We have to thank Malcolm and Judy Phillips for helping to arrange this most enjoyable visit to Stratfield Saye. Although we had never met, during correspondence with Malcolm on a quite different matter, I learned that both he and his wife were guides at Stratfield Saye House, the impressive home of the Dukes of Wellington. As it happened BQ and I had already identified the Georgian church of St Mary’s on the estate for a possible future Dine and Divine entry and so we arranged to visit both the house and church on the same day. Malcolm kindly offered to be our guide around the house and we, in turn, invited both him and Judy to join us for our usual apres-church lunch.
Stratfield Saye is situated in the northeast corner of Hampshire close to the border with Berkshire and is about as far as we are likely to travel for one of our visits. The journey there was uneventful and, not unlike our last visit, consisted of 45 minutes of frenetic motorway followed by 15 minutes of peaceful country lanes. We hadn’t been in the church long before Malcolm and Judy arrived with the news that we should be at Stratfield Saye House just before noon for the tour. That gave us ample time to explore what is essentially quite a small church.
The first reference to a church at Stratfield Saye can be found in the 11th century Domesday Book and, since that time just four families have held the estate. All have been closely connected to the church. The first family was the de Sayes who gave their name to the village. Then came the Darbridgecourts. Nicholas Darbridgecourt was one of the first Knights of the Garter under Edward III and gained Stratfield Saye by marrying the family heiress in 1364. Another member of the family, Eustace, had earlier gained notoriety by eloping with a nun in 1320 resulting in them both being required to undergo public penance. Quite what that involved isn’t recorded, but it would be interesting to know.
Next came the Pitt family who acquired the property by purchase at the beginning of the 18th century and it remained as the principal family residence for the next 200 years. The medieval church was demolished and the present church was commissioned by George Pitt and was completed in 1758. In 1776 Pitt was elevated to the peerage and became Lord Rivers. Both he and his son, the second Lord Rivers, are buried in the vault of the church.
In 1817 the Parliamentary Commissioners presented the estate to Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington in grateful recognition of his victory in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. A condition of the tenure, which surprisingly continues to the present day, is that a French banner must be presented to the sovereign at Windsor Castle annually on Waterloo day by the current Duke of Wellington (now the 9th).
The church is of an unusual design, built in red brick in the form of a Greek Cross with an octagonal central tower surmounted by a copper dome. Unlike BQ, I thought the design quite pleasing in its symmetry, the interior bright and cheery although dominated by the over-powering family monuments.
The building was not admired at the time of its construction and later positively vilified by the Victorians. However, since then there has been some significant alterations that may have made the proportions appear to be more harmonious. Looking at the photo taken during our visit, then comparing it with the adjacent 1906 image, it is obvious that there was once a section of the building that now no longer exists.
The interior facing south. The numerous monuments which cover most of the available wall space are memorials to the Pitts and the Wellingtons. The box pews are typically Georgian.
The simple altar is set into a recess. The triple window above is filled with glass in memory to the 3rd Duke of Wellington.
This grandiose alabaster monument in the south transept is to Sir William Pitt and his wife Edith set up by their eldest son Edward Pitt. The husband died in 1636 and the wife in 1633, but it was 1640 before the entire tomb was completed. Presumably it had to be moved from the earlier church when St Mary’s was built.
The first photo shows two memorials, one to the builder of the church, George Pitt (Lord Rivers) and the other to the 5th Duke of Wellington who died in 1941. The second photo is of the monument to the second Duke of Wellington.
A view of the nave. Above the entrance is the Manorial Pew which at one time was removed, then restored in 1965 by the 7th Duke on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. At the same time the barrel organ donated by the Great Duke in 1835 was restored to its original position
The handsome marble font was copied from a work by Sir Christopher Wren and was presented by the people of the parish in thanksgiving for the reign of Queen Victoria.
Stratfield Saye House
I found the tour of Stratfield Saye House quite fascinating. Malcolm and Judy took it in turns to give an absorbing commentary which gave a real insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the great Duke of Wellington. He and his wife Kitty lived here in an unhappy marriage at opposite ends of the building. There are 26 paintings of his famous horse Copenhagen, yet just the one of Kitty. We toured the many rooms, some extremely opulent and others almost domestic reminding us that this is still the home of the current Duke.
Only a very few British subjects have ever been honoured by being given a State Funeral, (Nelson and Churchill are others), but the Duke of Wellington’s in 1852 was on an epic scale epitomised by this 18 ton funeral carriage which is still kept in the stables. The lower part is constructed from the metal of guns captured at Waterloo. The ‘Triumphal Car’ as it was known was drawn by 12 black draught horses, 3 a-breast.
After his death, Irish and English newspapers disputed whether Wellington had been born an Irishman or an Englishman. Wellington had in fact been born in Ireland but never thought of himself as Irish and claimed, perhaps less than tactfully “because a man is born in a stable it does not make him a horse”.
Longbridge Mill Restaurant
There has been a water mill on this site since 1316 and part of the building is still being used as a working flour mill with the flour being sold in the pub. However, the building is now mainly a large busy restaurant.
Together with Malcolm and Judy, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch expertly served by the charming Rachel who was working as a waitress between completing a university degree and starting her first teaching job. The food was quite acceptable although the menu descriptions were rather more pretentious than the food justified, but enjoyable nonetheless. The general ambience of the restaurant was warm, welcoming and relaxed.
Approaching the church through the lychgate, the press of trees revealed a glimpse of a brick structure with a nondescript white painted porch which reminded me of a quiet tube station on the Metropolitan line. This initial response was further reinforced as a dome came into view which would obviously encompass the ticket hall. What an amazing design for a structure built so many years ago after they had demolished the ancient medieval church which probably, to my eyes, would have been much more appealing.
However I am pleased to report that I am not the only one who feels this way as it came in for much criticism both at the time it was built, and later by many Victorians. Indeed one critic described it as ‘a monster of ecclesiastical ugliness’. All this would have been acceptable if the interior had glowed with warmth and devotion, alas this was not to be. The whole purpose of this structure seemed to be a mausoleum with memorials to the rich families who had occupied the adjoining house and estate. If you are into ‘doffing your cap to the gentry” this is the church for you.
However, in the porch (where else), I came across a copy of a touching tribute to John Baylis ‘the jester’ who died in 1775. The actual inscription is carved onto his headstone in the graveyard which was erected by the ‘Servants Hall’
One of the great joys of Stratfield Saye is the approach through perfect parkland laid out by Capability Brown. On the day we were there this was further enhanced by the sight of three red kites drifting overhead..
The first Duke of Wellington, having been given the house by a grateful nation, did not, thank goodness, replace it with the vast mansion that he was offered. The quiet modesty of the original residence is attractive. Perhaps this is what he needed after spending time in parliament and living in Apsley House in the centre of the thriving metropolis of London. During his two terms as Prime Minister he never shrunk from making bold decisions as, for example, he was responsible for the Catholic emancipation legislation which he pushed through against strong opposition. Indeed he fought a duel over it (evidently it was one of those contests where both assailants deliberately missed but honour was satisfied ). In contrast he did oppose Jewish emancipation and the Reform Act, the latter making him very unpopular with the mob, who stoned his London residence.
Then off to the mill with Malcom and Judy where the company and banter was so good I am at a loss to remember what I ate, always a sign of good company.
But when the conversation extended to overseas travel, I yet again adopted my role as a humble scribe as discussion was mainly devoted to the exotic destinations that these three intrepid travellers had visited.
My own interjection about my forthcoming break in Kent evinced a short silence. Yet again I knew my place!
- Oven baked button & Portobello mushrooms in a garlic and mature cheddar sauce, served with rustic bread BQ
- Chargrilled Lamb Koftas served with tzatziki and dressed slaw MW
- Caeser Salad, dressed cos lettuce with bacon lardons, anchovies and Gran Moravia cheese with stone baked garlic flatbread BQ
- Chicken and mushroom pie in a chardonnay, woodland mushrooms & leek sauce topped with puff pastry, served with spring onion mash and seasonal vegetables MW
- Classic vanilla crème brûlée with home baked butter biscuits BQ MW
- Pallone Pinot Grigio (Italian) BQ MW