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Hamble: A Brief History

The collection of documents about Hamble, which is held by Winchester College, was once described as, 'embarrassingly large.' A complete history of the village and surrounding area could fill a number of volumes. This article is intended only as a summary.

The spelling of the village name has varied considerably over the centuries, examples being Hamelea circa 730, Hammel in 1496, and Ham-en-le-Rice in 1846. Today it is officially known as Hamble-le-Rice. The derivation of the name Hamble is uncertain, but 'Hamel' is Old English for 'crooked,' which could refer to the course of the river. 'Le-Rice' means 'brushwood' or 'the rise,' which would be appropriate since the church stands 50 ft above sea level. The name, however, could come from a Saxon Thane called 'Hamele.'

Hamble's geographical position and features have contributed greatly to the village's history and importance. The many old wells in the area suggest that a good supply of fresh water was always available. The fine mud on the river bed provided a breeding ground for oysters, and was good for laying-up wooden boats. Artefacts discovered around the village indicate that the area has been settled for a very long time. Neolithic implements have been found in Satchell Lane, and there are Iron Age earthworks on the Common. Romano-British finds, including a cache of early 4th century bronze coins from different countries, show that people stayed in the area and suggest that they traded.

Picture of Shell Fish Merchant - click to see a larger image

The earliest known mention of the place name is in 720 AD when it is recorded that Saint Willibald, a monk educated at a monastery in Bishops Waltham, set sail from the Hamble River for the Middle East. It was about this time that another local feature is recorded by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History. He wrote, "... the tides meet and oppose one another beyond the mouth of the River Homelea (Hamble) which runs into that narrow sea from the land of the Jutes ..." Even in those early days Hamble and its river, particularly the double high tides, were considered noteworthy.

In 1109 a cell of Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Tiron in France was granted land at Hamble by William Gifford, the Bishop of Winchester. Here they built a Priory, and the church of St Andrew's origins date from this time. Even though it had French dependency, the church was badly damaged and plundered in 1377, when they raided Southampton and the Isle of Wight. In 1391 William of Wykeham bought the Priory and its property for his college at Winchester, after which he repaired and rebuilt much of the church.

This is how Hamble's close connections with Winchester College began, and how the college became Lord of the Manor for the following centuries. It is interesting to note that the Prior of Hamble used to send in mid-Lent 20,000 locally caught oysters to the Monks of St Swithins in Winchester. In return the six monks at Hamble received 21 loaves and 42 flagons of ale weekly.

As early as the 13th and 14th centuries, records show Hamble as a significant maritime centre. In 1235 it is recorded that 11 ships from the Suffolk village of Dunwich, which were full of herring, were arrested at Hamble for failing to pay custom duties. It is also recorded that, for the Battle of Crecy in 1346, Hamble provided 7 ships and 117 mariners. By comparison, Portsmouth contributed 5 ships and 96 mariners.

In 1418 the "Grace Dieu," the largest ship ever built in England at that time, was brought to Hamble for fitting out. Her Southampton builder, William Soper, had two storehouses in Hamble and had erected a wooden tower at the river entrance for protection against French raids. During the 15th century many 'Royal' ships used the river and a number of them were laid up here. The wreck of the "Grace Dieu" lies in the river mud to this day.

The village continued to be a maritime centre during the following centuries. We know that the Hamble/Warsash ferry was operating in the 16th century, and the records of the Admiralty courts give a reasonable picture of the activities of local inhabitants. These courts were held on the foreshore, and everyone of any importance in connection with the river was summoned to attend. They dealt with items such as the maintenance of causeways and hards, the operation of local ferries and illegal fishing. Even smuggling and piracy are mentioned. In fact one of the governors of St Andrew's castle on Hamble Common, Sir Henry Mainwaring, was himself a reformed pirate. The castle was built around 1543 as part of Henry VIII's Solent defences. Today, only traces of its foundations can be seen in the mud of Southampton Water.

A number of notable houses have been built in Hamble over the years, too many to list in this summary and mostly now demolished, but the 17th century Olde House still stands on the village square. Another which is still in use is Sydney Lodge, designed by the architect John Sloane at the end of the 18th century, which was to be the family seat of the Earls of Hardwicke. Those that have now gone include Hamble House, constructed in 1740 by Moody Janverin a master shipwright who built a number of ships in Hamble for the Royal Navy.

Picture of Olde House - click to see a larger image
Picture of Hamble House - click to see a larger image

Up until the beginning of the 20th century the population of Hamble had averaged 300 to 400 people. With the coming of the aviation industry the numbers began to greatly increase. Because of its maritime advantages Hamble first attracted seaplanes, and even the local boat builders "Lukes" tried to develop their own model. During the First World War A.V.Roe, who already built aircraft in Manchester, came to the village and set up a factory. To encourage his workers to live near the plant he built 24 houses, in what is now Verdon Avenue. Another company which became established at this time was Fairey Aviation.

Many famous aviation people have been connected with Hamble. Bert Hinkler, Alan Cobham, Amy Johnson and Juan de Cuerva - the designer of the first autogyro - to name a few. Nevil Shute also worked at the airfield and Hamble features in several of his novels.

In 1931 the airfield was taken over by Air Service Training, an aviation school which was to become known as 'Britain's Air University.' Then, in 1936, another factory was built by British Marine Aircraft, later to become Follands and then British Aerospace. Many famous aircraft have been connected with Hamble, including the "Ensign" which was built by Armstrong Whitworth and A.S.T in the late 1930's and was the the largest airliner ever produced in Britain at that time. Then, during the Second World War, Hamble became a repair shop for warplanes and 2,575 damaged Spitfires were serviced here. Later came the Folland Gnat, flown by the "Red Arrows" R.A.F aerobatic team, and the Harrier jump jet.

Another significant industry to come to Hamble was oil storage and distribution. Originally a ship named 'British Maple' was moored in Southampton Water as a floating storage facility, but by the mid 1920's an oil terminal and pier had been built. During the Second World War, 'Pluto' - Pipeline Under The Ocean - which supplied fuel to the Allied forces involved in the D-Day landings, went through the Hamble depot. Today, among its many other tasks, there are pipelines from the depot to Gatwick and Heathrow airports to supply aviation fuel.

As well as having aviation educational facilities, Hamble also had a nautical training school known as T.S.Mercury. This was founded in 1885 by Charles Hoare to train boys for the Royal and Merchant navies, and consisted of a shore establishment and a ship moored on the river. In 1908 the famous scholar and sportsman C.B.Fry became the principal and, together with his wife, ran the school for 42 years, during which many notable cricketers came to play in Hamble. Students endured a tough regime to prepare them for a career at sea, but they also enjoyed sporting and other activities, and the T.S.Mercury marching band and rugby team were famous in the area. Unfortunately, because of financial difficulties, the school closed in 1968 and the grounds became a housing estate.

Picture of TS Mercury - click to see a larger image

In spite of the loss of T.S.Mercury, maritime activity still continues in Hamble. Throughout the 20th century the village and the river developed into one of the country's leading yachting centres. Today there are many kinds of leisure craft here and, inevitably, local servicing industries have been developed for them. Hamble also has its own inshore rescue service which was founded by a group of local people in 1969. The annual regatta, now known as 'Hamble Week,' has been running for well over a hundred years.

If this article provides a glimpse of the wealth of information there is about Hamble and its past, it has achieved it's purpose. A short summary could never fully do it justice.

  Find out who was living at Hamble in 1851, 1891 and 1911.
1851 Census      1891 Census      1911 Census

Ian Underdown 1999

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