Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire town south east of Winchester.
Waltham earned its episcopal prefix as long ago as the year 904, when the King — Edward the Elder (901-925) – swapped it with the Bishop of Winchester for much more militarily significant land at Portchester (overlooking Portsmouth Harbour) where once a Roman fortress stood.
As far back as the Bronze Age Bishop’s Waltham had been an inhabited place, and in Saxon times folk lived there. It could boast a built-in bureaucracy in the reign of Edward the Elder’s predecessor, Alfred the Great, for it was then the administrative centre of a Hundred — an area judged able to support about one hundred families; the term survives to this day in the fictitious parliamentary division in Buckinghamshire known as the Chiltern Hundreds.
The town suffered destruction by invading Danes but was rebuilt and under William the Conqueror it must have been a considerable and thriving place, for the Domesday Survey lists it as having several mills and two places of worship.
By 1136 Bishop Henri de Blois, an inveterate builder, raised a fortified palace there, the remains of which are now owned by the Department of the Environment and are open to the public.
It is hard to believe that this quiet and charming little town was for many centuries on the fringe of great historical events, and its palace-castle known to a mighty array of kings and prelates.
King Henry II called a council at Bishop’s Waltham in 1182, to plan a Crusade, but that was only a start to a succession of significant royal visits. Seven years later, Richard I (Coeur de Lion) stayed at the palace after his crowning at Winchester and before embarking on his last Crusade.
The celebrated bishop, William of Wykeham (Hampshire man, born at Wickham) died in the palace in 1404; he had often resided there and he it was who built the great hall.
In 1415, the year of his great victory at Agincourt, the hero-king Henry V was a visitor.
In the following century came Henry VIII. He stayed at Waltham before embarking for France to be lavishly entertained by King Francis at that vast diplomatic public relations operation, the “Field of the Cloth of Gold”.
The palace was beseiged and heavily damaged by the Parliamentarians in the Civil War, after which general deterioration began to set in, although at one time a section was converted into a private dwelling.
The town itself is adorned by a number of pleasant Georgian houses — including one which is now a bank — and nearby is Waltham Mill, itself a very old building on the site of a mill standing in the Conqueror’s time.
St. Peter’s Church, though a 19th-century restoration, has a Norman font and a tower and pulpit of Elizabethan date.