St Catherine's Mizmaze
St. Catherine's Hill is an Iron Age Hill Fort of circular plan. A medieval chapel dedicated to St. Catherine on top of the hill is first mentioned in 1268 when we are told that a violent wind in Winchester overturned trees, and laid low houses and churches, with the bell turret of St. Catherine (Annals of Winton, p. 106). Its dedication to St. Catherine is derived from the circular plan of the hill fort - St. Catherine's martyrdom was being broken on a wheel. The chapel now lies under the distinctive clump of trees, locally called The Clump, on the hill's summit. The MizMaze lay to the west of the chapel.
A number of outdoor mazes of similar type and associated with medieval religious houses are known in England, but there is a question of their date of origin. Some believe them to be medieval, but other's think they are of post-Dissolution date. They reach their peak during the Commonwealth, when running the maze by children was seen to be acceptable play due to the activities religious undertones.
Local tradition links the Mizmaze with Winchester College. In 1647 the top of St. Catherine's was the school's only playing ground, where there was an annual ordeal for new boys known as 'doing Hills'. However, the Oldboy and poet Robert Mathew makes no mention of the maze in his reminisces of his time as a College boy in De Collegio Wintoniensi (1647). This is surprising in that he would not have normally passed up the opportunity to indulge in the many classical allusions associated with mazes. The earliest evidence for the maze is a plan dated 1710 and signed J. Nowell. A boy of that name appears in Winchester College's records as a Commoner (Long Rolls 1653-1721), and may be the same as the boy Noel recorded in the register of Scholars of 1711. The plan could be for its construction, but equally for its repair. College tradition of treading the maze was firmly established by the end of the 18th century when it was thought to be of legendary antiquity.
Wheeler's Hampshire Magazine for 1828 states the maze is 'famous in Wiccamical history', and that it was cut 'by a College boy'. This marks the first phase in the growth of the local legend, which goes something like this.
A certain boy was condemned for some unspecified misdemeanour to be kept behind in College during the Whitsuntide holidays. As part of his punishment, he was chained to a tree near the riverbank below Blackbridge. He is also said to have roamed on the Hill, presumably during intervals in his bondage, where he devised and cut the Mizmaze. It is also said that he would forlornly sit on the northern ramparts of the Iron Age fort, hence the area is now called 'Misery Corner'. Pining away, he died on the day his schoolfellows returned to College, some saying that he drowned himself in the river. So much for happy schooldays.
In Milner's 1839 Winchester, the 'tolling of the Labyrinth' was seen as second best to the growing sport of Winchester football that was played over the site of the maze. By this time the maze must have been obliterated and certainly disused. In the 1880's the old institution of 'the Hills' was abolished, and the 'tolling of the Labyrinth' re-introduced, requiring it to be recut in its present state.
There is a towns and gowns element to the story. College tradition is to walk the maze from the middle out, where as townsfolk walk it from the outside in.
Source: Hawkes C F C 1930, St. Catherine's Hill, Proc. Hamps Fld Club, Vol Xii