Bisterne shown within Hampshire
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Bisterne is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Betestre. It was possessed by the sons of Godric Malf in 1086, who had himself possessed it prior to 1066. The place was known as Bettesthorne in the 13th century, and gave its name to its early lords, the Bettesthorne family, who also owned lands in Minstead. In the 15th century it passed by inheritance to the Berkeley family, and in the 16th century to the Compton family. In 1792, John Compton sold the manor to William Mills and the manor house subsequently remained in the Mills family.
RAF Bisterne was opened in March 1944, as a prototype for the type of temporary Advanced Landing Ground type airfield which would be built in France after D-Day. It was situated to the east of the B3347 road between Bisterne and Kingston, It was used by the United States Army Air Forces as a fighter airfield. It was closed in the late summer of 1944. Today the site is covered by fields.
The Bisterne Dragon
Bisterne is notable in English folklore for being the supposed location of a dragon-slaying. The local tradition is that a dragon had his den at Burley Beacon, about 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Bisterne, at Burley. There are several local version of the tale. In one version, the creature "flew" every morning to Bisterne, where it would be supplied with milk. In order to kill the dragon, a valiant man built himself a hut, and with two dogs lay in wait. The creature came as usual one morning for its milk, and when the hut door was opened the dogs attacked it, and while thus engaged, the dragon was killed by the man. The dogs were killed in the affray. The dragon slayer himself, says another version of the tale, only succeeded by covering his armour with glass.
The documentary version of this tradition is contained in the margin of a pedigree roll written prior to 1618, and preserved at Berkeley Castle. It actually names the dragon-slayer as Sir Maurice Berkeley, lord of the manor of Bisterne in the 15th century:
Sir Moris Barkley the sonne of Sir John Barkley, of Beverston, beinge a man of great strength and courage, in his tyme there was bread in Hampshire neere Bistherne a devouring Dragon, who doing much mischief upon men and cattell and could not be destroyed but spoiled many in attempting it, making his den neere unto a Beacon. This Sir Moris Barkley armed himself and encountered with it and at length overcam and killed it but died himself soone after. This is the common saying even to this day in those parts of Hampshire, and the better to approve the same his children and posterity even to this present do beare for their creast a Dragon standing before a burning beacon. Wch seemeth the rather more credible because Sir Morice Barkley did beare the Miter with this authentick seale of his armes as is heare underneath one of his owen deedes exprest bearing date ye 10 of Henry 6. An Dni 1431.
The alleged scene of the fight in Bisterne is still called "Dragon Fields"; while over the front of Bisterne Manor in a carving of the Berkeley and Betteshorn arms dated 1652, the beacon and dragon may be seen. The village inn of Bisterne (closed 1873) was called the Green Dragon. Other local inns which may reflect this tradition include the Green Dragon at Brook, 11 miles (18 km) to the northeast, and the Green Dragon at Alderbury, 17 miles (27 km) to the north.
It is possible the dragon had some foundation in fact, and that it was a wild beast (such as a wild boar) living in and around the New Forest. The Bisterne Dragon is mentioned several times in the novel The Forest by Edward Rutherfurd.
- Domesday Map, Place: Bisterne
- Victoria County History, (1911), A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 4, pages 606-614, Ringwood
- Victoria County History, (1911), A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 4, pages 635-638, Minstead
- John Henry Blunt, (1877), Dursley and its neighbourhood; being historical memorials of Dursley, pages 124-6
- Elizabeth Hodges, (1895), Some ancient English homes and their associations; personal, archological & historic, pages 55-6
- Edward Rutherfurd, (2001), The Forest, pages 264-9
Media related to Bisterne at Wikimedia Commons