Bishop's Waltham is a small town in Hampshire, England with a population of around 6,500 people. It started off as a Saxon village, and steadily grew to become one of Hampshire's largest villages, despite being burnt to the ground by Danes in 1001 AD. By the time of the Domesday book (1086 AD), it had a population of around 450. Now in the 21st Century, it is a small but vibrant town with many smaller villages surrounding it.
Bishop's Waltham is situated at the head of the River Hamble.
In 904, it was given by the king to the Bishop of Winchester. In 1136 Henry de Blois, a later bishop built the now-ruined Bishop's Waltham Palace. It was destroyed on the orders of William Cromwell during the English Civil war. Much of the old Palace is still in the village. Apart from the ruins, which are open to the public and well worth a visit, material from the Palace was used as building materials in town buildings still standing to this day.
The name comprises three parts 'walt' - forest; 'ham' - settlement'; and 'Bishop's'. Local residents often refer to the town simply as 'Waltham', which is reasonable enough as there is no longer a Bishop in residence. The town is twinned with Saint Bonnet le Chateau of France.
There are many Georgian buildings in the town alongside the Norman parish church. The town retains a unique character, having few chain stores and lots of individual shops and services. Local residents and councillors have fought hard to ensure that new buildings complement the beautiful architecture instead of ruining it. Unusually for the United Kingdom, there is a vineyard nearby.
During the 19th century Bishop's Waltham was a successful market town, being home to several agricultural suppliers, merchants and a cattle market. The town also had a large brickworks to its north, along with a gasworks that provided town gas for lighting and heating the town. The town had a large enough working population by the late 19th century to support a Working Men's Institute, which occupied an ornate brick building on Bank Street, which remained open until 2003, when it was converted into housing.
Bishop's Waltham's commercial status warranted the construction of the Bishops Waltham branch Line railway to the town from Botley in 1862. The railway became part of the London and South Western Railway in the 1870s, who operated distinctive steam railcars on the line for passenger services, although the majority of traffic was goods- with bricks coming from the town and coal for the gasworks going to. The LSWR laid on special services to allow farmers to bring their cattle to market at Bishop's Waltham, with trains made of a mix of cattle trucks and carriages. The line was closed to passenger traffic in 1932, but goods services remained, becoming ever less frequent and regular before finally stopping in the 1960s. Bishop's Waltham station was a distinctive brick/half-timbered design, which stood where the main roundabout in the town now is. A short section of the line and a pair of level crossing gates next to the roundabout have been preserved.
The town, with its "period" charm and excellent selection of privately owned shops, is well worth a visit. The Palace ruins themselves are fascinating, and are excellent for photography, as is the "pond" directly adjacent to it. The Palace grounds are frequently used to hold festivals and other events.