El Gringo Suelto recently took us on a tour of his ‘hood, Boston MA. It was a fascinating guide around the local attractions in the place he calls home. Even if he wished home were somewhere else sometimes. Say, Mexico City. I guess many people think of the US as being a young country. In many respects it is. From a British perspective, the history of the States began with the pilgrims, with only a vague acknowledgement that native peoples had been doing something or other (mostly other, nothing worth mentioning) for some undetermined period before we arrived. Gee, if it weren’t for John Wayne and his movies, we might not even know anything of them at all.
Anyway, young as the US is, it’s still been a going concern for a while, and the old things seem, from a foreign eye, to be better preserved than in Blighty. The US hasn’t suffered from the pressures of dwindling free space, nor German bombs, in the same way the UK has. He found a graveyard dating back to 1634 and a house dating back to 1661. They are old. And it had me wondering, what hidden history is in the town I live in? Could I find anything boasting a greater age than that graveyard in Ringwood, Hampshire? So let’s have a stroll round my home town.
In theory, finding something to best that Boston graveyard shouldn’t be difficult. Ringwood is an ancient town. Seriously ancient. There’s a limited number of towns which can trace themselves back to William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book. Fewer still that can find traces of their history, albeit with unusual spellings, in documents further back that that. Ringwood, or should I say Runcwuda is one such place with records going back to Saxon times. This isn’t surprising, as you can see from the photo above – a river. The River Avon, to be precise. One of many River Avon’s in England. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many River Avons, there is a simple answer. The Roman invaders would ask the local inhabitants the name of the river. The Saxon word for river is avon – the Romans were told what is was, not what is was called. The results of those misunderstandings survive today.
Ringwood also sits next to the oddly named New Forest. It is anything but new. But its proximity obviously aided the viability of Ringwood as a town. The New Forest has been a favourite haunt of hunting monarchs for centuries. Hunting is thirsty work, I’m sure. I wonder if a dehydrated king ever stopped at the Fish Inn to quench his thirst? Perhaps. Like many of the older cottages in the town, it’s got a thatched roof. The Fish Inn, I understand, has stood there on the banks of the Avon since the 1500s. I can’t tell you any ancient stories from the Inn, but I can tell you that that is where I spent the evening to see in the new millennium. The bridge next to it is undoubtedly old too. It is known simply as the Old Bridge. But I’ve been unable to put a date on it.
The building in the photo above clearly has a story. The plaque says it all. The sign on the side of the house suggests that this historic little plot (pun intended) is currently up for grabs. I dread to think how much it costs to heat an old place like this. More than my salary I suspect. Still, the fuel bill was probably the last thing on the Duke of Monmouth’s mind. And the fuel of those days was no doubt cheap. The New Forest providing plentiful supplies of the stuff.
Let’s go into town. It’s much like any other old town in southern England. Shops closing down. Coffee shops taking their place. We have a new one arriving soon. Thank goodness. I frankly don’t know how I’ve survived these last few years with only seven coffee shops within 60 seconds walking distance of each other. I kid you not. Ok, maybe I kid you a little. They’re within 120 seconds of each other. But still. We do still have both a butcher and a fishmonger in town, despite a proliferation of supermarkets. That’s a bonus that not every town can boast.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising though. Ringwood is a market town. In fact, there was a cattle market here right up until 1989. It has since been replaced by a Waitrose supermarket. There is still a street market. It was once the highlight of the week and an essential part of life. It is now appalling, selling junk that people won’t buy on eBay and meats that supermarkets wouldn’t touch.
But let us journey on, in a quest to find something old. The Fish Inn has already put the nails in the coffin of Kim’s 17th century graveyard. But surely Ringwood has something even older to offer. Let’s move onto the main church, that of St Peter and St Paul. I say main church, because Ringwood had as many churches as it has coffee shops. Gee, if a vicar cottoned on to what I’m thinking, then maybe he’d get some people inside God’s office. I digress, let’s go to church and cheer up Mr Vicar.
The church turned out to be a trove of information. This is the third church to have stood on the site, with the first dating back to the Saxon era. The second, a stone structure, fell into disrepair in the 1800s and was replaced with this beauty. So, it is quite modern, but what surprises does it have in store inside? As it turned out, it had an ancient treasure indeed.
The treasure in question was a memorial brass, dedicated to a former rector by the name of John Prophete. He died in 1416, and this was made shortly after, although I couldn’t find a precise date. Only that it is 15th century. The church does hold older relics though. There are roof bosses in a case up on one wall, but I didn’t photograph them. I saw them, but thought they were comparatively modern. Ooops. I did go looking for a 13th century tomb by the main gate, but couldn’t distinguish it from other elderly tombs.
So, the church turned out well. Same century as the Fish Inn, but probably a few years younger. Was that the oldest thing I could find in Ringwood? Actually, no. Let’s walk back to the river and check out a little cottage. We walked past it earlier, as it sits right next the the Duke of Monmouth’s former abode. The Old Cottage Restaurant. These timbers were planted in the 1300s, and is the oldest thing I have managed to photograph today. I’ve never been inside. To be honest, they do a pretty magnificent job of making it look permanently closed. Or perhaps they just prefer to keep out the riff raff. Invitation only sort of a thing.
So there we have it. A tour of the town of Ringwood, in Hampshire. The English Hampshire. Not the new fangled one near where Kim is. Does the blogger tour of the ‘hood stop here, or has anyone else got a potential career of virtual tour guide in them? More to the point, can anyone best my 14th century relic? You can? I can see see this becoming competitive. Bewarned. If you force me, I shall get on the bus and go for a ride. I have a trump card. Not the 2,000 year old ruins of a Roman villa a couple of stops away. No, my trump card comes at the end of the bus ride, here. But for today let’s leave the tour with one final photo. Something that is a fixture of every British town, village or hamlet. The war memorial. Always embossed with the names of the unfortunate victims. Currently festooned with the bright red poppies for Remembrance Day.