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During the medieval period there are definitely signs of some Norman
activity at Basing House.
In 1066 William arrived in England and set on his way to conquer
London. On his way it is reported that he walked through the area of
Basing, there are suggestions that he may have started to plan a
settlement in the area already.
The English Saxons did not like having a Norman ruler, so a long
period of revolts and uprisings against the invaders ensued. The
Norman's main aim was to try and get a strong foothold in the country
and keep hold of their land, this they did by dominating the South
with their castles, an idea which England had not seen before, so they
ensured as a good defence mechanism.
To ensure his soldiers loyalty, William would reward his with land and
titles, making them very wealthy. We can see from the Doomsday book
that William gave such a reward to Hugh de Port; he was granted the
land at Basing.
Hugh de Port quickly settled at Oliver's battery. This site is known
as a wet point site, very near and accessible to a good water supply;
the river Lodden. However the site wasn’t good enough in the long
term, with no area to develop the land. (See picture) So after 1 or 2
centuries Oliver's battery was abandoned in favor of Basing.
By this time it is likely that the De Ports had changed their name to
St. John. They relocated to Basing, as the site was much better
defensively in a time of violence. The site was on much higher land
with room to expand and develop the settlement, a necessity for a
growing and wealthy family.
The St. John family would have been very wealthy to be able to build
and maintain a castle and develop the land. Their wealth is certified
by the fact that Hugh De Port's son became sheriff of Hampshire, a
post passed down to him by his father, although there is no record of
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the very wealthy benefits of this post.
On my visit to Basing house, I could clearly see a large man made
mound, with a ditch around it. There is also an area, which could be a
bailey area. Soil tests have shown that this area has been raised in
the Tudor era.
This evidence suggests some sort of castle, it is not reliable enough
to form an accurate conclusion, simply because there is no castle, or
remains of one. There is a similar problem like this across the
country, because the early castles were made out of earth and timbre,
rather than the later stone castles which some are still standing.
This means our supply of evidence is very limited and we can only
compare to other sources. (Source 22)
A modern day artist has drawn this source, it is not fully reliable as
it hasn’t been based on what was actually at Basing. However the
artist drew it to try and provide an accurate and informative image of
what may have been at Basing. He/she probably based their information
on other nearby remaining castles. Such as Windsor, Essex and
Cornwall. (see arial photographs)
We can see that these Norman castles all have the same typical
characteristics as Basing; a man made mound, deep ditches for defence
and a bailey area. Archaeological evidence such as this found across
the country conforms to what I saw at Basing.
(Map of Norman castles)
From this map we can see that there were many castles in the
southeast, which make sit more probable that there was a castle at
Basing. The map is quite a reliable source of evidence as it was
formed from the Doomsday Book. The Doomsday Book was purely
information based; it was a census of land ownership and was recorded
at the time. So there would have been no ulterior motives in writing
in it, although people who gave the information may have lied so as
not to pay too much tax. But we can form fairly accurate conclusions
from the information provided by it.