A Brief History of Martin

(C) College Archives 2006. Reproduced with the permission of College Archives.


Martin has always been small, whether that is measured by acres, houses or people. Sat at the western most point of Hampshire it touches the borders of both Dorset and Wiltshire, of which it was part until boundary changes in 1895.

The village road is edged by high grass banks and wide verges that front old farm houses in a landscape that has changed little over recent millennia. Although the village itself has undergone many facelifts since Domesday what survives is relatively recent; the views today are due mainly to the activity and money from eighteenth-century sheep farming and later. It is a largely unknown place that lies at the head of the valley carrying the winterbourne River Allen, and is a New Forest Conservation Area nestling in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Cottages Martin is home to many new families, young and old, who tend to find their living away from the village and the immediate agriculture. With the continuing desire for old cottages and farm houses together with the high level of protection afforded to the buildings and environment, this old village seems destined to be here to enjoy for a very long time.

The Hundred of South Damerham

Martin has been in the shadow of its larger neighbour Damerham since the oldest surviving written record – the 9th century will of Alfred The Great names Damerham (Domerham) although it is likely that Martin is included, as less than a century later the King’s successors granted the Lordship of Damerham (which then certainly extended to the adjacent villages of Damerham and Martin) to The Abbot and Convent of Glastonbury. The Charter that granted Damerham to Glastonbury was made by Edmund, King of Mercia in 945. He bestowed the estate on his wife Ethelfled for her lifetime, with this condition, that “she should leave it unto the ancient church of the blessed Mary in the monastery of Glastonberi.”

From the 10th century the Hundred of South Damerham was created to identify all the land held by Glastonbury in the South of Wiltshire comprising Damerham, Martin (Mertone) and Pentridge (Pentrington), plus the more distant tithing of Compton Chamberlayne. In 1086 Domesday records the land and people of Damerham, without mention of Martin. However, the size of the estate compared to the Charter of Edmund shows that Pentridge is no longer part of it.

Separation of Damerham and Martin villages did not occur until the early Tudor period at the end of the 15th century. However, it was not until 1847 that Martin was granted status for a church and its first vicar was appointed – until then it had been a chapelry to the church at Damerham with a curate reporting to the vicar of Damerham. This emergence from the shadow of its religious “big brother” has been short lived and today the church at Martin is again in the direct ownership of the Rector of Damerham who is the sole priest presiding over the Benefice of four parishes – Damerham, Martin, Rockbourne and Whitsbury.

Four Thousand Years of Farming

The village is set in a rural down land that was created in the Neolithic period by the first farmers, who would have cleared the forests (then covering much of ancient Britain) and built the long barrows that still break the horizon around the parish. Oxen, horses and sheep were then used to graze the slopes creating the down land that we have today. These early farmers also grew their own cereal crops and in essence the scheme of farming changed little over the next three to four thousand years. Today, Martin and Tidpit Downs are protected areas but still have to be grazed to conserve the “natural” habitat. Other than this, the land is mainly arable, with a few cattle and a notable pig herd at Allenford Farm.

Before leaving the subject of agriculture, the last word must go to the sheep-farming of the eighteenth-century that has left its imprint on the village and shaped much of what can be seen today. The listed buildings are mostly parts of farm complexes that spread from the roadside through characteristically long, thin small-holdings to the foot of the downs. Martin and Tidpit Down were common land where the farmers’ sheep, cattle and horses would graze according to the rights they held, together with the herds belonging to the major land owner. When it came time to travel to market, the sheep would be moved along the four droves that still lead from the downs to the village road. These droves also took the traffic of pack animals carrying the valuable fleeces to markets and also the port of Poole for export. The crude, impressive size of the stones in “Packbridge” which can be seen at the easterly end of the village, attests to the bulk of material and animals being transported.

One Parish, Three Tithings

The Parish has always been comprised of three Tithings – West Martin (now simply Martin and the biggest area), East Martin and Tidpit. East Martin is on a spur-road adjacent to Martin village, and compared to Martin it is very quiet! Although tiny, East Martin boasts the large former Vicarage, Talks Farm (once the home of a Mayor of Salisbury) and Bustard Farm, which was the site of the large demesne farm of The Abbey of Glastonbury until the Reformation. But best of all it holds a field named Hop Garden where it is believed some of the raw material was grown for a malt house (local pub) that operated a couple of hundred metres away in Tidpit, as recorded in the 1851 Census.


The hamlet of Tidpit has just six dwellings around the staggered cross-road and another set above it on Toyd Down at the foot of Windmill Hill. Tidpit is separated from Martin by no more than four-hundred metres and sits astride the old post road that ran from Poole Gate to Salisbury and eventually to London, and will have seen countless coaches and travellers up to the 19th century. The roadside still retains many of the milestones on what was one of the major routes to the West of England, although they are regrettably being allowed to decay and disappear.

Oral tradition locally tells of Tidpit as perhaps more important than Martin; that it was much larger than the few properties today would suggest. However, archive sources show a hamlet with just a few more cottages, and a chapel that was abandoned almost five hundred years ago, after it and many others across the country, was sequestrated by the King under an Act of Parliament of 1547. Nowadays, Tidpit sees little action other than tractors and the pig lorry taking porkers from Allenford Farm to provide breakfast for a hungry nation!

Twenty-First-Century Martin

Manor House Martin is a very quiet village that can at times appear deserted. There are no pavements nor street lights and pedestrians are few. On the village road there are no shops, pub, post office, school or garage – all have closed since the end of the Second World War, with the exception of the pub that went earlier in the century. What visitors will find now is an attractive avenue of mainly older buildings interspersed with fewer post war properties. Of the older ones, thirty-three are Grade II listed, one Grade II star (the Manor House) with the 12th century church listed Grade I.

Martin is viewed by the New Forest District Council (NFDC) as a jewel in its Conservation Crown – “this remote picturesque village lies at the head of the valley of the Allen River in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The village street wends its way past old farms and cottages up towards the old Roman road on the Downs”. This appearance owes much to the decline of farming and the investment of incomers who saved numbers of condemned, old farm houses in danger of being lost forever.

The village now has few people working  in local agriculture, only a handful of working farms within the parish, and few other employment opportunities. This can help to explain the fact that the report in March 2000 “Health for all in the New Forest”, in looking at rural deprivation in Hampshire, highlighted Martin as experiencing serious service deprivation, isolation, low income households, and unemployed households (but surrounded by affluence). The chocolate box image of a village can be deceptive.

The church of All Saints (originally Norman 11th century) sits at the centre of Martin and deserves its story told in a future article. The church is not regularly well attended, but on Christmas Eve afternoon there is standing room only at the increasingly popular Christingle held in aid of The Children’s Society. The fabric of the church whilst always in need of repair has avoided serious neglect in recent years through the efforts of the Treasurer who visited every household in the village to establish a scheme of regular giving to ensure the survival of a building that each of the villagers values, for individual reasons, even though the majority are not regular church-goers.

On the other side of the road opposite the church is the village hall (originally a Victorian United Chapel). The village hall is perhaps the remaining centre of daily activity in the village (excepting perhaps Martin Club, the former British Legion).

Claims to Fame

Finally, here are a few interesting facts about this little place:

  • Martin is the star of A Shepherd’s Life by W.H. Hudson. In the book the name is changed to Winterbourne Bishop and features one Caleb Bawcomb, shepherd. Bawcomb was based on a real Martin character. If you want to know who, then you’ll have to visit the church!
  • General Sir Pitt-Rivers, known as the Father of Modern Archaeology, undertook many of his most famous excavations on and around Martin Down and published his findings in Excavations in Cranborne Chase.
  • Blagdon, on the Cranborne side of Martin Down was made a Royal Park in 1321 by Edward II.

More History to Come

In spite of now being a village of domestic dwellings, Martin is a beautiful backwater, a special place in which to live with a depth of history that has hardly been told. But that’s another story………………….!