in Canterbury, sent by Pope Gregory, to convert the Southern English and became the first archbishop of Canterbury. Many were baptised in Kent. (10,000 on Christmas day). The two chief bishops were established in London and York, each having under him twelve dioceses. English Kings gradually became Christian. Other areas were also converted to Christianity through the influence of Celtic missionaries from the north (Ireland and Scotland originally, but probably arriving here from Northumbria).

In the fifth and sixth centuries AD the south-eastern part of Hampshire was settled by a Jutish tribe called the Meonware, who took their name from the River Meon. The circumstances in which the Meonware became Christians are unknown, but it seems likely that they were converted some time between 648, when a church was founded at Winchester, and 686, when the Isle of Wight was evangelised. In the seventh and eighth centuries the province of the Meonware was a part of the kingdom of Wessex, except for a short period from 661 to 686 when it was annexed to the kingdom of Sussex. Sussex was converted between 681 and 686 by the great Northumbrian prelate St. Wilfrid and his campaign may well have extended to include the Meonware. Certainly the Meon Valley was within his sphere of influence at this time. This fact will be of interest later when we come to examine the earliest parts of Titchfield church, which display features characteristic of the early churches in Northumbria.

In Anglo-Saxon times Titchfield was with little doubt a ‘minster’ church, an establishment responsible for the pastoral care of a wide area. There is no surviving reference to Titchfield in the early part of the Anglo-Saxon period, but a charter of King Ethelred dated 982 refers to the members of a religious establishment here. The architectural evidence also indicates an important church in Anglo-Saxon times. The importance of the church in this period was reflected in the vast size of the parish down to comparatively recent times. Until the last century the parish covered an area of about 241/2 square miles, stretching some seven miles along the foreshore of the Solent and about five miles up the Meon Valley. Originally it also included Wickham and probably much of Fareham.

In the 5th and 6th centuries the Jutish tribe called the Meonwara settled in Titchfield, which at that time was at the head of the estuary of the Meon. How they became Christians is uncertain, but it is thought to have happened between 648 and 686. Sussex was converted between 681 and 686 by the great Northumbrian prelate St Wilfred, and it is possible that his campaign stretched to include the Meonwara. There are similarities in the earliest parts of Titchfield Church and early Northumberland Churches which adds weight to this argument.

It is thought that the earliest parts of Titchfield church were built in the late 7th Century as a ‘Minster’ church. A Minster church was an establishment staffed by a small body of clergy responsible for the pastoral care of a wide area. Minster churches were often built on royal estates and it is likely that after the building of the Minster church it became a great parish under royal patronage. It continued as a Minster church until at least the tenth century. Titchfield itself remained in royal hands until after the Norman Conquest.

Architectural evidence indicates an important church here in Anglo-Saxon times.

The surviving remains from that period, the west wall of the aisleless nave, preserved to its full height of almost 30ft, and a west porch, reflect its status and are thought to date back to the earliest times of Christianity in the area, the late seventh and early eighth century. The length of the original nave was probably similar to that of today, but the chancel was almost certainly much shorter.

The importance of the parish was reflected in its size which until last century covered an area of 241/2 square miles. Its original parish seems to have stretched from the River Hamble in the west, along the foreshore of the Solent to Portsmouth Harbour in the east, about 5 miles up the Meon valley, included Wickham, the Forest of Bere and probably much of Fareham in the north. It cannot always have been peaceful in Titchfield in the early days, as several Viking raids were recorded, and the substantial church would have been a tempting target. However, although Titchfield was probably plundered on several occasions, the early church shows no signs of burning. There was certainly a religious establishment here in 982, referred to in a charter of King Ethelred the Unready. The fate of this establishment is not known, but in view of the size of the parish it is unlikely that in Norman times it was served by a single priest. It is known that there were various chapels in outlying parts of the parsh to assist the work of the clergy. The religious community at Titchfield owned land on the Isle of Wight at that time too.

By the tenth century the concept of a village church began to take shape and it is likely that Fareham and Alverstoke which belonged to the Bishop of Winchester probably had their own churches by this time. Rowner probably had its own church by the Norman Conquest. By 1086 the population was thought to be about 150 and Titchfield was described as an outlying estate (“berewick”) of the smaller manor of Meonstoke.


We do not know the fate of the establishment which existed at Titchfield in the tenth century. There is a mention in the Domesday book of 1086 of the “Hundred of Ticefelle”, the old name for Titchfield. In view of the size of the parish it is not likely that it was served by a single priest in the Norman period. What we do know is that there were a number of subordinate chapels in the outlying parts of the parish to assist in the work of the clergy. One such chapel was at Wickham, four miles further up the Meon Valley. In the twelfth century Wickham was granted the status of a separate parish by Bishop Henry de Blois (1 129-7 1). Other chapels were at Crofton (first mentioned in Doomsday Book in 1086) and at Chark, both in the south-eastern portion of the parish.

Wickham had its own church by the 12th Century, so the parish had decreased in size considerably since its earliest times. The ancient mother church of Titchfield remained a large parish, but was probably only served by a single priest from the 11th Century onwards.

In the later middle Ages, the Anglo-Saxon church was gradually enlarged reflecting the increasing prosperity of the settlement. In the 12th century a south aisle was added and a detailed carved doorway replaced the original one between the nave and the tower. After 1086, William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, gave up the estate of Titchfield and granted it to the Norman nobleman, Payn de Gisors. It may have been one of the Gisors who made the Norman additions to the church, including the fine west doorway.

The Anglo Saxon porch was raised to form the tower as it is today at the end of that century or the beginning of the next. The ancient parish of Titchfield was very extensive but probably not very clearly defined. It is thought to have stretched seven miles along the foreshore from Stokes Bay to the River Hamble, including Swanwick, Hook, Funtley, Segensworth, Chark, Lee Peel Common, Crofton and Stubbington.

In 1231 Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, chose Titchfield as the site of the Premonstratensian Monastery which he intended to found. The monastery was sited about half a mile to the north of the town. Peter gave to the monastery the church of Titchfield together with its chapels and substantial income. As a general rule medieval monasteries were not concerned with pastoral work in the surrounding areas, but the Premonstratensians were perhaps the principal exception to this rule. In 1283 the canons of Titchfield were given the right of nominating one of their own body as vicar, and from this time to the Dissolution the vicars of Titchfield were canons of the Abbey. Several of the vicars became abbots of the monastery.


At the Dissolution in 1537, Titchfield Abbey was granted by Henry VIII to a subordinate of Thomas Cromwell called Thomas Wriothesley, who was later created Earl of Southampton. With the monastery he acquired the patronage of Titchfield church and the chapel on the south side of the chancel. This chapel was converted into a mausoleum for the Earls of Southampton and the result is the magnificent Wriothesley monument which now occupies this part of the church.

From the dissolution to the nineteenth century, the huge area of the parish of Titchfield was served by a single vicar, sometimes assisted by a curate. Finally, in the nineteenth century, the vastly increased population of the outlying parts of the parish made new arrangements necessary. Between 1837 and 1933 the parish of Titchfield was divided into six separate parishes, the following new parishes being created: Sarisbury with Swanwick (1837), Crofton (1871), Hook with Warsash (1872), Lock’s Heath (1893) and Lee-on-the-Solent (1930). The old mother parish is still the largest in extent, covering an area of about 7½ square miles.

Post War

There has been much modern development throughout the ancient parish of Titchfield. The post-war period has seen the construction of much new housing, particularly in the western and south-eastern parts of the ancient parish. Modem industry too makes its presence felt, most strikingly in the huge GEC Aerospace works about a mile to the north-west of the town. But fortunately all this modern development has not encroached to any great extent on the Meon Valley itself. The valley remains an oasis of calm between the eastward spread of Southampton and the westward spread of Fareham and Gosport.