Some of our more interesting Dine and Divine visits are days when, for one reason or another, things didn’t quite work out as originally planned, and this was the case on the day we finished up at St Peter ad Vincula Church, not far from Petersfield. My annual car service was due, so we took advantage of the provided courtesy car to travel to our day’s destination, although this rather restricted us to an area somewhere between Fareham and Petersfield. Neither of our first two choices, The Royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth nor St. Nicholas Church in Wickham were open to the public at the time, and it was quite by chance that we came across St. Peters in one of our more obscure reference books, and what a gem it turned out to be.
This remote and quite charming church has had a stormy history since it was built to a cruciform plan in the twelfth century. Over the years it has been declared ‘ruinous’ and then repaired on several occasions and, if it were not for the Redundant Churches Fund, it would be in a poor state today. Despite all of these episodes of repairs and rebuilding it has somehow retained the integrity of the original Norman Church even though in 1670, during one of the more drastic rescues the layout changed when the south transept was pulled down.
My appreciation of English country churches came late in life despite, or perhaps because, during my early years I was expected to sing in the local church choir twice each Sunday when I could think of better things to do with my weekends. However at the beginning of last year when BQ and I began this internet diary I quickly realised just how special yet undervalued these buildings are. Each one is a remarkable survivor, often the only unchanged or little changed building in a community where all else has altered out of all recognition. Mostly they are left unlocked with little or no security yet it is only seldom that we see another visitor. Each church is unique, but one or two seem to have a special aura of timelessness. St. Huberts Church at Idsworth, marooned in a field, with the village that once surrounded it long since gone under the plough, comes to mind. And now, this little church had this same atmosphere, difficult to explain why, but the fact that it still depends on candlelight for illumination might be a factor. Simple but beautiful.
A squint that connects the north transept to the chancel, BQ’s explanation below
The bells were originally hanging in the tower, but now are suspended from an iron beam. The smaller one is dated 1380 and still bears the Wokingham Foundry mark of a lion’s face and a groat. The larger bell was cast in 1627 at the Reading Foundry.
The ladder is dated 1694 and is believed to have been constructed by a Richard Weene, a villager who died in 1704. It is still in use and one can’t help wondering just how many feet have climbed the ladder during the past 300 years.
The first record of Colemore was in the Domesday book when, in 1086, the local Lord was the wonderfully named ‘Humphrey the Chamberlain’. At that time Colemore was a small settlement of just ten households and, from what I could see, it has scarcely grown during the past millennium. Dominant in this small hamlet is the late 18th century Colemore House, the former rectory, which is surrounded by the most wonderful gardens which, we discovered, have been created during the past 40 years by the present owners, an impressive achievement indeed. We not only visited the gardens but had the good fortune of enjoying beer and sandwiches on the cool veranda overlooking the lawns and borders – a welcome alternative to the anticipated pub lunch on an oppressively hot day.
Serendipity played no small part in this arrangement as while photographing the church from above, I noticed someone approaching from the adjacent Colemore house, no doubt troubled by the noise of the drone in such peaceful surroundings. It transpired that it was Simon de Zoete of the de Zoete banking and broking dynasty. We struck up a conversation and came to an arrangement whereby once we had finished our church visit we would use the drone to photograph his house and gardens in exchange for some much needed refreshment.
Cool, Real Cool
Stepping from the air conditioned car and struggling up the uneven grass path to the church I became immediately aware of the blinding heat, and fell relieved into the delightful cool atmosphere of this ancient stone church. The simplicity of the interior felt like a refreshing iced sorbet after the rich main course we had indulged in at our last trip to Romsey Abbey. At times simplicity can be awesome and this very modest church had it in spades.
Settling down in a box pew for quiet prayer and contemplation whilst MW sent his drone into orbit, I became aware of voices outside, the tone changing from questioning to conversational in a short time. Had the silver tongued MW yet again stilled the concerns of a neighbour unsettled by an alien object flying above – a confrontation I usually avoid. And so it seemed when he appeared with the news that when we had finished the interior we had been invited to have a cool beer with the neighbour.
Not for the first time we discovered that St Peters is a redundant church, loved and looked after by The Churches Conservation Trust, who I would earnestly advise our readers to support and even contribute to. Named St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in chains) it is a reminder of the story when an Angel appeared to the Saint in a prison cell and freed him. It is the same name as the chapel in the Tower of London and I wonder whether Anne Boleyn waited for her Angel to appear. It was first recorded in the Domesday Book, but it is possible that its origin could be earlier although no clues remain in the present mainly 12th century structure. Originally a cruciform church, the south transept being demolished, the most unusual feature is surprisingly a hole in the wall charmingly called a squint. This is a new term for me and evidently it was so that the priest celebrating mass in the transept could keep time with his colleague at the main altar. The mind boggles at the thought of two priests concelebrating mass in such a small church.
Thence into the secret garden where I sat entranced at its beauty whilst everyone else was captivated by the drone. MW is quite right when he describes me as a Luddite. Having then talked his way into our hosts providing a light lunch he had the temerity to describe me as a Corbynista to our charming host. From then on I adopted my role as a humble scribe employed to record the conversation between two captains of industry. Then, to add insult to injury, a bystander thought MW was my son. At last I knew my place!