The Civil War in East Meon
By David Hopkins
The Civil War changed the face of East Meon, both physically, with damage done to the church of All Saints and possibly The Court Hall, and to the established order of land ownership.
In the last week of March, 1644, the Parish of East Meon was alive with troop movements. On the 23rd March, 12,000 troops of the Parliamentary Army under Sir William Waller (pictured below) mustered above Langrish, coming from Midhurst, Liphook and Havant.
The cavalry gathered in Frogmore. On the following day, the majority moved to the eastern slope of Westbury Down/Hen Hill. 6,000 Royalist horse under Sir Ralph Hopton camped on Old Winchester Hill, overlooking the Parliamentarians. There were skirmishes between rival patrols, and on the 28th, Waller slipped the net via Vinnel’s Lane in West Meon, and met the Royalists at the Battle of Cheriton on 29th.
Two local dignitaries, Sir William Lewis of Bordean (pictured below) and Sir Hercules Langrish, had raised a Regiment of Foot and a Troop of Horse for Parliament, so many East Meon men would have served in that army.
There is a grim reminder in the name of a stretch of hedge on Sir William’s Hill above Langrish which is named ‘Scaffold Row”, where it is thought that three mutinous soldiers of the Parliamentary army were executed. ‘Idolatry’ in All Saints Church was destroyed and some of the corbels in The Court Hall may have been defaced by soldiers’ pikes.
The Civil War also changed the ownership of the parish. Until the Civil War, the Bishops of Winchester had been Lords of the Manors of East Meon and East Meon Church, and owned most of the land in East Meon – about 20,000 acres belonging to East Meon Manor, stretching from Coombe in the south to Oakshott in the north, and from Peak in the west to Stroud in the east; about 750 acres belonged to East Meon Church Manor, entirely surrounded by the land of the larger manor.
In 1646 Parliament passed the Root and Branch Bill ‘for the abolishing of Archbishops and Bishops in England and Wales and for settling their lands an possessions upon Trustees, for the use of the Commonwealth’. In East Meon, Court Farm and South Farm were sold to Nathaniel Hallowes (an existing sub-tenant) and Richard Dannald respectively. In 1649, Court Farm and the Manor including over three hundred “tenancies” were “bought” by Francis Allen, a contentious and very rich goldsmith/financier from London (who never visited East Meon). He was an MP, Army Treasurer and had made the financial arrangements for Charles 1st execution. Allen was perhaps fortunate to die in 1658, before the Restoration of Charles II, but his estate was confiscated from his heirs.
Upon his return to the throne in 1660, Charles II restored the Manors to the Bishop of Winchester. Court Farm (including The Court House) was leased to Sir Stephen Fox, who had managed Charles’s finances in exile and had negotiated his return to England. Fox, who became MP for his home town of Salisbury, was also an absentee landlord and sub-let the land to local farmers.
As a footnote, the famous ‘Amens Plenty’ stone is also a product of the Civil War. It originally covered the grave of four men buried upright in All Saints’ church. It may have been a parody by royalists or parliamentarians of their dead foes, or a sincere puritan burial of fallen comrades. Enthusiastic radical preachers accompanying Waller’s army (and their congregations) would have peppered their sermons with “Amens Plenty”