Breamore – The Saxon Church of St Mary’s

St Mary’s is considered to be one of the most important Saxon buildings in southern England.  It was financed by King Ethelred II  (‘the unready’),  whose reign lasted from 978 to 1016, so it is safe to assume that it was built within a few years either side of the year 1000. Remarkably, much of the original building has survived in its original state although inevitably there have been several alterations over the centuries.

By the middle of the 15th century the building needed substantial repairs, but the money needed was just not available. In common with most villages in the area Breamore had not recovered from a century of economic decline following the black death. The local population was also in decline and so the decision was made to reduce the size of the church by demolishing two significant areas – the north porticus and the western chamber leaving the building essentially in the proportions we see today.

The reformation in the middle  of the 16th century also took its toll. The medieval paintings were whitewashed over, images of saints destroyed and the church’s dedication was changed from St Michael to St Mary.

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St Mary’s Church and in the background, Breamore House, an Elizabethan manor house completed in 1583. It has been used as a location for a number of films including the 2005 ‘Pride and Prejudice’

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The nave is of exactly the same dimensions as in Saxon times but the woodwork including, pews, pulpit and lectern dates from a restoration carried out in 1896.

A 15th century corbel and the south porticus arch with a 1,000 year old inscription from the reign of Ethelred the Unready.

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The east end of the chancel with medieval paintings on either side of the window, painted over during the reformation and restored as part of the church’s millenary celebrations in 1979/80

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The two features we had the most difficulty in finding. We had read of their existence but not where they were situated.  Above, a bricked up leper window which would originally have allowed lepers to hear the service from outside without risking contact with other parishioners.  Below, a plaque inserted in the outer wall during the time of The Puritans.  It reads AVOYD FORNICATION.

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The Saxon Rood above the south door, badly defaced in around 1570 under the instructions of Bishop Robert Horne. It depicts Christ on the cross, bent by suffering, with, on the right St. John and on the left the Virgin. Above is the Manus Dei (Hand of God) and, over the flanking figures, the sun and moon. Beneath is a serpent.

Our journey from Southampton to Breamore was tedious, not helped by a disagreement on the best way of getting there. I stuck with the satnav route which took us along the main dual carriageway road towards Bournemouth, which turned out to be a mistake as we soon came upon slow moving holiday traffic, all the worse for it being the first weekend of the school holidays.  As we crawled along at walking pace I had to endure BQ telling me (more than once) that had we gone along with his suggestion of taking the Salisbury Road we would have been there by now!     But all was well on arrival as we stepped out of the car into welcome spring sunshine, the sounds of traffic replaced by birdsong.

I had previously telephoned the Priest-in-Charge of St Mary’s, Canon Gary Philbrick to check that the following day would be a convenient time to visit.  He was most helpful, telling me some historical detail and features to look out for. 

We entered the church, found the light switch, then shortly afterwards were joined by David Compton and his wife who had come to clean the church and begin preparations for Easter.  David has lived at Breamore all his life, working between Breamore House and St Mary’s. His church duties had included being the gravedigger. He had followed in the steps of both his father and grandfather. We did enjoy his company and learned a great deal from him for which we are most grateful. MW

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David showing us the Medieval font

The Bat and Ball

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The placard advertising for a chef, prominently displayed in front of the Bat and Ball, might well have discouraged some customers, but your intrepid duo forged ahead.

To MW’s concern we initially entered a definite pubby looking bar with an assortment of obvious regulars, but soon a charming waitress led us through to an adjacent restaurant with a pleasant garden outlook .  A second girl came to take our order and I complimented her on being even more glamorous than her colleague, a remark that MW felt was politically incorrect on a number of levels

The web site had advised that the menu items would have a South African flavour but the specials board listed zebra and kangaroo, the latter needing a bit of a long hop to qualify. MW was relieved to find a full wine list and after some disagreement with BQ, two glasses of Romanian Pinot Noir arrived, a wine that I assured my dubious friend would be excellent, having enjoyed more than one bottle in the past.

Probably disconcerted by the specials board we both chose a vegetarian main course and some tasty starters and the overall standard was reasonably acceptable.

Looking out of the window the old village stocks were visible and our comely serving lass said they were for people who didn’t pay their bill!  BQ

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Our lunch

  • Garlic King Prawns
  • Brie, Spinach and Cranberry Wellington   BQ
  • Bobotie Spring Rolls
  • Aubergine Parmigiana  MW
  • Romanian Pinot Noir

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