Fascinating lecture this week in the cool of the Great Barn located in the Titchfield valley conservation area which is not a mile away. This is the third most important medieval barn in the country and was built with timbers cut in 1409 – they’ve dated the trees. The subtlety of the construction was the selection of the right trees with the perfect curvature at their base. Once cut, the trimmed trees were turned upside down and their curves formed the basis of the roof. Completed in about 1411, the barn was one of four victualling stations for the English troops massed between Portsmouth and Southampton before their passage to France and the Battle of Agincourt.
The Barn stands a few hundred yards away from the site of the lost Titchfield Abbey and the remnants of Place House. Parts of the barn were built with the bricks and stones recovered from those buildings as they fell into disrepair.
There was regular royal traffic through the area over centuries. In those days, Titchfield was an important port, and both the Abbey and Place House were suitably posh overnight stays for the odd king or so before embarking. We still have the tiny stone Anjou Bridge across the River Meon just a few hundred yards away commemorating the arrival of Margaret of Anjou on her way to her royal wedding. The fleur de lis of Anjou regularly features locally.
Place House was owned by the Earl of Southampton who was a supporter and patron of Shakespeare. There’s growing evidence accepted by many academics that Shakespeare spent time at the House, probably taught at the Grammar School that still stands close by and may have had a particular relationship with the Earl. If accurate, there’s more than a chance that Shakespeare also spent time in the Great Barn where Christmas pageants, playlets and festivities were held. You never know: perhaps the Bard and I both touched the same ancient timberwork.
The Portsmouth Football Club bought the site plus much of the land in the conservation area with the wildly unrealistic plan of terracing the ancient landscape into training pitches. I remember being canvassed by the then-owners for support of their venture. Not surprisingly, their ambitions failed, and the land was re-sold when the Club’s finances nose-dived. The purchasers subsequently sold the Great Barn and its site to the Titchfield Festival Theatre which now regularly presents Shakespearean and other plays in the medieval setting. The structure of the Barn remains a visible reminder with the modern theatrical set-up carefully constructed to avoid damaging or interfering with the historic structure.
The Titchfield emblem has been created to capture the tales of the area: from the fleur de lis to the nibbed spear representing the great playwright.
Meanwhile, the sous chef has been cutting back the lush vegetation in his vegetable pots and discovered a large languishing cucumber: still in good health but a little too soft for salad. The answer was a quick and simple cool summer soup thickened with some left-over potato. A delicious supper.
3-4 spring onions, trimmed but green leaves retained, roughly chopped.
1 tablespoon oil.
1 cucumber trimmed and roughly chopped.
Half a stockpot/cube.
Tablespoon fennel and tarragon leaves.
Salt and pepper.
1 medium potato peeled and cooked.
2 heaped teaspoons thick cream.
Sauté the onion in the oil for a few minutes before adding the cucumber.
Cook for about 5 minutes before adding all the other ingredients except the cream and potato.
Bring slowly to a simmer and remove from the heat.
Allow to cool for a few minutes before placing the mix in a blender with the cream and potato.
Blitz until smooth and then chill for at least an hour in the blender jug.
When ready to serve, adjust the seasoning and blitz again.