Surrey Archaeological Collections

Surrey Archaeological Society, 2003 (updated 2016)

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Chapter 4: Farnham

ROB POULTON and others

It has long been believed that the borough of Farnham was established as a planned settlement by the bishops of Winchester, adjacent to, but separate from an older settlement around the parish church. The detailed documentation in the Winchester pipe rolls, surviving from 1208, provides a wealth of detail on the early history of Farnham, and this is assessed.

The pipe rolls include reference to a town ditch, and this is also mentioned in other, later, documents. A feature, which can be identified with this ditch, was discovered in excavations on two sites, at Borelli Yard and Castle Street/Bear Lane. The excavations demonstrated that this was a wide (c 9m) and deep (c 3m) feature, of which the earliest infilling to survive belongs to the late 12th or early 13th century.

The detailed historical and archaeological information presented enables a re-assessment to be made of the origins and character of the planned settlement (the borough). An area of (probably) previously undeveloped ground was enclosed by a ditch, within which burgage plots were laid out along two main streets, Castle Street and The Borough. The extent of this settlement can be defined with reasonable certainty on all sides except the northern. The ditch provided a measure of security to the townsfolk, but its primary purpose may have been to define the limits of the privileges and taxes associated with the new commercial enterprise. A careful consideration of all the direct and indirect evidence is unable to offer a firmer date for the establishment of the planned town than to say that it was certainly in existence by the beginning of the 13th century, and a mid to late 12th century foundation seems probable.

There is no absolute proof that the ditch was established at the same time as the town, and this opens the possibility that the former was added some time after the latter was founded, in which case the probable explanation would be that it was added for defensive reasons.

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