BQ is a bit of a Luddite when it comes to modern technology. He has steadfastly resisted using a mobile phone but, as he correctly points out, we all coped perfectly well before their invention. However, an inability to communicate has led to some tricky misunderstandings in the past where we have agreed to meet at a point that wasn’t sufficiently exact and so, on our visit to Fordingbridge Church, it was arranged that we should make contact in the car park of Bramshaw Golf Club; a place we well remember from our younger days when we used to battle for supremacy on the greens rather than visit historic churches.
Travelling via Bramshaw instead of the busy A31 had the added bonus of driving along the quiet roads of the New Forest which looked quite stunning in the bright sunshine. The numerous feral ponies with their newborn foals strolling along the lanes made for slow going, but we were in no hurry.
The Norman Church of St Mary the Virgin, as with so many others we have visited, replaced an earlier Saxon building about which little is known other than it was recorded in the Doomsday Book. In the above photo the left hand section of the building, which accommodates the chancel and the main part of the nave, is the earliest, dating from 1160. The more ornate North Chapel is to the right and was completed in the late 13th century. The splendid tower was added in the 14th century and is unusual in that it was not built external to the body of the church, but was set on huge piers within a bay of the north aisle.
A better view of the changing building styles from the 12th to the 13th century. To the left, the chancel and nave was constructed in ironstone and flint during the reign of Henry II, and on the right, when his grandson Henry III was on the throne, is the distinctly Gothic and rather more pleasing north chapel.
The pathway to the north porch is of ancient gravestones, a few still legible but the majority worn smooth by the feet of generations of parishioners.
In 2010 the contentious decision was made to replace the pews with chairs to enable worship ‘ in the ’round’. This arrangement also helps with the finances of the church by facilitating a regular and well attended programme of entertainment and concerts.
BQ sits in quiet contemplation in the beautiful north chapel, the spring sunshine flooding in through the east window. The chapel originally belonged to the Knights Templar, but now it is the Hospital of St Cross (which featured in one of our recent entries) that has rights over it.
The choir stalls and in the background, the high altar. The wooden carved reredos is 20th century and sadly obscures much of the east window.
For the first time we have come across an aumbry which is basically a cupboard where consecrated bread and wine are kept for distribution to those who are unable to attend church. The strange rather mystical decorations must have some significance – if any of our readers know what it is please do let us know.
A 16th-century brass monument to the Bulkley family is situated on the left of the chancel arch. It shows a man and his wife kneeling at prayer in typical Elizabethan style, with their three sons and five daughters looking on. Underneath is the date 1568 and the epitaph:
The flower maidens who attended Miss Boy’s wedding in 1907, no doubt recruited from the families of the parishioners as Miss Boy’s father happened to be the vicar of the church at the time
Attractively situated on the River Avon within the New Forest National Park, Fordingbridge has in recent years become less of a market town and more of a tourist centre. The river in the time of the Roman occupation was navigable down to the sea and evidence of their presence here can still be seen in the names of some of the buildings
Rockbourne Roman Villa
After lunch BQ and I visited the nearby Roman villa and adjacent museum, apparently not a tourist magnet as we were the only two visitors at the time. In truth, there is not a great deal to see as most of the excavations have been filled in to prevent deterioration.
Its discovery is interesting. In June 1942 a local farmer was digging out a ferret at the site of a well known rabbit warren when he came upon a quantity of oyster shells and tiles. News of the discovery reached a local expert and collector of antiquities who obtained permission for a trial dig and soon a decorative mosaic pavement featuring an eight pointed star was unearthed. Further excavations were delayed until after the war due to the local presence of a unit of the US Seventh Army Corps who were based there leading up to D Day. Digging in earnest didn’t resume until the late 50’s. Over 70 rooms have been excavated together with a separate bath complex comprising warm and cold rooms and hot and plunge pools. Perhaps the most exciting find occurred in 1967 when a pottery jar was uncovered, containing over 7000 Roman coins. The jar was buried about AD 295, around the same time that a similar jar containing over 4000 coins was buried about 1/2 mile from the villa. A mystery remains though, although we can presume that the coins were buried to preserve them, why were they never recovered when the villa remained in continuous occupation?
Addendum; since writing the above, I have received this interesting piece of information from one of our valued readers for which I am most grateful;-
At a U3A talk on Roman hoards we were told that jars of coins, were often buried as a gift to the gods to ensure good weather in future after a bad harvest or other such disasters.
Surma Valley Restaurant
Not only were we the only two visiting the villa, we were the only two dining at the Surma Valley Bangladesh Restaurant. I enjoyed my meal rather more than did BQ. Our waiter, Abdul had a rather forbidding air, which finally mellowed when he and BQ found a common interest in cricket.
Home from Home
In estate agents jargon here we had a perfect example of conversion from a draughty Norman church into a very comfortable des. res.
As a regular attendee at mass I was envious of the inclusivity that fundamental changes to the internal layout of the interior can make without destroying any of the historic charm. Due to the narrowing of the nave and the very fine modern choir stalls the high altar seems remote from the body of the church, but it is worth remembering that when built, that was how things were. The priest would say mass in a foreign language with his back to the congregation, and only at certain times would the host be visible in the distance lifted high above the celebrants head. Thank goodness even in the RC church this has now become a thing of the past .
By removing the pews and replacing them with comfortable well upholstered chairs the centre of activity has been moved to the middle of the nave and takes place around a circular table, thereby encompassing the congregation. Should the full church need to be used then the arrangements can be instantly changed.
The 13th century Lady chapel was delightful and I found a ‘green man’ in the ceiling bosses, this character always intrigues me in holy places as it seems to point toward the profane. The chapel once belonged to the Knights Templar then the Knights Hospitaller and now the Hospital of Saint Cross which we reported on recently.
The search outside to discover the memorial to Captain James Seton, the last man to die in a duel, proved fruitless as lichen had taken over. I recommend his Wikipedia entry where one will discover it was all over a woman; well, who would have guessed it!
If the church’s exterior belied its glamorous interior then the Surma Valley restaurant also had a few shocks for, as MW swung the car into the car park, I thought we were to have afternoon tea in “The Old Thatched Cottage”. However, in contrast to its genteel village cottage exterior, once inside we discovered an opulently furnished Bangladesh restaurant with the formidable Abdul to greet us. Of late I have been regularly eating in my local Punjabi restaurant and have grown unaccustomed to the more usual Bangladesh cuisine, but sadly I found my meal dry and slightly disappointing. MW however was profuse in his praise.
A good visit was finally rounded off by dodging the showers and visiting a Roman villa where the moles held sway. Well they probably had been there longer than the Romans.
- Vegetable Pakora BQ
- Junglee Bhajia MW
- Tandoori king prawns, Pilau rice BQ
- Chicken Tikka Gowchi MW
- Kingfisher Indian Lager BQ
- Echo Falls Shiraz MW