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Kempshott in Prehistory

An Archaeological Story - David Hopkins

Mesolithic Age


In the Mesolithic, about 10,000 BC to 4,500 BC, the population were hunter gatherers, moving through the landscape. They were very familiar with their environment and their wanderings were certainly planned seasonal, coming to the places where their food could be found, perhaps living in small camps and then moving on. These people lived in the landscape but did not shape it. On Old Down and Beggarwood, the downs would have been wooded, but with glades of grassland where strong winds had ripped glades into the woodland. In these glades grass could grow as the break in the canopy allowed light to penetrate to ground level, and animals would graze. The woodland would have provided fruits and nuts and plants, and the animals of the wood, such as deer, would have been hunted.


The archaeological evidence for the Mesolithic people is limited. Their camps were small and temporary and rarely leave a trace that we can find today. Their stone tools are however distinctive. These have been found through out the Basingstoke area and we can be sure that Mesolithic families roamed across these downs.


In the Neolithic, 4,500 BC to 2000 BC the landscape started to be bent to the will of man. The development of agriculture in this period meant that woods were cut and fields were created for farming. Farms, settled occupation, appear and along with these, burial mounds known as Long Barrows. We can’t be sure, but it may be at this time that the downs are first cleared. If this is so, it seems most likely that they would have been open grazing downland rather than tilled. Whilst no evidence of fields or farms have been found on these two downs Neolithic stone tools, including fine polished stone axes, have been found in Basingstoke. In all probability the first fields and farms in the Basingstoke area appeared at this time down in the light and fertile soils of the Loddon Valley.


Bronze Age


By the Bronze Age, 2000 BC to 750 BC, we can surmise that these downs had been cleared of trees and are grassland. In this period, when metal working first appears, agricultural practise spreads, with more fields created, land boundaries constructed and farms are more common. On Old Down, overlooking the farming communities in the valley below, were two Bronze Age burial mounds. They were at the top of Old Down just slightly west of the A30. From here they would be visible to people coming in to the area, and to people in the valley, and they asserted the kind of rights to the land that the presence of your ancestors will bring you. That they were created to be visible implies that the tree cover was now removed.  That the burial mound survived long enough to be mapped in the 19th century also tells us that the down was used for grassland rather than being ploughed. However both mounds were ploughed down and away during the 20th century. By the time that the parks were created one mound could just be discerned as a slight swelling in the ploughed field, and later as a ring of dark grass when the grass started growing. A small bank and a ring of trees was put in to mark this ancient spot and so now it is easy for visitors to see where it was. At the eastern end of Beggarwood there had been another Bronze Age burial mound. This is only recorded as a ring ditch. A ring ditch is the circular ditch around a mound from which the mound material is quarried. Even when the mound has been ploughed away the ditch survives below ground and affects the growing crop on the surface. This causes a ring pattern in the crop that betrays where the mound once stood.


In the Bronze Age the downs were probably grazed. Burial mounds standing sentinel on the flanks over looking the farmers in the valley. However, twice whilst the new houses were being built at Beggarwood Bronze Age crouched burials were found. Inhumations where the skeleton is found in a pit showing the body had been laid in a crouched position, like curled up sleepers. Perhaps these downs overlooking the valley had a special significance.


Iron Age


In the Iron Age, 750 BC to 43 AD, Beggarwood seems positively to have been buzzing with activity. Several settlements are known up on this high ridge. In the west, where the Blue Hut Café used to stand an Iron Age oval enclosure was excavated when the road was built. This small round enclosure was a small domestic settlement, possibly occupied by an extended family, with many pits and post holes showing the location of structures within the area enclosed by the ditch. Loom weights are evidence of weaving, and the bones of horse, cattle, pigs and sheep were found. Charcoal and seeds tell us about the trees in the area, oak, field maple, ash and hazel


To the east of this site the road curves around the edge of the down, and in this way avoided a large Iron Age farmstead, which lies secure below the turf. Its presence is known from crop marks seen on aerial photographs. Like a ring ditch, the ditches and pits of the settlement survive and influence the growing crop causing traceable patterns. These crop marks show a large circular enclosure, where the farmstead was, surrounded by tracks and paddocks.


Further east still, behind the shelter belt of trees, was yet another Iron Age farmstead. This one was excavated by archaeologists before the houses were built. In the early Iron Age around 500 - 600 BC there was a square enclosure, with evidence of domestic occupation, and a mixed economy of crops, such as Wheat, Barley and Oats, and of animals (cow, sheep and pigs). In the middle Iron Age this was replaced by a small oval enclosure a little to the south, of a similar economy. The evidence suggests that this was in turn abandoned and even ploughed over, but by the Late Iron Age and into the Roman period had become a large and increasingly complex enclosure.   Large ditches defined these enclosures and protected the farmstead. Postholes show us where their round, conically thatched houses stood, and pits tell us something of their lives. The pits were originally dug to store corn. When they were no longer used they were then filled up with rubbish. It is through the study of the things they threw away which tells us what tools they used, who they traded with, what cereals they grew, what animals they raised, how and at what age they butchered them. The enclosure and the paddocks do suggest that this was a farm that had a lot of animals, and it seems likely that the farmers here took their herds south and east into the adjacent area which was at this time still wooded with a much lower density of population.


These Iron Ages continued in use into the Roman period, but went out of use eventually. There are many Roman sites in Basingstoke and it seems likely that Basingstoke was quite an important area at this time. The western edge of Old Down is defined by the line of the Roman road from Silchester to Winchester. The road is long since abandoned, but its line remains important in the landscape as a boundary even today. Along what is now a hedge once trod Roman soldiers on their way to garrison Silchester, their hob nailed sandals crunching on the gravel road surface. Horses thundered along carrying the imperial messengers. Creaking wagons of trade goods lumbered up from the coast bringing foreign goods like wine and olive oil, as well as local goods like New Forest Pottery or oysters from the Solent.


A small Roman cremation cemetery was found when some of the houses were built close to Beggarwood Lane. These were found and excavated by the Basingstoke Archaeological society, and comprised of up turned pots set into the ground, with ash and burnt bone.




By the medieval period all that was left of this rich history was the line of the Roman road and two Bronze Age burial mounds. The rest was lost to memory but awaiting discovery by archaeologists. We think that these downs would have been grazed by sheep and rabbits. There was a warren in this area. It was the warren to the village of Hatch. Hatch Warren. Hatch was a lost village. The name was recorded but its location lost. It was rediscovered by archaeologists when Hatch Warren houses were built. A manor, a small church and a small village, close to what is now the community centre.


The village might have had its origins in the Saxon period, but was abandoned in the fifteenth century. Part of it is preserved under the open space behind the community centre here. The settlement was around a small two cell church, with a nave and a chancel. There was a grave yard around the church and about 500 graves were laid out, enclosed by a ditch. In the 11th and 12th centuries the village included a small manorial complex.


In the 12th to 14th centuries the manorial complex had been abandoned and the settlement was clearly in decline and by the mid 14th century occupation appears to have ended. By the late 15th century the site has been levelled.


The archaeological evidence ties in with the historical evidence. The site existed in Domesday, 1086, and was passed from Alsi, a Saxon, to Norman. This manor became amalgamated with that of Cliddesden, with Cliddesden dominant. The slow and general decline of the settlement follows and in 1378, about the time that occupation ceases in the archaeological record the king is petitioned for the village to be relieved of paying tithes as no one lives in the parish and the church is ruinous. In 1380 the petition was granted and Hatch disappeared from the records.


 Supplementary Information


Blue Hut Cafe Site (Early to Mid Iron Age)


Animal bones were found in the ditches and pits, but they were fragmented, particularly those found in the ditch. There was limited evidence to call upon. Other than small mammals and frog (shrew, vole, wood mouse, which probably found themselves trapped after falling into open pits) the animals were all domestic. Horse, cattle, sheep, pig and dog. There was some evidence of butchery marks, as well as some evidence of dog gnawing.  However, one metacarpal allows the estimation of the height of one of the ponies, which was 13 hands.


The only plant remains found was charcoal, and this will have been the remains of fuel. Therefore as sample of vegetation it will be bias to those woods collected for fuel. It included, oak, field maple, elder, ash, hazel, buckthorn, hawthorn, rowan, service and whitebeam. These represent mature woodland, hedge and scrub, and of course the hazel may well bring forward images of managed sustainable woodland.


Kennel Farm


The animal bone assemblage here was fragmented, but included in addition to that found at the Blue Hut site, goat and a small amount of deer. Goat was dominant, and the picture of goat herds being used in the less intensively farmed landscape to the south east is tempting. 


There was poor preservation of plant remains, but some charred fragments did survive. These represented both crops and associated weeds. Wheat, Barley, Oats and Rye were found. "The presence of chenopodiums suggests a nitrogen rich soil" to quote the report. 


Some pulses were found. Rosehip was also found, although this may be deliberate collection for medicinal purpose. 


Material supplied by;


David Hopkins

Kempshott Rise

Old Down & Beggarwood Bronze, Iron & Other Ages - Robert and Barbara Applin


Additional Material to Article by David Hopkins


 Kempshott History

Although David has given you the information on the area of Beggarwood and what is now known as Old Down, that landscape cannot be considered in isolation in the Bronze and Iron Ages. The 1940 1:25” to the mile OS map of the area notes the site of ‘tumuli’ (‘barrows’ or burial mounds) at the corner of Homesteads Road  and Kempshott Lane, as well as in the field west of the old Roman road and  at what is now Berwyn Close in Buckskin (the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society Vol 61, 1995 contains a report of the excavation of ‘The Buckskin barrow’ and there is a sequence about it on the video BENEATH BASINGSTOKE). Still extant are the barrows at Cow Down Copse and Mother Copse just south of Newfound and in Pitman Close on the Berg (this last one is often referred to as ‘the Down Grange long barrow’ and presumed to be Neolithic but in fact is two adjacent Bronze Age round barrows).  All of these would have been visible in the landscape, particularly when viewed from the top of Kempshott Hill.


Iron Age farmsteads are visible as crop marks in air photographs to the west of the Bird estate and the Roman road as well as at Kite Hill near the railway footpath crossing. There was also evidence of Iron Age occupation on the higher ground east of Buckskin Farm and Buckskin Lane. David makes the point of the density of Iron Age occupation in the Beggarwood area and this continues as the land drops towards the Loddon valley. As with all the chalkland around Basingstoke, there appears to be an Iron Age farmstead at roughly 1 mile spacing, and many of the sites continue into the Roman period.


Pre-development excavations on the Barratt site currently being developed (Highfields) revealed considerable Bronze Age and Iron Age activity. The reports analysing the findings haven’t been published yet so the results are not available to us.


The area marked as Old Down on the 1940 map is only part of the original Down and is in the area of Old Down Close off Homesteads Road.


Down Grange House is 18th century and presumably post-enclosure, like Buckskin Farm. Kempshott House had associations with the Prince Regent.


David talks about “downs” as a geographical term for chalk upland. In our attached note The Down is a specific medieval term with legal connotations.

We are also attaching an article An Ancient Boundary Hedge? By F B Mayo from Newsletter 77 (March/April 1983 of the Basingstoke Archaeological & Historical Society.


Also an undated but rather old Gazette piece by Robert Brown – we don’t think you could actually call Kempshott a village 150 years ago, though the 1911 Directory records an Arthur Vandervell living in Kempshott Village. You’ll see Robert Brown says the racing started in 1753, while the references we got from Baigent & Millard go back to 1713 and even 1688.

The map in our attachment is by Derek Spruce. I've e-mailed him to check he has no objection to us passing it on, but he's away just now; I doubt if he'll object so long as it has his copyright line.


Bob and Barbara Applin



The Down

Map ©copyright Derek Spruce

In 1389 the Regulations and Constitution of the Manor of Basingstoke laid down rules for the management of livestock on ‘the common called le downe’.  Later records  also refer to it as ‘the common pasture called Basingstoke heath, alias Shepedowne’  Many of these rules continued for at least  two centuries.

The Down was an essential part of Basingstoke’s agricultural régime. Basingstoke had six large ‘open’ or ‘common’ fields and each field was laid down to a different crop or left fallow, in rotation. People had to walk or drive their carts out from town to the ‘strips’ they worked in each field – and carters were warned not to drive over growing corn to get to their own strips. Pigs and cows were pastured on whichever field was fallow, and after harvest pigs and sheep were allowed into the stubble, but sheep were mainly kept on ‘le downe’ . No-one was allowed to keep more than 3 sheep for every 2 acres of arable land they owned; by 1535 this had been increased to 5 sheep, with a limit of 600 sheep for anyone with 300 acres.

This Down, of about 631 acres,  was on the western edge of Basingstoke, roughly in the area bounded now by Kempshott Lane, Pack Lane and the A30 (see map).   In 1456-7 John Wallop was fined £10 because he had entered it ‘with saws and other instruments and  many thorn trees and other trees there standing and growing, under which the cattle of the proved men [men who  were acknowledged as belonging to the town] were accustomed to rest and suckle, [were] cut down, disbranched, prostrated and altogether laid waste, and [he] caused the trees so cut down to be carried to his lordship of Farley aforesaid, and there of his own will disposed of them to the great damage of the same proved men, their heirs and assigns.’ Two years later he did the same again and ‘covered a great part of the same pasture with thorns and thistles cut down and placed there, so that the animals of the aforesaid men and tenants of Basingstoke could not enter upon nor have pasture there for a long time to their great damage.’ Other people too were fined for encroaching on  ‘the King’s soil at le Downe’ and carrying away hawthorn and brushwood.

In 1671 a charter of Charles II granted Basingstoke two fairs on Basingstoke Down, one on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Easter and the other on 10th and 11th September.  These were in addition to the fair granted by Henry VI and seem to have been primarily for the sale of sheep and cattle..

Old maps show a racecourse on The Down.  A note in A History of Basingstoke by Baigent & Millard (1889) states that  ‘A very handsome silver Punch-bowl  is preserved at The Vyne, which is inscribed “Basingstoke Plate,  Octo ye 2d, 1688”. It is believed to have been won at the Races on Basingstoke Down by Mr Edward Chute, grandson of the Speaker, Chaloner Chute.’  On July 16th 1713 a newssheet called The Post-Boy carried an advertisement for  ‘A Plate to be run for, on Basingstoke Down, on the 3rd day of August, of about £10 value, by any Horse, Mare or Gelding, 14 hands, to carry 10 stone, and to allow seven pounds to an inch, be it more or less, and to be shown at the George Inn, Basingstoke, the Monday before, between the hours of 10 and 12, the winning horse to be sold for £10.’

With the Enclosure Act of 1786, Basingstoke lost its open fields and its Down and a new Common of 107 acres was established to the south-east of the town, but it was not until September 1840 that  The Hampshire Chronicle announced that ‘the sheep and cattle fair formerly held on Basingstoke Down previous to its enclosure, and since that period held in a very limited field set aside for that purpose, took place by permission of the Trustees on the Common.’ This proved to ‘give universal satisfaction to the numerous breeders and dealers attending it’ and 5,000 sheep were penned the following year. (This Common was moved farther east in 1972.)



The wide boundary hedge on the south side of the A30 at the top of Kempshott Hill (see sketch plan) appears to have some interesting features. Its sinuous line on plan from map reference SU 600487 to Beggarwood Lane at SU 607481 is approximately 1250 yards. It is shown on the earliest 1 inch edition of the OS map (sheet 12, published 1817) as a narrow strip of woodland running first about 800 yards south-east from what is now the A30 and thence almost due south to Beggarwood Lane.

On the 1910 edition of the 1-2500 scale OS map sheet 18-14 it is shown clearly as a strip of woodland averaging about 100 feet wide and named ‘Lower Belt’. The survey for this sheet was done in 1871 and revised in 1909. On this map a parish boundary is shown along the northern (i.e. Hatch Warren) edge of the feature.

The hedge (if so it may be called) is still of impressive width, varying along its length. The trees and shrubs growing there include ash, beech, hawthorn, ivy, holly, elder, hazel, wild rose, sycamore, yew, thorn, oak, bramble and silver birch.

The appearance of this hedge on comparatively recent maps provides tenuous support for any evidence of its age. A search for boundary references or other older but relevant documentary evidence by Mr Douglas Paterson of Hatch Warren has, the writer understands, been so far unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, a tempting theory is that this hedge was the southern boundary of the Domesday Hatch (Warren) parish which was merged with Cliddesden in 1380 (Wykeham Reg., Hants Record Society Vol II, Notes 56, p.292 and 57, p 391).

If this theory is indeed correct, then the hedge would be one of the oldest remaining natural features on the south-west side of Basingstoke.

F B Mayo


(Reprinted from  Newsletter 77, March/April 1983, Basingstoke Archaeological & Historical Society)




Sketch of  Beggarwood  Hedgerow.


 For a further history of Kempshott from the 1750s onwards Kempshott History Timeline