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Bishop’s Dyke

The heather-clad earthen bank of Bishop's Dyke
The heather-clad earthen bank of Bishop's Dyke

Close to Beaulieu Road station and shown on the map as Bishop’s Dyke, this earthen bank and ditch winds a 7.25 kilometre (4½ mile) serpentine course, and encloses around 202 hectares (500 acres) of low-lying, boggy ground. Up to 4 metres (13 feet) wide and 1 metre (3 feet) high, it is also known as the Bishop of Winchester’s Purlieu, and Bishop’s Ditch.

But, unfortunately, it is one of those annoying bits of history for which there is no fully satisfactory explanation.

John Wise, writing in the middle years of the 19th century, said that the area belonged to Winchester College, and noted that: ‘The New Forest peasant will tell that this was a grant of land as much as the Bishop of Winchester could in a day crawl round on his hands and knees.’

Then Heywood Sumner, writing 60 years after Wise, stated that in 1284 AD, the Bishop of Winchester obtained the grant of Bishop’s Ditch from Edward 1. But Sumner went on to dismiss the peasant’s theory mentioned by Wise, saying that: ‘The legend – which occurs elsewhere - seems to express country humour, attributing a fantastic origin to an unusual earthwork of which nothing is known.’

More recently it has been suggested that the bank enclosed a huge decoy pond, or alternatively, despite the current boggy nature of much of the ground, that it may have enclosed a medieval deer park.

The truth seems to be, however, that nobody really knows for certain the origin and purpose of this intriguing landmark.

References:
The New Forest: Its History and Scenery: John R. Wise.
A Guide to the New Forest: Heywood Sumner
Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society, Volume 54 – The Earthwork Remains of Enclosure in the New Forest: Nicola Smith

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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley