Denmead was never a clearly defined settlement such as Hambledon or East Meon but consisted of a number of scattered farms and cottages. Until 1880, when All Saints Church was built and the parish formed, Denmead was a tithing and as such, part of the Manor of Hambledon. Therefore all written records before that date are to be found under Hambledon.
In prehistoric times the area now known as Denmead was covered with woodland and heath, and formed part of an extensive wooded area later to be called the Forest of Bere, which stretched from the Meon valley, in the west, to Havant, in the east. Over the centuries the forest has gradually been cleared for cultivation, firstly the chalk soils in the north and later the heavier clay area in the south. Many of our hedgerow trees and copses are relics of this great forest, the last vestige of which can be seen in Creech wood. In 1995 Hampshire County Council designated the Forest of Bere as one of the two Hampshire Millennium Forests which are to be studied as part of a positive resource in a multi-purpose countryside. The earliest evidence of occupation is the three Bronze Age burial mounds at Great Ervilles. Originally there were four but unfortunately one was destroyed. We know that the influence of Imperial Rome was felt in our area as, apart from stray finds of a billhook and a small amount of Romano-British pottery, the debris of a Roman building has been exposed by ploughing, about half a mile north-west of Rookwood Farm. The remains include shards of pottery, roof tiles, roof slabs of Purbeck limestone, and box tiles.
It is difficult to estimate how much of the Denmead area had been cleared and cultivated by the Norman Conquest. Certainly much was still wooded and later, as Royal Forest, was subject to the cruel forest laws of the Norman kings. However, by 1199, a settlement pattern was emerging. The Manor of Hambledon had been established and granted by the King to the Bishop of Winchester. Although Lord of the Manor, the Bishop probably visited the area on rare occasions, his steward managing his affairs and demesne (possessed by the Lord of the Manor) farm, which was and still is, situated in the main street in Hambledon. With the Manor of Hambledon, there were various free tenants holding sub-manors. The Manor of Denemede was one such holding. The name comes from the Old English words, ‘denu’, meaning hollow or valley, and ‘mede’, meaning meadow, and therefore means ‘the meadow in the valley’. It is generally accepted that Rookwood Farm previously named Denmead Farm, dating from around 1200, was Denmead Manor Farm. The stone walls and blocked round headed doorways show that the earliest was an impressive stone house with an outside staircase, leading to an entrance at first floor level. In this type of building, known as a ‘first floor house’, the ground floor or undercroft was used for storage. It is known from written records that during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there was an important family here called ‘de Denemede’. A Mathew de Denemede is mentioned as early as the 1220’s. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Manor of Denemede was held for Philip Wayte in whose family it remained until 1561. In that year, the last Wayte, William, died, leaving all his property in Denmead and elsewhere to be divided among his six daughters.
Recent evidence has shown that Denmead did not escape the traumas of the Civil War, a war that not only divided countrymen but also families. Elizabeth Wayte who had inherited Denmead Manor as part of her inheritance married Richard Norton of Rotherfield near Alton. One of his grandsons and two great grandsons were staunch Royalists and were imprisoned for their beliefs. By the 1630’s, they had leased Denmead Manor Farm to Thomas Land. However, Richard Norton’s other grandson, by his eldest son Daniel, was Col. Richard Norton of Southwick Park. He was a great friend of Cromwell and was the leader of the renowned troop of Hambledon Boys which fought so many successful battles for the cause for Parliament. Thomas Land must have felt very uneasy as a tenant of a strong Royalist family, in an area where many of the inhabitants were followers of Cromwell. In 1647 Thomas Land was attempting to claim compensation for the numerous times he had provided shelter for troops of both armies.
The 1647 Parliamentary survey of the Manor of Hambledon states that there were 28 copyholders (owners of the land recorded in the court of Manor), 15 of these having a cottage or ‘messuage’. The only freeholders were William Wayte’s descendants, holding Denmead Manor. Many timber-framed thatched cottages of the 17th century copyholders can still be seen although a number were ‘modernised’ during the 18th century by the addition of flint and brick frontages. The survey also describes the Common Forest land of 1200 acres to the south of the Manor, called ‘Hambludon Chase’, the northern boundary of which follows a line from Great Ervilles in the west to Anmore Dell in the east. Here ‘the Lord had a keeper to look to the game’ and copyholders had a right to graze cattle and pigs; to gather underwood for fencing purposes; to use earth, sand, chalk and large timbers to repair their cottages. As always it was difficult to control where people lived and the occurrence of encroachment and the random building of cottages and ‘hovils’ became an increasing problem. Cottages such as those along Forest Road and around Furzely Corner are dwellings that developed probably from forest encroachments. The Common Arable Fields and Meadows situated north of Anmore road to Harrowgate Lane, appear to have been enclosed into Crofts and Closes even earlier than the survey date. However the Common Sheep Pastures on Broadhalfpenny Down continued until the 19th century. It is these topographical features running from north to south, which caused Denmead’s early settlement pattern and led to the remarkable winding, sunken lanes in the north of the present-day parish.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries although Denmead continued to be an extension of Hambledon the area was obviously fairly prosperous. There remain a number of substantial houses of this period, most built of flint and brick. The White Hart, Firgrove, Mill House and Denmead Farm are good examples. This prosperity was based mainly on the production of wheat for near and distant markets. Two extraordinary, barn-sized granaries on staddle stones can be seen on farms to the north of the village and there is evidence of at least two malt-houses, both bearing witness to the importance of cereal growing in the past. By the 19th century, Denmead was one of a number of hamlets; others included Barn Green, Worlds End, Anmore, Furzeley Corner and Pit Hill. As the century progressed most of the remaining areas of woodland and waste were brought under efficient cultivation, to produce food for the growing naval port of Portsmouth and elsewhere. In 1814 the Common Forest land was enclosed and new roads such as Soake Road, Mill Road, Mead End Road and Forest Road provided access to the new fields. In 1819 a windmill was built (demolished in 1922) on the newly enclosed Denmead Heath, on the west side of Mill Road.
Several of the crafts and services needed by the flourishing agricultural communities were established at Barn Green which gradually became the focus for expanding settlements. In the Post Office Directory of 1867, a wheelwright, a threshing machine owner and a blacksmith are listed as living in Barn Green; there was also a ‘James Restall Grocer and Draper of Barn Green and Waterloo’. The directory includes a reference to Ashling House, an imposing flint mansion of Victorian Gothic style which stood south of the Green, in the area of Ashling Close. Its grounds are now the King George V Playing Field. The house was demolished in 1960 but the handsome flint wall along the Southwick Road, near the Green. marks the northern edge of the grounds.
To start at rock bottom, literally, Denmead is built on geologically recent strata, in a shallow basin of chalk which outcrops to the north and south. This chalk basin is filled with later sediments, the oldest and lowest being the Reading beds, then London clay and, most recently, the Bagshot sands. These three layers of sedimentary rocks are exposed from north to south, Reading beds of clay underlying most of the village with London clay along Forest road and Bagshot sands in patches beneath Creech Woods.
Exploration for oil north of the village produced a positive result but not, fortunately, in financially advantageous quantities. Attempts at gravel extraction in Creech Wood east were successfully warded off. The main product of the local geology is flint which has been used in a number of local buildings including the church.
The variety of soils arising from these different rocks enables a wide range of plants to grow in the area. The clay soil in most of the village gardens is heavy to work and contains numerous flints but is reasonably productive, with a high base status; whereas soils derived from the Bagshot sands are more porous and of lower base status and less fertile, suitable only for heath and bracken.
The woods to the south and northwest of the village are supplemented by numerous separate large trees, notably the line of mature oaks straddling the new road southeast of Denmead and extending into Goodman Fields. The big yew and mature oak in Green Lane are also noteworthy, as is the superb plane tree in Ashling Close.
The open agricultural land surrounding the village still has many hedges of hawthorn and blackthorn with small trees of hazel, holly and field maple and larger trees of oak and ash; when they are in flower the predominance of hawthorn and blackthorn is very obvious. Within the village, most houses have gardens and many keen gardeners who produce a delightful display of flowers in all seasons. The diversity of plant life attracts a wide range of insects and many different species of birds which feed on the insects and berries.
The common garden birds such as starlings, sparrows, chaffinches, green finches, great tits and blue tits are also attracted by food specifically put out for them, though the nuts are frequently raided by squirrels. In recent times the rarer long-tailed tits have taken to feeding on nuts. The insect eating birds, robins, wrens, hedge sparrows and others, collect their food from soil and plants; blackbirds and thrushes are more general feeders, taking worms, snails, insects and berries; the latter also attract redwings and fieldfares in hard winters. Summer visiting house martins build their nests under the eaves of houses in spring. Swallows also visit in summer when the occasional cuckoo may be heard. Jays may be seen in the woods and tawny owls heard by wakeful villagers. The larger birds such as jackdaws, magpies, rooks and crows can be seen and heard frequently; as can wood pigeons, though these have largely been ousted by collared doves. The occasional tree creeper, fly catcher and gold crest may be spotted by the keen birdwatcher. Because of the proximity of woodland, roe deer may be glimpsed and foxes forage around the edge of the village; hedgehogs are less common than formerly. Although they may only be seen at night, badgers are believed to be present in southern parts of the village; plans for the final area of housing to be built in the village under the 1971 plan had to be substantially changed to take account of their presence.
Among the butterflies, brimstone, peacock, red admiral, small tortoiseshell and cabbage whites occur frequently, especially when buddleia is in flower. Less commonly seen are orange tip, common blue and holly blue and in 1983 the rare clouded yellow was seen in the village.
Regrettably, the village pond, now the site of the Health Centre, was filled in, so there is no large permanent pond in the village. A few temporarily damp hollows, for example those in Anmore Road and opposite The Harvest Home, grow plants which like wet conditions, such as willows, rushes, gipsywort and yellow flag; this is also the sort of habitat where frogs and toads may be found. Herons are fairly regular visitors to a wet spot in Southwick Road and a woodland area northwest of the village.
An area close to Rookwood View, (a small estate of flats and houses with warden oversight immediately north of the village centre), has been developed as a nature reserve by the initiative of the residents and is maintained by the Parish Council. Among other trees planted there is a wayfaring tree, appropriately beside Wayfarers Walk a long distance footpath, which passes through the village on its way to Inkpen Beacon near Newbury. Through its groundstaff, the Parish Council maintains an attractive rural environment in and around the village and strategic tree planting is carried out; unfortunately, trees are sometimes damaged and others fail to develop, however, these are usually replaced by the Parish Council.
It is hoped that Goodman Fields, to the east of the village, purchased by Denmead Parish Council in memory of much respected local councillor Peter Goodman, will act as a buffer to the rising tide of development on our doorstep; the fields, part of which will be managed as a nature reserve, encompass some fine ancient hedges and is traversed by a line of handsome oaks, the area also contains some potentially interesting streams.
Our village is a pleasant place to live in; to maintain and enhance our environment requires the interest and involvement of us all.
The English Heritage website provides details of listings within Denmead. You may view the details by opening this link and then clicking on the name of the property to find out further information.