According to the historian Arthur Bryant, the history of England began 8,000 years ago at the time of the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) man. But first going back millions of years, Southern England was under the sea, and that is why ammonites and other sea fossils are found in Frensham. Some tens of thousands of years ago a very primitive man whom we call the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) lived, and in deep sand and gravel pits dug between Farnham and Frensham the old axes and implements he used have been found near to the teeth and bones of mammoths and of an animal called the ‘woolly rhinoceros’ which he hunted.
Four Mesolithic camp or living sites have been discovered around Farnham on the Greensand and at Frensham. These ancients dug holes are called ‘pit dwellings’ and examples have been found at Bourne Mill, Farnham and at the foot of the Jumps. These early people were no farmers and relied mainly on capturing wild animals but could well have added nuts and plants to their diet.
Neolithic (New Stone Age) folk are thought to have arrived in England about 3500 years BC, and were our first farmers. These people were able to build both houses and a kind of furniture in stone in treeless areas such as the Orkneys, but in Frensham they would have found plenty of wood. Evidence of them is recorded in the Surrey Archaeological Collections and of their axes and other tools around the ponds and at Spreakley.
The next people to arrive, and came in three waves, were the so called Bronze age. Hundreds of arrow heads have been found and Frensham had several ‘tumuli’ burial sites at Spreakely, Gong Hill and King’s Ridge. It is most likely that Tilford and Frensham had quite a population 3000 years ago.
We come now to our first recognisable ancestors, the Celts (or Iron Age people). Here again they are thought to have been three invasions. The first, called the Hallstadt, about 500 BC., the second, La Tene, and lastly, about 50 BC., the Belgae. It is thought that a tribe of the latter called the Atrebates were living in this area at the time of the Roman invasion in A.D. 43.
Around 400 A.D. the Roman army together with many Celts left England for Gaul, and left behind a civilisation not to be seen again for many hundreds of years. While other parts of England were invaded by Picts, Scots, Jutes, etc., the southern counties including Surrey were overrun by the Saxons. The first we know of the Saxons in this area is due to a discovery in 1924 of Saxon weaving huts at the foot of Firgrove Hill and dated as about 550 A.D.
The next information that we have relates to King Caedwalla, who, after his conversion to Christianity, made a charter conveying to the church 60 hides of land that included Farnham, Frensham and Churt. This and more became the property of Hedda, the Bishop of Winchester. This was in 688 AD.
In 893 AD, which we learn in part from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Danes landed in 250 ships at Lympne in Kent and eventually arrived in Surrey to pillage and destroy but were met at Farnham by the Saxons under Alfred’s son Edward who defeated the Danes. The site given for this battle by certain writers is between Gong Hill, Tilford and Spreakley.
Whats in a name?
The origins of the name Frensham come from ‘Frena’s ham’. Frena was the name of either a Danish Earl who was killed in the battle of Ashdown in the year 871, or a Saxon who was driven south from Northumberland by the Danes in 993. The second part ‘ham’ means ‘settlement’, and is also from where we get the word ‘home’, so Frensham is ‘Frena’s settlement’.
or . . .
Mrs Elfrida Manning in her book Saxoll Farnham gives it as her opinion that the name ‘Fermesham’ suggests a valuable holding held as food rent (feorm).
Frensham was much visited by Kings in its early past. King John in particular enjoyed hunting in the area.
From the annals of Waverley we learn that the building of St. Mary the Virgin was commenced in 1239 and that it replaced an earlier church.
The Great Pond is known to have existed certainly around 1200 and in a map in Frensham Then and Now a small area on the eastern side is indicated as being very ancient. As there was a Mesolithic site on each side of the pond it is probable that it existed 8000 years ago. The Little Pond, once called Crowsfoot, was built by the orders of Bishop de Ralegh in 1246 and was stocked with bream, pike and carp.
In the year 1348 Frensham, like many other places, was struck a devastating blow. The ‘black plague’, so called because of the colour of its victims, was first recognised at Tilford in this area. Before it ceased in 1350 52 farms around became desolate. Several marriages are recorded by widows unable to cope and tenants of empty farms had to be found.
Farnham with its castle was very much involved in the civil war and early in 1642 the Royalists put a tax on the people of Frensham and Churt. Spies from both sides roamed around and when Cromwell’s troops hunted the deer in the woods south of Famham they were sometimes ambushed. In 1644 Cromwell’s soldiers, lacking money, raided homes in Frensham and in 1645 were billetted in the village.
The seventeenth century saw the introduction of the hop. Because of the market for wool at Farnham with its industry, sheep were of importance to the farmer. Hops also brought an increased prosperity to the farmers around Farnham, including Frensham. The great market for years was Weyhill, near Andover, and very soon our local hops were given preference by west of England buyers, and for many years hop picking was an important extra for some people of Frensham, Dockenfield and Churt.
Some Frensham men would work on farms in the summer and autumn in Sussex and in the winter would rely on catching hares and rabbits for which there was a ready sale to the army at Aldershot.
Almost every man kept a pig before the first world war, sometimes being fattened to as much as 24 stone. The village pig killer was usually called in to assist when the killing and cutting up was due.
Frensham has been very fortunate in its benefactors. Generous people of the last century include Crawford Davison who added the north aisle to the church in 1827 and Dr. Cobb who in 1846 founded Frensham School.
Another gift of importance to the village was that of the site for a recreation ground, given by Madame Huitfeldt in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Morton Latham who had lived at Hollowdene.
In recent years Frensham and the surrounding area has caught the imagination of television and film makers. The opening sequence of the blockbuster film ‘Gladiator’ was filmed in nearby Bourne Woods whilst scenes from some popular television dramas were filmed at Frensham Ponds.
Although famous for its rare wildlife, visitors may not have believed what they were seeing some years ago when the prototype for a very convincing looking shark, which later appeared in a Walker’s Crisps advert, was tested for seaworthiness at Frensham. Frensham Ponds also has a role in aviation history, as the very first seaplane was tested and developed there in 1913.
Frensham of today is a very different place. Gone are the hop fields and oast houses, usualy converted into houses. Only two farms remain, Pierrepont and Pitts, and the increase in private transport has meant the demise of most local retail outlets. As little as twenty years ago there were four village shops, two post offices, a butchers, a bank and three garages selling petrol. That is now reduced two PO/stores. In contrast there is an insatiable demand for houses and land, particularily equestrian. Tourism is also flourishing with the beauty of the ponds and Frensham common a magnet for visitors from near and far.
This potted history was largely taken from the excellent ‘A Frensham History’ by Robert Hickling, many thanks to the Frensham and Dockenfield Local History Group.
Any additions or corrections welcome!