Corhampton – Corhampton Church

Today was BQ’s choice and a good one it was too.  Corhampton church is a little gem. We arrived about 11 and, although we had expected the church to be open, found it locked. A notice in the porch advised anyone unable to enter should go to the village post office where a key is kept. I left BQ sheltering from sun on a convenient shaded seat in the churchyard and set off in the wrong direction looking for the post office.  Eventually I found it feeling somewhat hot and bothered in the exceptional July heat.   However, the omissions and delays turned out to be fortuitous, for as I got to the front of the queue and asked for the key, the gentleman next in line intervened saying he was surprised the church was locked.  There was a rota for locking and unlocking, but he had a key and would unlock it for us which he kindly did.

It was a lucky introduction as the gentleman turned out to be Mr Chris Maxse, who  generally looks after the church.  He had helped with the compilation of the historical notes booklet and could not have been a better guide.  He generously gave up his time to give us an excellent tour of both interior and exterior for which we are most grateful. MW

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Constructed in 1020 by the banks of the River Meon, the church is unusual for having no known dedication.    For economic reasons, it was built using whole flints, locally available and cheap, which were plastered over and strengthened with stone quoins.. The building consisted of a nave and chancel. The walls are remarkably thin – just 2′ 6″- as Saxon walls often were. However, as can be seen here, not all of the walls are still of flint. In 1842 the east wall of the church collapsed as the result of adjacent road widening, a rare occurrence in the mid-19th century. The wall collapse necessitated its rebuilding on the original foundations. This was executed rather clumsily in red brick, not in keeping with the original Saxon construction.
church4
A better view of the original flint construction
Nave
The simple nave, the pews were introduced in the early 19th century and look absolutely appropriate
Chris and Brian
Chris Maxse explaining the significance of the wall paintings.
wall painting left
Without a doubt the 1,000 year old wall paintings are the jewel of Corhampton Church.  Not easy to see, but the above painting at the eastern end of the south wall depicts the story of a miracle attributed to Bishop Swithun. He is shown inspecting the building of the bridge over the River Itchen.  There was a large crowd and an elderly woman, bringing her eggs to sell in the market, was jostled. The basket was knocked out of her hands and the eggs broke. The eggs can be seen in the picture falling to the ground. In the next panel Swithun is shown restoring the eggs to their original state.     St. Swithun’s name has endured in the proverb, which says that if it rains on St. Swithun’s day, 15 July, it will rain for 40 days.
wall painting right
The scenes on the north side of the chancel , although intriguing have not been deciphered.
sanctuary
Beyond the small chancel are these 17th century altar rails; and behind those, on the left in the sanctuary is a grey altar stone. This is almost certainly the original Saxon one which was thrown out when the east end was reconstructed in 1842 and languished under the yew tree until reinstated in its present position in  1905. This altar stone is particularly interesting as, in addition to the usual five consecration crosses on the top, it has an extra one in the middle of the long side. On the right is a large stone chair probably in its original position. It is difficult to be certain about its age but it could be Saxon, though more likely later. It is a sanctuary chair,where a refugee could find sanctuary and peace. A person sitting in the chair could not be arrested. 
from the chancel
Looking back into the nave one can see that there is a gallery, a much later addition having been erected in 1837 to house singers and musicians. Just discernible is a charming little chamber organ presented by a Mrs Campbell-Wyndham in 1857. It is still in use and was hand pumped right up until 1976.
commandment
A copy of the ten commandments hangs in the musicians and singers gallery, a helpful reminder to keep them on the straight and narrow perhaps.
Mass Dial
This is the second mass dial we have encountered on our church visits, the other being at East Wellow. Before the invention of the clock, these vertical sundials were used to remind parishioners of the time of church services. This example, missing its gnomon, is in superb condition and is unusual in that the day is divided into 8 ‘tides’ instead of the usual 12. It is thought to be older than the church, possibly dating from the time of that most controversial of English saints – St. Wilfrid (604 -709)
Yew
Having come across one 1,000 year old yew tree on our visit to Selborne a couple of weeks ago, we now discover another – close by the church porch.  This one has the advantage of being very much alive.  The girth measures an impressive 767 cm  or 25’5″.  The first recorded measurement was made by a local naturalist in 1897 when it was 732cm so, since then, it has increased at an average rate of 4mm per year. 

Bishop’s Waltham

As we passed through Bishop’s Waltham on our way to Selborne during our last visit, I made a mental note to stop and linger whenever we had an opportunity not expecting one would arise so soon.

Dating from Anglo-Saxon times Bishop’s Waltham, grew steadily until it became one of Hampshire’s largest villages despite being burnt to the ground by those pesky Danes in 1001.  By the time of the Domesday book (1086), it had a population of 450.  Growth continued over the centuries and by the 19th century it had become a successful market town which warranted a branch railway being built to bring in coal for the town gasworks and take out bricks from the substantial brickworks just north of the town. Special trains were laid on to allow farmers to bring their cattle to market on market days, the trains made up with a mixture of cattle trucks and passenger carriages.  With the improvements in roads and vehicles, demand declined, and the line sadly closed to passenger traffic in 1932 and to goods in 1962.

We arrived in the central square in the heat of the day, the temperature nudging 30 deg, and as we parked I noticed an adjacent fishmonger, a rare sight indeed these days! I bought some fresh mackerel and asked the fishmonger for a restaurant recommendation and he referred us to Georgios in the main street which turned out to be an fine choice.

After our lunch I had a quick visit to what remains of Bishop’s Waltham Palace, leaving BQ in the car with the air conditioning turned up to the max listening to his beloved Hampshire Cricket team vainly attempting to beat their nemesis, Surrey.

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B Waltham

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Close to the village centre are these ruins of the Palace.  In the Middle Ages the Bishop’s Waltham Palace was one of the finest residences of the Bishops of Winchester, who were among the richest churchmen in Europe.  Built in the 12th century, it was remodelled and extended in the 14th and 15th centuries, becoming a palace capable of housing the king and his court on a number of occasions, as well as the bishop and his household. The palace was badly damaged in the Civil War (1642–9) and subsequently abandoned.

Georgio’s Restaurant

A good choice, as the dining room is situated in a cool basement, a welcome refuge from the midday heat. We had an excellent host Norrie, to whom we chatted for much of the time as we were the only diners.  Norrie told us that he had spent most of his life in teaching, rising to deputy head before taking retirement to happily work in the family restaurant business.

The tapas was beautifully prepared with a variety of subtly flavoured sauces. Perfect for the day.

georgios

restaurant

A Spiritual Journey

As MW rightfully asserted this was my choice and it was a pilgrimage.

Growing up on the southern borders of London I was unaware of the influence the Celtic church had on the evangelisation of the south of England.  However a lengthy period of living in Durham City, overlooking the cathedral, and visits to Holy Island soon disabused me of my ignorance.  I read Bede and was soon captivated by the character of Saint Wilfred, a well connected but troublesome monk from Lindisfarne,  who after banishment from Northumberland visited Rome and later brought Christianity to both Sussex and Hampshire.  This he achieved by advancing up the navigable river Meon and setting up many churches of which Corhampton is the most untouched of them all.  He must have been quite a character as he succeeded in converting the troublesome “Meonware” people who up to that time had resisted all calls to the faith.

So it was with a sense of history that I approached the church beautifully situated alongside the river, and after Selborne what did I find – yet another yew, this time older than the church itself.  Inside it was the quiet simplicity of the interior that resonated and on a baking hot day the cool temperature was a relief.  Eventually I was left alone in this wonderful environment and I thought of the one thousand years of devotion that these walls had witnessed, and it was a moving spiritual experience.

But then the real world surfaced and the thought of lunch stirred me from my reverie, for at last MW would not have to bear yet another public house with me waxing lyrical over the real ale.  Yet again we retreated from the heat into a hospitable basement where we ate good tapas and MW could at last order an excellent wine.  BQ

Our lunch

  • Tapas:  Pescaditos Fritos, Gambas Pil Pil, Abondigas, Championes al ajillo, Patatas Bravas, Pimientos rellenos de Queso Crema      BQ & MW
  • Pino Grigio – Vivolo di Sasso     BQ &  MW

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