Hawthorn is a seemingly sleepy and sparse hamlet which lies in the east of Four Marks parish. Its fascinating history might not be obvious at first but just under the surface lie stories of greed, theft, ancient treasures, plane crashes and bombings.
Formerly part of Ropley since early medieval times, becoming a part of Four Marks in 1932, it is first mentioned as ‘a wood called Horethornes’ in a court roll record of 1424. The name refers to the hawthorn tree, suggesting a hedgerow planted in the area to enclose some land. This woodland most likely stood where Hawthorn Plantation (no. 5 on the map) is now; an ancient woodland which contains medieval boundary earthworks. This 15th century document mentions the wood as part of a list of the holdings of a tenant to Winchester College; John Germayn, he also rented land in nearby Kitwood. It seems this part of Four Marks witnessed a lot of activity in the Middle Ages as Kitwood, Lymington Bottom and Hawthorn are mentioned frequently in medieval records. Like much of medieval Ropley, the hamlet came under the ownership of Winchester College beginning in the 1380s the College still owns parts of Ropley to this day.
Hawthorn’s true origins are in the 1600s, with Beech Farm (no. 1 on the map), Jayswood Cottage (no. 2 on the map) and Headmore Farm (no. 3 on the map) all being constructed around that century. There is also a wealth of documents from this century showing the business of the hamlet. For example, in 1688 a complaint against Robert Silvester ‘tenant of Horethorn’ was filed by local landlord John Battell. Silvester had illegally logged over 60 Ash trees in one of Battell’s woodlands and was due to pay a fine as punishment. Although it is unclear whether he lived in the hamlet, this thief may be one of Hawthorn’s first residents. Interestingly the woodland which was logged may be Battles Copse (no. 7 on the map) to the northeast of Hawthorn whose name still survives to this day.
Importantly, Hawthorn was at the centre of the three commons of Ropley, Newton Valence and Farringdon, the cottages there were the homes of farm workers and foresters. These lands which were farmed and owned in common were core to the lives of villagers since Anglo-Saxon times. But in 1709 Ropley was the first parish in England to have its commons taken by greedy landowners through an act of parliament, known as ‘enclosure’. In the following centuries the commons of Farringdon and Newton Valence were also enclosed. Many locals who previously farmed these commons were forced to leave to make a living elsewhere.
A map of Hampshire from 1759 depicts Hawthorn (named as ‘Whoer Thorn’) with the three 17th century houses; Beech Farm, Jayswood Cottage and Headmore Farm. These three cottages are the core of the historic settlement of Hawthorn, their stories are in many ways the same as that of the hamlet.
Beech Farm stands with Hawthorn Road to its south. Although not a listed building it was likely built in the 1600s as suggested by the style of the cottage and a beam inside the cottage which bears the number ‘16’ (the last two digits are illegible). This beam has some further interesting features such as an asterisk-like graffiti mark at the top of the beam called a ‘daisy-wheel’, which is typical of many pre-1800s houses. These marks were carved for a number of reasons, in some cases by superstitious residents as so called ‘witch marks’, to ward off evil spirits and witches, or more likely as a decorative touch. See a postcard of Beech Farm from around 1950 compared to the same view taken this year.
Jayswood Cottage just northeast of Beech Farm is one of the three listed buildings in all of Four Marks. The cottage is said to have been built around 1660 with later additions in the early 1800s. According to the current owners, during renovations undertaken in the 1990s a large bread oven was removed. This oven, larger than most domestic ovens, suggests the cottage might have also functioned as a bakery which fed the local agricultural workers. In February 1943 a British Stirling bomber from 214 Squadron came down northeast of the cottage. The aircraft remained pretty much intact but the pilot and remaining crew were presumed dead. The hamlet also took a battering in WW2 as just west of the cottage lies a bomb crater dropped by a nazi bomber possibly returning from boming efforts elsewhere.
Headmore is both the oldest farmhouse and has the oldest name of the three. It comes from the Old English words ‘hæð’ and ‘mere’ and the means ‘the heather pond’. This pond, incredibly, still survives today just southeast of the farmhouse and was a vital water source for farmers and also a place of ritual for locals since prehistoric times. The farmhouse itself was supposedly built in the 1500s making it not only the oldest building in the hamlet but also the entire parish of Four Marks. During the civil war it is said that the old cottage was divided into an alehouse and a dwelling. It would have served the local commons farmers who would’ve visited the alehouse after a long working day for refreshment.
In the late 1800s whilst ploughing the fields near Headmore farmhouse a farmer uncovered a pot containing cremated human remains dating possibly to the Iron Age or Roman period. It is no coincidence that this individual was buried here so close to the pond. Water features symbolised life and death to both roman and iron age people and were frequently used as ritual sites. Some years later several polished flint axe heads from the later stone age- ‘Neolithic’ were found. These axes would have taken hours to create by tediously grinding one stone on another to create, in some cases, an almost mirror like polished surface. It presents the possibility of a neolithic community living close by reinforced by several other flint finds from the stone age. These axes have, unfortunately, been lost to time, perhaps bought by a Victorian antiquarian whose collection lies covered in dust in some forgotten drawer. This was an all-too-common occurrence before rigorous recording and professionalism became more widespread in archaeology.
As you can see this small hamlet, which has long since been overshadowed by the larger modern developments in Four Marks, harbours ancient controversies, mysteries and treasures. If only we could travel back in time to confront Robert Silvester as to why he illegally logged so much wood. Perhaps we could meet the superstitious residents of Beech Farm who believed the carvings would protect them from witches or to see the grieving roman family burying a loved one. It is incredible how much vibrant history can be found in such a seemingly insignificant and sleepy place as Hawthorn.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the development of Hawthorn watch out for our first booklet, A History of Hawthorn, Four Marks which is to be published imminently and will be available at the Ropley History Network and Archive future events, or can be ordered via our email address, Ropleyhistory.org.uk.