Minstead – All Saints Church

When driving to Minstead, I unwisely decided to go by the shortest route which meant via Lyndhurst.  I should have known better, being aware of its reputation for being the gridlock capital of the New Forest, but I have a lingering affection for the village, recalling my first visit in the late 40’s during a camping holiday with my father when ponies wandered through the streets. But now, as I crawled around the one way system for an eternity, irritation at the possibility of being late turned to anger at the insanity of it all.  I was reminded of John Betjeman’s line “It isn’t fit for humans now”.

Then, as I finally inched down the High Street I wondered how on earth the residents coped with this permanent traffic jam living in an environment of life-limiting exhaust fumes.      I imagined them dutifully paying their council taxes wondering what the recipients of their hard earned money were doing to improve their situation.  What would I do if I had the misfortune of living here I wondered – perhaps try and organise some form of civil disobedience to force the authorities to take some responsibility for their tax-payers’ health and safety.  Possibly involving flocks of sheep at ‘rush’ hour in the French tradition.  But then I reached the traffic lights and was soon on my way vowing never to repeat my mistake.

In contrast, Minstead was a welcome haven of traffic-free tranquility. It is a pretty village and as I sat in the autumn sunshine by the village shop/cafe with a freshly brewed cappuccino waiting for BQ to arrive, the world suddenly seemed a much better place.  MW

 

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All Saints is a 13th century church refurbished in the 17th century.  The brick tower was built in 1774, but the rest is basically a parish church that nobody could afford to rebuild and so the more notable local families merely paid for new extensions, or pews as they were known, to be attached to the church to house their families, their staff and their tenants.  There are three such additions, north of the nave is the Minstead Lodge Pew with its own private entrance, and nearby,  the luxurious Castle Malwood pew complete with a fireplace and upholstered seating, giving it the look of a rather comfortable drawing room. Most remarkable is the spacious Minstead Manor pew once furnished with a sofa and even a table and chairs where refreshments could be served by their staff.

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The Castle Malwood Pew complete with fireplace
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The Spacious Minstead Manor Pew
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There are two galleries in the nave.  The lower one was for the Church minstrels to play their instruments and the upper level was reserved for the poor of the parish and the children of the Charity School.
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At the foot of the three-decker pulpit is an ancient stone font. It is said to be the oldest stone in the church, believed to be of Saxon origin. It was spared destruction by the Puritans by being buried in the rectory garden, where it remained undiscovered for 200 years when Henry James Abbott, who was doing some gardening, dug it up and wheeled it up to the Church in his wheelbarrow and it was placed where it belonged.
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The font is estimated to have been carved in the 12th century.  The north face, shown above, depicts two lions sharing one head, its significance lost in the mists of time
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The 12th century entrance and the ancient worn step that very nearly brought down BQ

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Many visitors who come to Minstead Church do so as a pilgrimage to the grave of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who died in 1930, but was not buried in Minstead until 1955. As a devoted spiritualist he was first interred in an upright position in the rose garden of his home in Crowborough and here he remained until the family house was sold in 1955 when he and his wife were moved to Minstead.  The Church of England, embarrassed at Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism, agreed he could come to the churchyard, but buried his remains by the far boundary.

Near the path that leads from the lychgate to the porch is a tombstone whose inscription has had one word excised by a skilful mason. The gravestone originally bore the words ‘faithful husband’, but it seems that after his demise his widow learned that he had been unfaithful, so she had the word ‘faithful’ cut out. 

 

The Trusty Servant

A short walk down the hill led to our lunch venue, the 200 year old Trusty Servant Inn which overlooks Minstead’s attractive village green complete with a set of village stocks.

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The inn’s sign is interesting.  It shows a Hircocervus, the idealised Trusty Servant, copied from the 1579 painting by John Hoskins that hangs in Winchester College. It depicts the qualities needed in a domestic servant, the padlock on its snout indicating total discretion, it has donkey’s ears, stag’s feet, and in his left hand he holds the tools of his profession, the right hand is open and raised, and he wears a shield and sword. The original Hircocervus, half stag, half goat originates in Medieval European mythology.

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They Have their Exits and their Entrances

It is strange that both MW and myself studied the same Shakespeare play for our “O” levels namely “As You Like It”.   Spoken by the melancholy Jacques it could certainly be used to describe the history of the Minstead Church.

As one enters by the magnificent ancient door and Norman archway, there is a dangerously worn step which could prove a leg breaker.  But fear not, for the high born and distinguished people of Minstead will all enter through their private doors before settling down in front their own roaring fire.  For tacked on to this original 13th century church there are three private chapels each trying to outdo the other.   Amazingly the last of these private chapels was only ceded to the parish by the Congleton family in 1968.

On entering the nave I was surprised to find that I had sung there many years ago from the musicians gallery and can vouch for the excellent acoustics, however the overall effect in the interior reminded me of my Lego-mad grandson who, once he has completed a structure, cannot help adding flights of fancy to his original concept.  But remarkably it all seems to hang together – a living history of the remarkable journey this little village church has undergone over the past 800 years.

With such a remarkable history of Georgian preferment, the local hostelry could be called nothing else other than” The Trusty Servant”.  After doffing our caps I was confronted by a sign that strikes terror into my suburban heart “Dogs Welcome”.  Fortunately I am pleased to report no canine activity interrupted our good lunch.

Faced with a menu that displayed humorous intent I could not resist the command to put my Tongue in Cheek a thing I am often want to do.  The subsequent meal that arrived was delicious and very filling and no room was left for any afters.

The great thing about dining out is the freedom to indulge in meals that you would never think of having at home. I have never tasted cheek before but it made a good partner for the tongue but I imagine they are natural partners.  The service was very good and I suppose I will now always be complaining about inadequate serviettes.

The meal was what I expect from a village pub, wholesome well cooked and filling.  BQ

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Our lunch

  • Garlic ciabatta  BQ & MW
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  • Tongue in Cheek; Braised ox cheek and tongue, caramelised root vegetables, creamy mash in its own cooking liquor BQ
  • Pan fried liver with crispy bacon, bubble and squeak and onion gravy  MW
  • Sharps Special Ale BQ
  • Doom Bar Ale MW

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A Post Script

I have reached the stage of life where I seldom get annoyed, irritated perhaps, but seldom driven to anger, but the notorious Lyndhurst gridlock in which I suffered in the morning annoyed me so much, because the difficulties which has steadily ruined this once attractive community are not due to a lack of funds, but is the result of intransigence by the various organisations who have to agree on a solution, but have been unable or unwilling to do so.

After our visit I returned via the motorway, twice the distance, half the time, but once home I looked on the internet to see if there was any likelihood of the mythical Lyndhurst Bypass turning into reality anytime soon and to my surprise found an extract from Hansard headed Hampshire (Lyndhurst Bypass) Bill.  This looked promising.  In the report the Noble Lords passionately and eloquently discussed Lyndhurst’s problems.  Some extracts from the debate are worth quoting:-

Lord Boyd-Carpenter;    ‘Your Lordships will hardly believe it, but the need for a bypass of Lyndhurst has been recognised for very nearly 50 years’

‘Anyone who knows the area will know too, the appalling congestion which spoils life in this attractive village. The traffic is solid through most of the day’

‘It would be impossible to find anybody in Lyndhurst who was not only anxious to have the bypass constructed, but was not perhaps becoming increasingly impatient over the delay in constructing it’

Lord Jaques;   ‘My Lords, if there were a time when someone should say “Enough is enough, and now we must decide, this is it”

Lord Congleton ; ‘This Bill, emerging at this time of year – 50 years on from the first attempts to provide a bypass relief to the village of Lyndhurst – indeed cheers my soul and I have expectations that its fruits will restore a measure at least of the former state of peace and tranquillity with which once, long ago, the village of Lyndhurst was invested until the time of increasing traffic so dispelled this happy situation.  Of course it will get the traffic moving.’

All very encouraging until I noticed the date of the debate – 26th February, 1987.     MW

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The Lyndhurst High Street of my childhood

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