We usually manage to find a sunny time in the week to organise our Dine and Divine outings, but on this occasion the best we could do was to pick the one day where the forecast was for showers rather than the constant rain that seems to be a feature of this soggy June. However, despite the lowering skies, the little village of Bosham (pronounced Bossum) looked particularly attractive as we drove round searching for a parking space. Eventually I dropped off BQ and his walking stick by the church gate and returned to the road that runs along the foreshore and parked next to a cautionary sign warning that the road floods at high tide. However, looking across the seaweed covered beach to the distant waters of Chichester Harbour, I estimated we would be returning to the car well before the returning tide.
Bosham, with its well protected harbour, has been inhabited since Roman times and the remains of several important Roman buildings have been discovered there, including one that is believed to have been used by the Emperor Vespasian. Nine hundred years later, King Canute also had a palace in Bosham, thought to have been situated where the Manor House now stands. This Viking King, who ruled England for nineteen years during the 11th century, is best remembered for vainly raising his hands to hold back the incoming tide, (perhaps he had his carriage parked on the foreshore road!) . On a sadder note, his young daughter drowned in the nearby mill-stream and her remains lie in a tomb covered by a memorial that was put in place by the children of the parish in 1906. Bosham was also the principal home of Harold Godwinson, King Harold of England, who lost his life at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Bayeux Tapestry shows him and his retinue riding to Bosham before the famous confrontation with William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy which resulted in William becoming the first Norman king of England.
In recent years Bosham became the centre of the most intensive police investigation ever carried out in the county, but I will leave it to BQ to describe the dark events that led to such interest, as it was he who came across the details when carrying out his own research.
Bosham is one of the earliest Christian settlements in the South of England according to evidence that shows that there was a small Christian community on the edge of the creek in the 7th century. There is a long held tradition that the church was built on the site of a Roman Basilica, and several artefacts from the period have been discovered nearby, including the head from a colossal Roman statue which dates from the 1st century, suggesting that it could well be that of Emperor Nero (AD 54-78). For a long time the head was the central feature of the parsonage garden next to the church, but is now on display just a mile away at Fishbourne Palace, the largest residential Roman building ever discovered in Britain.
The church is basically Saxon, built between the end of the 10th and the middle of the 11th century, with additions and alterations carried out shortly after the Norman Conquest. The north aisle and the Fishbourne Chantry were built during the 12th and 13th century as the local population increased, with the South Aisle, Crypt and Allhallows Chapel being added 100 years later. The spire was constructed during 1406 or 1407.
Looking down the nave towards the chancel. The South Aisle and Allhallows Chapel are on the right. The impressive chancel arch is thought to be Saxon, particularly as it is of similar appearance and proportions to the one depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. It is likely that King Harold worshipped under this same arch before boarding the ship that took him to Normandy prior to the fateful conquest.
The chancel was built in three stages, Saxon – nearest to the camera, Norman, with the typical herringbone masonry just beyond the doorway on the right, then finally Early English which would have been during the early 13th century. An organ was first installed during the late 19th century and in 1908 it was considerably altered and enlarged. It served the church for almost 100 years until 2006 when it was completely refurbished and modernised.
In the south-east corner of the north aisle is this trefoil headed 12th century piscina with a hollow column forming the drain. Piscinas were used to wash communion vessels at a time before the reformation and, as they were normally situated next to an altar, it suggests that at the time of the construction of the north aisle it was intended to have the main altar situated there.
There are no windows of stained glass in the church apart from these four strange roundels included in one of the windows in the Allhallows Chapel. They are from the 15th century and are of Flemish origin. According to our guidebook they depict four angels holding implements of Christ’s Passion, pincers, spear, scourge and hammer. Having recently walked along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem following the 14 stations of the cross, I can recall only the scourge (a whip with multiple thongs) being mentioned – at the second station, where the Church of the Flagellation stands where Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers. So why the other rather sinister implements of punishment appear on the window is puzzling.
BQ chats to some of the volunteer ladies who we must thank for sharing their knowledge of the Church. The North Aisle that now includes the childrens’ corner is in the background
At the back of the nave sits the base of the tower which was built in the mid 11th century – the very oldest part of the church.
Bosham is probably best known for the fact that the church is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. King Harold, whose principal home was here, is shown together with his retinue riding to Bosham before embarking on his fateful trip to Normandy in 1064. The Latin text in the tapestry translates; ‘Where Harold, Earl of the English, and his retinue ride to Bosham’. It is interesting that although there have been many variations in the spelling of Bosham over the centuries, it is spelt the same way today as is recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry.
By coincidence, during our visit, a new Altar Frontal cloth was on display in the Allhallows Chapel with a design based on the Bayeux Tapestry. It looked quite stunning thanks to the talents of Beryl Dean who worked on the design and her student Elizabeth Elvin who did the embroidery.
The crypt, situated under the Allhallows Chapel. Now used as a small chapel, its original use is unknown, although there is some suggestion that it was once used as a charnel house.
The Millstream Restaurant
It was just a short drive from the church to the the Millstream Hotel, but as we arrived, the heavens opened and we had to make a dash into the building via the staff entrance. As soon as we were shown into the dining room it was obvious that this was an establishment a cut above the norm. White crisp linen tablecloths and napkins, orchids on the tables and immaculate professional, friendly staff. The overall impression resulted in high expectations in the food department and we were not disappointed, resulting in a rarely awarded 5 stars.
However I did have one grouse which I asked our charming waitress to relay on to the management; When it was time to pay and I was handed the card machine for my PIN number, on the screen was a message asking if I wanted to add a tip. Normally I like to tip in cash giving it directly to the person who has served the meal but, if it was company policy to collect gratuities via a credit card, I was happy to go along with that. However, on impulse, I decided to check the bill and was shocked to see that a 10% tip had already been added. I am not sure if this was an oversight or sharp practice, as it would have been easy to double-tip, as normally I seldom check restaurant bills. But, it seems a pity to end on a critical note as all other aspects of our lunch were flawless.
Written in Blood
How apt was the title of the 1998 episode of the television series Midsomer Murders which was filmed in Bosham, when years later, Valerie Graves was brutally murdered whilst house sitting in the village at Christmas. The old adage of truth imitating fiction was not true in this case as, unlike the results achieved by the redoubtable Inspector Barnaby in the television series, the murder remains unsolved. All this despite finding the murder weapon in a nearby stream – a claw hammer with partial DNA – which was compared against the DNA of the entire local male population. Having however briefly covered the salient facts, I refer those of an enquiring disposition to consult the web where the full gory details will be revealed.
All this should not divert us from the purpose of our visit to report on a wonderfully historic church which was at the centre of a significant moment in our history. Gosh ! that last sentence does sound like another politician talking about Brexit.
Regular readers will know that I view the Norman invasion of these shores and the end of our Anglo-Saxon culture as a defining episode for the nation. To be depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry is without doubt the highest accolade afforded to any church and I am delighted to learn that President Macron has agreed to loan the artefact to Britain in the near future. It will be the first time it has left France in 900 years.
Then we will be able to see the representation of the great arch, one of the noblest spans in English architecture which may date back to Roman times, and beneath which, Harold prayed before embarking to Normandy. The tower is the only remaining Saxon part, as the nave and chancel at Holy Trinity are early Gothic. Within the church one becomes aware that there is virtually no stained glass which, on this dull morning, aided our investigation. There was also a refreshing lack of monuments and tombs which greatly assisted the feeling of an integrated whole. The small memorial to the eight year old daughter of King Canute occupies a quiet corner.
As a resident of Southampton however, I must register a protest against Bosham claiming that it was there that King Canute attempted to turn back the tide, as this has always been part of Southampton folk lore.
If the village and church exceeded my expectation that was nothing compared to the culinary joy that awaited us at the Millstream Hotel close to the church. Entering by the rear entrance to avoid the rain, we found the dining room warm and welcoming with laundered white substantial napkins. I have of late avoided comment in this area as I had imagined from recent visits that they had disappeared for ever.
To add yet more class to the proceedings the head waiter, after adjusting our chairs and, with a movement born of a life of service, flicked the rectangle into a perfect triangle which gently landed in our laps.
Wow! Could any subsequent meal live up to this prelude and the answer was in the affirmative. The starter which mixed warm seared white scallops with dark menacing ‘written in blood’ black pudding seemed not only appropriate but delicious. As was the melt in the mouth roast beef medallions, beautifully dressed.
This was a five star experience and after MW had driven me home, I snoozed in the armchair hoping that on waking I would interrupt yet another repeat episode of Midsomer Murders which would magically dispense justice to the guilty.
- Seared Scottish Scallops, black pudding, cauliflower, capers BQ
- Twice baked blue cheese soufflé and spring onion sauce MW
- Fillet of English Beef, potato and pancetta terrine, watercress puree, hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, bone marrow BQ
- Whole Lemon Sole, Jersey Royals, local asparagus, lemon & caper butter MW
- Shiraz, Dry River – Australia BQ
- Château Lascalle, Bordeaux Supérieu MW