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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Southampton

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Myths and Legends
Distributing the Tichborne Dole, 1670
© English Heritage
A bunch of flour

The custom of the Tichborne Dole dates back about 800 years to the reign of King Henry II. Lady Mabella, a woman locally noted for her charity and piety, was married to Sir Roger de Tichborne. The surname derives from the nearby River Itchen, with the suffix "bourn", meaning a stream. Sir Roger was a professional soldier and his character starkly contrasted with that of his saintly wife, who was noted for her charitable nature – so much so, that even with the imminent death of his wife, from a physically wasting disease, he failed to show any compassion.

Distributing the Tichborne Dole
Sir Anthony Tichborne distributing the dole, 1958
© Courtesy of Anthony and Catherine Loudon
From her death bed, Lady Mabella made a final humanitarian request. She asked for the value of a small area of the Tichborne estates to be given annually to the poor of the parish in the form of a dole. This was greeted with derision by her husband who was definitely no champion of charity. His response to his ailing wife’s plea was to say that he would agree to annually give the value of as much land, around the boundaries of which she could walk, while holding a blazing torch in her hand.

So determined was Lady Mabella to see this through, that, as legend has it, she managed to crawl around 23 acres of land, upon which she charged her husband and his heirs to forever give the produce value of that land to the poor. To this day, one of the fields on the estate is still named “The Crawls”. Naturally, land values, and therefore the amount of flour distributed, has varied over the generations, and today, two tons of flour are distributed - enough for every villager who turns up to the Dole.

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Your comments

1 David from - 2 February 2004
"1. Are there any folk songs about this? If so I would like to hear about them. 2. Mabella is known as Isabella in some sources. Is this just a mistake? 3. Thank you for any help."

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