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Introduction

Farming the Valley

Sunset over South Down (photograph by Chris Warren)

For two millennia, East Meon was an agricultural community, in which all other trades existed to support the farmers, their families and workers. In 2016 the History Group started a project researching the history of farming, and our findings form the basis of this section of the website; it is work in progress and currently covers the periods from 10,000 BC to 1900 AD. Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have been able to commission a cartographer, David McCutcheon, and the original maps are his work.

The medieval hundred embraced Steep, Froxfield and the tithing of Ambersham in West Sussex . Our research has concentrated on the bowl defined by the South Downs to the south of the village and, to the north, by the boundaries of Privett, Froxfield, and Steep.

The medieval hundred of East Meon, which included Ambersham in Sussex (called ‘part of Hampshire’). For 1,000 years, the village was the centre of administration of the largest Hampshire estate of the bishops of Winchester

The medieval hundred of East Meon, which included Ambersham in Sussex (called ‘part of Hampshire’). For 1,000 years, the village was the centre of administration of the largest Hampshire estate of the bishops of Winchester.

For the student of local history, each section of this account is based on one or more research reports which contain references and in some cases extracts from the sources on which they are based. There are also links to other sections of the two websites of East Meon History Group, the second being a digital archive of the village history.

Themes

East Meon is a typical English village in that farming was the sole ‘industry’ for most of the period we are reporting. Markets and shops existed to support farmers, the church and subsequently the school followed the pattern of the farming year, social classes were determined by success or failure in the fields. We have researched the history of crops, farming techniques, farm buildings and themes which have affected the lives of our farmers including poverty, diseases, war and religion. Selected estates and farms have been researched on the assumption that their histories match those of others in the Hundred. ‘A History of East Meon’ by F.G.Standfield (Phillimore, 1984) provides a thorough chronological account and relieves us the need to tell the whole story of the village’s development.

Geology

Geological formations of East Hampshire and Sussex

Geological formations of East Hampshire and Sussex

East Meon lies at the extreme south-western end of the Wealden Basin, an elliptical formation of sedimentary beds that were uplifted and eroded in the middle, leaving a ring of chalk surrounding sandstone and other sediments. At its eastern end the chalk formation is cut through by the English Channel; the North Downs end at Dover and the South Downs at Beachy Head.

East Meon lies on the Lower Chalk, a narrow bed outcropping below the steep slope of the Middle Chalk  (of which the white cliffs of Dover and Beachy Head are formed). The Lower Chalk is a greyish stone that eventually weathers to white. The area’s geology is very complex – broadly speaking, a mixture of chalk Downland and the Weald Margin, with clay soils which become ever heavier as you ascend from the Meon Valley onto the Froxfield plateau. East Meon lies at the point where the high chalk downs turn the corner from the south.  On the downs the soils are characteristically shallow, lime-rich top soils overlaying chalk rubble. Where uncultivated they are dark and humus-rich soils which support herb-rich downland and chalk woodland communities.  Freely draining, slightly acidic and heavier soils have developed on the northern plateau overlain by deposits of clay-with-flints. On the top is a stratum of Upper Chalk – white chalk with flints (the source of building materials).  Below this is the Middle Chalk, white chalk eroded to create the steep slopes that surround the valley.  Below this is the Lower Chalk, greyish rock with silty bits.  Below this (and to the east) is the Upper Greensand – whitish stone (clunch or malmstone) used for building, and with a soil above it, ideal for hops.  Then (at Stroud) the Gault Clay – for bricks and tiles.  Then, Petersfield and beyond, the Lower Greensand.