The Ancient Hermits of Hampshire

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“The hermits and recluses, who lived solitary lives, must also be included among the religious orders. The popular ideas concerning the hermits is very different from the true
one. A hermitage was practically a monastery, with one inmate. In his cell the hermit livedhis solitary life, but it was not a useless one. He was inducted into his hermitage by a
religious service, and afterwards he lived and died there. He must in some cases have had a servant or lay brother, who ministered to his wants and otherwise assisted him. The hermit had some means of support. A good example of a Hampshire hermitage is that one which existed at a spot now known as Chapel, in the parish of St. Mary, Southampton. When it was first established is unknown, but it is certain that Henry VII recognised the usefulness of the hermit who lived there in his time, named William Gefferey, by granting to him, conjointly with the mayor, aldermen, sheriff, bailiffs, and burgesses of Southampton, the privilege of holding an annual fair and market on the feast of the Holy Trinity and three following days.

This fair was held around the hermitage, and the profits arising therefrom belonged partly to the hermit and partly to the town. Some remains of this hermitage, which was situated
close to the Itchen, lately existed at Chapel Wharf. From other cases, in which it is known that hermits located at ferries discharged the useful functions of providing a light, and often a boat, for travellers, it is reasonable to suppose that William Gefferey, the hermit of the chapel of the Holy Trinity, opposite to the old ferry at Itchen, performed similar functions there.

Another noted hermitage was that which existed on St. Catherine’s Hill, at Chale, in the Isle of Wight. There is a record of the admission of Walter de Langstrell to this hermitage in October, 1312, and an engraving of the tower in which this hermit performed the useful function of a lighthouse- keeper has come down to us. There were no Elder Brethren of
Trinity House in those days to place lights round the coast.

The hermits on St. Catherine’s Hill were the only light- house-keepers in the Isle of Wight in the Middle Ages as far as is known, and it is impossible not to admire the self- sacrifice which led them to devote their lives to this useful work.
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Everyone must respect the devotion of the hermit, who kept his light burning on this hill in all weathers, and while he attended to his beacon-fire or lamps on tempestuous nights, mingled his nocturnal prayers for the safety of mariners with the howling of the storm.

Another hermitage at Stratfieldsaye was endowed with certain lands near it in Hampshire and Berkshire in the reign of Edward III., and the purpose of such an establishment in this
place was, apparently, that the hermit should direct travellers on their way through that part of the forest of Eversley.

There are traces of other Hampshire hermitages in the old forests of the county, at Hambledon and at Colemore. Near Havant there was a hermitage, whose occupant apparently performed the duty of guiding travellers across the dangerous wadeway which led into Hayling Island; and near Emsworth, on the Sussex border, there was another where the hermit showed the way, or ford, which led the traveller safely into Thorney Island.”

From: Thomas William Shore (1840-1905) “A History of Hampshire, including the Isle of Wight” [Elliot Stock, London,1892]
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Full text available on=line at: https://archive.org/details/historyofhampshi00shoriala

See also Rotha Mary Clay (1878-1961) “The Hermits and Anchorites of England” [Methuen, London, 1914]
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Text available on-line at: https://archive.org/details/hermitsanchorite00clayuoft
For Clay’s work, see: http://hermits.ex.ac.uk/index/rmclay

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