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Hampshire: Widdershins

Where is Hampshire?

In our sixth and forty-sixth episodes, we referred to loads of interesting Hampshire-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

Rufus Stone

The Rufus Stone has to be one of the strongest reminders of the origins of the New Forest. The iron-clad stone marks the (alleged) spot where King William II was fatally wounded with an arrow, during a royal hunting outing in the Forest, in the year 1100 AD.

The king was nicknamed Rufus, apparently because of his ruddy complexion and red hair, and was of course the son of King William I who was responsible for designating the area as the royal hunting ground that we know today as the New Forest.

It was on August 2nd in the year 1100 when King William Rufus and his team of noblemen were out hunting deer and wild boar in the New Forest. The story goes that an arrow was shot, supposedly at a stag, by the Frenchman Sir Walter Tyrrell who was the King’s best archer, but the arrow struck an oak tree and ricocheted off it straight into the chest of the king, puncturing his lung and killing him there and then.

Conan Doyle's grave, All Saints Church, Minstead

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle KStJ, DL (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was a British writer and physician. He created the character Sherlock Holmes in 1887 for A Study in Scarlet, the first of four novels and fifty-six short stories about Holmes and Dr. Watson. The Sherlock Holmes stories are milestones in the field of crime fiction.

Doyle was a prolific writer; other than Holmes stories, his works include fantasy and science fiction stories about Professor Challenger, and humorous stories about the Napoleonic soldier Brigadier Gerard, as well as plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction, and historical novels. One of Doyle's early short stories, "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement" (1884), helped to popularise the mystery of the Mary Celeste.

Beaulieu Palace House

Palace House, once the gatehouse of the medieval Beaulieu Abbey, has been the Montagu family home since 1538.

In an idyllic New Forest setting, overlooking the picturesque Beaulieu River millpond, Palace House was remodeled and extended during the 1800s and is now a fine example of a Victorian country house. Inside, its ecclesiastical heritage sets the grand gothic tone for a home bristling with character and adorned with family treasures, portraits, and memorabilia.

Glasshayes House

Glasshayes House is a historic country house in Lyndhurst, in The New Forest, Hampshire. Used in the 20th century as the Grand Hotel, then the Lyndhurst Park Hotel, it exists today in the form of a 1912 redesign by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The building and estate was purchased in 2014 by developers who sought to demolish it wholesale. A 2017 application to have the hotel listed may avert demolition.

The present Glasshayes House was built sometime between 1806 and 1816 by George Buck (esquire), utilising material from the earlier buildings, as a countryside retreat for he and his wife (who died at the house in 1826, and supposedly still haunts it).

In the 1840s Glasshayes "consisted of a house, offices, garden and pleasure ground on six acres and four acres of adjoining fields, three of which was pasture"; in 1846 it had become the English seat of Richard Fitzgeorge de Stacpoole, 1st Duc de Stacpoole, who made considerable extensions to the house (though retained the "Gothick" aesthetic and octagonal tower of George Buck). From the house the Duc ran a local smuggling ring, and lived openly with his married mistress, Mrs Louisa Graves. He died there on the 7 July 1848, and according to local tradition his ghost can still be sighted.

Harry "Brusher" Mills, The New Forest Snakecatcher

Born as Harry Mills in 1840, Brusher Mills earned his nickname due to the fact that he was a frequent sight at local cricket matches where he would sweep, or brush, the pitch between innings. However, it was another community-spirited occupation that earned Brusher the status of a local celebrity in his home of the New Forest, where he lived a rustic lifestyle in the forest as a snake catcher and medicine man.

Mills spent almost 30 years living in the forest where, from his hut, he would catch two of Britain’s three native species of snake, adders and grass snakes. Using only a sack and forked stick, Mills cleared local properties of snakes and captured those that roamed the region

Once captured and collected, Mills used his reptilian reaping to make treatments for a variety of ailments, from bites and bruises, to aches and arthritis. He would extract the oils and fats from the snakes before selling them to visitors and tourists, alongside the skeletons for collectors. Mills additionally supplied snakes to the London Zoo who would use them to feed their birds of prey. Clearly a busy man, in a rather exclusive occupation, it’s believed Mills captured thousands of snakes during his career.

By the time he passed away in 1905, Mills was already a legendary figure in the minds of the local community. He is remembered by his headstone, donated by local fans and friends, which stands in St Nicholas parish churchyard in Brockenhurst where Mills is buried. The carved marble memorial depicts Mills in his signature wide-brimmed hat, standing outside his hut and proudly clutching a brimming handful of snakes.

Mills’s legacy is also kept alive in part by a local pub, the Railway Inn, who changed their name to The Snakecatcher in honor of Mills who was a frequent customer. Legend has it that Mills once cleared the bar by emptying his bag of snakes among the patrons, dispersing them rapidly to ensure he would get served quickly. 

Hampshire Goose


  • One pound of sausage meat

  • Mashed potatoes

  • Chopped onions

  • Sage

  • Pepper and salt


  • Place a layer of the meat a pie-dish.

  • Sprinkle over it a seasoning of finely chopped onions, sage, pepper and salt.

  • Cover this with mashed potatoes (cold), then another layer meat and seasoning, and finish with potatoes on the top.

  • Bake brown, and serve with apple sauce.

Laurence's Barrow

A bowl barrow in the south-west area of Beaulieu Heath. The mound is around 3 metres high and 33 metres in diameter. It is surrounded by a ditch which can become waterlogged during the wetter seasons, and has a very slight outer bank.

The "Drivers' map" of the New Forest from 1814 shows few archaeological features, other than those which were prominent landmarks or boundaries. One exceptional area was Beaulieu Heath, where many of the barrows are marked and some are even named. This barrow, on the heath to the south-east of Two Bridges Bottom is labelled as "Laurences Barrow".

Winchester Cathedral

One of Europe’s great cathedrals, Winchester spans 1,000 years of rich, fascinating history with so much to discover including one of the world’s most exquisite bibles, the 11th century crypt and Jane Austen’s final resting place.

Once the seat of the royal power of the Anglo-Saxons and Normans, a Christian church was built here around 645 AD and over the next 350 years it became the most important church in Anglo-Saxon England.

By 1000 AD, its status as one of the grandest cathedrals in Europe was assured. Its early Norman roots are visible in the round-arched crypts and transepts and over the centuries, ‘soaring Gothic arches’ were added, as were stunning works of art, medieval carvings and the 12th century 1.5 ton Tournai marble font.

Other highlights include the 17th century Morley Library bequeathed by Bishop Morley, the Triforium Gallery that includes the Shaftesbury Bowl, the last surviving example of late Saxon glass in England and the jewel in the cathedral’s crown, the Winchester Bible.

Commissioned in 1160 probably by William the Conqueror’s grandson, it is a magnificent handwritten, hand-illustrated and hand-coloured Romanesque manuscript (including gold leaf and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan which are as vibrant and intense today as they were eight centuries ago). The Winchester Bible is a masterpiece, a lavish testament to 12th century creativity and is worth the trip on its own!

Note two of 'Fox's Boxes' up high behind us, to the left and right of the Great Screen.

Winchester Museum

Located in the heart of the historic city of Winchester, City Museum tells the story of England’s ancient capital, the seat of Alfred the Great.

From its origins as an Iron Age trading centre to Anglo‑Saxon glory, the last journey of Jane Austen to the hunt for King Alfred’s remains, explore the sights and sounds of Winchester past and present in the museum’s three galleries.

Winchester Great Hall

The Great Hall, “one of the finest surviving aisled halls of the 13th century”, contains the greatest symbol of medieval mythology, King Arthur’s Round Table, and is all that now remains of Winchester Castle.

Come and see the iconic Round Table of Arthurian legend that has dominated Winchester’s ancient Great Hall for centuries.

This is one of the finest surviving examples of a 13th century aisled hall and is an enhancement of the original Winchester Castle built by William the Conqueror.

The Highclere Grampus

The folktale involves a creature called a Grampus, which is a historical name for the Orca meaning big fish. Highclere appears to have had a Grampus, a big fish living in a yew tree in the church yard of the Highclere Estate Chapel.

This creature apparently terrified the local population by emitting wheezing grunting noises and chasing anyone who got too close. All rather difficult one would think for a big fish who lived in a tree.

The beast was eventually exorcised by a local clergyman who banished the animal to the Red Sea for a thousand years.

The Mermaid of Nately Scures

In the small Hampshire village of Nately Scures stands St. Swithun’s Church. It is one of England’s smallest churches, measuring little more than 30 feet in length and 15 feet in width, and one of the very few dedicated to St, Swithun, the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester.

The church, built in 1175, also has the unusual distinction of only offering a single way in or out: one ornate north door. The archway of this door houses perhaps the most curious feature of this unique church. Those who look to their left as they enter the church will lock eyes with the Mermaid of Nately Scures.

Amongst whirling waves, the mermaid watches all who pass through the church, and, if local legends are to be believed, she serves as a warning to them all. The mermaid’s legend tells that, once upon a time, she and a sailor fell in love out at sea. Their time together was, however, cut short when the sailor returned to land. The lovers parted ways, promising to reunite once he was recalled to sea. On his return to land, however, the sailor put thoughts of the mermaid aside and instead began courting a local sweetheart. Before long the couple was set to be wed at their local church in Nately Scures. Word of this union crossed the waves, and, as the groom-to-be approached the church on his wedding day, who should he see but the mermaid, blocking the church’s one door. The mermaid threw him onto her back and through streams, rivers, and seas she returned to the deepest ocean with the cheating sailor.

Shocked not only by the appearance of a mermaid but also by the philandering ways of the sailor, the village carved a mermaid into the doorway of the church, as a reminder and warning to any would-be cheats.

The original carved mermaid, weathered by years of watchful warning, can be found within the nave of the church building. A modern copy now takes the place of the original on the doorway but has sadly been defaced, figuratively and literally.

The Wherwell Cockatrice

The tale tells us about a duck who laid an egg in the crypt of the old Wherwell Abbey. This egg was brooded by a toad and when the egg hatched what emerged was a fierce some creature, made up of many animal parts. It had the body of a rooster, wings of a bat and the tale of a snake.

It was nurtured as a pet by the villagers but as it grew it demanded human flesh as part of its diet.

It grew to such a size it was capable of flying over the countryside and picking off its victims. Caught in the talons of the beast there was no escape as the Cockatrice carried the its prey back to its lair.

Netley Abbey

Standing close to Southampton Water, Netley Abbey is the most complete surviving Cistercian monastery in southern England.

After the Suppression of the Monasteries the buildings were converted into a mansion for Sir William Paulet. The ruins now reflect over 800 years of change, during which the abbey was transformed from a monastic house to a mansion house, and later to a romantic ruin.

Sir William Paulet’s mansion was occupied until 1704, when the owner sold it for building materials. The abbey was only saved when a demolition worker was killed, causing work to cease.

When this house was abandoned, however, and the neglected site became overgrown with trees and ivy, it came to be celebrated as a romantic ruin. As the ‘Romantic Movement’ grew in strength, many authors and artists visited the abbey to find inspiration. Set among the wild, wooded slopes above Southampton Water, overgrown Netley appeared to be the perfect medieval ruin.

John Constable came to paint here, and writers such as Thomas Gray enthused about the abbey. It is reported that Jane Austen visited Netley, finding inspiration for her novel Northanger Abbey (published in 1817).

Although the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s under Henry VIII left most of England’s monasteries in ruins, the ghost stories associated with them would prove far more difficult to suppress. In fact, when antiquaries of the late seventeenth century turned their attention to England’s own medieval architectural inheritance, they discovered and recorded some of the supernatural legends and traditions that circulated around these ruins.

However, as an antiquarian study such as Browne Willis’s An History of the Mitred Parliamentary Abbies, and Conventual Cathedral Churches (1718–19) makes clear, the nature and function of the ghost had, by this time, changed considerably.

Describing the ruins of Netley Abbey, a thirteenth-century Cistercian monastery in Hampshire, Willis related the tale of a carpenter named Taylor who, having acquired the ruin set about converting the once-sacred space into a place of modern, domestic habitation.

Having dismantled the remaining portions of the abbey’s roof and pulled down some of its walls, Taylor is troubled by an unsettling dream in which a ghostly monk appears before him and warns him of the fatal consequences that are to befall him if he persists in his task of architectural demolition.

Upon waking, Taylor persists with his programme of vandalism at Netley completely undaunted– at least until, in an uncanny enactment of his dream, he is crushed to death by a large piece of masonry that falls from one of the abbey’s windows.

This tale of the supernatural is offered up as a means of ensuring the ruined abbey’s protection from the hands of avaricious despoilers; no longer bound up in Catholic theological rights and practices, the spectre becomes a vehicle for nascent notions of ‘heritage’ and architectural preservation.

M.R. James

Many people regard M. R. James (1862-1936) as the finest writer of ghost stories in the English language.

Montague James went to study at Cambridge, where he would spend much of his adult life, first as a student and then as a don. His scholarly achievements are less widely known than his ghost stories, but he was a notable academic who catalogued virtually the entire collection of medieval manuscripts at Cambridge University, and was an influential director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge for fifteen years.

James’s interest in all things antiquarian – and medieval – fed into his ghost stories, which he would read to his fellow dons on Christmas Eve (his audience was exclusively male, much like M. R. James’s life: he never married and was probably a lifelong celibate).

In many ways, his ghost stories represent a step backwards in the evolution of the ghost story: at a time when his contemporaries, such as his namesake Henry James, were writing ambiguous tales that treated the supernatural with scepticism and ambiguity (as in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw), M. R. James tended to adopt a less equivocal line in his treatment of the supernatural.

When a linen sheet billows in an M. R. James story, there usually is a (genuine) ghost beneath it...

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