Saxon East Meon
In 2013 and 2014, East Meon History Group has been participating in the Saxons in the Meon Valley project initiated by the Friends of Corhampton Church, surveying for early Saxon settlements. Click here for the website of the project.
This page contains excerpts from ‘Catholics in Petersfield’- A Brief History’ by Tim Concannon and Barbara Gower
At the time of the Norman conquest there were at least two and possibly three Parishes and Parish Churches in the area now covered by Petersfield Parish; however, the great jewel in the crown was the minster at East Meon.
The earliest mention of the name is when it was given as part of a christening present from King Wulfhere of Mercia to King Adelwalh of Sussex. Wulfhere reigned in Mercia from 656AD to 675, Unfortunately, Adelwalh was killed in the invasion of Sussex by forces from Wessex and thereafter the history of Meon is not clear.
The secret lies in a charter from about 970AD where the great Saxon King Edgar granted ‘that famous place which the locals have always called Aet Meon’ to his grandmother Eadgifu, the widow of King Athelstan, one of the truly great figures in Anglo Saxon history. Eadgifu wished to retire to the religious life and the Charter recites that many holy women had pleaded with the King for the privilege of Eadgifu joining them to ornament their devotions and that it had pleased the King to grant the honour to Meon with its sixty-five earth houses.
By the middle of the tenth century the monastic life of England bore little resemblance to the great medieval foundations with which we are familiar. The individual canons had their own houses but were expected to frequent the church, the refectory and the dormitory according to the rule of monastic discipline. They were expected to dispose of their houses in such a way as they did not go out of the community. There was no vow of poverty, nor yet of chastity, and it would seem likely that some of the canons were in fact lawfully married. It is interesting that there is a charter of East Meon, granted by Edgar and witnessed by Aethelwold, the Bishop of Winchester, for the purpose of providing for the retirement of the Dowager Queen Mother. It suggests that East Meon was an important foundation.
The reference to sixty-five earth houses is unusual. None of the other West Saxon charters use such a formula and it suggests that the houses themselves were connected with the monastic settlement. It would seem therefore that before the reformation by King Edgar and Bishop Aethelwold, the whole village was the monastery, or rather the monastic settlement. Rather than a conventional monastery and convent we can imagine Saxon East Meon as somewhat similar to a frontier town in the so-called Bible Belt of Middle America, a community of God-fearing folk who worshipped together and fed together but which included married couples with children. It would seem that East Meon was a monastic settlement as early at 750AD. Unfortunately, the bulk of the settlement is almost certainly under the present village, on the North bank of the river, and has never been excavated.
The Domesday Book gives us a clue as to the fate of the monastery of East Meon when it says ‘Archbishop Stigand held it before 1066 for the use of the monks; later he had it for his lifetime.’ Which suggests that the monastic foundation fell into disuse at about this time and by the Survey in 1086 it was a normal village. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle adds the gloss that the King allowed all the monasteries in England to be plundered in 1070. Perhaps East Meon was one of them. Stigand was deposed in that same year and the grant of Meon to him for life suggests he might have been forcibly retired there. It is also interesting that in the grant Edgar describes himself as ‘Edgar, by the grace of the most High, moderator of the realm of the English, and Rector and Governor of those who go about on circuit.’ These are more than fancy titles; 150 years earlier King Egbert could only make a grant of East Meon to his lieutenant Wulfeard ‘with the consent of the Bishop and Council’. Certainly East Meon remained a royal peculiar for many years for, after the Norman Conquest, William gave it to Queen Matilda, and in due course it was associated with the notorious King John. It would seem that by that date the monastic settlement had long gone and the parish would have to wait for the Reformation and the split from Rome before it would assume a centre stage in Church affairs once more.