Southwick – St. James Without-the-Priory Gate

It was an easy journey to Southwick, mostly on the motorway between Southampton and Portsmouth, then through the drab suburbs that surround the city,  after which we climbed up through increasingly scenic rural surroundings until suddenly we were in Southwick.  It is a small village, but very attractive with mostly original, unextended buildings. St James was easy to find adjacent to the central road junction. Apart from a couple of tourists who briefly visited, we saw nobody else in the church, but it was obvious that it was lovingly maintained with recent fresh flower arrangements. My impression of the church however was that it’s origins had more to do with the glory of man than to the glory of God.

After our lunch the clouds cleared and I was able to deploy the drone for a couple of overhead photos while BQ visited the village store where he was delighted to find sweets still being sold loose from huge glass jars, being weighed out in a manner that we both remembered from our childhood.  MW



St James Without-the-Priory Gate, an odd name, but it simply means that it is situated outside of the boundaries of the former Southwick Priory. The priory was founded by Henry I in 1133 and by the 14th century it had become a renowned centre of pilgrimage. However its fate was sealed during Henry VIII’s infamous Dissolution of the Monasteries, The king’s representative was a John Whyte who not only took the surrender of the priory in 1538 but, feeling an affinity for the area, acquired the Southwick estate and, once the priory was demolished, replaced it with his private mansion, Southwick House
There is considerable uncertainty surrounding the origins of St James Church. There is evidence of a chapel having existed on the site in the 11th century, but the church we see today is the result of a comprehensive restoration carried out by John Whyte in the 1560s. It was completed in 1566, but within a year he had died.




The restoration of St. James Church during the 1560’s amounted to a virtual rebuilding although some vestiges of an earlier building remain including the main doorway which was constructed in the 14th century. During the restoration there was ample material available from the recently demolished Priory and carved and dressed fragments can be seen incorporated in the walls




The nave is bright, cheerful and very colourful due to the wonderful collection of kneelers which have been donated by both individuals and organisations. Some are in memory of loved ones while others were completed as a hobby.




There was one particular kneeler that we had hoped to find, one donated by the Girl Guides that was remarkably well travelled having been made, a few stitches at a time, by Girl Guide groups across the world. It took some locating, but eventually BQ noticed the embroidered G G initials and, on inspection, the label on the back confirmed it was the one.


In pride of place at the front of the nave are these original 16th century box pews reserved for the Southwick House residents and their guests. On the left is the Squire’s pew and the divided one on the other side was, in former days, reserved for the Southwick House ladies.
Above the alter is this beautiful reredos painted by an Italian artist and featuring a variety of cherubs and a single dove topped with golden cherubs and garlands. The massive brass alter candlesticks were a gift from Richard Norton, Master of Southwick, a descendant of John Whyte,  in the early 17th century.  In the background is the impressive stone tomb of John Whyte and his first wife, Katherine.
A closer view of John Whyte’s tomb. It seems that he and Katherine were not the first occupants.  Dating from the late medieval period, weathering indicates that it had once stood in the open air, probably at the Priory and it is likely that it was moved into the church and re-used by Sir John Whyte to create his own tomb.  The top slab is inset with brasses of the couple and their daughters and dates from the mid-16th century.
The font has an early 12th century bowl, large and octagonal and of sufficient size to allow the “dipping” of infants which was the practice of the day.


Situated on the outskirts of Portsmouth, the village is still privately owned by the descendant of John Whyte, John Robin Thistlethwayte who is the present squire.  It is known as the ‘Overlord Village’ as it is where Churchill, Montgomery and Eisenhower planned the D-Day landings
The Village Store, Bakery and Post Office.  In common with all properties in the village, it is a requirement that the front doors be painted deep red.
Southwick House, the traditional seat of the descendants of John Whyte.  

 Ironically this is the one building in Southwick not now owned by the family. At the outbreak of World War II, the then owner, Colonel Evelyn Thistlethwaite, loaned the house to be used as a dormitory for students from the nearby Portsmouth Navel Base. The estate was still very much a family affair and Colonel Thistlethwayte enjoyed the company of the admirals, so that he invited them to share the game shooting on his estate.  He may well have come to regret his generosity because, while enjoying the shooting, the admirals took note of the splendid sheltered position of the Georgian House so close to Portsmouth and promptly requisitioned it as being vital to the war effort.  It is now the Defence College of Policing and Guarding.

The Red Lion

Southwick was of strategic importance during the time of the D-Day landings and Montgomery and Eisenhower were to be seen together in the the Red Lion bar during the days leading up to the invasion.  As the troops passed the pub on the way to war beer would always be handed out free.



The long climb up the chalk downs that overlook Portsmouth Harbour starkly reflects the nation’s perennial fear of invasion as it passes a succession of razor-wired military installations, some of which date back to the Napoleon period (no wonder the country voted to leave). So that the contrast when one drops down into the picture postcard village of Southwick comes as quite a shock. It really does look too good to be true, right down to the pump on the village green, and one is forced to admit that perhaps the village’s private ownership has a lot to commend it, much as it goes against the grain of my political beliefs.

To those with long memories this charming village might resemble a set from the TV series The Avengers and, as I waited while MW played with the drone, I fully expected to see Steed and Mrs Peel to walk round the corner, in black and white of course. Diana Rigg, who had such a disturbing affect on my teenage years, was always my favourite actress!

As we entered the Red Lion a shiver went down my spine as I saw the sign “Dogs Welcome”, but thankfully none were present and we ate excellent pub food and raised a glass to all those who passed this way on D-Day.   BQ

Our lunch

  • Sharing Board; Baked Camembert with spiced apple and chutney & crusty bread
  • Sausage and Bean Casserole with baked halloumi    BQ
  • Sharing Board; Baked Camembert with spiced apple and chutney & crusty bread
  • Mushroom and Stilton Stroganoff  MW
  • An unknown glass of Shiraz   MW
  • Fullers Seafarers Ale   BQ


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