Parishes: Highclere

Pages 285-286

A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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Clere Episcopi, Alta Clera, Hauteclere (xiii cent.); Bisshopesclere, Hautclere (xiv cent.); Highclere, Highcleer (xvi cent.).

The parish of Highclere, the highest of the three Cleres, consists mainly of a large undulating park with the thickly-wooded Sidown Hill which reaches a height of 887 ft. above the ordnance datum in the south, contrasting strangely with the bare sides of Becon Hill, in the neighbouring parish of Burghclere. In the centre of the park on rising ground stands Highclere Castle, the seat of the Earl of Carnarvon, built on the site of the Palace of the Bishops of Winchester, the original owners of the parish.

There are two lakes, covering 52 acres, in the park, one of which, Milford Lake, was the old fish-pond of the Bishops of Winchester. (fn. 1) Near the castle are the ruins of the church of St. Michael, which dates from the end of the 17 th century, being built at the expense of the lord of the manor, Sir Robert Sawyer, who according to the parish registers 'of his own liberality cheerfully built a new compleat church in the parish of Highcleer, the old one being ruinous and unfitt, which was begun to be plucked down August 18th 1687, and the new church was finished so as we assembled in it on August 18th 1689.' The modern church stands north of the village of Highclere Street, formerly called Hawclere. (fn. 2)

Great Pen Wood occupies the greater part of the north of the parish, and on its southern side is the hamlet of Penwood, Little Pen Wood being on the south side of the road which forms the southern boundary of Great Pen Wood. The extreme south of the parish is open down.

The soil is stiff loam, the subsoil in parts red clay, but generally chalk. The chief crops are wheat, barley and oats. The area of the parish is 3,432 acres, of which about four - sevenths are grass, two - sevenths woodland and one - seventh arable land. (fn. 3)

In 1233 (fn. 4) the common fields comprised Sutdone (92 acres), Cofurlang (47 acres), Ruyecroft (12½ acres) and Estfield (95 acres).

Some place-names which occur in the court rolls are Le Whetefeld, Chappell and Hawclere, (fn. 5) and La Wassche. (fn. 6) The date of the award for the indosure of the commons is 1783. (fn. 7)


The earliest references to HIGHCLERE cannot be distinguished from Burghclere, with which it was included under the general name of Clere. (fn. 8)

However, as early as the year 1208–9 Burghclere and Highclere had each its reeve, and soon after the two manors are separately accounted for on the Pipe Rolls of the bishopric of Winchester. (fn. 9)

Although from this date onwards Burghclere and Highclere are distinguished by name, they have always followed the same descent, (fn. 10) the lord of the two manors having his mansion at Highclere. Thus the Bishops of Winchester had a palace there. Richard Kingsmill died at Highclere, (fn. 11) and the death of Sir Robert Sawyer in 1692 occurred 'at his mansion house of Highclere.' (fn. 12)

The first Earl of Carnarvon was created Baron Porchester of Highclere in 1780, (fn. 13) and Highclere Castle is the residence of the present earl.

Herbert, Earl of Carnarvon. Party azure and gules three lions argent.

A park existed in Highclere in very early times, and complaints arose of damage from the inclosure of the park. In an account of the dilapidations in the episcopal manors after the death of John Sendale, in 1320, mention is made of damage by inclosure of the park, (fn. 14) and in 1403 the rector of Burghclere received compensation for loss of tithe by reason of a great part of arable land having been imparked by the bishop, 'et parco nostro de Altâ Clerâ anneximus ac inclusimus in eodem que quidem inclusio in grave dampnum ecclesie predicti cederet.' (fn. 15) Cobbett describes this park as ' the prettiest I have ever seen.' (fn. 16)

There was a mill in Clere at the time of the Domesday Survey, (fn. 17) and a water corn-mill is mentioned as existing in Highclere in the 17th century, (fn. 18) and was possibly on the same site as the present cornmill in the north of the parish.

One of the Hampshire chases was in Highclere, and the lord of the manor still retains the right of free warren and free chase; in the 18th century he had also free fishery, court leet and court baron. A court baron was held in 1724. (fn. 19)


The church of ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS consists of a chancel 29 ft. 3 in. by 19 ft. 2 in., north tower, the lowest story of which is used as a vestry, nave 49 ft. 8 in. by 21 ft. 5 in., and south aisle 10 ft. 8 in. wide.

The building was erected in the year 1870 by Sir Gilbert Scott, in place of the one built in the park by Sir Robert Sawyer. None of the old work seems to have been retained excepting some monuments. The style adopted is that of the 13th century, all the windows being lancets, some coupled under two-centred heads with quatrefoils over. An arcade of three bays divides the nave from the aisle. The tower is of two stages and is surmounted by a wood spire. The furniture is all modern. At the west end of the nave is a large Elizabethan monument to Richard Kingsmill of Seacombe, son of Sir John Kingsmill of Side Mountaine; he was first attorney and afterwards surveyor of Her Majesty's Court of Wards; there is no date upon the tomb, which is one of Renaissance design with an altar-shaped base, on which lies his recumbent effigy. He is dressed in a long black gown, ruff, &c.; behind his head are the kneeling figures of a man and woman, evidently his daughter and her husband Sir Thomas Lucy, of Warwickshire, who erected the monument; the latter is in armour. On the front of the base are the figures, also kneeling, of six sons and four daughters. The cornice above the inscription is brought forward at the sides and supported by Corinthian shafts and surmounted by obelisks. Above are his arms; a shield to the left has the same impaling Falconer (his wife was Alice Falconer of 'Husbourne'); and the third shield (to the right) has Lucy—Gules three luces argent—impaling Kingsmill; above is the crest, a hand holding a mill rind.

There are also other monuments of 18th-century or later dates.

There are six bells in the tower, all by Taylor & Son, 1871.

The plate consists of a silver chalice and a flagon ox 1828 and 1839 respectively, both presented by the Earl of Carnarvon, the one in 1843, the other in 1840, and a silver-gilt paten of 1886.

There are four books of registers. The first contains baptisms and marriages from 1656 to 1674, with two baptismal entries of 1652–3, and burials 1656 to 1679. There are also marriages of 1713–14. The second book contains baptisms and marriages 1656 to 1711, and burials 1656 to 1679, part being thus a copy of the first book. The third contains baptisms 1712 to 1812, and marriages 1714 to 1754; and the fourth marriages 1754 to 1813, and burials 1780 to 1813.


The advowson of the church of Highclere has always belonged to the lord of the manor. (fn. 20) Isaac Mills, a well-known man in his time, was presented to the living in 1680, and held it for thirty-nine years. The parish register of Highclere describes him as 'for 39 years 2 months 7 days the constant resident rector and pastor of the parish. He never refused any of his neighbours that desired to borrow any money of him, leaving it to them to take their own time to repay it without usury.' He had a school at Highclere, which his son Isaac carried on after his death in 1720. (fn. 21) The present school was erected in 1897 at the expense of the Earl of Carnarvon.


The Poor's Land.—The land allotted under an award of 1783, made under the Inclosure Act for this parish and Burghclere, was sold, and the proceeds invested in £825 17s. 10d. consols, producing yearly £20 12s. 8d., which by a scheme of 27 October 1874 is applicable in the distribution of coal and clothing, &c.

In 1815 the Rev. Archibald Gairdner, a former rector, by his will, proved in the P.C.C. (inter alia), bequeathed a sum of stock, now represented by £105 consols, the income to be applied in the purchase of clothing for old and infirm poor.

In 1888 Thomas William Allen, by his will, bequeathed a sum of £100, the income to be distributed by the rector among the poor, preference being given to those employed on the Earl of Carnarvon's estate. The legacy is represented by £100 12s. 7d. consols.

Educational Charities.—In 1724 Edward Band surrendered unto the lord of the manor a cottage and garden to the use of the churchwardens on trust, out of the rents to put three or more children to school. The annual value was about £5 a year.

In 1815 the above-mentioned Rev. Archibald Gairdner bequeathed a sum of stock, now represented by £105 consols, the income to be applied in the education of poor children.

The several sums of stock are held by the official trustees.


  • 1. Information supplied by the Rev. E. Hugh Rycroft, rector of Bishop's Waltham.
  • 2. W. Money, A Royal Purveyance, 26.
  • 3. a Statistics from Bd. of Agric. (1905).
  • 4. Eccl. Com. Var. bdle. 23, no. 159283.
  • 5. Eccl. Com. Ct. R. 155662, 155657.
  • 6. Winton Epis. Reg. (Hants Rec. Soc.), 249.
  • 7. Com. Pleas Recov. R. Mich. 24 Geo. III, m. 108.
  • 8. See Burghclere.
  • 9. Eccl. Com. Var. bdle. 22.
  • 10. Orig. Mins. Accts. pt. i, 1141, 1142; Pat. 5 Edw. VI, pt. vi, m. 26; Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cxxviii, 75; Feet of F. Hants, Hil. 19 Eliz.
  • 11. South, Life of W. of Wykeham; Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cclxviii, 128.
  • 12. Topog. and Gen. iii, 408, 409.
  • 13. G.E.C. Peerage, ii, 158.
  • 14. Winton Epis. Reg. (Hants Rec. Soc.), 249; Stubbs, Reg. Sacr. Angl. i, 223.
  • 15. Wykeham's Reg. (Hants Rec. Soc.), ii, 554.
  • 16. Cobbett, Rural Rides.
  • 17. V.C.H. Hants, i, 465a.
  • 18. Feet of F. Div. Co. Trin. 28 Chas. II.
  • 19. Hants N. and Q. iv, 146; Recov. R. East. 6 Geo. I, rot. 728.
  • 20. Wykeham's Reg. (Hants Rec. Soc.), 77, 105, 220; Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.); Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cclxviii, 128.
  • 21. Dict. Nat. Biog.