640 AD – 1000 AD
Although the upper reaches of the river Hamble have been occupied since neolithic times, the earliest record of a settlement within the Bishop’s Waltham area was of a church built in around 640 AD. The name of the town is also Saxon, being derived from two words – ‘wald’ (forest) and ‘ham’ (settlement). In 904 AD, King Edward the Elder granted the land to Denewulf, Bishop of Winchester, in exchange for land in Portchester. In the actual deed it is recorded that the king gained 40 ‘hides’ (the name for a plot of land supporting a family) in Portchester in return for 38 in Waltham.
The Middle Ages
Despite being destroyed by the Danes in 1001AD, the settlement grew steadily to become one of Hampshire’s largest villages. It had an approximate population of 450 according to the Domesday Book of 1086, four times the size of most villages at the time. The same survey also notes that ‘the bishop himself holds Waltham in demesne; it has always belonged to the Bishopric.’ In 1136, Bishop Henri de Blois, brother of King Stephen, founded a grand palace in ‘Waldham’ which quickly became a key residence for the powerful Bishops of Winchester, hosting many royal visitors, such as Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, Henry V and Henry VIII.
English Civil War (1642-1651)
During the English civil War, 200 royalist cavaliers were besieged in the Palace for three days and were forced to surrender, one captive informing the king, ‘Waltham house in ashes’. In 1645, Oliver Cromwell ordered the slighting of the palace, resulting in today’s picturesque ruins.
Development of Trade in the Town
Beyond the palace grounds the town’s trading roots were continually developing. By the late 13th century a weekly market was held, selling bread made from the flour produced by its two mills. And by the 15th century the town boasted a small wool industry. A fulling mill was in operation, cleaning the wool using water-powered hammers and the town was occasionally referred to as ‘Waltham Woolpit’. Queen Elizabeth I granted the right to hold two annual fairs in Bishop’s Waltham in 1602.