All that now stands above ground of this wealthy foundation is the entrance to the abbot’s house. This is a noble stone archway with some flanking passages still left, but it now serves as the entrance to a farmyard, and the side buildings are used as stables. Happily, the owner of the property, Mr W. Barrow Simonds, has given the place to the City, and it will now be rescued from its ignoble use, and be properly preserved. The Corporation has also bought some 35 acres adjoining, which included the whole site of the Abbey, and are going to turn it into a park named after the national hero. They have already begun making excavations, and have found portions of the walls of the choir, which show that the building was not in the position hitherto assigned to it by antiquaries. Strong hopes are entertained that some relic of the great Alfred’s tomb may be found during these excavations, for he was known to be buried near the head of the church. Unfortunately, the Puritans, in their contempt for mouldering bones known as relics, and the County Magistrates in past times, when they built a now vanished Bridewell on the site, have probably made the discovery of Alfred’s tomb impossible.
T. W. Warren (ed.) (1903)
Hyde, the northern suburb of the Cathedral City of Winchester, was the home of Hyde Abbey, the final resting place of King Alfred the Great. The main thoroughfare, Hyde Street, lies outside the City’s North Gate. The City ditch, or North Walls as it was later known, separated Hyde from the City. To the east of Hyde, the extensive river system, which provided rich agricultural land, hindered urban expansion.
Hyde: From Dissolution to Victorian Suburb follows the history of the northern suburb of Winchester, in the south of England, starting just prior to Henry VIII’s edict to members of his inner court to inspect and then destroy all the monasteries, including the rich Abbey of Hyde. Henry VIII’s most trusted royal courtiers included Thomas Wriothesley who sought to ingratiate himself with the King. Wriothesley was in the enviable position to benefit from the destruction by purchasing the former Abbeys’ extensive lands in Hampshire.
Although Wriothesley retained many of these properties and manors, he relinquished the site of Hyde Abbey and the home (Abbey or Barton Farm) and the grange (Abbots Barton) farms. The new occupiers, men also associated with the King’s court, were in the prime position to take on the lease and subsequently the freehold of the land. These new owners were royalists and were comfortably ensconced on their new estates which passed down to their children. Unfortunately during the Civil War, these families found that royalist allegiances threatened their peaceful enjoyment of the property. Sequestration (the seizure of properties) and swingeing fines ended their tenure and the courtier families lost control of the former Abbey’s properties.
The derelict site and the home and grange farms passed into the hands of gentry families. Abbots Barton was sold to a rich widow, Anne Mynne, whose father had been Lord Mayor of London in 1634. Her wily husband survived the political turmoil to become an MP in the early 1600s. The next 150 years saw the estate pass between members of her extended family as successive owners failed to produce heirs. Anne Mynne’s daughter married into the Lewkenor family who had extensive estates in Sussex and a presence in Parliament.
When the Chawton estate in Hampshire was inherited by Elizabeth, the daughter of Frances Lewkenor, a stipulation was that she changed her name to Knight. This condition saw the Knight family name survive as the Abbey’s former lands, along with Chawton, passed to distant cousins. However, as Jane Austen’s readers know, inheritance law is a minefield. The entail set up in Elizabeth’s will was to prove a challenge to Jane’s brother Edward when he inherited the Hyde Abbey’s farms, Chawton, and Godmersham, outside Canterbury.
Meanwhile, Thomas Wriothesley’s descendants still held the Hampshire manors belonging to Hyde Abbey. One of these, the Duke of Bedford, purchased the Abbey site and farm. He held them for a short period before financial troubles on his London estates forced him to cut the family’s long link and sell out to the Knight family.
In the final part of the story, modern Hyde was formed. Edward Knight was forced to sell the reunited Abbey Farm and Abbots Barton to a local farmer, William Simonds, in order to pay off his debts. Farming provided a respectable income until, first the railways and then the importation of cereals and frozen lamb, opened up distant markets and threatened the livelihoods of William and his son, Barrow Simonds. The railway cut through the farm and slowly, over 100 years the former fields were developed, as Barrow Simonds replaced unprofitable crops and livestock by lucrative housing developments.
This story of Hyde does not just trace those that held the land, but explores farmland management, in particular the importance of water meadows in raising sheep. It explains why this type of farming became unprofitable, leading to the fields being covered with urban development. Many large families, especially those who had been long-term residents, were instrumental in changing the face of the suburb. Manufacturing businesses, like breweries, flourished and then died as they were taken over and their premises became surplus to requirements. Reforming institutions – the prison and the Refuge – and schools served the local community and, like the Abbey before, made Hyde known throughout the nation.
The final chapter provides an overview of how Hyde has changed since the Great War to become a desirable suburb for those moving from London whilst still providing the services required by the modern City of Winchester.