The Villages of the Itchen Valley
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Itchen Abbas is the largest village in the Itchen Valley. Set within the picturesque Itchen Valley, surrounded by beautiful countryside, and is positioned on the banks of the trout filled River Itchen. The village dates far back into history to Saxon times and beyond, a legacy of which is to be found nearby with the remains of a Roman Villa. There's a host of pretty cottages, and houses lining the quiet lanes which walkers and cyclists will enjoy, and a welcoming 19th Century Coaching Inn The Trout formerly The Plough, which played host to Charles Kingsley, who, it is thought was inspired to write The Water Babies whilst staying here and was mentioned in the Hampshire Folk Song "Avington Pond" as the place where the builders of the pond were paid their wages. They were given their money in The Plough public house.
The Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway Company opened Itchen Abbas railway station in 1865. British Railways closed the line and station in 1973. However, part of the disused line between Martyr Worthy and Itchen Abbas is now a tranquil and enjoyable walking and cycling path.
The village is the site of Sir Edward Grey's fishing hut, where he spent the night of the 3rd August 1914 before travelling to London to announce the United Kingdom's entry into First World War.
Easton is situated on the River Itchen, 2¾ miles north east of Winchester.
In 1870-72, John Goring's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Easton like this:"EASTON, a village and a parish in Winchester district, Hants. The village stands on the River Itchen, near the Southwestern railway, 2¾ miles NE by N of Winchester; is small and uninteresting; and has a post office under Winchester. The parish comprises 2,734 acres. Real property, £3, 656. Pop., 455. Houses, 106. The property is much subdivided. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Winchester. Value, £514.* Patron, the Bishop of Winchester. The church is late Norman; has a rich south doorway, and an apsidal vaulted chancel; contains a monument to Bishop Barlow's widow, recording that her five daughters were all married to bishops; and was restored in 1850. There is a Wesleyan chapel."
In 2013 Easton remains a small village but underwent limited development during the inter and post-war period. The population has grown by about 300 since John Goring's time. Around ten additional houses have been built since 2000, and the land price has rocketed, although planning restrictions are very strict. The church mentioned in the above passage still stands and operates. There are two pubs in the village, The Chestnut Horse (with attached village shop) and The Cricketers Inn, a car repair garage and a village hall. The hall performs various functions including crèche services, WI meetings, a pavilion for the village cricket team and is the venue for an annual pantomime. The hall has just been rebuilt, after a 5 year fund-raising drive by villagers.
Martyr Worthy cum Chilland covers about 2,060 acres, rising from the low-lying ground near the River Itchen in the south, to the high ridge of downland which stretches north of the Itchen valley. Of the whole area about 70% is arable land, clay loam with a subsoil of chalk on which the chief crops are wheat, barley, oats, and turnips; 20% is permanent grass; and 10% is
woodland. The north of the area, through the north-west corner of which runs the Roman road from Winchester to Basingstoke, is one long stretch of downland and open field, with here and there a tract of woodland, including Brentwood and Schroner Cottage Wood. Bridgetts Farm is on high ground, almost in the centre. Further south, running from east to west, is the disused railway line of the Alton branch of the London and South-Western Railway, now a cycle and
footpath. South of, and almost parallel with the railway line, runs the main road from Winchester to Alresford, passing Worthy Park, a fine mansion of white and yellow stone standing in the midst of well-wooded country, once the residence of Captain Charles Fryer, M.P, now Princes Mead School. Nearly a mile east of Worthy Park is the village of Martyr Worthy, which is laid out between two lanes leading down to the River Itchen. The church of St. Swithun stands on the west, well sheltered behind thick-growing trees. North-west of the
church are the old school house and the old rectory, a square red-brick house, from which a fine view can be obtained to the south, across the Itchen valley, over the village of Easton, away to the downland and the dark woodland of Avington Park. Four or five groups of thatched and timbered cottages compose the village, several being actually in the meadow land close to the river, over the several tributaries of which narrow footbridges lead to Easton.
Half a mile up the river, east of the village, is Chilland Mill, The little hamlet of Chilland itself lies on the slope north of the mill, and consists of a few cottages and several modern houses, lying for the most part along the narrow road which leads up from the mill to the main road.
The church of St. Swithuns has an apsidal chancel of twelfth-century style built in 1865, a nave 46 ft. by 17 ft.6 in., and a wooden bell-turret at the west. The nave dates from c. 1140 to 1150, its north and south doorways being original work. The north doorway is somewhat more richly treated than the south, and though not now the principal entrance, may at one time have been so. It is round headed, of two orders with jamb shafts, the outer order having a line of horizontal zigzag with a label of billet ornament, while the inner is plain, and the capitals are carved with simple foliage. The south doorway has a label with hatched ornament, and a moulded outer order.
The earliest mention of a church at Martyr Worthy is in the year 1251, when John la Martre conveyed the advowson of the church to the prior and convent of St. Swithun. In 1535 the church was assessed at £16.
The house in Avington Park dates back to the late sixteenth century, but was considerably altered in 1670 by the addition of two wings and a classical portico. The owner of Avington at this time was George Brydges, one of Charles II's courtiers. On the death of George Brydges's son in 1751 Avington Park passed to his cousin James Brydges, Marquess of Carnarvon, who became 3rd Duke of Chandos in 1771. He carried out major alterations in the late eighteenth century, and was also responsible for the building of the parish church which overlooks the park. The house is now privately owned and is Grade I Listed. Parts of the house can be visited in the summer months and Bank Holidays between 2.30pm and 5pm due to the Historical Houses Association. Apart from original painted frescoes and sublime gilding (redone with an English Heritage grant in 2000) there is much to see including a Grinling Gibbons mirror, a William de Morgan jug and several mementos from the Battle of Trafalgar.
The parish church of St. Mary was built in 1768-71 by James Brydges of Avington Park, 3rd Duke of Chandos. As well as containing memorials inside to the Brydges family and Percy Bysshe Shelley's brother, John, there are also some unusual box pews reputedly made from Spanish mahogany taken from one of the Armada fleet.
In Adventures Among Birds (1913), the naturalist W. H. Hudson describes the last of the "inland-breeding" ravens in Hampshire. These birds lived in the trees of Avington Park. Hudson relates that at some time in the 1840s the family who lived in the house contracted a man ("a champion tree-climber") to climb a tree and gather some fledglings that could be kept as pets. These birds were tamed and, although they were not pinioned and often left the confines of the park, always returned to roost. These young birds were unfortunately all killed by their jealous parents. Hudson claims that ravens continued to breed in Avington until around 1885, at which time "following human persecution" there were no remaining breeding pairs.