This was the third consecutive church that we have visited with a dedication to St Mary, but here, any similarity ends. This is a relatively modern brick built construction from the Georgian period. Its exterior looks severe, and in fact it has sometimes been unkindly compared to an industrial building but, on entering we found the interior to be an absolute gem, virtually unaltered since it was completed to the highest standards in 1771.
Before that a flint and stone Saxon church had stood on the site, but the then owner of Avington Park, Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos, applied for permission for it to be replaced complaining that it was ‘dark, incommodious, ruinous and decayed’.
However, it was his wife Margaret, the Marchioness of Carnarvon who took responsibility for the rebuilding, not only by donating £2,500, but also by engaging the architect and overseeing the design. Sadly, she did not live to see the church completed and died in 1768 at the age of just 34. She is buried in a glass coffin under the floor of the north side of the church.
Fortunately St Mary’s escaped the usual attention of the Victorian restorers due to its rural location and lack of money and so what we see today is a church true to the Marchioness’s original vision.
Standing in the nave gazing in awe at the richly carved mahogany, it felt as though time had stood still, all the more poignant as we saw not another soul during the whole of our visit, although the presence of fresh flowers showed that the church is still justifiably much loved.
Dating from the late 16th century, Avington Park was owned by the Brydges family from the mid 17th century until it was sold in 1847 to Sir John Shelley, brother of the poet. It is now a privately owned stately house used as a wedding venue and film location. Several productions have been shot at Avington including Ruth Rendell Mysteries and the BBC drama Daniel Deronda.
The Plough Inn
Located in the village of Itchen Abbas, a couple of miles from Avington, the Plough Inn first opened in the early 19th century and quickly became the meeting point for local people, being used for public meetings and even coroner’s inquests. A newspaper report from 1823 refers to the annual ‘cucumber feast’ at the Plough Inn being ‘respectably attended’.
A folk song celebrating the completion of the digging of the Avington Pond describes the ‘mud-plumpers’ gathering at the Plough Inn in order to get paid and enjoy ‘Missus Munday’s strong brew’. The final verse goes:-
“The rich man in his castle the poor man at his gate” Nothing better summed up my thoughts after the visit to St Mary’s than these now censored words from the famous hymn. The stifling feeling of a literally boxed in Georgian society was never more graphically visualised.
So it was with keen anticipation that I approached this village hostelry hoping for a view of carousing “mud plumpers”. What a shock awaited as, on entering, I was immediately aware of large fresh laundered white serviettes on the tables which is always the sign of a “bit of class”. And so it proved, as this was a high-end eaterie, clearly very popular, for as we vacated our table it was immediately occupied by waiting customers. The food was delicious and plentiful, served by a young, attentive and friendly team. The whole experience richly deserved our first five star award. My only nod to the “mud plumpers” was yet again weaning MW of his normal wine with an excellent glass of Black Sheep ale. BQ
- Fig and fried haloumi salad, balsamic dressing
- Chicken, ham hock & leek pie served with creamy mashed potato, seasonal vegetables and gravy BQ
- Leek, potato and watercress soup
- Pan fried Itchen Abbas trout fillets, fine green bean & gnocchi saute and lemon dressing MW
- Black Sheep Beer