Clere - a local habitation and a name

A place called Clere
IN ANGLO-SAXON and early Norman documents the place-name Clere (AS Clera, Latin Clere) was used over a wide area south of the River Enborne. Its is found from Highclere (DB, Clere) in the west, to Kingsclere (DB, Clere), and possibly as far as Cliddesden (DB, Cleresden), in the east. The name also occurs as far south as the border between Micheldever and North Waltham where (t) clearan flod is recorded.
It is possible that cleara derives from the Primitive Welsh (c.400-800) cljr, the source of the Welsh claer, 'bright', and that the Sher- of Sherborne and Sherfield-on-Loddon derive from the Old English Scira, 'bright'. It has been suggested, as a result, that the early British name for the region involved the word for 'bright', and that the Saxons sometimes used the old Celtic form Cleara, and at other times the equivalent word Scira in their own language. We are left with the question, to what can 'bright' refer? The obvious answer is that it referred to the brightness of water, but the places called Clere shared no common stream. The suggestion has been made that Cleare was an old name for the River Enborne which gave its name to the district south of the river, but there is no evidence that the river was ever so named. It must be added that the existence of Anglo-Saxon forms of Clere rule out the Middle English clere, in the sense of a 'clearing', a much later introduction from the French.
Although Wessex was apparently divided into shires before the end of the eighth century, English historians of that time only knew of one kind of territorial unit less than an entire kingdom. They vaguely referred to districts called regiones or provinciae. This was generally a translation of the Saxon mgth, a word that originally meant kindred, and had earlier developed the wider sense of tribe or people. Whilst it would be unwise to infer that the primitive English regio was the territory of a particular group of kinsmen, it brings out the fact that these divisions originated in tribal settlements, but no ancient historian throws any light on the original divisions of Wessex.

Follow this link to an article by Keith Briggs in the Journal of the English Place-Name Society, 41, 7-25 (2009). It discusses a possible Latin origin of the name of Clare in Suffolk, as well as Kingsclere, Highclere and Burghclere in Hampshire.

A place called Kingsclere
The earliest reference to a place that can be identified with Kingsclere is in the will of King Alfred. Written between the years 872 and 888 it is concerned with the disposal of the king's private property, as opposed to any which would have passed automatically to his successor as king. Among the many dispositions, he left to his middle daughter the 'hams' at Clere and Candover (hama t Clearian and t Cendeferi). The OE word hm is a habitative word which means an inhabited place and is usually translated as 'estate'. The word was often applied to large and important agricultural estates, similar to those called manors in the Domesday Book and in the Middle Ages. It conveyed the idea of a territorial unit consisting of a number of houses and buildings with their adjacent lands, more or less contiguous and having a common organisation. A place which is assumed to be the same Clere next appears in the will of King Eadred (d. 955), Alfred's grandson. In this he bequeathed to the New Minster at Winchester three hama, those of Wherewell, Andover and Clere (Hperpyl and Andeferas and Clearas).
In neither royal will is there anything to indicate either the location or the extent of the ham at Clere, and it is by a process of elimination that it may be concluded that, in these wills, Clere means all or part of what was later known as Kingsclere. The name Kingsclere was first recorded in a charter of Henry I. In that charter (1107 x 1123) he confirmed the grant of the 'church of Kingsclere' (ecclesiam de Kyngeclera) to Hyde Abbey. This was at about the same time that he granted 'the whole of my manor of Clere' (totum manerium meum de Clara) to the Archbishop and Canons of the Cathedral Church of Rouen. This distinction in name between the manor and the church was maintained for two hundred years. It was always the church of Kingsclere, and the manor of Clere, although the popular use of the name Kingsclere for the vill may well antedate its use in charters connected with the church.
Other than the two royal wills there are seven Saxon charters, dating from AD 749 to 963, which make or confirm grants of land at Clere, but, from the boundaries given in them, it is apparent that they variously refer to Highclere, Burghclere and Ecchinswell, and not Kingsclere. Despite an evident need to distinguish between the Cleres, Kingsclere, Highclere and Burghclere were still simply called Clere in the Domesday Book, as was the hundred. It has been pointed out by Professor Hoskins that the great majority of place-names must, from their nature, have originated with neighbours and not with the inhabitants themselves. It seems reasonable that a vill called Clere, dominated by a royal manor, should have been popularly referred to as Kingsclere, just as Highclere was at times called Bishop's Clere, because it was in the possession of the Bishop of Winchester, and West Clere from its location.

Geology of the Area
The abruptly north-facing slopes of Cottingtons Hill and the Kingsclere Downs, composed of Upper and Middle chalk, are feebly echoed in the south-facing slopes of the same material, known as 'linches', on the southern outskirts of the town. Their broken line runs from Plantation Farm, past Shepherd's Steps, to Nothing Hill, and then towards Ecchinswell. At one time a lofty dome of Upper Chalk, six miles long and up to a mile and a half wide, and resembling an upturned boat in shape, spanned the space between the downs and the linches. The highest parts were worn away to enclose the lowland of marly Lower Chalk in the vicinity of Park House, and also to expose an inner dome of flaky, crumbling, Greensand. It was on this fertile and manageable land that the two great common-fields, East Field and West Field, were developed in Saxon times.
To the north of the town the land lies on Tertiary rocks that are softer and more water holding than chalk. In detail three distinct beds may be recognised within the series. In the vicinity of George Street and Basingstoke Road, there may be traced a narrow band of Reading Beds, clayey loams often of a rich purple colour flecked with red and green. This band gives way to a very wide band of London clay, a dull brown adhesive substance which clings to the spade but supports fine oaks and elms in the woodlands between Kingsclere and Headley. In places sharply rising hills of Bagshot Sand, such as Knowl Hill and its continuation towards Wolverton cap these claylands. The soils on the sandy hills are much lighter, so that there is more cultivation than on the clay.

The vill or parish of Kingsclere
The full extent of the vill or parish of Kingsclere cannot be determined from the Domesday survey since it was not concerned with waste, and rarely with forest, except in the case of the New Forest. Eventually the parish covered an area from the River Enborne in the north, to North Oakley in the south, and from Burghclere in the west, to Wolverton and Hannington to the east, and Wooton St. Lawrence to the east and south.
In 1086 the royal demesne manor of Clere was credited with just under half the plough-land in the vill, the remainder being divided between eight other 'manors'. Taking all the manors together thirty-seven plough-lands were recorded, little more than a quarter of the full extent of the vill as it eventually appeared. Most of the remainder would have been 'waste', that is to say the undeveloped woodland, heath and scrub which formed part of the ancient forest of Witingley (Witingelega).

Saxon Kingsclere
The only evidence concerning pre-Conquest Kingsclere is that which can be deduced from the Domesday survey. Within the vill there were nine, possibly ten, 'manors'. Some idea of their relative importance can be gained from the number of ploughlands at which each was assessed.
Clere, the largest manor, a substantial estate with land for sixteen ploughs, is described as of the revenue of King Edward and belonging to the day's revenue of Basingstoke which had always been a royal manor Queen Edith, widow of King Edward, held another manor described as in Clere. Here there was a church and a hall, and land for four ploughs. The Queen held Winchester as part of her 'morning gift' (marriage portion), and it is possible that her Kingsclere manor provided a convenient staging post, a day's journey from Winchester, when travelling or visiting her many other manors.
The rest of the manors were all in the possession of royal thanes. The wealthiest of these was probably Cheping. He was credited with nineteen land-holdings in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, five houses in Winchester and three in Southampton. He lost virtually all of these after the Conquest, including Chenol (Knowl) in Clere, which later became part of the manor of Sandford. He was described by J.H. Round as, 'a dispossessed Englishman who was assigned by William a small estate to keep him alive'. Another substantial landholder was Alnoth with twelve Hampshire manors, but with only one ploughland in Clere, also called Chenol (Knowl). It later became part of Clere Woodcott. He is not mentioned after the Conquest and may have fallen in battle, or simply been dispossessed of his lands. Saewulf and Godwin jointly held one and a half ploughlands in Clere, where they had two halls. In Hampshire Saewulf is credited with ten manors, and Godwin with no less than twenty-three, together with three houses in Southampton. These were all men of importance who held only minor manors in Kingsclere, and although they disappear from history after the Conquest, there is no evidence that Kingsclere itself suffered at this time.
Several of Edward's other thanes survived the Conquest, which again suggests that there was little or no active resistance locally. Alwin Wit continued to hold one and a half ploughlands which he had held of Wigot, for protection (possibly Wigot of Wallingford, butler and kinsman of King Edward). Edwin the Hunter continued to hold two ploughlands, given him by King Edward, whilst Leofwin held half a ploughland in his own right (bocland ?), as did Ravelin, who held Clere, which had land for five ploughs. This manor is possibly that later known as Frobury.

The Town of Kingsclere

From an early date Kingsclere must have been a town of some substance. In the Domesday Book it is recorded that here was a church, a market, and at least four mills in or close to the town. The town probably served a population, of some five to seven hundred persons. It lay on a stream which rose half a mile south of the town at the foot of Downs, and at the crossing point of the roads from Winchester to Reading, and from Basingstoke to Thatcham.

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