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Micheldever Parish

Micheldever Parish

Mitcheldever engraved print

The first question visitors to Micheldever often ask is how to pronounce its name.   Of all the ways in which it can be pronounced, only one is regarded as being correct and that is ‘Mitch-el-dever’ with all the e’s being short and the accent falling on the first syllable of ‘dever’.   No-one knows for sure what the name means and there have been many different spellings down the centuries.   The most commonly accepted view is that the name originates from the Celtic for ‘Much Water’.

The most obvious water around today is the River Dever which rises just to the east of the M3 Motorway in Stratton Park and flows westwards through the village into a culvert under the main London to Southampton railway line at Weston Colley and then on to Stoke Charity, Wonston and Sutton Scotney, and ultimately to Wherwell where it joins the River Test.  Unlike the pronunciation of the name Micheldever, the name of the river is pronounced as ‘Deever’ with a long first e.

It is however rather grandiose to refer to this stretch of water as a river; in reality it is more of a stream, and indeed on some of the old maps it is referred to as the ‘North Brook’ after the collection of houses and cottages on the north bank of the river, or ’Micheldever Stream’ or ‘Bullington Stream’ (after the village of that name further downstream).   Some old maps and guidebooks actually refer to it as the River Test but this is inaccurate as the Test rises at Ashe, a few miles west of Basingstoke, and flows through Overton and Whitchurch before it is joined by the Dever.   Like the headwaters of all the great Hampshire chalk streams, the Dever is a winterbourne and in very dry summers the upper reaches of the river may disappear altogether into the aquifer only to re-emerge in springs further down the river valley.

Micheldever from the Romans to the Middle Ages

Micheldever has been an important place in the past.  During the Roman occupation a road was built between Winchester and Silchester, the route of which is now broadly followed by the A33 trunk road from King’s Worthy, through Micheldever parish to the Wheatsheaf Inn close to North Waltham.   Archaeological discoveries indicate that there was a Roman villa in Micheldever Wood.   In Saxon times, Micheldever was a royal estate and it is said that the king’s council met there in 862AD.   In about 900AD Edward the Elder (son of Alfred the Great) granted the estate (and other estates in the vicinity, including Wonston) to the New Minster at Winchester which later became Hyde Abbey.

Micheldever’s importance continued into medieval times.   The Domesday Book records it as being the centre of a hundred of the same name.   Its manor exercised administrative authority over the eastern end of the Dever valley, while Wonston’s manor had control from Stoke Charity westwards.   However, unlike Micheldever, Wonston never achieved the exalted status of being a hundred in its own right.


Following the dissolution of Hyde Abbey in 1538, Henry VIII granted the manor and hundred of Micheldever to Sir Thomas Wriothesley (pronounced ‘Risley’), who had been appointed Lord Chancellor and was later to become the first Earl of Southampton.   Wriothesley paid the Crown £1,318.   The estate included the settlements of Northbrook and Southbrook (which today form Micheldever village), Weston Colley and West Stratton.   The estate did not at first include the Manor of East Stratton but Wriothesley succeeded in acquiring this later on in 1546.

Most of the estate stayed in the Wriothesley family until the middle of the 17th century.   The one exception was the house which Wriothesley had built for himself which was probably in Southbrook This had become superfluous when he acquired and moved to the Abbey at Titchfield in 1542.   The house, together with its estate was apparently sold to one Robert Stansby and changed hands several times, until it was bought by the Dowager Duchess of Bedford in 1778 and it again became part of the original estate granted by Henry VIII.

The Wriothesleys were one of the richest and most influential families in the land – the third Earl was Shakespeare’s patron and the fourth was a staunch ally of Charles I in his struggle with Parliament and became Lord High Treasurer after the restoration of the monarchy.   His large Elizabethan house in Stratton Park was one of his chief seats and when he died leaving no male heir his properties were divided between his daughters, Elizabeth (Viscountess Campden) and Rachel (Lady Rachel Vaughan).

The Bedfords

The estate passed in 1667 to Lady Rachel Vaughan, who later married William Russell, MP for Tavistock and son of the first Duke of Bedford.   Lady Rachel and her husband embarked on substantial alterations and improvements to Stratton Park.  A contemporary survey records that they ‘added two wings to the old house and designed to rebuild the old and middle part.   He likewise built laundries, brewhouses, coachhouses, stables for 60 horses, barns and other necessary offices, and made orchards, gardens and avenues and planted groves, wildernesses and other ornaments to adorn and accommodate this beautiful and pleasant seat; they also pulled down part of the town or hamblett of Stratton and laid it into his Deer Park’.   They also built a Gothic chapel in the grounds replacing an old medieval chapel.  William Russell obtained the courtesy title of Lord Russell in 1678 but met an untimely end as one of the conspirators in the failed Rye House Plot to depose Charles II.   He was beheaded in 1683.   The estate remained in Lady Rachel’s hands until her death in 1723 when it passed to their grandson, Wriothesley Russell, who was later to become the third Duke of Bedford.   The estate then remained in the Bedford family for a further 78 years.

In 1720, a distinguished cousin of the Dukes of Bedford, the Marquis de Ruvigny, died while staying with Lady Rachel at Stratton Park.   He was a brave Huguenot soldier who sacrificed his estates in France to join the English army and for 25 years he fought in Ireland, Flanders and Spain and, in doing so, lost an eye and an arm in the service of his adopted country.   He was buried in Micheldever churchyard.

The third Duke of Bedford decided to demolish the house in 1723 ‘lest it should cause the magnificent residence at Woburn Abbey to be neglected’ and in 1731 one of the great architects of the time, John Sanderson, was commissioned to design a grand Palladian mansion in its place.   In 1769 the fifth Duke of Bedford decided to part-demolish the house possibly because it was overshadowing Woburn Abbey.

The Barings

In 1801 Sir Francis Baring, the financier and politician,  bought the estate from the sixth Duke of Bedford.   Money was no object for Sir Francis.  The Barings originated from Bremen, where Franz Baring had been a Lutheran pastor.   Sir Francis was Franz’s grandson and in 1762 he, with two of his brothers, had founded the merchant banking firm bearing the family name.   The Barings had amassed a fortune by acting as middlemen for bills of exchange used to facilitate rapidly burgeoning international trade and by arranging Government loans for fighting the American War of Independence.

Sir Francis commissioned the renowned architect, George Dance the Younger, to re-model Stratton House which he adorned with a massive portico of Doric columns.   The portico won huge acclaim for the purity of its Greek style and along with the British Museum in London gave rise to the Greek revival movement.   Two classical lodges were also built at the entrances to the estate and Humphrey Repton was commissioned to re-landscape the park which then stretched to 260 acres (105.3ha).   Sir Francis never missed a chance to snap up an adjoining property and indeed one commentator remarked that ‘Sir Francis Baring is extending his purchases so largely in Hampshire that he soon expects to be able to inclose the county with his own park paling’.

The classical portico of the house at Stratton was widely admired and another banker, Henry Drummond, was inspired to add a still mightier portico to his neighbouring house – The Grange at Northington - although this was not constructed of solid Portland stone but of brick and plaster.   A few years later Drummond sold The Grange to Alexander Baring (later to become Lord Ashburton), adding yet another estate to the Baring family property portfolio.

Sir Francis filled Stratton House with the finest furniture and Old Masters, including works by Rembrandt, Rubens and Van Dyck.   The estate remained Sir Francis’ country seat until his death in 1810 when it was inherited by his eldest son, Sir Thomas Baring and it stayed in the hands of Sir Thomas’ descendants throughout the remainder of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.

The Baring family liked to spread their largesse around.   In 1806 Sir Francis commissioned George Dance to rebuild St Mary’s church at Micheldever after a fire, and in 1810 he enlarged the old chapel in the grounds of Stratton Park.   Sir Thomas built an almshouse for the poor in 1826 (Southbrook House in Rook Lane, demolished in 1966) and in 1839 he set up a benefit society for the navvies constructing the railway across his land. He also carried out more improvements to the chapel in 1841 and rebuilt the school nearby after it had been burnt down in 1846.

Sir Thomas’ son became the first Lord Northbrook (the title being taken from the settlement of that name on the north bank of the River Dever) and his sons financed the building of an entirely new church at East Stratton in 1888 to replace the chapel in Stratton Park which had apparently become ‘somewhat damp and forlorn’.

Improvements to Stratton Park itself were made periodically and in 1895 the renowned Victorian garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, was engaged to provide a new planting scheme for the gardens.

After the First World War the then Earl of Northbrook, a great-great-grandson of Sir Francis Baring, sold off the main part of Micheldever village to meet death duties and many of his tenants took the opportunity to buy their own houses.   Following his death then in 1929 Stratton House was sold to a Miss James who used it as a girls’ school known as the Vyne Stratton School.   However, when the Second World War broke out, Barings bank bought Stratton Park back as a home for the bank’s operations during the war.

In 1955 the bank sold the house and estate to two members of the Baring family. Lord Northbrook bought the farmland while Lord Ashburton bought the house and grounds.    Controversially, Lord Ashburton had most of the house pulled down in 1960 and replaced by a modern house. Only the magnificent Doric portico of the old house was saved and still survives today in the garden of the new house which was sold by Lord Ashburton in 1981 to a Saudi sheik who sadly allowed the building to deteriorate.   It was eventually sold to the present owners in 1989.

William Cobbett and the Barings

There was a huge divide in the early 19th century between the wealthy landowning classes and the poor agricultural workers and a growing impetus for reform.   William Cobbett, the political journalist, championed the cause of the poor agricultural workers (whom he affectionately called ‘chopsticks’) in his accounts of Rural Rides across the country and in his weekly journal, the Political Register. Cobbett despised the Barings.  He felt that they symbolized the new order that had taken over the countryside after the Napoleonic wars. In one of his Rural Rides on 25th September 1826 Cobbett wrote – ‘they [the Barings] are everywhere, indeed, depositing their eggs about, like cunning old guinea-hens in sly places, besides the great, open, showy nests they have’.

In 1830, the Barings found themselves caught up in the Swing Riots against the introduction of threshing machinery on farms.   At a farm belonging to William Bingham Baring (son of Alexander Baring of The Grange), there was a scuffle involving a gang of labourers including a 20 year old from Micheldever called Henry Cook. Cook, who was armed with a sledge-hammer, aimed a blow at Baring and struck his hat. Apparently, Baring was not seriously injured but Cook was nevertheless charged with attempted murder. Cobbett is reported as having commented that it was worse than treason to knock off the hat of a Baring!  Cook was tried, sentenced to death and hanged.   However, rather than being treated as a convict, he was hailed as a hero by the bulk of the local population.  When his corpse was returned to Micheldever for burial, almost all the parish turned out for the funeral.   The precise location of Cook’s grave in Micheldever churchyard is not known but legend has it that snow never lies on his grave.

On the 175th anniversary of Cook’s death the Unite trade union (which represents agricultural workers) suggested that his sacrifice should be marked by a plaque in Micheldever Church, and on 29th May 2009 a plaque was unveiled at a special service.

A year after the incident with Henry Cook, Cobbett returned to Micheldever and attended a church service on 4th August 1832.   Unfortunately, he was rather underwhelmed by the sermon preached by the vicar, the Revd Thomas Clarke (who was vicar for an astonishing 54 years from 1816 and was, as far as the author is aware, no relation of his).  Cobbett wrote – ‘I have never heard a discourse which I thought had less literary merit, and never one which I thought calculated to produce less effect’. And that was not all.   Not satisfied with criticising the sermon, Cobbett went on to comment on the music in church.   He strongly disapproved of the trend away from a choir singing psalms to the congregation singing hymns to the accompaniment of an organ.   He blamed Sir Thomas Baring, who had succeeded his father Sir Francis in 1810 as patron of the Micheldever living.

The Barings and the arrival of the railway

Like his father, Sir Thomas had his fingers in many pies.   In 1831 he was consulted on the procedure for getting the necessary statutory powers for a railway between London and Southampton, and a year later he was appointed as chairman of the Southampton & London Railway.   He took a keen interest in the progress of the plans for the railway as its route was to cross part of his land.   Parliament passed the necessary Act of Parliament in July 1834, but progress was slow and a deviation was necessary to reduce the costs of tunnelling. 

A further Act was passed in 1837 to authorize the deviation and raise new capital.   Sir Thomas agreed to sell the land that was needed for the railway for £8,000 worth of shares in the railway company.

The navvies arrived in 1839 and Sir Thomas was keen to ensure their good behaviour while on his property.   He therefore laid down rules ‘to promote and encourage frugal, sober and industrious habits among the labourers’.   He created a benefit society for them, agreeing to pay premiums for those who saved the most from their wages, but warned that every discouragement would be given to vice and immorality.   He also persuaded the board of the railway company to make a donation to Winchester County Hospital which treated the navvies for injuries sustained during the construction activities.

A station was built on the railway but this was located some 2½ miles away from the village of Micheldever.   Some suggest that this was because Sir Thomas wanted to minimise the impact of the railway on his estates, but it is more likely that its position was dictated by the need to get produce from the important Weyhill Fair to the London markets as quickly as possible.   The railway opened for business on 11th May 1840.

Local traces today of the Barings

Although the Barings reduced their property holdings in Micheldever after the First World War, and the family bank was forced into receivership in 1995 as a result of the Nick Leeson scandal the Baring family still owns property in the area, particularly in East Stratton, and their presence is still very much felt.    Lord Northbrook retains a right to appoint the vicar to the Upper Dever Benefice which includes Micheldever and East Stratton; the foundation stone of Micheldever Village Hall was laid by Lady Northbrook in 1907 and the hall is still known today as the Northbrook Hall; the pub in East Stratton which is owned by Lord Northbrook and used to be called The Plough until a recent refurbishment, has been re-named the Northbrook Arms, and a road in East Stratton bears the name Baring Close.

St Mary’s Church, Micheldever, contains some fine, if rather ostentatious, monuments to the Barings in particular, a group of three based on the theme of the Lord’s Prayer.   The centrepiece is by John Flaxman, the noted sculptor and Royal Academician and was erected in 1806 with a Gothic surround designed by George Dance, to commemorate Harriet Baring, wife of Sir Francis, who died in 1804.   The two side pieces by Sir Joseph Boehm were originally in the chapel at Stratton Park and commemorate Sir Thomas’ son, also called Thomas, who died in 1873.

On the south wall of the chancel is a memorial to The Hon. Arthur Baring, a great-grandson of Sir Thomas who was a 17 year old midshipman serving in HMS Captain, the first ship in the Royal Navy to be fitted with gun turrets rather than fixed gun positions.   The ship sank on a voyage in 1870 in the Bay of Biscay and Arthur’s father, Lord Northbrook, gave the school in Micheldever its clock-tower in Thomas’ memory.

The history summary of the Parish,  has been taken, with kind permission of Peter Clarke's family,
from Dever & Down: A History of the Villages in and Around the Dever Valley in Hampshire
by Peter Clarke

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