Norman New Towns in England
Norman New Towns New Towns in Hampshire
Norman New Towns
The urban geography of many parts of England was radically changed between the Norman Conquest and the mid 13th century by the foundation of several hundred new towns or enlargement of existing villages. These were places given a charter from the king, a leading baron, bishop or monastic house which conferred on them the legal status of a borough. Privileges were granted to the leading citizens, or burgesses, largely relating to the right to hold markets and levy tolls. The citizens might also be allowed to collect their own taxes and pass them directly to the crown without the lord's interference. At the same time a town's founder was able to raise much more rent from his wealthy urban tenants than from those on his rural manors.
New towns were usually laid out to promote economic activity with a central market place in the form of square or a long, broad street. Individual building plots were long and narrow, and set end-on to the street so as to give as many residents as possible access to the frontage where each house would have a shop. The plots were let for money rents rather than rents in kind.
Many new towns were located outside gates of their lord's castle (e.g. Windsor and Ludlow) or abbey (St Albans), thereby providing customers for the town market. Some foundations were immediately successful and, as at Ludlow, were enlarged by means of a simple grid of streets attached to the original market place. Not all new towns flourished, however, and in the Welsh border, for example, there were numerous failed boroughs which never became more than villages.
Norman New Towns in Hampshire
One of the earliest may have been the port of Southampton. Its link with Normandy was of great importance following the Conquest. An influx of Norman settlers probably resulted in the deliberate planning of the area around St Michael's Square and French Street. By the 12th century Portsmouth had also developed around its harbour mouth and in 1194 was granted a charter by Richard I. It is highly likely that three parallel and crossstreets with burgage plots were introduced at this time.
The building of a bishop's residence at Bishop's Waltham would have encouraged the development of a settlement close by. Archaeological evidence suggests earlier Saxon occupation, backed up by the presence of a minster church. This would probably have been re-planned in the 12th century with the market place and a gridded layout of streets that we see today. Another ecclesiastical development can be seen at New Alresford, founded by Bishop de Lucy in 1200, consisting of one wide street running north-south and appropriately called Broad Street.
The town of Wickham is a delight. There was probably a village here long before it was granted a charter for a market and fair in 1268. It has a large square, surrounded by pretty houses, shops, and inns. Many of the medieval houses now have Georgian facades reflecting the desire to copy the elite classical houses of the time. Fortunately, behind these facades many unspoilt medieval timber framed buildings can be seen, with their high pitched and irregular roof lines betraying a much earlier past.