Bitterne Park - from 1284

Midanbury CastleRead the first extract from Jim Brown's "The Illustrated History of Southampton's Suburbs", in which he charts the history of Bitterne Park from as far back as 1284.


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This district was, as its name implies, part of the parkland of Bitterne Manor, granted to the Bishop of Winchester in 1284. It was then surrounded by a high bank, with either hedging or wooden paling fencing on top, to protect the Bishop’s cattle and sheep. (There is a record of several horses killed by wolves at nearby Hursley Manor during this period.) One of the first references to the park was in 1520, when Bishop Fox let ‘the pasture called Bytterne Park’ for 31 years to John Tanner,’otherwise Mason of Weston’, for an annual rent of Ł13. 13s. 4d. Tanner had to maintain all the walls, ditches, gates etc.

By the end of the 18th century a few gentry’s estates had begun to appear on the outskirts of Southampton. Among these were Bitterne Grove and Middenbury House, to the east of the upper reaches of the River Itchen.

The National Land Company’s acquisition map of 1882 shows what is thought to be Middenbury House, just above the name Middenbury, with its Lodge (Middenbury Castle) at the junction of several roads to the north. There is a direct route leading from the Lodge to Townhill House. Note that Bitterne Manor Farm seems to consist of a substantial group of buildings.

Bitterne Grove, now part of St Mary’s College, was built about 1790 by Richard Leversuch but shortly after was purchased by James Dott. He was an eccentric and local legend says that the expression ‘dotty’ originates from him. When he died, in 1843, he left an endowment to West End Church of a length of red flannels for 6 parish widows. This endowment exists today, but is only worth about Ł3!
Middenbury House, believed built by John Morse before 1791, was to the west of Benhams Farm, somewhere between the modern Trent and Avon Roads. Its Lodge, also later known as Middenbury Castle, was at the junction of Woodmill Lane, Witts Hill and Midanbury Lane. This is one of the City’s highest points and both the house and its lodge would have commanded a fine view across the surrounding countryside. The house has had many variations in the spelling of its name — ranging from its original Maidenbury to Midannbury and Middenbury. The modern name for the area, Midanbury, was never used with reference to the house, which had vanished by the 1930s.

St Mary's CollegeThe front of St Mary’s College in Midanbury Lane c.1930. Formerly a country house called Bitterne Grove, it became the training centre for young Jesuit priests in 1910, exiled from France when anti-clerical laws were passed there in 1903. In 1922 it became the first Secondary School for Catholic boys in Southampton, under the name of St Mary’s College, and opened with five Brothers and 30 pupils.
(Bitterne Local History Society)

Midanbury CastleMidanbury Castle c.1912. The Lodge to Midanbury House, showing its imposing castellated and turreted mock-Gothic gateway. It was demolished in the 1930s and the Castle Inn built on the site.
(Norman Gardiner Collection — Bitterne Local History Society)

This is an extract from "The Illustrated History of Southampton's Suburbs", published by Breedon Books and available from Bitterne Local History Charity Shop for Ł14.
Reproduced here with kind permission of the author.

In the next extract, here, find out how the peace was shattered, and the rural character of the area changed beyond recognition.

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