10 things you didn’t know about Owslebury

Owslebury Illustration: Lucy Atkinson

Owslebury Illustration: Lucy Atkinson - Credit: Archant

How Owslebury is home to rioting, unlikely cricketers, exotic animals and inspirational stained glass


The second highest village in Hampshire is one of its most secret. Just five miles north of Eastleigh it's not on any main routes - unless you're walking the long-distance Pilgrim's Trail or the Monarch's Way footpaths. The Romans built a road through it from Portchester to Winchester. Now Owslebury is the haunt of commuters and farmers - at one point there were said to be more horses than humans living there.


King Edward the Peaceful is supposed to have given the village the name of Oselbyrig. Others believe the name could have come from Shakespeare's ousel bird or the ring ousel - similar to a blackbird with a white crescent on its breast - which is believed to visit the area from April to October. Or it could have come from the Anglo Saxon, Osla.Villagers are said to be united on one thing: "It's pronounced Uzzlebury, not Osselbury.".


In 1830 Owslebury was at the centre of a riot. Impoverished agricultural workers moved from farm to farm demanding money in what became known as the Swing Riots. At Rosehill they attacked Lord Northesk's steward and wrecked a winnowing machine. John Boyes demanded farmers sign an agreement to pay the workers a fixed wage. Nine signed but the rioters were tried and Boyes deported to Australia, although he was later pardoned.

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In July 2017 an unusual memorial service was held at St Andrew's Church to mark the centenary of a murder. Serving maid Vera May Glasspool, 15, was found at Longwood with 'a wound on her throat and blood on her mackintosh' with her clothing 'disarranged'. Soldiers at nearby Hazeley Down Army camp were suspected but no one was ever charged. Vera was buried on 14 July 1917 with nearly 200 people attending her funeral.


It's now one of the UK's top wildlife parks, home to giraffes and snow leopards. But Owslebury's Marwell Hall was once the home of Sir Henry Seymour, who saw one sister married to the son of the Machiavellian Thomas Cromwell, his other sister, Jane, became the beloved third wife of Henry VIII and mother of the future King Edward VI. It was even rumoured that Henry and Jane married secretly at Marwell in 1536.


The thwack of leather on willow has been heard in Owslebury for nearly as long as the game's been played, second only to Broadhalfpenny Down, the sport's birthplace in east Hampshire. People started playing in the 1830s and in 1906 the owner of Longwood gave the ground to the village. The former Poet Laureate, Lord Tennyson no less, is said to have played for Owslebury while staying as a guest at Marwell.


For such a tiny place, Owslebury has a wealth of things to enjoy; from walks across the beautiful chalk downland, to an arts club and a book club with a book swap in the village hall entrance to encourage good reading. Kettlebell and HIIT fitness classes are available, as well as petanque and Pilates.


The Ship Inn is Owslebury's popular pub and the place where locals gather for a pint and a natter in suitably traditional surroundings. For pub food you'll have to venture outside the parish to The Brushmakers Arms in nearby Upham or for something a little more formal, try The Dining Room at Marwell Hotel, a two AA Rosette establishment serving well-regarded, seasonal British dishes.


It's not often a village church can claim to have inspired so renowned a figure at Vincent Van Gogh. But St Andrews can - or at least its exquisite stained glass windows. They were commissioned by the 8th Earl of Northesk, in memory of his wife and daughter who are both portrayed as the Virgin Mary. It's believed Van Gogh saw the window sketches in London and wrote enthusiastically about them to his brother, Theo.


Even without its stained glass, the 700-year-old St Andrews is packed with fascinating finds. It has six bells, one of which was first hung in 1619. It's home to a rare serpent, a musical instrument which was played from the gallery during services, and the hole behind the altar is said to be where a bullet stopped, after passing through the vicar who practiced the Latin Mass, disobeying orders to change to the Protestant Holy Communion.

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