The village of Southwick nestles at the south end of the Meon Valley, tucked into
the foot of the north flank of Portsdown Hill. Present day Estate holdings, even
now spread out to Boarhunt, Cosham, Drayton, Fareham, Farlington, Paulsgrove, Portchester,
Purbrook, Waterlooville, Widley and Wymering. It would be no exaggeration to label
Southwick as a most unusual settlement which,throughout the last two millennium,
has been, uniquely involved in the making of history.
Early man settled in the area and pre-Bronze Age tribes peopled the Meon Valley and
Portsdown Hill. Interesting flint implements are easily found on the local farmland
and a number of Portsdown Hill barrows have been investigated. These include a Long
Barrow to the east of the George Inn, where the old A3 cut through the crest of the
hill, excavated in 1817. This yielded 12 skeletons, one of which had an arrowhead
through its skull and was attributed to the Neolithic period, which ended about 2000BC.
Other excavations have revealed Bronze (2000-1000BC) and Iron Age (1000BC-ADO) burial
areas. The Bronze Age dig was alongside the large roundabout at the top of the B2177*
and the Iron Age Excavation also beside the George Inn.
Sleepy, enigmatic and secretive Southwick may have been, but its inhabitants were
no strangers to conflict. The Romans' mighty war machine ploughed its way through
the village in AD 43. They built a road (which they called Route 421) from Chichester
in the east, via Havant, through Southwick/ where they built a staging post, and
on to Wickham. There the road divided, one branch leading to their naval base of
Bitterne, the other to the major Roman city of Winchester. The pattern of thoroughfares
included a link with their fort at modern-day Portchester. The Romans were followed
by the battling/ tribal Jutes and Meonwares. Incidentally, in 1066 the savage Normans
probably used the very same Roman road
in their conquest of Britain.
The need for fortifications was not a strange concept to Southwick. Prior to the
Norman invasion, the Saxons raised a number of earthwork forts around the village.
These were probably part of a defensive network radiating out from Portchester Castle,
which they had appropriated. Some 1,000 years later, as a result of the French invasion
scares of the 1850/60s, a Southwick Lord of the Manor, Thomas Thistlethwayte (the
younger), sold 900 acres of portsdown Hill to the Government, in 1862. The price
was the then enormous sum of £95,200. Admittedly this princely sum took in the right
to dear-fell the wooded hillsides in order to give an unimpeded field of fire. This
explains the bare slopes. The land was required to construct a ring of hill-top defences.
These included the Forts of Nelson, Purbrook, Southwick and Widley as well as the
Spithead Forts. They were nicknamed Palmerston's Follies, after the Prime Minister
who pioneered the plan. The sobriquet Folly is not surprising as the feared invasion
by the French did not materialise and never a shot was fired in anger!
Invasion forces and their scheming generals were no stranger to Southwick. The Priory
the grounds and possessions, which were later to form the nucleus of Southwick Estate,
played host to Edward III in the 1340s. That was when he launched his son. The Black
Prince and his troops on their initial forays into France, during the 100 Years War.
Billeted soldiers were no stranger to Southwick. In the 1640s the Lord of Southwick
Estates was the Parliamentarian 'Idle Dick' Norton. The 'idle' was reputably due
to his disinclination to settle down to one task at a time. Be that as it may he
based his foot and horse troops, 'The Hambledon Boys', at Southwick during the Civil
War battles, that tore England apart.
Royalty were no strangers to Southwick, as the village had played host to seven Kings
of the Realm up until 1943.
Keeping secrets and being secretive was no strange experience for Southwick. These
characteristics dated from the establishment of the all-powerful, wealthy Southwick
Priory in about 1148. This medieval religious order controlled the area for some
400 years The Priors and Canons were followed by a dynastic, influential, if reserved
and taciturn family who took over many of the Priory's holdings. They were to remain
at the helm, as private and self-contained as ever, until the outbreak of the Second
World War (and on to this very day). From 1940 secrecy was the nation's watchword
- 'Careless Talk Costs Lives'. But whatever was happening up at Southwick House,
in the dark days of 1944, was the best kept secret of all. A rigid curtain of mystery
was pulled tight around the building and its grounds - and no wonder. The family
mansion had been chosen as the headquarters for the planning and execution of the
greatest seaborne invasion the World had ever seen - the D-Day landings From what
had been the library the Supreme Allied Commander was to issue the momentous order
that triggered deployment of the massive forces which were to breach the Germans'
Atlantic sea-wall defences, bring about the collapse of the once all-conquering Third
Reich and end in the destruction of Hitler's Nazi war machine, in the bomb-torn bunkers
of Berlin. That secretive and unique!
*(Incidentally, the Wickham-Southwick-Cosham road numbering varies. Sometimes it
is A333, sometimes B2177 - it all depends if the local authorities and or highway
chappies wish to duck spending money on its upkeep. No funds and it becomes a 'B'
road. money spare and suddenly it is an 'A' thoroughfare!).
Abridged from: Jeffrey O’Connell’s – Southwick the D-Day Village that Went to War