The countryside around Binsted has been lived in for tens of thousands of years.
The Stone Age: Numbers of stone axes and tools have been found locally: the axes in the picture date from the New Stone Age – the time of the first farmers – around 6,000 years ago.
The Bronze Age, from 4,500 years ago, sees the first use of metal tools, and there is evidence for the presence of a number of farmsteads in the area. There are also several burial mounds (barrows), now only visible from the air as ring ditches – the original mounds having been ploughed flat over the centuries.
The Iron Age, from around 800 BC onwards, provides evidence for a much more open ‘farmed’ landscape, with a number of field systems and round houses.
These are marked by pottery scatters and are some visible from the air, as crop marks. There’s also evidence for local pottery production, as a kiln has been excavated close to Binsted village. Finally, one particularly rare and unusual recent find hints that late Iron Age coins may have been struck locally. If that was the case, Binsted must have been of regional importance at this period.
The coming of the Romans in AD 43 is when Binsted parish seems to become more heavily populated. There are a surprising number of villas in the area, some quite large. A stone sarcophagus was found from one of these, showing the owners to have been a very wealthy family. Only one local villa has been partially excavated and there only the attached bath house.
Otherwise, scatters of pottery in the fields show the probable presence of humbler dwellings, perhaps those of the farm workers. A number of cremation burials, accompanied by offerings of pottery and metalwork, have been excavated. An early Roman religious site has also been found, underlying the Parish Council’s recreation ground at Holt Pound. This has yielded numerous metal offerings and priestly regalia [photo 5a & 5b], but no evidence of a formal temple building.
At the eastern end of the parish, under and around Alice Holt Forest, was the site of one of Roman Britain’s largest pottery industries. This was of great local significance – there are hundreds of kilns in the area. During the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, these supplied around 60% of Roman London’s cooking pots, as well as selling them widely across southern Britain. The pictures show a kiln under excavation and a typical Alice Holt jar.
The evidence of Saxons in the area comes from place-names: the name Binstead refers to the farm or settlement growing beans (Old English bēan stede); Wyck (from latin ‘vicus’) – a place associated with a Roman settlement; Alice Holt – Aelfsige’s Holt (wood). Aelfsige was a 10th century Saxon Bishop of Winchester). Large farms in the area tend to start in the Iron Age and continue in use through the Saxon period and on to the present day – a few retaining elements of their Saxon names.
Sir Richard de la Bere of Westcote. The medieval period also left its mark on Binsted. Sir Richard de Westcote, who it is said was a relative of one of our greatest warriors, Lord Kitchener, founded a chantry here in 1332. He is now buried within the walls of Binsted’s 14th century church. His feet are crossed and rest upon a lion and over his suit of chain mail he wears a belted coat.
The Georgian Period. The enclosure of lands was changing the local landscape, and roads, canals and agricultural mechanisation brought further dramatic changes. Hampshire is known as ‘Jane Austen County’, and it’s easy to see the Georgian period as idyllic and romantic. The brutal truth is that the end of the Napoleonic wars also brought high unemployment and great suffering for Hampshire’s rural poor.
Telegraph House. In 1825, the building now known as Telegraph House was built in Binsted, as part of the Admiralty Semaphore chain. The intention was to extend the network of relay stations connecting London to the Portsmouth Dockyard, to link with Plymouth. Originally known as The River Hill Station, Telegraph House was to have been part of this second communication chain, but this was never completed: in 1847, the Admiralty switched from using semaphore to using electrical telegraph wires. Telegraph House is now a private residence.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, Binsted was the centre of a prosperous hop growing industry. Growing, picking and drying hops was a major business across the areas around Alton and Farnham, right up until the 1960s. In early autumn each year, huge numbers of itinerant workers would descend on the area to pick the hops. Many whole families came from London, Portsmouth and Southampton, to earn some money and enjoy a few weeks in the fresh air.
World War II. One of World War Two’s most inspirational military commanders and the hero of El Alamein, Viscount Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, bought nearby Isington Mill in 1947. ‘Monty’ was a regular worshipper at the Church of the Holy Cross in Binsted. On his death, in 1976, he was buried in Binsted Church Graveyard.
[Binsted Parish Council is grateful to David Graham for providing the archeological photographs shown here.]