Wimborne -The Minster Church of St. Cuthburga

During recent years I have fallen out of love with the motor car.  The infatuation had a good run, right from the time I bought my first vehicle in 1959  – a 10 year old, high maintenance Morris Minor. This first of many represented freedom, an ability to travel at a whim, free from the limitations of bus and train.   As life progressed, there followed a succession of vehicles, at first second hand, then sensible family cars as children arrived, followed by a couple of mid-life crisis sports cars when they flew the nest and then finally to sensible comfort.  However, over the years the joy of the open road has increasingly turned to irritation and frustration as one sits in a miasma of fumes waiting for the car in front to inch forward.   Too many cars sharing too little road, particularly here in the southern counties.

And so, for the second time, we took advantage of the ability to travel to our Dine and Divine destination by train, unfortunately not all the way, as Wimborne’s elegant railway station had sadly fallen victim to Dr. Beeching’s infamous axe and the five miles from Poole station to Wimborne had to be by taxi.

minstera

We arrived under threatening skies and, as the forecast was for rain showers, I asked BQ to go ahead and locate the items of special interest while I deployed the drone for our customary birds eye view.  From above, the scale of the building became apparent – it is more a mini-cathedral than a parish church.  Also immediately evident were the two contrasting towers.  In the centre of the building sits the original tower supported on either side by good solid Norman construction.  The western tower, built in Perpendicular style, was added in 1464 to house a peal of bells.  However, this tower has had a chequered history mainly as a result of the inferior quality of stone.  The masonry needed constant repair and in 1548 the west door had to be bricked up to avoid a threatened collapse.  There was always a nervousness about the added strain to the building whenever the bells were rung and in 1664 the church wardens recorded ‘paid in beere to the ringers for a peele to try if the tower shook – 1 shilling’.  Presumably the churchwardens stood well away when the bells rang out!  The tower was fully restored in 1881 as part of a comprehensive restoration thanks to the additional wealth brought to the town as a result of the arrival of the railway.

north elevation a

Viewed from the north, the building has an odd patchwork appearance due to the light Dorset limestone being randomly interspersed with a cheaper brown conglomerate dug from the heaths of the New Forest, presumably in the interests of economy.  Although sometimes criticised, I have to say that I find the appearance quite pleasing if somewhat unusual.

Nave 1

The nave looking east gives the most impressive view of the 13th century Norman arches with their chevron decoration typical of the period.

Nave 2

Looking west from the sanctuary the full scale of the interior can be appreciated. The choir stalls in the foreground are Jacobean from about 1610 and many are fitted with hinged misericords – narrow ledges on which the choristers could rest, whilst appearing to be standing, during lengthy sermons.

chain library

The Chained Library, situated above the choir vestry can only be accessed by a narrow, steep spiral stair, so restrictive that BQ asked if I could make the ascent and report.  It is one of the earliest public libraries in the United Kingdom and was founded in 1686 by the Reverend William Stone.  It contains over 400 leather bound volumes, half of which are more than 300 years old.  The securing chains ensured that the books could only be read within the library.

The tomb of ‘The Man in the Wall’ – Anthony Ettricke, a curmudgeonly local magistrate who, due to his dislike of the residents of Wimborne, refused to be buried either inside or outside the church, but eventually compromised by agreeing to be interred within the wall.  The date of his death has been altered on his tomb but, to my eye, therein lies a mystery.  The guide books state that, convinced that he was dying in 1693, he had his tomb inscribed with that date but he then lived on for another 10 years thus requiring the masons to change the date to 1703. However, looking at the photo it seems to me that the original inscription was for 1703, with the later alteration to 1693.  Very odd.

Corbel

The famous Moses corbel with flowing hair and plaited beard.  Dating from the 12th century it is considerably older than the arch in which it is set.  Sculptures of Moses were common in the 12th century although, rather strangely, many portrayed him with horns.

chest

Perhaps the oldest artefact in the Minster is this Saxon oak chest carved from a solid trunk.  At one time it would have been used to safeguard religious relics.

statue

The memorial to Edmund Uvedale who died in 1606 erected by his widow in “dolefull duety.”  Carved by an Italian Sculptor in the Renaissance style he is shown  in a complete suit of plate armour in a rather unusual pose, as though he were just awaking from his long sleep. Rather oddly he appears to have two left feet.   He died childless after an eventful life. 

After rising to become a captain in the Netherlands Uvedale got into difficulties with his accounts, killed the poet George Whetstone in a duel, and returned to England in disgrace.  He recovered his reputation and in 1598 he was appointed surveyor general of the forces, with a responsibility for the defences of the Isle of Wight. By 1601 he was of sufficient status to be elected knight of the shire.

Memorial 2

The tomb of John Beaufort (1404-1444), 1st Duke of Somerset and his wife Margaret.  Son of the 1st Earl of Somerset John was made a Knight of the Garter and appointed Captain-General in France.   He presided over a period during which England lost much territory, and he proved to be a poor commander, unable to control the administration of justice and finance, which led to widespread lawlessness.  After a series of blunders he returned to England in the winter of 1443 and, at the age of 40 he died, suicide was suspected. 

It seems to me that many of these grand memorials that we see so often in our Dine and Divine travels are celebrations not of ability and achievement, but of pedigree.  

Brass
Set in Purbeck marble this brass is unique – the only memorial brass effigy of an English king in the country.  Engraved in 1440 it is dedicated to King Ethelred, brother of King Alfred the Great.   Ethelred died of wounds received while fighting the Danes; his body was brought to Wimborne for burial in 871.

Grenadier 3

In addition to the peal of 13 bells, regarded as one of the finest sounding rings in the country, there are two clock bells fixed on the north face of the West Tower.  These bells are struck on the quarter hour by Quarter Jack, who was installed in 1612.  Originally Quarter Jack was carved as a monk, but during the Napoleonic wars he was changed to a grenadier.

Crypt

The Crypt, reserved for quiet prayer, was constructed in 1340. The western portion is a burial vault for a local family who would, no doubt, have funded its construction.  A lamp signifying the presence of the reserved sacrament and used for housebound communion is kept in an aumbry behind a curtain.

The Tickled Pig Restaurant, Cafe and Cookery School

‘Here at the Tickled Pig we go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that every element of our menu has been grown, reared by ourselves or sourced from local Dorset suppliers who we feel share our ideals.  Chefs Jez Barfoot and Matt Davey will aim to surprise and delight daily with produce from our kitchen garden’

When I was researching a suitable place for the ‘Dine’ element’of the day, as soon as I read the above I knew that I needed to look no further, particularly when I noticed the food had received a coveted Michelin award.  It did not disappoint. The menu was reasonably priced, utterly original and beautifully prepared.  Service by our friendly waitress was quick and efficient despite the fact that she was clearly under heavy pressure from a very full room.  An excellent meal.

tickled pig

BQ’s Impressions

Following our previous visit to three abandoned churches, the Minster Church of St Cuthberga was a tonic to my Christian soul.   Despite the good offices of the Churches Conservation Trust, there is nothing more depressing than churches that have become redundant and are now treated as historic monuments to a past civilisation.  However, here in Wimborne was a Christian church as relevant today as it was in Saxon times.   Set in the centre of this vibrant and charming town sits the impressive Church of St Cuthberga, which seems as significant to the population as the thrice weekly market.   The church interior buzzed with activity and at midday, signalled by ‘quarter jack’ on the tower, the Lord’s Prayer was recited.   All this happening in an original Saxon nunnery dating back to the eighth century which, in its heyday, accommodated 500 nuns and was the last resting place of  Saint Cuthberga , together with King Ethelred, the older brother of Alfred the Great. Now that’s what you call provenance!

All this disappeared in 1013 when the town was raided by the Danes, only for Edward the Confessor to establish a college of secular canons on the site thirty years later in 1043.  And then came the Normans whose indelible signature is evident in what we see today, a strange twin towered chequered building full of amazing artefacts which cover the full range of history.

The problem with using different coloured stone is that it squashes the visual structure and takes away the towering grandeur of the building, thereby creating a gasp of astonishment at the lofty proportions when one first enters.  At this point I would advise the elderly to proceed with caution as there are steps everywhere albeit protected by hand rails.

Inside we have a typical English church, Norman original with Gothic east end with later perpendicular additions. The Norman nave arcades have zigzag decoration with carved heads although the clerestory above is perpendicular. My father, after watching me play football in my youth, would comment on my pathetic efforts by saying ‘you have got two left feet’.  I was reminded of his comments when we came upon the 1606 memorial to Sir Edmund Uvedale as the reclining figure also appears to have two left feet!

It is typical of the legal profession that the local lawyer who, as usual was unable to make up his mind, arranged to be interred neither inside nor outside the church but instead opted to be entombed within the wall, an early case of sitting on the fence but in this case a wall.    After inspecting the spiral staircase leading to the chained library I decided not to venture up and left it to the intrepid MW. However downstairs was a modern television which revealed the contents of the library on film. It was only on close inspection that I noted that the television was also chained to the wall. Old habits die hard in the wilds of Hardy’s Dorset.

Although we travelled by train and taxi MW still refused to wear a raincoat , so I prayed that the walk to our restaurant, the Tickled Pig, would not be as long as that suffered in Arundel,  which regular readers will recall caused temporary strife.

I need not have worried as this lovely town seemed to be wonderfully compact.   On arrival, the restaurant seemed full and we must have got the last available table as, no sooner had we sat down, than a couple arrived but were turned away,  for which I was grateful – as they had a dog.  Again regular readers will be aware of my distaste for dogs in restaurants.

The meal was memorable, as being Friday I had the fish and chips with the most delicate tempura batter along with a Bulgarian white wine recommended by our waiter.The icing on the cake, if you excuse the pun, was the beetroot starter which was nothing short of sensational.  Very strange that in my dotage I have become immensely fond of beetroot, and can often be found munching one in the middle of the day.

Replete and happy the return journey was stress-free, thankfully MW made sure I did not doze off on the train and miss my station.

Our Lunch

  • Sous Vide beetroot, beetroot crisps, pickled beetroot stems and smoked beetroot puree   BQ
  • Salad of charred courgette, fennel and cucumber  MW
  • 8 Arch beer battered fish and chips, garden leaves and zesty tartare sauce  BQ
  • Pork belly, buck wheat and herb cassoulet, lemon oil dressing  MW
  • Chardonnay  (Bulgaria)  BQ
  • Shiraz  (South Africa)  MW

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The Sombornes – Three Small 12th Century Churches

There are three Sombornes – Kings, Little and Up, all situated along the Somborne Stream, a tributary of the River Test.  Kings Somborne is quite a substantial village. Little Somborne once was, but over the centuries the population has declined and Up Somborne is just a small hamlet.  They all lie a few miles south of the town of Stockbridge.

Each of our three churches are situated in this general area and are within five miles of each other.  They have much in common, they all date from around the 12th century, each one is unusually small and all  have had some historical connection with Mottisfont.  This great Augustinian Priory was founded in 1201 and, until the reformation, was a destination for pilgrims who came to worship the Mottisfont relic which was believed to be a finger of St John the Baptist.

As I had already briefly visited these churches a couple of weeks earlier to check that they were reasonably accessible and unlocked, it beggars belief that we somehow managed to get lost in a maze of narrow lanes in attempting to get to our first destination, Upper Eldon.  In my defence the name Upper Eldon is unknown by my satnav and I only found it the first time by following instructions from the shopkeeper in Little Somborne.  My irritation at not being able to recall these directions was compounded by BQ yet again expounding the advantages of the A-Z Road Atlas that had been his travel bible throughout his life.   Ironically, it needed an even more traditional method, the humble signpost, before we were guided to our first destination.

Upper Eldon – Church of St John the Baptist

The Church of St John the Baptist has been claimed to be the smallest church in England and, with dimensions of just 32 ft x 16 ft, that may well be correct.  Incongruously, it is situated in the garden of the 15th century Eldon House surrounded by well manicured lawns and we approached the building with a feeling of intrusion into a private space.

Eldon Church drone

Eldon Church ext

The church was built in the latter part of the 12th century as a single cell comprising a nave and an entrance door in the south wall.  By the 18th century it had become so dilapidated that the east wall needed to be rebuilt in order to save it from collapse.  Subsequently it deteriorated again and in 1864 a correspondent to The Gentleman’s Magazine complained that  “To this day the shamefully desecrated parish church of Eldon has its regularly appointed rectors though it is used as a cowshed”. 

In a report commissioned in 1973, it was described as having the appearance of a farm building –  ‘its sole occupant is a beautiful white owl’.   The church was declared redundant and became the responsibility of the organisation now known as the Churches Conservation Trust who fortunately carried out vital restoration including re-tiling the roof and re-plastering the interior.

Eldon nave

An unusual feature of the church is the number of rare consecration cross stones that have survived since the time of the building’s construction.  There are nine, five in the interior and four outside.  Each bears an incised carving of a circle with five holes which are thought to have held iron crosses that would have been anointed with holy oil by the bishop during the building’s original dedication ceremony.  Three of these square stones can be seen in the photo above.

UpperEldon_1

At the west end of the nave there is a small square hole that pierces the building under the main window, clearly visible in this photo.  Known as a hagioscope, it was designed to allow people outside to be able to see the altar when the church was locked and also it would have been used by lepers in order that they could join in the services without the risk of infecting the congregation.  Local legend has it that Henry V’s archers prayed through this opening on their way to Michelmarsh where they assembled before their journey to France to fight at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Eldon window
The sole surviving original window in the south wall.

Eldon piano

My curiosity was aroused by this little pump organ that sits in the north-west corner of the church.  After some research I find that it is a chapel organ made by the Dominion Organ Company of Ontario during the late 19th century.  It looks well used but I wonder how it found its way to Eldon.

 

Little Somborne – All Saints’ Church

The building that we see today dates from around 1170 although there are some reminders that before the Normans doubled the length of the nave and built a new chancel, this was a Saxon church mentioned in the Domesday Book.  In the 13th century a hermit’s cell was constructed which could be reached through a door in the northeast corner of the nave.  It was occupied by Peter de Rivallis, the wealthy benefactor of the Mottisfont Priory.   He chose to live in seclusion from society for religious reasons, a Christian concept based on the Desert Theology of the Old Testament.  Peter de Rivallis died in 1226 and was buried intramurally at the priory, giving rise to his posthumous nickname ‘The Holy Man in the Wall’.

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No work of any consequence seems to have been done to the building after the 14th century apart from the removal of the Norman chancel and the hermit’s cell.  By the 1960’s use of All Saints had declined and its condition had deteriorated.  It was declared redundant in 1975 and came into the care of what is now known as the Churches Conservation Trust who carried out a major programme of repairs.

Little Somborne Church nave

The deep window to the right of the altar is an oddity.  Added in the 13th century, it is built of re-used Norman quoin stones with the splay taken down to ground level.  In the  18th century it was made into a fireplace to heat a small chapel partitioned off at the east end of the church for the comfort of the local squire’s family during winter services.

Little Somborne Church Chancel 2

The arch, from about 1170, was blocked when the Norman chancel was removed 300 years later, but the original columns with their fine scalloped capitals remain.   The insertion of the square window is thought to be part of a general renovation carried out when there was a revival of interest in the church in the beginning of the 17th century.

Little Somborne T Sopwith Grave

There are relatively few gravestones by the church, but there was one that I found of particular interest marking the final resting place of Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith.  Tommy Sopwith, as he was generally known, had a remarkable career.  He was a champion motor cyclist, a pioneer of hot air ballooning, a challenger for the America’s Cup and a member of the British ice hockey team, but he is best remembered for setting up the Sopwith Aviation Company.   The company produced 18,000 World War I aircraft for the allied forces including 5,700 Sopwith Camels, a single seat fighter which, like the Spitfire of the second World War, had a decisive influence on the final outcome of hostilities.     He eventually retired to King’s Somborne and his 100th birthday was marked by a flypast of military aircraft over his home, Compton Manor.  He died in 1989 aged 101.

His name rang a particular bell for me as my father was in the Royal Naval Air Service based at Calshott during the First World War.  He told me many a tale of triumph, disaster and remarkable heroism that occurred while launching and recovering the new Sopwith Bat Boat, the first attempt at a military seaplane – one of Tommy’s less successful enterprises. Incidentally, I was surprised and pleased to find that the hangar where my father was based has been preserved in Calshott.

Ashley – St. Mary’s Church

And so, on to the last of our trio of churches, St Mary’s in the small community of Ashley, built in the 12th century to serve the long vanished Gains Castle.  Until the reformation, priests at Ashley were appointed by the previously mentioned Mottisfont Priory, not a happy arrangement as it was felt that the Priory was taking more than its fair share of income from the church leaving the priest at Ashley somewhat underfunded. Nevertheless, Ashley remained a property of the Priory until the reformation when Mottisfont was closed then gifted to the Sandys family who lived as secular owners of Mottisfont and patrons of Ashley Church.  During the next few centuries the patronage passed through the hands of several families, most of whom were not resident in the parish. 

The local population has never been large and in 1976, when faced with a substantial repair programme, the parish decided this was beyond their means and, after much deliberation, responsibility for the building was transferred to the Churches Conservation Trust who carried out the much needed restoration.  Thanks to an active local group ‘The Friends of St Mary’s, Ashley’ the church remains the centre of the small local community.

Ashley Church drone

Ashley Church Exterior

Construction is of flint rubble with chalk block dressings and quoins, all rendered with lime mortar, except that is for the east wall which is built in flint – a pleasant contrast to the rest of the building.   Presumably this would have been erected after the chancel was extended in the 13th century.

Ashley Church Inrerior

The impressive chancel arch is Norman, but the two round headed arches either side would have been cut through in the 16th or 17th century in order to give improved sight lines to the chancel after seating was installed.  Before that, it would have been customary for a congregation to be standing throughout the service.

Ashley Church Choir

The church has always been surrounded by high trees which may account for the additional large windows that were installed in the 14th century.  As a result the nave and chancel are bright and welcoming.  On the wall to the right is a fine marble monument to Thomas Hobbs, physician to three kings – Charles II, James II and William III.    In the splay of the window just beyond the monument, a 14th century wall painting of an unknown figure is just visible.

Ashley Church nave

The square Norman font is almost certainly the same age as the church, but the pews were fitted in 1858 and the tiled floor laid in 1901, a gift from the family who happened to be the patron at the time.

Ashley Church Head
Little is known about this rather strange head which is let into the wall opposite the entrance door other than it is probably 15th century.

The Grosvenor, Stockbridge

After our lunch I felt guilty at having suggested this venue, particularly as BQ was picking up the bill, and it wasn’t cheap.   I had been given a recommendation for the Grosvenor which has recently been acquired by the same people who own the nearby Greyhound-on-the-Test.  This was the restaurant that we dined at after our visit to Nether Wallop Church last year, and it was one of the best lunches that we have had.   I assumed that this high standard would have been transferred to their new acquisition, but I was completely wrong, for although the starters were good enough, the main courses were weird and pretentious, being comprised of ingredients that may be currently fashionable, but which just didn’t work in harmony.  Furthermore the portions were vast to the point of being daunting.

If I hadn’t been feeling guilty I would have made an attempt to photograph BQ as he attempted to fish out the elusive mussels from the depths of his pot of vivid coloured broth with his fingers, the only practical method.   Fortunately our kindly waitress kept him supplied with a succession of fresh linen napkins which kept his face and hands reasonably clean, but alas not his shirt.

Stockbridge

Grosvenor Stockbridge ext

The Grosvenor Stockbridge

 

BQ’s Impressions

Contrasts

The gulf between those two words dine and divine were sharply outlined in visiting three small abandoned churches and the over indulgent lunch that followed.  The churches although redundant are cared for by The Churches Conservation Trust a deserving charity who is preserving the very fabric of our history.  Only one, All Saints Church at Little Somborne originally dates from the Saxon era and is recorded in the Domesday book, the two others are both products of the Normans.   It is fitting therefore that yet another anomaly is found in the overgrown churchyard, the grave of Tommy Sopwith a pioneer aviator and yachtsman who in the thirties had always represented in my mind Evelyn Waugh’s Mayfair set.   How different the truth when I read that he accidentally shot his father when he was just ten and the horror stayed with him throughout his life.

By far the largest church of the three, St Mary’s at Ashley, was built on the ramparts of Gains Castle, long since vanished and which, at one time, formed part of the Norman occupation. The three opening chancel arch appears somewhat pretentious in this constricted space.   The Jacobean alms box crafted from a log was difficult to access, my interest, I hasten to add, was to contribute.  In past times it was customary to open this box once a year in the presence of the rector and both churchwardens, but in 1911 it was discovered that a miscreant had managed to get there first and as a result, the church was kept locked for a while.

If the Conservation trust looks after the structure then the gardens that surround the smallest church St John’s at Eldon are magnificent although private.   The planting on the south wall is a delight and enhances this simple structure. Do watch out for the robotic mower which can sidle up to you and give you a nasty shock, evidently they are not hedgehog friendly so I personally prefer meadow grass.

All three churches on this beautiful morning were deeply spiritual and prayer came easily in each.   However, as our stomachs began to advise us that it was time to dine, we slipped effortlessly from the sublime to the pretentious.  The Grosvenor in Stockbridge is around 200 years old and it is obvious it has lived through the louche days of this town’s history previously described in our post on St Andrews’s church Nether Wallop.   In the heyday of horse racing in the town, it was owned by the jockey and subsequent trainer Tom Cannon (who can forget Cannon and Ball) and we were ushered into a magnificent dining room once named after him but now re-titled The Danebury room.

As it was my turn to pay I settled for the set menu which had only one option in each category but MW astutely arguing his allergy to seafood, selected the a la carte menu. It mattered little as both of us were disappointed with our main courses and as MW asserted “less can be more” as they were both over complicated with a cornucopia of clashing tastes.

On leaving we noted that we were the only ones in the dining room but gazed in envy at a very full bar next door and its assembly of happy diners.  Perhaps we, like them, were not ready for the toffs’ restaurant and would have been happier with the rest of the serfs next door.

On a positive note the edginess which was evident in our last visit to Arundel only resurfaced during my castigation of his satnav as we meandered aimlessly past places we had seen ten minutes before.   MW then invited me to bring my Ordnance Survey map next time and do a better job, but at least he did not get soaked this time!

Our Lunch

  • Spiced sweet potato soup with coconut & coriander   BQ
  • Smoked chalk stream trout with rye bread & lemon creme fraiche  MW
  • Mussels with tomato, smoked paprika, chorizo, baby spinach and fries  BQ
  • The House Salad with crispy confit of chicken, mango, coconut, lotus root, ponzu, & soy and sesame peanuts  MW
  • Primordial Voigner (South Africa)  BQ & MW

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One final thought.  The three little churches that we visited have existed for over 800 years despite surviving periods of neglect, dilapidation and even abandonment.  They should be treasured as each one is a time capsule, a glimpse into the rituals of village life that changed little over the centuries.   At a time when these buildings were at greatest risk, each one was saved by that worthy national charity, the Churches Conservation Trust.  Incredibly, they currently care for 345 historic former parish churches, a number that increases by one or two each year.  Although they get some funding from both the Government and the Church of England they increasingly rely on donations from the general public.   If you too feel inclined to help, this is the link:-   https://www.visitchurches.org.uk

 

 

Arundel – Cathedral and Church

This is the first time we have included two places of worship in the same visit – A Catholic Cathedral and an adjacent Church that is part Protestant and part Catholic, a most unusual combination, perhaps even unique.   However, our time in Arundel did not rate among the most enjoyable of  Dine and Divine visits for a variety of reasons.  For a start the journey there was extremely tedious with queues at each roundabout along the seemingly endless Chichester bypass.  BQ was suffering from temporary deafness resulting in difficult, testy communication and finally the weather was poor, in fact so poor that the exterior shots were unusable.  Fortunately I was passing nearby a few days later and diverted into Arundel to get our usual drone photos.  Without a doubt the most dramatic view of the Cathedral is from the south and I am indebted to the proprietors of the nearby Arundel Riding Centre who allowed me to deploy the drone from their paddock, about the only possible site near the town centre.

The Cathedral of Our Lady and Saint Philip Howard

In 1869, within a year of coming of age, Henry the 15th Duke of Norfolk, commissioned the building of St. Philip’s Church.  The structure was completed in a little over three years and was opened on 1st July 1873 with a dedication to St. Philip Neri.  It was not an easy construction with concrete needing to be sunk to a depth of 57 feet to provide suitable foundations, in fact problems with the ground conditions caused the proposed 280 ft. spire to be abandoned when only the base had been built.  This was then altered to form the north-west porch.  For 100 years St. Philips served as the parish church for the local Catholic community as part of the diocese of Southwark, but in 1965 a new diocese of Arundel and Brighton was created and St. Philips became a cathedral.  Following the 1970 canonization of Philip Howard, together with 39 other English and Welsh Martyrs of the Reformation, the Cathedral’s dedication was changed to its present title of ‘Our Lady and Saint Philip Howard’

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The architectural style is French Gothic from about 1400 which has a striking similarity to the cathedrals in Beauvais and Le Mont San Michel.  The overall effect was to symbolise the spirit of a renewal of English Catholic life during the late 19th century which had been steadily growing since the Catholic Emancipation in 1829.

sanctuary

For over 100 years the feast of Corpus Christi, which fell during the previous week, has been marked at Arundel Cathedral by a festival of flowers and we were fortunate that many of the opulent displays were still in place. The interior of the building, with its lofty vaulted ceiling and elegant pillars, is spectacular in any event but, together with such a profusion of fragrant blooms, the effect was quite magical.   The nave has a height of 71 feet and a length of just under 100 feet and so, as a church, it must have been seemed surprisingly large for the relatively small Catholic population of the town.

nave and west window

rose window

Looking down the length of the nave from the high altar is the best way to see the great rose window above the organ.  It depicts the Blessed Virgin with the Holy Child surrounded by the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary.   Just below is the organ which, when it was installed in 1875, needed some alterations to the casework to avoid masking part of the window.  This is due to the fact that it was originally built for St. Johns Catholic Church in Islington.  Just why it was never installed there is a mystery.

lady chapel

The Lady Chapel.    The white and blue statue is of Our Lady of Lourdes to whom Duke Henry was particularly devoted.  On the altar sits a rather unique object – the first English tabernacle made after the reformation.  It was discovered in a lumber room in Cathedral House in 1976 and narrowly escaped being thrown out.  Inside was a parchment stating that “This tabernacle was made by Chas. Kandler, Goldsmith at the Miter in St. Martin’s Lane for his Grace Thos Howard, Duke of Norfolk,  Anno Dominie 1730”

family chapel

The Shrine of St Philip Howard.  Like so many of his ilk, Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel (1557-1595) came to a sticky end, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, although mercifully he died before this hideous form of execution could be carried out.  His father, Thomas, fourth Duke of Norfolk had fared no better – beheaded by Queen Elizabeth in 1572 for plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots.  But, back to Philip.  His life started well enough, married at 14, graduated at St John’s College, Cambridge at 17 and attended Queen Elizabeth’s Court when he was just 18.  However, the turning point in his life came when he decided to reconcile with the Catholic Church at the age of 24 knowing full well that the decision could well cost him his life.  Seeking religious liberty abroad, he sailed from Littlehampton but, after being betrayed by a servant, he was apprehended at sea and brought to the Tower of London where he remained as a prisoner for the next wretched 11 years.  The trumped up charge that resulted in him being sentenced as a traitor was that he had prayed that the Spanish Armada would be victorious in their confrontation with the English navy.   His remains, after several moves, rest in the sarcophagus shown above.  He was beatified in 1929 and declared a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1971.

Memorial chapel

St. Wilfrid’s Chapel.  St. Wilfrid (634-709) was Bishop of York, but after a dispute he sought refuge in Sussex, the last stronghold of paganism in Anglo-Saxon England.  During his stay of six years he established the Christian faith, founded monasteries and churches and laid the foundations of the future diocese of Chichester.  The chapel also serves as a war memorial to the men of Arundel who fell in both World Wars.

Station of the cross

The 14 Stations of the Cross are always to be found in a Catholic church and here they are set into the wall, some in the north aisle and others in the south aisle.  The detail in the stonework is beautifully precise as can be seen in this, the 9th station.

 

Arundel Church with the Fitzalan Chapel

Church second Drone

After our visit to the Cathedral we called in for refreshment at the adjacent St Mary Gate Inn, an interesting old building in its own right which was constructed during the reign of Henry VIII.  The freshly brewed coffee was enjoyable, despite the intrusive pop music that seemed incongruous in such a historic building.

Then across the road, through the impressive archway to the combined Arundel Church and Fitzalan Chapel.  In the above photo, the Anglican church occupies the section beyond the central tower, (to the west), and the Catholic Fitzalan Chapel, of almost equal proportions, is to the east of the tower.  When the building was originally constructed in the 14th century, what is now the Fitzalan Chapel would have been the chapel for a college that occupied the adjacent buildings. College staff would have supervised parish business, elected vicars and involved themselves in the life of the town.  Later in the Middle Ages it became a centre for the composition and performance of choral music. At the time of the reformation the Collegiate Chapel became the property of the Henry Fitzalan, the Earl of Arundel to be used as the family mausoleum and in future would be known as the Fitzalan Chapel, a situation that has continued to the present day.

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The archway to the church dates from the 19th century and was erected as a response to the grand Cathedral that had recently been completed on the opposite side of the road.

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The interior is little changed from the the time when it was re-dedicated following an extensive restoration between 1855 and 1875.  The work was carried out under the supervision of possibly the most famous architect of the day, Sir George Gilbert Scott whose work includes St. Pancras Station, the Albert Memorial and numerous churches and cathedrals throughout the country.

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pulpit

The chancel.  The most remarkable feature is the carved stone pulpit which is built into the structure of the south west tower pillar which means that it is the same age as the church itself – very nearly 640 years.  Stone pulpits of this age are rare indeed, but considering the quality of the carving it is unique.

 

 

 

 

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Detail of the carving on the choir stalls which were replaced during the second restoration carried out between 1855 and 1875
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   John Barkshire, one of the church stewards, has made a study of the church’s history and gives guided tours from time to time.  We were fortunate that he happened to be in the building during our visit and we are grateful that he found the time to show us some of the more interesting features of the church.

 

There are remnants of church wall painting that date from the 14th century.  They would have been have been obliterated on the orders of Henry VIII at the time of the reformation.  Fortunately those who carried out the instructions merely covered them with whitewash and they remained hidden for over 300 years.  They were re-discovered in 1873 but, during the early part of the 20th century, they suffered during a misguided attempt at preservation by using resin.   Some more enlightened conservation work was carried out in the 1990’s, but more needs to be done.  The best preserved painting is of the ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ – shown above – which depicts the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven where Heaven is imagined as an earthly court attended by angels.

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The wrought iron screen would have been installed in 1380 in order to firmly separate the Collegiate Chapel (now the Fitzalan Chapel) from the parish church

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A glimpse through the metal screen at the Fitzalan Chapel which was badly damaged in 1643 during the siege of Arundel Castle by the Parliamentarians’ cannons during the English Civil War.   It remained neglected until a comprehensive restoration was carried out at the end of the 19th century

Arundel Castle

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The magnificent castle, adjacent to the church and college buildings, was established in 1067.  It was extensively damaged in the English Civil War then restored in the 18th and 19th centuries.   It is the principal seat of the Howard family, whose heads were firstly the Earls of Arundel, then later the Dukes of Norfolk.  It is open to the public, but unfortunately not on Mondays, the day of our visit.

Campania Restaurant

This was our third choice of dining venue as it seemed that most of Arundel shuts down on a Monday.  The food was pleasant enough, but for me any enjoyment of the meal was literally dampened, as I had got extremely wet whilst walking the considerable distance from the parked car to the restaurant after being assured by BQ, who professed to know the town well, ‘it was just round the corner’.  He strolled in 5 minutes later in his marine grade waterproof jacket smiling at my dishevelled appearance.  Lunch was not our usual chatty occasion.

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BQ’s Impressions

Arundel – A Town Divided.

In my parallel existence I write on cricket for a local freebie, so that any mention of the name Arundel immediately quickens the senses. For just north of the town there is the most beautiful county cricket ground I know of. Every season we in Hampshire make the pilgrimage from our “Concrete Coliseum” to celebrate with our arch-rivals Sussex, the glories of midsummer, whilst dozing contentedly in deck chairs.

But enough of this reverie for MW in his typical expediency of killing two birds with one stone had picked this visit to coincide with his car’s annual service. After being informed that the car would not be ready until the late afternoon, Arundel was picked, as it has enough interest to keep us occupied for the day.  Unfortunately the weather was misty, warm and rainy – certainly not the day for our intrepid drone pilot who despite the conditions made two attempts to capture the splendid spread of the town.

When viewed from the by-pass on the south side, the town-scape is magnificent stretching from the castle battlements to the cathedral along the top of an escarpment, very reminiscent of the French castle towns of the Cathars in the Languedoc region of France which also suffered religious conflict.  The story of the Dukes of Norfolk begins in Suffolk where the third duke was reprieved from execution by the death of Henry VIII on the day before he was due to be beheaded. His son the Fourth Duke married Mary Fitzalan and moved the family seat to Arundel.  So typical of our strange island that all the nobility never seem to reside in their named counties.  No parish church that we have visited could match in its interior the topsy-turvy convoluted history of Christianity in our kingdom. For here, in detail, is the split between the Church of England and Roman Catholicism graphically symbolised by a locked grill through which none shall pass.  The separation of town and nobility is also architectural for as viewed through the grille the Fitzalan Chapel is a splendid perpendicular chamber with tombs below. Access can be obtained through the castle but as it was Monday it was shut.  St Nicholas Church by contrast is a fine fourteenth century nave with a remarkable and unique beautifully carved pulpit and stalls.

Like most castle towns the civil war brought a high level of activity between the cavaliers and roundheads but this subsequent separation of the church after hundreds of years does not reflect favourably on either of the beliefs.  However as we have seen in the ‘Brexit’ negotiations the separation of beliefs can still prove almost insurmountable.  As a cradle English catholic I have, over my life, been used to practicing my religion in small converted premises or modern new buildings. The sheer opulence of the Cathedral points to a continental model which feels very alien in its small town Sussex setting.  It is obviously a celebration of Catholic emancipation enacted by the Duke of Wellington (see earlier visit to Statfield Saye), and says more about victory than piety. After many visits compiling this blog I have found it easier to pray in the small ancient churches dating back to Anglo-Saxon times.

Having found a parking space immediately outside the Cathedral, which was fortunately within short walking distance of St Nicholas Church, our trip then descended into a Marx Bros farce.  Again, being a Monday we had to investigate alternative restaurants as our original choice was shut.  We booked a table at La Campania but, due to the steady rain decided to move the car closer.  With my previous knowledge of the town I expertly guided MW around the narrow one way system and into a vacant parking spot, probably at the furthest possible point from our goal.  On asking a local for directions to Las Campania she replied “ it’s just at the top of the road’’.   After ten minutes walk in the rain I fell into the restaurant to discover a soaked MW and a frosty reception. When I had enquired earlier if he had brought a raincoat I was told that he had been assured that it would not rain!  In order to make amends I offered to pay for the meal only to find that that my jacket and means of paying were ten minutes away in the car as I had changed into a comfortable and sensible waterproof anorak. If that were not bad enough MW then took a phone call from his mechanic to advise him his car needed replacement tyres that were not in stock and would not be available until the following day.  At this point any memory of the meal completely vanished, but I do remember a rather quiet drive back, which I don’t think was due to my temporary deafness.

Our lunch

    • Gamberoni Saltati  BQ
    • Caprese Bandiera style  MW
    • Linguine Alle Verdure  BQ 
    • Risotto Lucia  MW
    • Merlot casa defra 2016 BQ & MW

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Bosham – Holy Trinity Church

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.

 

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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.

Plan

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.

 

East elevation

nave and south aisle

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.

nave

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.

Piscina

 

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 and helpers

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

Tower

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.

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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.

Altar Cloth

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.

crypt

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.

Canute's daughter
A rather touching memorial to King Canute’s young daughter who drowned in the mill stream that flows through the village.  The Raven was the symbol of the all powerful Viking King who, at one time, simultaneously ruled England, Denmark and Norway.

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.

Restaurant

Millstream

BQ’s Impressions

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.

 

Our lunch

    • 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

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MURDER UPDATE – 10 AUG 2019    A suspect for the murder mentioned above has recently been arrested in Romania and is being returned to the UK

Christchurch – Priory

When we started this blog early in 2017 we planned to restrict our church visits to the county that we both lived in – Hampshire.  Now, more than two years on, with over 30 historic churches visited we have begun to wonder whether we should continue to be so restrictive in the area that we cover.  Not that we have run out of suitable churches in Hampshire – there are plenty more, but most are in the furthermost corners of the county, entailing a drive of an hour or more.  There is so much of interest considerably closer in the adjacent counties of Dorset, Wiltshire and Sussex and consequently we have decided that the title page of our blog should be amended to ‘Hampshire and Adjoining Counties.

Today’s destination, Christchurch Priory, just over the border in Dorset is a perfect example of an outstanding nearby church that we can now include.  Just a 40 minute journey away but, on this occasion a stress-free 40 minute journey as it was by train rather than the usual car journey battling through the morning traffic.  It was a glorious spring day and, as we passed through the New Forest and looked across an endless vista of heath and woodland, I thought how beautifully green and resplendent it all looked compared with the desert landscapes of Jordan and Israel that I had travelled through just a week earlier.  

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In 1094 the Ranulf Flambard, chief minister of William II supervised the start of construction of a substantial new church in the burgh of Twynham.  By 1113 work was nearing completion when, according to legend, an incident occurred that not only had a profound effect on the local population, but became so well known throughout the Christian World that it became a centre of pilgrimage that endured for several centuries.

It had been noticed that a mysterious carpenter worked on the construction, but was present neither at mealtimes nor when wages were paid.  One day, a large beam for the roof was found to be too short and was lowered back to the ground, a great embarrassment to all concerned as such huge timbers, cut from trees in the New Forest were expensive and scarce.  The following morning the workers were astonished to find that the beam had been placed in the correct position with length to spare.  The mysterious individual was never seen again and it was assumed that it was Jesus the Carpenter who had saved the day.  Thereafter the building became known as Christ’s Church in Twynham, then later as the legend spread and the population grew, the town itself evolved from being called Twynham into being known simply as Christchurch.

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The evolution of the Priory into the building that we see today took place over many centuries.   It is the longest parish church in England with a nave of over three hundred feet.  However, it is only by great fortune that the Priory survives at all as Henry VIII  intended to pull down the church as well as the monastic buildings when the Priory was surrendered in 1539.  The monastic buildings were pulled down soon after but, in response to a plea from the townspeople, the king granted the church together with the churchyard to the inhabitants of Christchurch to be used as the parish church in perpetuity.

nave

Following the completion of Ranulf Flambard’s original church in the 12th century extensions and additions continued throughout the 13th century and by 1350 the nave would have looked very much as it does today, dominated by the towering Norman arches.

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The Great Quire.  The beautiful reredos behind the altar was carved between 1330 and 1360 and is an example of a Jesse Reredos – a term new to me that apparently means that it is  a depiction of the ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David.  It is the original use of the family tree as a schematic representation of a genealogy.   Fortunately the carvings survived the reformation although the statues that once occupies the empty niches did not.

Shown below are some of the 39 wonderfully carved Misericord seats in the Great Quire.  The name comes from the term misericordia (literally “pity of the heart” to create an act of mercy) and refers to a small shelf that the monks could perch on during long periods of prayer yet still appear to be standing up.  The earliest of these seats dates from 1210.

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Chancel
The ornate Lady Chapel was completed in the mid 15th century.  The fine stained glass window that portrays events in Mary’s life is a much later addition having been fitted in 1875
Beam
The famous Miraculous Beam.  Only the end of the beam is visible and it is not in its original position.  It was removed when the roof of the priory was raised in the 14th century and left on the ground being surplus to requirements.  It was only when it was discovered that pieces were being cut off and sold to pilgrims in local souvenir shops, that it was re-installed high in the Lady Chapel.

 

The oldest and the newest stained glass windows.  The window on the left was originally fitted in Jumieges Abbey in Normandy in 1067 but, following the English invasion in the 15th century, it found its way to England and eventually to Highcliffe Castle, on the outskirts of Christchurch.   It was donated to the Priory in 1976 and was installed in the south nave aisle.  It depicts Saint Francis of Assisi  and Saint Anne, but unfortunately at some stage of its life the glass had been fitted the wrong way round so that the painted detail of the faces have been lost to the weather.

The window on the right was installed in 1999 in the Montacute Chapel to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the priory.  It shows a starry night in which the Cross of Christ dominates, surrounded by a pattern of circles, the symbols of Eternity and Perfection

Chapel interior

The wonderfully carved interior of the Salisbury Chantry built for Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury in 1529.  Henry VIII’s vandals made a half-hearted attempt at smashing the detail in the ceiling during the reformation and the niches no longer contain the original statues of saints, but still the original beauty of the structure shines through.  Sadly the chantry is empty because the Countess was executed as a traitor on the King’s command and is buried in the Tower of London.

Organ

The magnificent organ has an impressive 4,500 pipes, some of which date from the Priory’s first organ installed in 1788

Memorial

The mausoleum constructed for a Mrs Perkins who had a horror of being buried alive.   She instructed that, on her death, her body must not be interred but instead placed in a structure near to the entrance of the free school so that the boys would hear her if she revived.  Furthermore the coffin lid must not be screwed down and the door to the mausoleum must be able to be opened from the inside. Her wishes were fully carried out, but when her husband died in 1803 her body was interred and the structure sold and re-erected on its present site just outside the Priory wall.

Splinters Restaurant      splinters-restaurant

When we first arrived in the town, as we walked along the cobbled road towards the priory we passed an unassuming restaurant where I caught sight of a Michelin Plate logo on the door.  I was reminded of the press release put out by the Michelin guide last year indicating that although not justifying a coveted Michelin star, this new ‘L’Assiette Michelin’ award would signify that when visiting the  restaurant their inspectors had discovered ‘quality food’.  And that is exactly what we found as well, simple fare of an exceptional standard, prepared with skill at reasonable cost.  What more could one ask for?  I was so impressed by my meal that I suggested to BQ that we should give the full five stars to which he hesitantly agreed.  However on reflection I realise that considering his own unambitious selection of omelette and chips five stars would seem to be excessive, so four it is.

BQ’s Impressions

Mystic MW

No sooner had he returned from his non-stop tour of the ‘Holy Land’ than MW was telling me the astonishing story of the miraculous beam at Christchurch Priory. Had he caught something holy in his dip into the Dead Sea and the obligatory mud covering?   More worrying to me was the thought that it might be catching.  Also worried by his ‘carbon footprint’, despite journeying by camel at one point, he decided that we should go by train and therefore D/D could go green.

My constant moan that the Normans left so little of the Anglo Saxon churches to enjoy was completely blown out of the water when entering the magical Norman nave of Christchurch Priory.. The perfectly proportioned interior was the most decorated and beautiful Norman space imaginable. They may have acted like brutal conquerors, but they certainly knew about building and design. Thankfully, although the original monastery was demolished, very little damage was done to the church during the reformation, indeed it is now the longest parish church in the country.  But size matters little unless it is accompanied by the wonderful vista when viewed from the entrance when the relative darkness of the nave bursts into full glory of the reredos lit in May sunshine by the later perpendicular windows in the chancel.  For here is a church which glues the Norman and perpendicular in a seamless whole which is obvious from MW’s drone shots. If this was not enough the interior sparkles with fixtures and fittings worthy of any great cathedral.

For private prayer in the company of the blessed sacrament, St. Stephens chapel in the north transept is an exemplary intimate space.   A Norman refuge with a contemporary stained glass window representing his stoning.  After the first Christian martyr, celebrated in this country on Boxing Day, we move on to a collection of chantry chapels, the most notable of which is the Salisbury Chantry erected in memory of Blessed Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury.  Chantry Chapels are a feature of the 15th and early 16th century and they contained an altar where mass would be said for the family and relatives.  Margaret Pole was a well connected lady, a Plantagenet with family ties to Edward IV and Richard III who, after a period of favour from Henry VIII, was imprisoned for two years in The Tower after her son, a priest, became a critic of the Monarch.  After two years, at the age of 67, she was sentenced to beheading by the king.   The gruesome tale of her bloody demise at the hand of an inefficient executioner is the stuff of horror.  Beatified by the Pope in 1886 she is a martyr and I was grateful to the attendant who after many abortive visits in the past, allowed me inside the beautiful chantry in order to pray for her soul and that of her family.

This was an exceptional visit to a magnificent church in the lovely May sunshine and a walk through the park to the Splinters restaurant added its own charm.  It seemed odd to award five stars to such an ordinary main course as omelette and chips, but yet again I allowed myself to be unduly influenced by MW’s enthusiasm for his lamb. However any establishment that can offer a black pudding starter plus a bread and butter pud deserves my unqualified approval.

Our lunch

    • Black pudding, bacon and poached egg salad  BQ
    • Melon platter with sorbet  MW
    • Mushroom omelette, chips and salad  BQ 
    • Lamb tagine, herby flatbread, hummus, coriander yogurt  MW
    • White chocolate bread and butter pudding  BQ
    • Orange pannacotta. MW
    • The House Merlot  BQ
    • The House Shiraz  MW

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Bramley – St James’ Church

Lise Meitner was born in Vienna in 1878, the third of eight children in an unremarkable Jewish family.  Although her name will not be familiar to most people, it is no exaggeration to say that if her life had taken a different path, the course of the World War II and the fate of the free world could well have been catastrophically different. 

After studying physics at university in Austria, Lise moved to Berlin where she specialised in the research of the effects of radioactivity and during the 1930’s led the team that discovered nuclear fission, the basic process of the atomic bomb. However, this was the period when the persecution of Jews was gaining momentum throughout Germany and Lise was lucky to make her escape across the border into Holland, travelling on to Stockholm where she continued her work.  Her discoveries prompted Albert Einstein to write to President Roosevelt which, in turn, led to the Manhattan Project.

Lise visited the United States in 1946 with full press celebrity treatment, as “the lady who had left Germany with the bomb in her purse.”

You may well be wondering what all of this has to do with a Norman church situated in a small Hampshire village.  The surprising connection is that following her death in 1968, Lise Meitner was buried in this very churchyard.  For many years, until memories of the period began to fade, her grave was a place of pilgrimage by those who considered her to be the most significant woman scientist of the 20th Century who, had she been born a man, would undoubtedly have been awarded a Nobel Prize.  Her importance to the science community was belatedly recognised in 1992 when element 109, the heaviest known element in the universe, was named Meitnerium in her honour.

Following our arrival at St James’ Church, while I photographed the church interior, I asked BQ to try and locate Lise Meitner’s headstone, not an easy task I thought in a churchyard that has been a burial ground for 800 years.  But I should have had more faith, as when I finally emerged into the hazy March sunshine and wound my way through the numerous memorials, I finally came across a successful BQ pointing at a simple headstone with the poignant inscription;   LISE MEITNER   A Physicist who never lost her humanity.

 

It is Lise Meitner that we have to thank for discovering St James Church, a very worthy destination in its own right.  It was only after reading an article about the historic reluctance to award or even recognise women’s achievements in science that led me on to researching the life of this remarkable individual.

Y

St James’ Church was built in flint with stone dressings during the late Norman period, its medieval origins being immediately apparent on entering the building by the sight of St James’ ancient treasures, the wonderfully preserved early 13th century wall paintings.

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On our arrival, the first things to catch my eye were the magnificent Magnolia Grandiflora next to a diminutive porch that I notice has been described as one ‘that could belong to an old farmhouse’.  In sharp contrast is the large perpendicular south window, the main feature of the brick transept that was added in 1802.  The glass in the window is late 15th century Flemish and is said to have been hidden in a nearby moat in order to avoid destruction during the reformation.

August 2019;  I have been informed by one of our readers who knows the area that the above mentioned moat could well have been the one situated at Beaurepaire House,  about 2.5 miles from St. James Church.   Grateful thanks to Derek Beadel

W

The colourful and pleasing interior has been enhanced by the installation of a modern system of LED strip lighting.  We have seen nothing similar in any of our previous church visits and I applaud the person who made the bold decision which I am sure would not have been universally supported.  But the result is quite magical.

S

The screen is 15th century and is surmounted by a Victorian beam. The vivid 13th century wall paintings can clearly be seen either side of the East window.

T

At the back of the nave is a gallery accessible by a narrow stair.  The 19th century organ must have been a tight fit when it was installed but it does look and, I understand sound, quite magnificent.

R

The wall paintings are beautifully preserved thanks to the Priest of the day having the foresight to have them  covered with lime wash before they could be destroyed as a result of Henry VIII’s 1538 injunction that “All images, to which any manner of resort is used by way of pilgrimage or offering, they must depose and sequester from all sight of men and suffer them no more to be set up”.    This particular image of Thomas a Becket being killed by four of King Henry II’s knights would have been a prime target as Thomas a Becket had become a pilgrimage icon following his canonisation after his murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1173.  The paintings remained hidden for over 200 years before being revealed in the 18th century.

brocas

The substantial south transept built in 1802 is essentially a memorial to Sir Bernard Brocas who had died in 1777.  The tomb chest is surmounted by his effigy being cradled by a maiden at the moment of his death.

O

After centuries of serving as the cemetery for the parish of Bramley,  the graveyard has carried out its final burial, not because of a lack of space but because of too much rain.    A survey has identified that the water table levels are now higher than the Environment Agency permits for burials and we happened to arrive just as the final touches were being applied to what we were told would be the last headstone.  A mystery remains however as to why the occupant of the grave appears to have died 3 years earlier!

The Vyne

N1

Henry VIII is often mentioned in Dine and Divine, usually as the villain of the piece responsible for vandalising the various Saxon and Medieval Churches that we have visited and so, as it was close by, it seemed appropriate to visit The Vyne after leaving Bramley.   This beautiful Tudor House was built between 1500 and 1520 for Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain.  Lord Sandys had been a close companion of the King since the early years of his reign and the King visited him at the Vyne on three occasions, the last time, in October 1535, when he was accompanied by his Queen, Ann Boleyn.   Shortly after that, the King decided he wished to be free to marry Jane Seymour and so trumped up charges of adultery, incest and treason were brought against Ann Boleyn. Lord Sandys after so recently welcoming her to his home now sat on the jury that found her guilty of all charges and, if that wasn’t bad enough, it was he who escorted her to the block where she was beheaded four days later.

The Sandys lived here until the mid 17th century when, as a result of the civil war, they fell on hard times and the estate was sold to Chaloner Chute, a wealthy barrister who would later become Speaker of the House of Commons.  The Chutes owned The Vyne for the next 3 centuries before it passed to the National Trust in 1956.

 

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BQ and I toured the ground floor where every room we passed through displayed as many paintings as could fit on the walls, although in the gloom it was certainly difficult to make out any detail.  The circular tour brought us back to the entrance and from there I made my way up the ornate main stairs, described as ‘a symphony of Georgian neo-classical elegance’ leaving BQ to relax in the Staircase Hall where I could hear him grumbling to a long-suffering guide about the inadequate lighting.

The upper rooms are full of fascinating objects including a collection of  ‘Corn Law truncheons’.    These heavy black clubs were made in the early 19th century following the introduction of the Corn Laws that led to a steep rise in food prices.  A group of between 300 and 400 farm labourers who could no longer feed their families, marched on the Vyne to protest, but were stopped by armed soldiers.  Nevertheless the Chutes must have been very nervous and subsequently, twenty of the protesters were arrested of which two were hanged and the rest sent on a voyage to Australia.

 

J

The famous Hundred Guineas Oak.  Over 600 years old, and now looking very frail, this is the tree that William John Chute refused to sell for timber in the 18th century for 100 Guineas in the misplaced expectation that it would increase in value.   In the background is the 1630 summerhouse that was used for dinner parties.

The Queens College Arms.

There was strange irony in our choice of lunch venue considering all that had happened earlier in the day.  We hadn’t pre-booked a meal, we just happened to notice an attractive looking eaterie on our way to Bramley and it seemed a convenient choice.  However, on arrival, I noticed that the address was Aldermaston Road and I wondered, could this be the same Aldermaston that attracted all those tens of thousands of CND marchers in the 1950’s and 60’s.  A quick check on google maps confirmed that indeed it was – the sprawling Atomic Weapons Establishment was situated just a short distance along the road.

ESometimes pub menus can be depressingly predictable, but here they were original and imaginative.  The main courses were beautifully prepared and attractively presented and we particularly liked the trio of mini-puds which were small enough to be savoured without guilt.

BQ’s Impressions

What a Surprise

Hampshire is not a wool county so imagine my surprise when, after much searching, we found St James’ Church, and there facing us, was a glorious perpendicular window typical of those usually only found in counties that had grown wealthy from the textile trade. Had we at last come across a perpendicular style village church in this historically poor county?  However it was all an illusion prepared by Sir John Soane in 1802 to house the Brocas Chapel, a local family of toffs of whom the tomb of Sir Bernard reclining in a young maid’s arms would nowadays cause much female derision.

After that shock the church settled down to be late Norman in keeping with most in the county but, yet again enhanced by very fine early wall paintings.  Both Saint Christopher and Saint Thomas a Becket are thrillingly alive in the excellent lighting which MW kept harping on about.  The Beckett portrait, according to a local guide, dates from within fifty years of his death, and it shows yet again the impact that this atrocity had all over Europe, turning Canterbury into a major pilgrimage centre – as popular as Lourdes is today.  Once again close inspection of the walls suggest many more pictures are obscured under the plaster over which biblical passages were written, some of which still have partially survived.

The church is at the centre of a thriving village and gave every indication of being well used and attended.  But enough of these matters as I was given my orders to search the graveyard for a headstone of a lady who invented the atomic bomb.  In order to assist I was shown a photo of what I was looking for by MW.  What I had not realised is the graveyard leaves the close environment of the church and branches out into the countryside.  It was very daunting, but I was comforted by the sight of what I assumed was a gravedigger. Was I about to pick up a skull and proclaim that ‘I knew him’.   Instead it turned out to be a mason placing the very last headstone in the graveyard.  He was no help but looked slightly disturbed when I mentioned the bomb.    “What, here!”  he exclaimed.    After a long and sometimes frustrating search the headstone was found and I was left wondering why a Jewish Austrian lady was buried here in an English village churchyard.   I later found out that in 1908 she had converted to Lutheran Christianity and wanted to be buried close to her brother.

After my Hamlet experience in the graveyard, our visit to the Vyne further rekindled memories of the bard, as the guide told us that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had visited.  This indeed was the home of Lord Sandys the monarch’s Lord Chancellor with whom, in the final play by Shakespeare, Lord Sands chases Anne Bullen and kisses her (presumably the Y on the Bard’s typewriter was broken) only to be interrupted by a group of disguised Hooray Henrys, including the Monarch in a mask, and so was born The Church of England.  The passage of time changes little in human behaviour as the nobles of the land led by Lord Sandys trumped up a false charge against Anne however, the King in an act of charity reduced her sentence from being burnt at the stake to beheading.  What a gent!

Both ladies featured in today’s visit had an enormous and lasting effect on the course of history, one by default and the vicious action of a depraved Monarch and his sycophantic court and the other by her intellect.

If this were not enough we then made our short way to The Queens College Arms where the dominating mural of students throwing their mortar boards in the air yet again inflamed my prejudices, as a man who was forced out to work at sixteen years of age.  However the dining room was comfortable and inviting with an alarming variance in the waiting staff, almost ‘good cop bad cop’ but the food was excellent.  At last I had learnt my lesson and avoided the tempting starters and cut to my main choice, a succulent breast of duck. An excellent innovation was the mini sweets which afforded a taste without too many calories.

Yet another excellent day in disappointing grey conditions.

Our lunch

    • Roasted Duck Breast with braised cabbage and bacon, boulangere potatoes and dark cherry sauce  BQ
    • Spice Crusted Hake on garlic and rosemary potatoes with roasted tomato, red onion and wilted spinach  MW
    • A trio of mini puddings;  Coffee and Walnut Panna Cotta, Black Forest Sundae and Apple and Sultan Crumble  BQ & MW
    • The House Merlot  BQ
    • The House Shiraz  MW

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Trotton – The Church of St George

Although the trees were still bare there was a definite spring-like feeling to the day as we travelled along the country lanes to the small village of Trotton.  Strictly speaking the Church of St George shouldn’t qualify for a visit as it is not in Hampshire, but we were enticed by the prospect of seeing some of the finest medieval wall paintings in the area and anyway, Trotton was only 6 miles over the border into Sussex.  An added attraction was the fact that we would see two churches for the price of one, as St Marys Church, only a mile away in the hamlet of Chithurst, is linked within the same benefice as St George.

As we arrived in Trotton we crossed the River Rother on a rather interesting and beautiful stone bridge.  It was built in the year 1400 by Lord Camoys who held the Manor of Trotton at the time.  It seems to me quite astonishing that a bridge constructed 600 years ago, designed to carry no more than horse drawn hay carts and the occasional column of marching troops, now has to support the weight of the procession of buses, lorries and cars that now blight our country roads. 

Apart from the bridge and the church there is not much to see in Trotton although we did find a garden centre cafe where we enjoyed a couple of freshly brewed coffees before continuing onto our main destination, The Church of St George.

z Trotton Church

y St Georges Church Trotton

Built in the first half of the 14th century, the Church of St George has changed little over the years.  As with so many other churches we have visited, it replaced an earlier place of worship about which little is known other than it was recorded in the great Domesday book of 1089.

x Trotton Church Chancel

The church is best known for its association with the Camoys family.  Lord Camoys has already been mentioned as the person responsible for building the adjacent four arch bridge, but he also sponsored the building of the church itself.  However, his real fame is for his heroic service to Henry V as commander of the left flank of the English army at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

The table tomb containing the remains of Lord Camoys and his wife Elizabeth is prominently placed in the chancel between the choir stalls. Incidentally, Elizabeth was the ‘Gentle’ Kate mentioned by Shakespeare in his play Henry IV.   Surmounting the tomb is a magnificent memorial brass which is unusual in that instead of portraying the couple in a typically pious pose with their hands in an attitude of prayer, the engraver  shows them holding hands, a touching gesture. The tiny figure in the bottom left hand corner represents a son who died in infancy

 

The two superb London-made memorial brasses are almost life size and have been described as the biggest and best preserved in England.   We had to roll back a protective rug in order to see the quite remarkable brass shown on the right.  It dates from 1310 and is one of very few that commemorates a woman alone.  Her name was Margaret Camoys, but due to the frequency of this name in the family, her identity in uncertain.  The 9 recesses in her tunic would, at one time, have contained enamelled coats of arms and their unfortunate loss removes all evidence of her identity.

West Wall

The 14th century wall paintings immediately catch the eye on entering the church.  Obliterated by whitewash at the time of the reformation they were re-discovered in 1904, although the first attempts at proper conservation were not carried out until the 1950’s.  It would then take another thirty years before a full conservation was completed by the Courtauld Institute of Art.   Although paintings can be seen on the north and south walls, the most dramatic images are on the west wall, particularly on the right hand side which is more protected from sunlight.

Above the doorway, Christ can be seen sitting in judgement on a rainbow.  On either side of him is an angel.  At Christ’s left hand, the angel welcomes the naked figures of the blessed into paradise.  The other angel delivers sinners to eternal torment.  Then, lower down, are two groups of seven images presumably intended to help guide the congregation into leading better lives.  On the left, unfortunately rather faded, the seven deadly sins are displayed, pride, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, sloth and avarice.  In the centre, a sinner is depicted being tortured by demons.  An erect phallus was removed from the image of lust when the paintings were found in 1904.  What was acceptable in the 14th century was definitely not in the 20th!

t Trotton Wall Paintings

On the right hand side, the Seven Acts of Corporal Mercy can be seen surrounding the image of a ‘Good Man’.  They depict ‘Clothing the Naked’, ‘Feeding the Hungry’, Tending the Sick’, Visiting the Prisoner, Giving Drink to the Traveller, Welcoming the Stranger and Burying the Dead.

v Kneelers

I was rather touched by the variety of colourful kneelers resting on the pews.  They feature a wide variety of local subjects ranging from the transportation of a Trotton man to Australia in 1847 for stealing a ewe, to the closure of the village post office in 1976.  Presumably they were embroidered by the various members of the congregation.

Chithurst

Before flowing through Trotton, the river Rother passes through the wooded village of Chithurst.  Although it is only a small community of around 100 residents, there are three intriguing properties along the river bank that I felt deserved investigation.   In the event we were able to visit just two, a Norman Church and a Buddhist Monastery.  Between these two buildings sits a rather grand Victorian Manor House that, for many years, was known as the Chithurst Healing Centre.  It was set up and run by the Hollywood icon Sarah Miles, fondly remembered by many of my generation for her role in Ryans Daughter.  Sadly though, it seems that the centre has now closed.  

St Mary Church, Chithurst

n Chithurst Church

The church, although exceedingly small is big on history. It was originally built in the late 11th century on a man-made mound that is thought to have been used as a prehistoric burial barrow and a place of heathen worship in pre-Christian times. During the medieval period Chithurst was not a prosperous place and in 1291 it was granted an exemption from taxes by Pope Nicholas due to the extreme poverty of the parish.  Chithurst must have been a sleepy place throughout most of its life, but that ended in 1757 when the rector, Rev John Denham, was stabbed and murdered.  The culprit, a man by the name of  Aps was later tried and convicted at Horsham.  He was hanged, with a contemporary report stating that he ended “his wicked life without the least sign of repentance”.  A candidate for eternal torment if ever there was!

m Chithurst Church Nave

The interior could hardly be more simple.  There is no electrical connection or provision for heating.  Candle holders are still in place and the most modern contents are the 17th century box pews.  Nevertheless it had an appealing atmosphere of utter tranquility.

Cittaviveka

s Monasterry

When I first mentioned the idea of visiting the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery I sensed a distinct lack of enthusiasm from BQ, he didn’t think there would be sufficient time, there wouldn’t be anything much to see when we got there and finally he used the excuse of hunger as a reason why we should move on to Petersfield for lunch. I dismissed these objections and assured him that we would be welcome. I had seen the website which invited all-comers not only to visit, but to join the monks in meditation and chanting. There was also an invitation to share a meal with the residents or even take advantage of staying in simple accommodation in the beautiful park-land setting. It couldn’t have been more welcoming.   However BQ was not convinced and as we made our way down the drive past a strangely mystical sculpture, his lack of enthusiasm changed to distinct apprehension. But he should not have worried for, on arrival, we discovered we had come during the annual 10 week period of silence and contemplation and the place was deserted. But, nonetheless we looked around the extensive and rather beautiful site, or rather I did, while BQ sat under the watchful gaze of an inscrutable Buddha in the Dhamma Meditation Hall.

p Monastery Monument

 

q Monasterry

The Fez Restaurant, Petersfield

 

k Fez Restaurant

Although it was a mid-week lunchtime, when we arrived at the Fez Restaurant in the centre of Petersfield, we were surprised to find it empty.  That is normally not a good sign, but the food was good, promptly prepared, reasonably priced and served by two charming Turkish waitresses in this family business.  What more could one ask? 

j MW 2

BQ’s Impressions

The Spear Carrier

Amateur theatre and opera allows opportunities for many diverse characters who have minor parts but who generally appear in the background.  Thomas Lord Camoys, who is commemorated by a magnificent brass memorial in this church, is such a character.  For he would surely  have been present in the background in scenes featuring the court in Shakespeare‘s Henry IV parts one and two and Henry V.   It is interesting to speculate if I ever played him during my time performing on the amateur stage, as I never managed to achieve a major part in these histories; not dissimilar to my role in Dine and Divine where I am relegated to minor parts, either freezing my action, waiting for the click of MW’s camera or hiding whilst the drone circles above.

Lord Camoys however was completely upstaged by his wife who was none other than ‘Gentle Kate’ who has one of the best female roles in the Shakespeare histories, berating her first husband, Sir Harry Hotspur, for not coming to her bed.  As a high born member of the Mortimer family she threatens to break his phallus with the excuse that such action would make him ‘too soft’ for the battle that lay ahead – a scene reflecting the ambiguity of sexual orientation, so often found in Shakespeare.  One imagines that before she was interred in the magnificent tomb alongside her much decorated and admired husband, she could have had no inkling that her place in history would be as a major player, whilst his role was destined to be that of a mere ‘spear carrier’ thanks to Mr Shakespeare..

The grade one Church of St George is a plain barn of a structure from outside but its interior is a box of diamonds, not only for the brasses and memorials, but also for the astonishing array of medieval wall paintings in various stages of preservation.  Looking closely at the walls I would imagine that the entire church would originally have been decorated.   On entering the building I was immediately struck by  the dramatic images on the west wall depicting the Last Judgement and the contrasting results of living a life of virtue or sin.  Even in these sophisticated times when congregations are literate, these naive wall paintings have more meaning than any written strictures.

After such a rich mixture, the visit to the humble Norman Church at Chithurst could be compared to an alka-seltzer after too good a night out. Without all the excesses of the previous visit I found the power of prayer in this modest building came easily.

Set on a mound above the river Rother, the seat outside was heavenly as the only noise was of moving water and birdsong, but yet again my reverie was interrupted by MW whose passion for constant discovery can be a little wearing.  Was this at last lunch?  No, he had discovered a Buddhist retreat and monastery further up the road and, whilst in the area, a visit was paramount. So I found myself, unbelievably, seated before the Buddha in silence apart from MW’s  military style shiny shoes as he clip-clopped around on the marble floors.  All this in what we discovered was during monks silent period!

Thence, a return to Hampshire and Petersfield for lunch at the Fez brasserie, a hidden small gem discovered by MW in the lanes that surround the main square.  During the years of living mid-week in the West End of London, I became a lover of Turkish cuisine and this restaurant lived up to my expectation.  The surprise was reserved for the wine, which was full bodied and delicious and was also Turkish.  So ended a full, but intensely satisfying trip across the border in the most glorious weather.

  • Our lunch
  • Imam Bayildi;  Aubergine stuffed with peppers, onion and tomato and baked in the oven.  BQ
  • Falafel;  Deep fried balls made from ground chickpeas, fava beans and coriander seeds, served with Turkish salad, hummus and yoghurt.  MW
  • Fez Kofte;  Minced lamb with rice and salad. BQ
  • Imam Bayildi;  Aubergine stuffed with peppers, onion and tomato and baked in the oven. MW
  • Villa Doluca Red Klassic;  A dry red wine from Turkey.   BQ and MW

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Freefolk – St Nicholas’ Church

What a strange little church this is, with its hedge bordered garden, squeezed in between two up-market residences in the oddly named village of Freefolk.    On entering, the interior appeared to be virtually unchanged since the last refurbishment in 1704 and it was only a well-used visitors book that indicated just how many people, quite a few from overseas, make the journey to see this unique survivor.  

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0172.JPG

A church on this site was recorded in the 1086 ‘Great Survey’ of England (commonly known as the Domesday Book), but no other details of that building has survived.  The present church was completed around 1268 after the local nobleman petitioned for permission to build a chapel on his estate, following local flooding which prevented residents travelling to their nearest parish church during the winter months. This would have been a significant problem as it was at the time when Sunday church attendance was a legal requirement.

3 Church

The church forms a simple rectangle, 36ft by 15ft, and is the smallest church we have visited.  The Victorian font and modern chairs look oddly out of place

4 Memorial

The grandiose Jacobean Monument enclosed by wrought iron railings is in memory of Sir Richard Powlett who died in 1614 and it dominates the diminutive church.  The memorial consists of a recumbent effigy of Sir Richard on the tomb chest, and the figures kneeling in front represents his two daughters

5 Tomb

6 Tomb plaque

7 Helmet

As was common practice at the time, Sir Richard’s helmet, together with a single spur, hangs over his tomb

8 Wall Paintings

In medieval times, most of the congregation would not have been able to read, and so church walls were decorated with paintings that would not only embellish the interior, but also convey religious messages in a way worshippers could understand. These frescos often showed scenes from biblical stories or from the lives of saints.  Following Henry VIII’s reformation the great majority of these portrayals were whitewashed over in order to eradicate all evidence of Catholicism.  However, instead of destroying the images, the whitewash often had the effect of preserving them by protecting them from light.   In the second half of the 20th century skilled restorers began carefully removing whitewash revealing paintings that had been hidden for over 400 years.

On the walls of St Nicholas’ Church there is a confused jumble of paintings, many of which overlap. Our guidebook tells us that there are three separate layers dating from 15th until the 17th century.  I was unable to find the images of either St Christopher or a unicorn that it mentions, but I could clearly see and photograph this unusual portrait.  It looks vaguely Scandinavian to my eye which is unlikely.  If any of our more learned readers has a better suggestion, please do let us know.

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In 1896 as the local population increased, a new larger church, St. Mary’s the Virgin, was constructed and can be seen here in the background. The various functions of St Nicholas’  were transferred across, but it wasn’t until 1974 that St Nicholas’ was finally declared redundant.  Two years later it was taken over by the Churches Conservation Trust

Manor Cottages

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This remarkable 600 feet long terrace is situated between the two churches.  Manor Cottages, as it is known, consists of 18 homes and is the longest span of residential thatch in Britain.  When it was built in 1939 the over-riding emphasis was to create a frontage that would impress and it certainly does that.  However, in contrast the rear of the building is extremely utilitarian and until recently, the back yards consisted of just a small patch of concrete – all fur coat and no knickers as I heard it described.  

Recently though, the landlords have provided each property with an individually landscaped garden more in keeping with their attractive frontage.  A mystery remains however, as to why they were originally built.  Our Hampshire guidebook describes them as almshouses, but while we were having lunch in the village pub, we met two Manor Cottage residents who told us they originally accommodated workers from the local paper mill.

 

The Watership Down

We had hoped to have a quick look at the replacement church, St Mary’s, but unfortunately it was locked, and so we moved on to the nearby village pub for our lunch.  It is known locally as ‘The Jerry’, but nobody seemed to know why, either that or they weren’t telling!   In reality, when it was built in 1840, it was called the Freefolk Arms, then later renamed the ‘Watership Down’ in honour of  the local author Richard Adams and his hugely successful book about the adventures of a band of rabbits fleeing their doomed warren as a result of  a planned housing development.  ‘Watership Down’ was later made into an equally popular if sentimental film in 1978.  I remember that it really captured the public imagination to the point where there was national outrage when a butcher unwisely tried to cash in on the publicity by stringing up a line of rabbits in his shop window with a sign saying ‘You’ve read the book, you’ve seen the film, now eat the cast’.

Our first impression was that the pub exterior could benefit from a good tidy-up, but inside it was warm and welcoming and the staff friendly and efficient.  Special thanks must go to our excellent waiter Rory and to Steve the chef.  Our meal was outstandingly good and would not have been out of place in a rosette endowed restaurant.  My mixed vegetable, coconut and coriander curry was quite simply, superb – an inspired mix of subtle flavours that blended together with perfection. I advocated a five star rating but BQ, whose need of cloth napkins borders on obsession, persisted in maintaining that the top award couldn’t be given without them.

10 Watership Down

11 Pub

We came across this early photo of the pub in the bar.   I imagine it was taken in the late 19th century.  The no-nonsense landlady watches over the proceedings in a proprietorial manner while a bearded gentleman looks out suspiciously from a doorway.   A moment, frozen in time, long gone.   How many of the countless digital images captured on modern phones will have such longevity?     Surprisingly, with equal longevity, part of the word ‘STRONGS’ on the sign is still just detectable under the window of the right-hand building in our photo taken well over a century later. A tribute to Victorian materials!

 

The Whitchurch Silk Mill

I had been interested in visiting this picturesque mill ever since it recommenced weaving silk on its Victorian machinery a few years ago and, as we had to pass through Whitchurch on our journey to and from Freefolk, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

13 Silk Mill Exterior

The mill was constructed in 1800 on a plot of land known as Frog Island, but it was not the first water mill to be sited here, as the same Domesday Book referred to earlier, records one existing in 1086.   By the mid 19th century the mill employed a staff of 108 including 39 children under the age of 13.   The mill continued operating right up until 1985 at which time it was producing legal and academic gowns.  The building is now owned by the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust.  The huge waterwheel is still in working order with the line shafts still rotating throughout  the two floors of weaving machinery.  However, these days the 15 looms are powered by individual electric motors.

BQ’s Impressions

Trouble at Mill
When I heard that in addition to our dine and divine duties, MW had as a bonus, arranged to visit a watermill on the Test river, my enthusiasm knew no bounds. With his usual careful planning he had made a dummy run a few days beforehand, and so when he picked me up on a misty cold morning the whole venture seamlessly unfolded.

Our first stop was to be the mill and, the night before, I had read excitedly about its history of printing bank notes and then later how it was converted into a distillery.  However, instead of the home of Bombay Sapphire Gin, we arrived at the equally impressive Whitchurch Silk Mill.  Having once ordered that particular gin for a colleague in a smart hotel, and then falling off the bar stool at the cost, I had been hoping for some freebies.  Instead I was charmed by the impressive silk mill and its magnificent wheel and complicated machinery.
At one time there were five mills around Whitchurch, all functioning on the natural power generated by the river.   What a modest carbon footprint, and our generation thinks it has progressed and meanwhile the source of all this unused energy still flows tranquilly by.  But, we no longer employ children so perhaps somethings have improved.

St Nicholas Church, although no bigger than a large room, encapsulates a complete history of the church in England since the 13th century.  The colourful, although damaged wall paintings being superseded by the firm written strictures of the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments after the reformation.  The early Georgian pews had replaced the ‘standing only’ area and, dominating the nave, quite the most hideous memorial to a knight of the realm I have ever seen.  It is so out of proportion to the lovely calm and spiritual interior, that it can only be regarded as bling. President Trump would love it!   However, what do I know about these things, for as we crossed to the replacement church of St Mary’s I remarked to MW how attractive it looked from the exterior only to find that Pevsner, the ultimate authority of church buildings, demurred from this view stating;  ‘the building does the architect Pearson little credit ‘.

By the time we left for luncheon I was salivating at the thought of eating my favourite meat, rabbit, for how could an establishment called The Watership Down serve anything else?  My disappointment at its absence from the menu was passed on to our excellent and attentive waiter Rory who conveyed my thoughts to the chef Steve who, to his credit, then proceeded to produce  mouth-watering delights of the highest quality with a genuine flair for presentation.   My rabbit was soon forgotten as I nodded off on the way home dreaming of a large gin and tonic!

  • Our lunch
  • Pan seared fresh scallops with green beans and vanilla butternut squash purée  BQ
  • Locally sourced pan-fried pigeon breast with braised red cabbage and blackberries and roasted carrot purée   MW
  • Chicken and mushroom linguine in a tarragon sauce finished with Parmesan cheese and roasted garlic  BQ
  • Vegan mixed vegetable coconut curry with coriander and mushroom fried rice   MW
  • Great Expectations South African Merlot.  BQ and MW

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Kings Worthy – St. Mary’s Church

This was one of those days that didn’t go as anticipated. Plan A was to visit St Mary’s Church at Itchen Stoke.  We had done plenty of research beforehand but, in hindsight we should have wondered just why the guidebooks suggested visiting the church on a sunny day.  The reason became clear on our arrival, as there was no electric lighting and with the overcast skies, the stained glass windows did not provide sufficient light to attempt any photography or indeed see very much. After spending far too long looking for non-existent light switches we moved to Plan B which was to brave the traffic jams and carry on into Winchester and  visit St. Swithun-upon-Kingsgate, a tiny medieval church built within the fabric of the city walls.  On our way however, we passed through the pretty village of Kings Worthy and immediately noticed an interesting flint built church next to the village green which turned out be Plan C, the final choice.

St Mary’s Church, Itchen Stoke

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The remarkable labyrinth in the chancel was modelled on the one in Chartres Cathedral

It is worth mentioning our brief visit to Itchen Stoke even though we were unable to do justice to such an interesting Victorian Gothic building. The church is no longer used for worship and, along with several others in Hampshire, is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.    As we hunted for the elusive light switches, spurred on by the sight of light fittings high in the roof, an elderly lady arrived and told us we were wasting our time, the electricity had been disconnected several years ago. She told us that she was 89, lived locally having had connections to the church for most of her life.  She had been a voluntary cleaner there for 20 years, a job that apparently she abruptly ended when a new regime pointed out areas that needed  extra attention.  She went on to mourn the decline in the state of the building, pointing out the copious bat droppings and areas where theft and vandalism had taken place.  She particularly took exception to the altar table being moved to the side wall in order to fully expose a tiled labyrinth in the chancel, a desecration that she said had been carried out by the Labyrinth Society.  I hadn’t heard of the organisation and have to say it all sounded a bit mystical and cult-like.  However when I got home, I did some research and got a quite different perspective:-   www.labyrinthos.net.   

 We chatted outside the porch for a while and were about to leave when our elderly lady friend pointed down towards the road with the words ‘That’s my husband over there’.  I glanced across and saw a gleaming silver Porsche by the Lychgate.  When I expressed admiration for the car she responded, “No, he’s over there” pointing to a well maintained grave. “He’s been dead these past 15 years”.

St. Mary’s Church, Kings Worthy

And so, on to another St. Marys Church, this one in Kings Worthy, our unexpected destination of the day.  What a contrast. Warm and bright with evidence of a vibrant, active congregation wherever we looked.  The notice boards detailed a variety of local events and activities and, at the entrance of the side chapel stood a prayer tree resplendent  with fairy lights and written prayers dangling from the branches.  Fortunately there was just one copy of David Johnston’s excellent booklet ‘Saints and Pilgrims’ left for sale.  After browsing through it for a while I felt it was worth the £9 cost although this is rather more than we usually pay for a church description booklet.    

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St Mary’s in Kings Worthy has a varied and fascinating history.  The oldest parts of the building, including the tower, doorway and font base, date back to Norman times.  But what can be seen now is largely the work of Victorian restorations.

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In the year 2000 a group of pilgrims bearing a shepherds crook set off from Winchester to retrace the historic pilgrims route to Canterbury.  When they arrived in Kings Worthy, a traditional resting place on the journey, they presented this emblem to the parishioners of St Marys who had it embedded in the church wall.   

The route of the Pilgrims Way follows an ancient track from Winchester to Canterbury that dates back to 600-450 BC.  Its use by Christian pilgrims began following the canonisation of the murdered Thomas Becket in 1173 after which his shrine in Canterbury became the most important in Christendom.  It drew pilgrims from far and wide and it has been estimated that over 100,000 a year were using this route.  Inevitably the inclination to make these arduous pilgrimages quickly declined following the 16th century reformation and the subsequent robust discouragement of Catholic practices.

 

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Apart from the medieval roof structure, what we see to day is the result of the 19th century restorations and enlargements

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BQ studies the parish notes.  The unusual prayer tree is in the foreground

The south aisle looking towards the rear of the church.  This section was extended eastward twice in the 19th century (1864 and 1884) as the local population increased.  When the proposals for the second extension were being considered, the rector felt it necessary to hold a public meeting with the parishioners to deal with their fears that any additional ornamentation might lead to ‘ritualism’.  This was the contentious matter of the day, as it was during the period of the Anglican struggles between High and Low Church.

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The attractively panelled choir and chancel.  The organ was a gift by one of the parishioners in the 1880’s and was supplied by William Hill of London who, when quoting, wrote ‘We can make you a charming little organ for £150, though of course they are expensive instruments and we could not offer you anything very large at that price’.  Not the best sales pitch!  The instrument is still in use although enlarged, modified and modernised.

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A medieval treasure, the importance of which has only recently been realised, is in the side chapel.  This insignificant 500 year old roundel of stained glass was acquired and fitted during the 1884 restoration and depicts the two missionary bishops, St Swithun and St. Birinus.  Just where it originally came from is a mystery.

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Considering that there has been a church on this site for over 700 years, the churchyard seems rather small, but that may be because when the building was first constructed there was no churchyard at all and the departed were sent to Winchester for burial. Around a century later some adjacent land was acquired and the rector of the day had it consecrated by a visiting bishop and the first burial took place.   Immediately the Abbot of Hyde, who traditionally had the right to bury the dead (and collect the associated fees) lodged a complaint.  The ensuing contest became so serious that it was referred to the Pope.  Eventually a decision was made in favour of the church, helped by the fact that it was becoming increasingly impractical to transport the growing number of corpses to Winchester, particularly after the Black Death of 1348.

There are some interesting and poignant graves.   In 1932 a new slide was provided at the recreation ground and 11 year old Dorothy Holland was one of its first users.  Sadly she got a splinter from the wooden structure that led to blood poisoning which, at a time before antibiotics, proved to be fatal.  A small statue of a sorrowful girl marks her final resting place.     

In 1886 two shipmates, James Parker and Albert Brown were walking back to London from their ship in Southampton and, after a night drinking in the village tavern, bedded down in a farmers hay rick.  In the morning James was found with his throat cut and Albert Brown had fled together with James’s meagre savings. The case became notorious overnight and within a year the culprit was caught, tried and hanged. James Parker’s grave is situated to the right of the church by the boundary.

By the fence to the left of the church is a memorial to the lady known locally as “The Woman who lived in a Hole”. Yolanda Span, at one time a successful interpreter, moved to Kings Worthy and set up a smallholding with chickens and goats.  Her lifestyle deteriorated after the death of her husband, and in the 1940’s she resorted to living in a 3ft by 7ft hole with a corrugated roof and a floor of old newspapers. It is not clear whether this arrangement was of her own choosing or is evidence of a lack of compassion in the parish.

 

The Cart and Horses

Following our tour of the church I stayed on for a while in order to capture some overhead photos.  At the sight of the drone BQ, as usual, made himself scarce and hurried off to the nearby Cart and Horses tavern despite my often repeated assurances that I am registered, follow all legal requirements and avoid operating the drone over sensitive areas.   I rather think he fears being arrested as an accomplice to the reckless endangerment of public safety.  But all was well, the sun emerged, photos were taken and after a while I followed him into the welcoming interior of the 250 year old Cart and Horses.  To my surprise I found the place already filled with diners and just a single table unoccupied.   BQ however, was relaxing at the bar with a freshly brewed coffee chatting to some locals. On discovering he had not made a reservation I hurried back to the dining room and was fortunate in securing the last remaining table.

Personally I found the food to be excellent, the staff efficient and friendly and the charges moderate.  I would have been quite happy to award 4 stars except that I could see BQ struggling to make a dent in his gargantuan portion of fish and chips.

 

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The Grange

On our journey back from the pub we called in to see the Grange, a truly impressive building that is now used for opera performances.  BQ, an opera lover and a regular at Glyndebourne, was keen to see this relatively new venue.  He had, in the past, considered applying for tickets but had been deterred by the prohibitive price of even the cheapest tickets. 

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Between 1809 and 1816 a modest 17th century brick building once used as a hunting lodge by George, Prince of Wales, was transformed, on the instruction of Henry Drummond, into something more like an ancient Greek temple.   The architect, William Wilkins, coated the existing building in cement then added classical façades, including the striking temple front supported on eight gigantic columns. However, before the work was completed the building was sold to Sir Francis Baring, the founder of Barings Bank, the very same bank that gained such notoriety 200 years later when it collapsed following massive losses caused by the rogue trader Nick Leeson. The Grange is still owned by the Baring family, but since 1998 has been leased out to opera companies who have held annual summer festivals there.

 

BQ’s Inpressions

Lost in the Labyrinth

It was all a bit “Da Vinci” as we first visited the unlit church on the hill on a dull and misty morning. Thankfully the figure that appeared out of the darkness was not “Silas the hooded monk” but a sweet old retainer.

After recovering from the shock, as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, a real gem of a church became visible “all magnificent artifice but lacking a soul”.

One could only imagine the shock and awe that this building generated at the time of its unveiling for here, in this modest village, was a church with all the extravagant trappings such as the Rose Window and tiled Labyrinth that would usually only be found in more august buildings such as those across the English Channel in Paris with its reputation for high living and glamour.   One can only imagine the raised eyebrows of the humble congregation at such an excess of “Popery”.

The Labyrinth is interesting in that it is regarded as a spiritual journey into the centre and back along the only possible route, and must never be confused with a maze in which one can get lost.  It is regarded as a tool of meditation and prayer and, although found in many French Cathedrals, it dates back to ancient Crete and Egypt.

In all our visits and blogs spanning nearly two years and around thirty visits we have only found two churches that are no longer active, and which are administered by the churches preservation trust.  Interestingly both were built at considerable expense in the 1800’s.  Perhaps those Anglo Saxon and Medieval builders knew a lot more about location than those that followed?

Which leads us seamlessly onto St Mary’s at Kings Worthy whose provenance was immediately proclaimed by a Norman porch, but subsequently subsided into a fully serviceable interior from the 1800’s.  However those Normans knew instinctively where to situate a place of worship – alongside the village green and shop and a short distance from the pub, and now it responded to its central position as it gave every indication of a busy warm hub to the village.

On entering the church my attention was drawn to an inkpad and rubber stamp that appeared to be for stamping cards for those pilgrims walking from Winchester to Canterbury along the Pilgrims Way. It mischievously reminded me of my youth and the pass-out stamps that bouncers would put on my hand in order for me to re-enter a place of carousing festivities.

With the recent furore against drones I made myself inconspicuous whilst MW surreptitiously went about his business. I hid in the bar of the Cart and Horses rehearsing my denial of any involvement in such activities. Eventually he joined me, upset that I had not reserved a table as the restaurant was filling fast. I refrained from telling him that I was waiting in case he had been apprehended by the law.

The meal and service were excellent, but I must remember to dispense with a starter when in a public house as I was forced to curtail my main course of fish and chips through gluttony.

This was good pub food and, yet again, your intrepid duo had rescued a day from the jaws of disaster particularly as it culminated in a visit to the grand and amazing mansion of The Grange.  Regrettably there was no ‘Marriage of Figaro’ but we did meet a lady who was shortly to be married at the venue; well you can’t have everything!

 

  • Our lunch
  • Pan –fried scallops with crispy bacon in a garlic and coriander glaze BQ
  • Stuffed Moroccan courgette rolls, rolled ribbons of courgette, stuffed with Moroccan spiced brown vegetable rice on mini skewers, with a dressed salad and toasted mixed seeds  MW
  • Hand-battered Atlantic cod and chips, a large skinless cod fillet with chips and tartar sauce  BQ
  • Grilled salmon with roasted vegetables on a bed of warm roasted butternut squash, red onion, peppers and baby potatoes with spinach and house dressing  MW
  • Santa Rita Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon  BQ and MW

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Wolverton – St Catherine’s Church

Wolverton is situated just about as far as we could travel yet still be in Hampshire, a little further north and we would cross the border into Berkshire.  The day started crisp and bright and became increasingly frosty as we travelled further from the coast. It was an uneventful, speedy journey and we arrived in Wolverton a good 45 minutes before our pre-arranged meeting with the Reverend David Barlow who had kindly offered to unlock the church at noon.   That gave me plenty of time to get some exterior photos of St Catherine’s Church which, to my eye, is pleasingly proportioned despite being criticised for the size of its tower in relation to the unusually compact nave and chancel.   As I manoevered the drone, my concentration was interrupted by the sound of an anguished cry that had come from BQ who was now lying prone in the frosty grass having stepped into a hidden rabbit hole.  Mercifully, he was uninjured – apart from pride – and was soon back on his feet but we retreated to relax back in the car and, more urgently, warm up.  Soon after, the genial Reverend David arrived.

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The first mention of a religious building on this site was in 1286.  In the early 14th century a flint and wood church was constructed which survived until 1717 when the building was entirely encased with local hand-made brick with the original wooden roof being retained.

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The roof beams are original 14th century and form the shape of fish denoting the ancient Christian symbol for Jesus.  The box pews are also Georgian each being adorned with an original twisted brass candlestick.  Candles are still lit for evensong.  Brass plates in the pews reminds worshippers that they must turn up on time, sing heartily, kneel for prayers and stay kneeling at the end of the service, but above all they should keep their thoughts on holy things  (surely easier said than done!)

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BQ and David sat chatting throughout our visit clearly having much in common.  In the background is the family pew once reserved for the Duke of Wellington who sometimes worshipped here with his family.

We are indeed grateful to David for giving us his time, as I see from the church website that his benefice includes not only Wolverton, but three other adjacent parishes.

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An unusual feature of the church is the two Spanish Oak pulpits situated on either side of the  entrance to the chancel, one to be used for sermons and one for prayer.  They are exactly alike, reflecting a time  when praying was not considered to be above preaching, nor preaching above praying. 

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The sanctuary, panelled with dark oak, is very impressive while, over the altar, a central panel contains a star formed from different shaded woods, giving a wonderful sense of reverence.

 

Highclere Castle

Generally I am not an avid TV viewer, but I must confess to having been temporarily converted at the time that Downton Abbey was being shown.  I thought that the entire series was beautifully crafted, with superb acting and direction and all against a background of the iconic building that was the fictional home to the Crawley family.   In reality Downton Abbey is Highclere Castle and the real owners are the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.   When we had the opportunity to join a tour of the castle as part of a small group to be personally hosted by the Countess, it was too good to miss, particularly as it is situated no more than a 20 minute drive from Wolverton Church.

However, as we weaved our way along country lanes towards Highclere, the bright autumn sunshine was replaced by a cold, dank and penetrating mist which discouraged plans of exploring some of the castle’s 1,000 acres before our 1.30 pm tour.   I did leave BQ for a while to go as far as the nearest of the five follies – The Jackdaw’s Castle, which is set on a small hillock a couple of hundred yards away designed, no doubt, to improve the view from the castle’s principal rooms.  I came back to find BQ, together with some of our fellow guests huddling around the front door hoping to be allowed in early to escape the cold, but the welcome sound of the bolts being slid open did not occur until precisely 1.30.

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The  Jackdaw’s Castle, built in 1743, marked the far end of the pleasure gardens.  It was built using the Corinthian columns that were salvaged  from Berkeley House in London which had burned down 10 years earlier. When Capability Brown was commissioned to redesign the parkland  in 1770 he had the pleasure gardens swept away in favour of the open aspect that we see today.

As we all waited to be let in, while BQ lamented the lack of seating in the forecourt I noticed the imposing entrance into the castle.  It seemed to me that it was designed to overawe, even intimidate the visitor by projecting an impression of power, perhaps even ruthlessness, a feeling strengthened when I noticed the twin cast metal door knobs  which appeared to represent wolves’ heads, each with a severed leg in its mouth.

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On entering the castle we assembled in the Saloon where we were warmly welcomed by the Countess who spoke to us from the main stairs giving a brief history of the estate from the time of King Cuthred who set out the boundaries in 749 AD.  Ancestors of the present family first acquired the estate in the late seventeenth century and the castle that we see today was constructed in the mid nineteenth century.

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The Saloon
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The library.  One of the more fascinating features of the tour was the photographic stills of the Downton Abbey cast in a scene that had taken place in the room we were currently in.
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The Van Dyke painting of Charles I in the dining room that was particularly admired by BQ.  We learned that Charles I generally insisted that he be depicted on horseback as it disguised his lack of height.
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One of the 50 bedrooms – the opulent Stanhope room looking as it was when it was occupied by the visiting Prince of Wales in 1895.  In Downton Abbey, it was this room that the unfortunate Turkish Diplomat was carried back to by loyal staff after meeting his demise during an inappropriate tryst in Lady Mary’s bed.  Incidentally, the author of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, later disclosed that this scandalous episode was based on a real occurrence.
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A complimentary afternoon tea was provided at the conclusion of our tour and neither BQ or I stinted ourselves at the well presented buffet.  This was hardly surprising as there had been no time for lunch during the day’s busy schedule.

BQ’s Impressions

Tea and Ties

How times have changed; MW and I decided the day before our visit that a sense of respect for afternoon tea in such an august and dignified setting demanded at least a jacket and tie. It will probably come as no surprise to the more enlightened of our readers that we two stood out uniquely among the thirty or so guests who favoured sweaters, jeans and woolly hats.    Carson would have had a fit!

However, I have jumped ahead of the prime purpose of this trip which was a visit to the village of Wolverton and the grade one listed church of Saint Catherine whose feast day followed on the Sunday.    Southampton Art Gallery has a fine triptych depicting Saint Catherine and the philosophers painted by Van der Weyden, which also shows the wheel on which she was so cruelly broken, a dreadful form of execution still remembered in November by the firework known as the Catherine Wheel.

St Catherine’s Church is like an onion revealing its evolution in subsequent layers as you peel back from the 18th century brick exterior to its medieval heart.  The building is dominated by a tower completely out of proportion to the small nave and chancel and at the time of our visit one of the two altars, normally seen at opposite ends of the building, had been removed to provide space for a temporary memorial to local men who had fallen in the Great War.  This change helped to bring a little normality to the interior design although the feeling of eccentricity was still to be seen in the two identical pulpits at either side of the chancel arch. Nevertheless the church is a wonderful example of early Georgian furnishings with box pews and brass candlesticks, complete with candles.   At this time it is worth re-visiting one of our early visits to St Mary in Avington which shows how the style created at Wolverton reached its zenith but, at the same time, lost a little of its humanity.

Thence on to Highclere Castle for a tour and afternoon tea. By early afternoon the sun disappeared and a cold east wind froze the soul.   Approaching across the parkland in the foggy conditions all detail of the building was lost, and the house loomed large and black – a true gothic fantasy – all that was missing was Vincent Price.   During a cold wait outside, I made the acquaintance of a couple from Atlanta in Georgia USA, who said that this was the high spot of their European trip as they were fans of ‘Downton Abbey’.

For me the tour was memorable for the magnificent equestrian portrait in the dining room of Charles I by Van Dyke, and also the concern shown by MW in carrying my chair from room to room.   The self service tea was served in the outhouses at the rear and was a disappointment for someone who was expecting white gloves etc.  However after his kindness, MW stated that ‘this was how they served tea at the royal garden parties which he had attended’.    Yet again I knew my place!

Beaulieu – The Church of the Blessed Virgin and Holy Child

Since we began this internet diary of at the beginning of 2017 we have visited almost 30 churches.  It seems a lot, but in fact is just about 10% of the total number in Hampshire.   With an area of almost one and a half thousand square miles, our county is the second largest in the south of England, and during this past twenty months, we have had the opportunity of travelling to all four corners. Throughout these journeys we have been constantly impressed at just how beautifully unspoiled this special part of the United Kingdom is.  Surprisingly however, until now we have not featured the particularly attractive village and historic church that is just a short walk from my own home.

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Beaulieu is divided by the tidal river of the same name, and the opposing banks are connected by a causeway and bridge.  The original purpose of the causeway was to allow the rising tide to fill the lagoon in the foreground of the picture and then, at high tide, the sluice gates would be shut and the water held until it could be released at low tide driving a water mill that is situated in the centre of the causeway.   This 17th century tide mill, as it is known, and is one of very few that still survives.

The village centre and high street can be seen on the right hand side of the river and on the left is Palace House, the home of Lord and Lady Montagu.  A little further back the red roofed Beaulieu Church, the subject of today’s visit, can be seen.

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The church that we see today is one of two surviving sections of the once great Cistercian Abbey that was founded in 1204 and completed in 1246.  In common with many other religious buildings it was destroyed 300 years later on the whim of Henry VIII during the infamous Dissolution of the Roman Catholic Monasteries.  The two wings of the abbey complex that were spared (because they were of no spiritual significance) were the Domus, the long building on the left, which was the sleeping quarters for the monks and the Refectory, the red-roofed building with the gables surmounted with crosses, which was where the monks had their meals.  Following the abbey’s demise, it is this building that was gifted to the village in 1538 to be used as the parish church, although of course worship would now have to be based on the recently introduced Protestant faith.

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This photo shows the two surviving buildings as they are today, the Domus on the far side of the cloisters and Beaulieu Church on the left. The immense scale of the original abbey is apparent as the base of the columns that once supported the 102 metre long building, can clearly be seen.

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The cloisters.

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When we arrived at the church we were disappointed to find the building minimally lit and any attempt at photography would have been futile.  Unfortunately none of the staff had the authority to switch on the lights and it seemed that we would have to abandon our visit when, as if by divine intervention, the day was saved by the  arrival of the church warden, Peter Melhuish.  I have met Peter on a number of occasions during the past 15 years and know him to be a most capable and well liked member of the community.  True to form he had the lights turned on within a few minutes and the beauty of the church was revealed.

The basic structure of the building is unchanged from the time of its construction in the 13th century although some internal alterations and additions have been made since 1538. A chancel and a sanctuary was formed, vestries and a gallery built and in 1893 an unusually fine pipe organ was installed.

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The most interesting architectural feature of the church is the unusual stone pulpit that is accessed by a stairway built within the thickness of the outer wall.  It’s original purpose was as a lectern that would have been used by a specially chosen monk who would read passages from the bible to the other monks as they sat silently eating their meals.

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A better view of the pulpit.  BQ sits in  quiet contemplation.  The stone steps leading to the pulpit are heavily worn from the 800 years of ascending and descending feet.

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The eye-catching memorial on the east wall of the chancel honours William Tyrell, vicar of Beaulieu Church from 1838 until 1847 at which time he was offered and accepted the position of Bishop of the newly created diocese of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia.  The contrast from his previous position could not have been greater.  His new diocese covered an area of more than 125,000 square miles (compared with the 1,500 square miles for the entire county of Hampshire) and he rode over much of it visiting his 14 clergymen, helping the less experienced.  He died in 1879 at Morpeth in New South Wales leaving all his assets to his diocese.
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The pleasingly proportioned font is Victorian  The remains of the one it replaced can be seen in the nearby Domus museum.

If you are interested in finding out more about Beaulieu Abbey Church, I recommend their own excellent website;  https://beaulieuchurches.org.uk/churches/beaulieu-abbey-church

 

The great majority of visitors who arrive at the church see it as just one of the attractions that are included when purchasing an entrance ticket to the Beaulieu Estate and they access the church via a doorway from the cloisters.  It was in 1952 that Lord Montagu first opened Palace House, gardens and the abbey ruins to the public  – making Beaulieu among the first stately homes to admit visitors. In 1972 the National Motor x BusMuseum was constructed together with a monorail that winds its way through the gardens and, as a result, Beaulieu has become one of the most popular family attractions in the south of England.

After leaving the church, BQ and I walked through the cloisters for a quick look at the Domus museum before boarding the vintage bus that took us through the grounds to the Motor Museum.

 

The National Motor Museum

The museum came from small beginnings.  Originally it consisted of just five vintage cars displayed inside Palace House.  They were a popular attraction and the collection steadily grew until it had to be transferred into wooden sheds in the grounds of the house.  By 1964 the annual attendance had grown to half a million and so the idea of creating a purpose built building was conceived.  A design committee chaired by the architect Sir Hugh Casson was formed and on 4th July 1972 the contemporary building that we see today was opened by the Duke of Kent.  The museum now has a collection of 285 vehicles dating back to 1875.

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The entrance is guarded by a statue of Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, who created the museum as a tribute to his father, one of the great pioneers of motoring in the United Kingdom.  I had the pleasure of meeting Lord Montagu on a number of social occasions over the years, the last time shortly before his death in 2015.  He was invariably charming and a wonderful raconteur and is sadly missed.

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I have walked around the museum many times, usually with grandchildren in tow – there always seems to be something new and interesting to see.   Last time I visited there was a display of the various vehicles that had been used in the James Bond movies.  This time it was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  The original vehicle can be seen between the two flights of stairs in the above photo.

BQ has no great interest in the internal combustion engine and so we did not stay long before re-boarding the old London bus that took us onward to Palace House.

x Palace house

When the fate of Beaulieu Abbey was sealed in 1538 there was a great deal of competition amongst the King’s courtiers as to who should be permitted to purchase the abbey and its valuable estates.  Thomas Wriothesley, the 1st Earl of Southampton and an ancestor of the Montagu family, finally won the struggle and set about building a house on the site, using the great gatehouse of the abbey as the core of his new mansion that, when completed, became known as Palace House. A good proportion of the building, which has been kept in the Victorian style, is open to visitors who are guided around the elegant rooms by the friendly guides in appropriate 19th century dress.

x By the River 2

We were given the rare privilege of being allowed out of the Palace gatehouse directly onto the village green close by our lunch venue. The kindly guide, magnificently dressed in bow tie and tails, opened the ancient wooden gate that led onto the village green where there were a few donkeys grazing.  There is usually a dozen or so of these lovable animals that have the run of the village and, although they can be a nuisance when holding up traffic or sheltering in shop doorways on rainy days, they look so appealing they are invariably forgiven.

The Montagu Arms

x Montague Arms

From the village green it is just a short walk over the bridge to the Montagu Arms.  We had our lunch in Monty’s, all beautifully presented although less refined than the Michelin starred restaurant in the next room.  The food was excellent, we both chose the plaice, but I felt a little guilty when I noticed that BQ’s diminutive fish looked as if it could have been the child of my own magnificent specimen.  Service wasn’t particularly speedy but that didn’t bother us as it usually means the food is being fully prepared to order.  An additional bonus was that it gave us time to fully discuss the tangled Brexit dilemma and work out a satisfactory solution!

 

BQ’s Impressions

Dine and Divine visits its spiritual home as this parish church was originally a canteen not unlike those associated with other profitable enterprises.  For the Cistercian abbey, from which it was so cruelly separated after the reformation, would have represented very rich pickings for a monarch short of cash.  Apart from not facing east it converts effortlessly into an excellent graceful and lofty church, in contrast to its rather plain exterior which still resembles an appendage to the original main building.  Within the Cistercian rules, silence was rigorously enforced during meals which were eaten whilst readings from the bible were intoned from a prominent vantage point.   The importance of this custom is demonstrated by the church’s most original and unique feature which is now used as a pulpit.  The sheer beauty, design and workmanship of this structure leaves one open mouthed at the thought of what was lost in the demolition of the Abbey itself.

Four centuries later, the church’s unblemished reputation was put at risk when I appeared here in a performance of ‘The Gondoliers’ with the Southampton Operatic Society in 2009.  My role was that of a shabby tramp in a raincoat and a cloth cap who is roughly handled by the gondoliers and eventually transformed into a toff.

Brian

In order to enter from the rear I took a seat at the back of the nave before the performance began.  During the interval I was approached by a member of the audience who told me that he was staying in the local hotel and had asked the staff if it was likely that he would see Lord Montagu.  The staff advised him that if he were present he would be dressed very modestly.  The guest continued; ‘So when I saw you walk up the aisle I said to my wife there he is’.   It is to be hoped that the rest of the audience was not as disappointed as he obviously was.

In conclusion this felt like a real working parish church at the heart of the community and it was good to see the lighted candle on the altar signifying the presence of our Lord.

Our convoluted journey to our lunch at Monty’s was completed by an ancient omnibus, the good offices of a tail-coated retainer and a secret passage, all of which was as at one with the setting.  The Montagu Arms was quiet which was hardly surprising as they were re-surfacing the road outside, but our welcome was warm. At long last I found the perfect compromise in the napkin debate for although it was paper it was ample size and durable.

Once the carafe of Pinot Grigio had arrived there followed a discussion as to whether we could both have the fish course. Normally an attempt is made to vary the meal but with no compromise in sight we both had the plaice.  My joy however was short lived as, when the fish arrived, I would swear that MW’s fish was twice the size of mine and so, yet again, I knew my plaice!

Our lunch

  • Sourdough Bloomer Bruschetta – sauté wild mushrooms, spinach, leeks with truffle oil and aged parmesan  BQ
  • Monty’s Duck Liver Parfait – with toasted brioch, plum jam and pecan praline  MW
  • Whole Roasted Local Plaice – with sautéd potato, buttered samphire and tenderstem broccoli, king prawns and garlic butter  BQ and MW
  • Bread and Butter Pudding with cream  BQ
  • Lemon Posset  MW
  • Cantina Valdadige  Pinot Grigio, Italy

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Portsmouth – Royal Garrison Church

The Royal Garrison Church, now in the care of English Heritage, is no longer used for worship, but it is open to the public during the summer months thanks to the services of a friendly team of volunteers.   BQ and I had intended to visit the church on a couple of previous occasions but somehow plans fell through.  But now, its imminent closure for the winter spurred us on to arrange this visit.  

Church

The Garrison Church, or Domus Dei as it was originally known, was founded in about 1212 by the Bishop of Winchester, as part of a complex of buildings serving as a hostel for pilgrims and a hospital for the sick and elderly.  It consisted of an aisled hall (now the ruined nave) and a chapel. 

In 1450, Domus Dei was the site of the infamous murder of the Bishop of Chichester.  He had been sent to Portsmouth as Keeper of the Privy Seal to make reduced payments to the ship-men of Portsmouth on account of their unruly behaviour during church services. Whilst conducting another service, a group of seamen burst in, dragged out the bishop and murdered him.   In retribution, all of the residents of Portsmouth were excommunicated by the Pope. This excommunication was in place for 60 years and was only removed after leading citizens underwent a ritual of penance which involved being beaten by rods. The city also had to agree to erect a cross and a chapel where prayers for the Bishop’s soul should be said every Good Friday.  (This piece of information answers a query raised in an earlier blog).

After the Reformation in 1540, the building was used as an ammunition store, and it started to decay, but in 1559 the great Elizabethan project to build up the defences at Portsmouth began. The medieval hospital became part of the governor’s house, where two significant events in the history of the site took place.  These were the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662 and the grand receptions held in June 1814 to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon.  The receptions were attended by the Prince Regent, the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia and his general, Field-Marshal Blücher.

In 1826 Government House was demolished and, some time later, a reconstruction of the church interior was commissioned.   Restoration was completed in 1868.

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The Portsmouth that we see today has been largely rebuilt following the widespread destruction suffered during World War II.   The huge Naval Base in the heart of the city was a prime target for enemy aircraft and, as a result, the town and the civilian population paid a heavy price.  The nightmare began on 10th January, 1941.   At around 7 pm the German Luftwaffe attacked Portsmouth in a raid that lasted two hours, only to return again a couple of hours later. Nearly 300 raiders dropped a total of 25,000 incendiaries and hundreds of high explosive bombs which damaged the city to an extent no one could have imagined. Not only did 170 people lose their lives, the city also lost six of its churches and its three major shopping centres.   Remarkably, the Royal Garrison Church remained structurally intact although it suffered a direct hit by a firebomb which destroyed the roof of the nave.  It was only due to the heroic efforts of the team of firefighters, who tackled the inferno despite the continuing air attack, that the choir and chancel was saved.    Unfortunately this was just the first of many raids that the city experienced before peace was restored and one has to admire the courage and fortitude of the population that stayed put and kept the city functioning.

The main nave roof was never repaired giving it the distinctive appearance that we see today.  However the two side sections were eventually replaced by the local council in order to protect the ancient wall memorials.

x Nave

All that remains of the nave.

x Choir

During the 19th century restoration, a lavish redecoration and the installation of the organ was carried out thanks to the generosity of many individuals.   The oak stalls were dedicated to the memory of famous men including Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

x Altar

The chancel.  Unusually, the silver-gilt church plate is on display on the altar.   This is the first time in all our church visits that we have seen the church plate.  Normally it is kept firmly under lock and key.

x Window 2
One of the more unfortunate casualties of the firebomb attack was the original stained glass windows. Some were subsequently restored, but others were replaced with windows of modern designs such as the one above.  To my eye it seems odd and a little jarring to see military scenes in a church window.  I am not sure if they are unique, perhaps our readers will let me know if they have seen others.

x Volunteers

Our grateful thanks to the team of friendly and knowledgeable volunteers.  They made our visit so much more interesting and enjoyable.  Without volunteers it would not be possible to open the Garrison Church at all.   If you should live in or around Portsmouth and have time to spare, then please do consider joining this happy team.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

BQ and I have visited the Dockyard many times over the years, firstly with children then, later on with grandchildren and on occasions with visiting friends or relations.   It is an excellent day out.  However, neither of us had been back since the much heralded opening of the Mary Rose Museum a couple of years ago and, as we were so close, this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to see if it lived up to all the hype.

x Warrior

The Mary Rose Museum is quite a distance from the entrance so BQ waited for the golf buggy that was shuttling back and forth while I strolled up looking at some of the famous exhibits. 

Shown above is HMS Warrior, the pride of Queen Victoria’s Fleet.  Powered by both steam and sail, when she was launched in 1860 she was the largest and most powerful warship in the world. Such was her reputation that enemy fleets were intimidated by her obvious supremacy and so she never needed to fire a shot in anger.

In the background is the notorious Spinnaker Tower which was originally to be called the Portsmouth Millennium Tower.  It was conceived in 1995 with an opening date planned for late 1999.  However, due to political, financial, contractual and engineering problems construction didn’t even begin until 2001 and wasn’t completed until 2005, five years late and £11 million over budget.   The backers of the tower had hoped to put its troubles behind it for the grand opening ceremony attended by VIPs.    As they watched, the project manager, accompanied by representatives from the main contractors and lift manufacturer, were supposed to glide to the top in the external glass lift.  It shuddered to a halt 100 ft up and for the next 1 hr 40 minutes, the lift remained obstinately stuck.   

On a happier note the tower in now open to the public, the external glass lift has been removed, the views are spectacular, and for just £80, a couple can enjoy afternoon tea and a bottle of Prosecco in the summit observation room!

x Victory 2

HMS Victory.  Laid down in 1759, Victory was a First Rate, the most powerful type of ship of her day with three gun decks mounting 100 guns.  Victory’s most famous Admiral was Horatio Nelson who flew his flag from her between May 1803 and October 1805 as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.  On 21 October 1805, Victory led the British fleet into battle off Cape Trafalgar against the Franco-Spanish force; at 11.48 the most famous signal in the history of the Royal Navy, ‘England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty’ flew from her masthead.  Nelson was shot by a French marksman at the height of the battle and later died when victory was assured. Out of a crew of 821, Victory had 57 men killed and 102 wounded demonstrating the serious nature of the fighting.

The Mary Rose

Raising-the-ship

The warship Mary Rose was the flagship of Henry VIII’s fleet.  It was completed in 1512 and remained in service until 19th July 1545 when it capsized in the Solent while leading an attack on the French invasion fleet.  The wreck was rediscovered in 1971 and was raised in 1982 along with 26,000 artefacts plus the remains of about half the crew.  It was one of the most complex projects in the history of maritime archaeology.  Conserving the hull of the Mary Rose was the most expensive and time consuming part of the project and it wasn’t until 2016 that the ship could finally be seen dry – for the first time since 1545.

x Mary Rose

The first impression on entering the museum is just how incredibly dark it was.  This might have been because of the contrast with the bright sunshine outside, but we both found it quite disconcerting particularly because the interior was packed with other visitors. Once we were part of the throng, we moved with the general flow of humanity through air tight double doors, around corners and along corridors until we were finally in the hall that contains the remains of the Mary Rose – albeit just 50% of the original ship.  The other half which hadn’t been protected by being buried in silt had long since rotted away.  To appreciate the size of the ship, look at the people standing in the three viewing levels in the background.  Light is clearly the enemy of the fragile timbers as the wreck remained in near darkness except for a brief period of illumination every 10 minutes or so .  Each time it was bathed in light, it was to the accompaniment of the sound of mass clicking camera shutters – including mine.

Becketts Restaurant

x Becketts

x DeeSituated in one of the few surviving pre-war buildings in this part of the city, Beckett’s Restaurant has a well deserved reputation for good food.  I thoroughly enjoyed my meal although I didn’t much like the glutinous look of BQ’s mac’n cheese. But he cleared his plate then waxed lyrical as he ate the bread and butter pudding.  If it was half as good as my passion fruit tart I can understand why.  As with so many of our past Dine and Divine meals our lunch was made all the more pleasurable by the efficiency and charm of the person serving us.  The elegant Dee definitely epitomised these qualities.

 

BQ’s Impressions

In 1982 I moved the family from Durham to Southampton, much to their disgust, although my son, then aged eight, was somewhat mollified by the fact that Kevin Keegan had signed to play for the Saints.  My new house was within walking distance of the Dell and he would not have to change the red and white stripes of his beloved Sunderland. Just don’t ask how his team is doing at the moment!   Driving into the car park adjacent to the Garrison Church immediately brought back the mixed feelings that I had at that time.  For, next to the church, was the harbour wall where we stood 36 years ago and watched the fleet set sail for the Falkland conflict.   I told my family that this would be the last time that they would see a battle fleet leave harbour primed for conflict as everyone would surely come to their senses when they realised just how long it would take to reach their destination.  However, I was proved wrong and now we have a replacement for HMS Invincible, although with no planes, proving that there is nothing new in this world.

Conflict is a good place to start in considering the history of the church, as it was fire bombed during the Second World War, although it was left in a better condition than the many churches that were vandalised during the reformation.  Although the nave was left as a shell, it is an attractive shell, the fire bomb left the main structure intact, and indeed the whole early English choir and chancel is in good condition.  The pillars are fine, topped with decorative corbels and the structure is very well maintained.  The chancel is excellently preserved and was warm and welcoming on this sharp first cold morning of the year.  The stalls were very comfortable indeed.  With the excellent volunteer staff it was quite a wrench to have to venture out into the stiff breeze and make our way to Beckett’s for lunch.

On arrival I felt that I had by accident arrived in an 18/30 disco in Ibiza as the music thumped away with very little tune discernible. I asked the waitresses if there was a quieter area and she helpfully signified that there was.  During this dialogue MW was outside photographing the exterior. On his return I proudly announced that I had already negotiated a change of table to which he replied ‘I am quite happy here thank you’. * My meal was a strange mixture of Mac (ugh) cheese and crab although I was hard pressed to locate, both in taste or sight, much of the crab.  Still, with the samphire and sun dried tomatoes it was very tasty.  Everything however, paled into insignificance as the pud arrived, the lightest and most delicate bread and butter pudding I have ever tasted.   Sorry Mum I hope you don’t turn in your grave!

* There was a reason! mw

 

Our Lunch

  • Crab mac’n cheese, topped with sundried tomatoes and crunchy samphire served with garlic bread  BQ
  • Chilli and lime smashed avocado open sandwich, served with roasted vegetables, cherry tomatoes and frites  MW
  • Becketts bread and butter pudding, layered with white chocolate, apricot jam served with nutmeg and clementine cream  BQ
  • Passion fruit tart, served with lemon curd ice cream  MW
  • Merlot  BQ
  • Chenin Blanc  MW

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Netley – Royal Victoria Hospital Chapel

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Original Hospital a

The Chapel is all that remains of what was, at the time of its construction, the longest building in the world.  Look carefully at the above photograph and you can just about see the dome of the chapel in the very centre of the vast structure.

The foundation stone for the The Royal Victoria Hospital was laid by Queen Victoria in May 1856 and construction began.  However, some months later Florence Nightingale returned from the Crimea and on visiting the site stated – “It seems to me that at Netley all consideration of what would best tend to the comfort and recovery of the patients has been sacrificed to the vanity of the architect, whose sole object has been to make a building which should cut a dash when looked at from Southampton River. Pray stop all work”.  But, it was too late, construction was well under way and only minor alterations were possible. The hospital eventually opened in March 1863 – late and over budget (nothing has changed). It was a quarter of a mile long with 138 wards and a thousand beds.  Sadly Florence Nightingale’s instincts proved to be right.  The building although grand and visually attractive, was neither convenient nor practical. Corridors were on the sea-facing front of the building, leaving the wards overlooking the inner courtyard with little light and air. Ventilation in general was poor, with unpleasant smells lingering around the vast building.  But nevertheless it remained in use for just over 100 years.  Throughout its life it was popularly known by the patients as ‘The Palace of Pain’.   During the first world war a large hutted extension was built at the rear increasing the number of beds to 2,500.   Over 50,000 patients were treated.   It was just as busy during World War ll when around 68,000 casualties were treated. In 1944, anticipating large numbers of casualties, US forces took over the hospital prior to the D-Day landings.

The hospital fell into disuse during the 1950’s due to the high costs of maintenance and the main site closed in 1958. Following a huge fire in 1963 the entire building was demolished, just the chapel was spared and then only after a vociferous campaign by local residents.

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Last month BQ sent me an article about the Netley Chapel. It was about to reopen – a year late – after a lengthy closure in order to restore the building back to its original glory. It had cost £3.5 million – thanks to the generosity of the Lottery Fund.

The whole area is now known as the Queen Victoria Country Park and is popular with families. BQ thought it would be an interesting candidate for a D & D visit and so it turned out to be. I scarcely knew of the Chapel but BQ knows it well. 

x nave

Inside the building, which has been beautifully restored, it is more museum than chapel. There are many interactive exhibits and plenty of stories of individuals whose lives were saved there and what they went on to achieve in later life – all very moving.

x Netley Chapel Galleries

The galleries with the biographies of some of the casualties who passed through.

The chancel with pulpit and organ is a reminder that this is still a consecrated building.

I was amused to see the crude method that was used to fine tune the organ pipes. I can imagine an assistant being sent up with a pair of tin snips while the organ tuner shouted up instructions.

The rather sinister looking Iron Lung

During research, I came across this intriguing image of the hospital shortly after it’s opening. It was being offered by a seller in Germany on eBay at the compelling price of €2. I had assumed it would be a postcard but, when it arrived, I found it was much smaller, in fact it was a ‘carte de visite’, the precursor of the postcard. It had been published by a James Dear, a ‘Fancy Bazaar Keeper” who had premises close to the hospital. Further research revealed that James had previously been a ships carpenter, but realised the potential of selling souvenirs to the crowds of hospital visitors who arrived each afternoon to see the patients. Business was good, and this was the time of the craze for collecting and sending the new photographic CDV’s as they were known, and so James bought a camera and this is the first of a series of photos of the hospital that he published. As with most very early photos all of the people stare directly into the lens.

Sixty years on and now, in the mid 1920’s, the trees have matured and the camera has lost its novelty, the main interest seems to be lady dressed in the fashion of the day.

Another early image, but there are no clues to its origin nor just what it is that is portrayed. I assume that these are hospital orderlies with some patients brought out for the photograph. Our guide David Keating explained that, before the railway to the hospital was built, casualties arriving by ship at Southampton Docks had to be transferred onto horse drawn carriages for the last few miles to the hospital and I suspect that these are the carriages that can be seen in the background. Apparently many of the wounded didn’t survive this tortuous ride along the rutted roads and that once the branch line from docks to hospital was opened, fatalities on this final leg of their journey were reduced by 75%.

Hospital Life;  The days started with a 5.30am bugle call.  Patients helped with the cleaning of the endless corridors if they were able.  Once a week the Commanding Officer would inspect and award 200 cigarettes to the cleanest ward.  There were four meals a day and, after lunch, it was visiting time and patients could stroll around the grounds or pay a visit to the nearby pubs in Netley as long as they were back in time for supper.  Lights out was at 9pm.

Queen Victoria shown here during one of her many visits to the hospital. She did not have far to travel as she was able to sail from the jetty near her Isle of Wight home (Osborne House), and land at the hospital pier in Southampton Water.

The kitchen staff look a disparate group, but by all accounts the food was much appreciated by the patients, hardly surprising perhaps, as many of them had previously been enduring life in the trenches.

Our excellent guide David. His father arrived at the hospital as a patient during the Second World War and married one of the nurses. Despite a prosthetic leg, David managed the seemingly endless steps to the top of the tower where he told us many amusing (and harrowing) tales of life at the hospital. Apparently when the Americans took over the hospital in 1944, there was great astonishment when they started using jeeps to travel along the wide 1/4 mile hospital corridor to get from section to section!

The view from the tower. After the lengthy drought during the past hot summer the original foundations of the building have become visible. Southampton Docks are in the background.

The Jolly Sailor

A favourite haunt of the yachting fraternity, the Jolly Sailor, situated on the banks of the River Hamble, was first established in 1751.  Even older is their neighbour, the famous Elephant Boatyard where Henry VIII’s fleet was built.   Some of our readers may remember it as the Mermaid Yard featured in the 80’s ‘Gin and Jag’ soap opera, Howard’s Way.  Scenes were filmed not only at the boatyard, but also at the Jolly Sailor where the glamorous cast could be seen, wheeling, dealing and seducing on the sunlit terrace. A nostalgic reminder of this hugely popular series, which ran for five years, is displayed near the bar in the form of a framed set of signed BBC publicity cast cards.

x Bar

x BQ and MW

I thought the food at the Jolly Sailor was good, although service was slow considering that it wasn’t busy.  My starter of smoked paprika and maple skewers with tempeh was both original and quite excellent.  Tempeh was new to me.  It turned out to be an Indonesian item and consisted of cultured and fermented soy beans formed into cakes, then roasted. Delicious.  BQ’s tiger prawns, swimming in hot garlic butter were enormous which he ate with obvious relish. He also much enjoyed the steak and ale pie, but I was less impressed with the rather dried up Gilthead Bream. I suspect that it had been kept in the hot plate while BQ’s giant pie finished cooking!  Hence the delay and hence four rather than five stars.

 

BQ’s Impressions

Magic Tree2
The Magic Tree

Welcome back old friend after two years of turmoil including bankruptcy, you’re looking better than ever.   My family’s association with the park and chapel stretches back a decade when it was selected as an ideal venue for the family mid-summer picnic, which was usually held on the nearest Sunday to the birthday of the matriarch.  The children loved the magic tree that spreads its low branches and, not only was it perfect for climbing, but could form an excellent den always worth defending from invaders.  At the end of the day, the evening cricket match was played against a backdrop of departing cruise liners.  In this frantic world it was always a magical afternoon reminiscent of the best of Enid Blyton!

The chapel, although cared for by an army of volunteers, was desperately in need of restoration, and the subsequent long period of closure has been well worthwhile now that one can once again access the interior.  The structure had always reminded me of a lone tooth left after the rest had decayed, and although the frontage on the Solent side still looks plain, it has been tidied up.  To those of us who never remembered the hospital buildings, it is now obvious that they were in front and the chapel was at the rear.  Even during its previous life there had been little of an ecclesiastical atmosphere within the chapel but it is good to see that the windows, pulpit and organ have been left undisturbed.

The interior structure with its metal columns is classic Victorian railway station and, as a result of the decision to mount an exhibition of its past reason for existence, we get an insight into its history in a vivid and memorable way.  What a catalogue of suffering and pointless slaughter it portrays, but in amongst this, so many portraits of heroism and gallantry shine from the gloom.  The enlargement and display of black and white early photographs are vivid, and within the faces, the whole story of sacrifice, stoicism and courage shines through.

Having lived in Southampton during the almost endless episodes of Howard’s Way it seemed a good time for my first visit to The Jolly Sailor while I still had the puff to manage the steps.  I found out afterwards that at my local pub, one wag was offering odds I would not make it.  Well, to his astonishment and my own I did, although I cannot see me going again. This I might add has nothing to do with the welcoming reception and excellent food ‘the spirit might be willing but the flesh is weak’.  It was unbelievable that here at last, I was in the same bar that was frequented by the legendary alcoholic Jack Rolfe from the Mermaid Yard whose traditional values upset his business partner Tom who wanted to design new and radical boats.  The view from the window was endless yachts to the far shore and the beamed bar was exceptionally snug.

Regular readers will get bored by my constant whinge about napkins, suffice to say they were not to my liking, the food however was.  My starter prawns were large and juicy .  The steak and ale pie was all I had hoped it would be, light, succulent and tasty.   Always the sign of a good meal, no room for pud.  You will see from the menu below that my tiger prawns came with lashings of garlic butter, some of which in wrestling with the monsters splashed onto my clothing.  I rest my case!

Our Lunch
  • Tiger Prawns, pan fried in lashings of garlic butter, with malted sourdough bread  BQ
  • Smoked Paprika and Maple Skewers, marinated and roasted tempeh, cherry tomato & red pepper skewers with rocket salad, vegan garlic mayo  MW
  • Steak & Tanglefoot Pie – braised British steak in rich velvety gravy made with Tanglefoot beer, with creamy mash, braised cabbage, leeks and bacon  BQ
  • Gilthead Bream Fillet on smoky white bean and bacon cassoulet with wilted kale  MW
  • Red Rioja, Artesa, Organic – Spain  BQ
  • White Rioja, El Coto Blanco – Spain  MW

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Stratfield Saye – St. Mary the Virgin

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.

Church 3a

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. 

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The church from the East

nave

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.  

Altar

The simple altar is set into a recess.  The triple window above is filled with glass in memory to the 3rd Duke of Wellington.  

Monument

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.

Interior

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 positionFont

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

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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.  

Funeral carriage

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.

Mill

Rachel

Lunch

BQ’s Impressions

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’
Jester's tribute a
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!

Our Lunch

  • 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

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Upton Grey – St. Mary’s Church

Upton Grey is situated in the north east corner of Hampshire, not far from Basingstoke. The journey there was lengthy compared to the distance travelled to previous churches, but it was fast, mostly along the M3 motorway.    On the way we passed through the notorious chalk cutting at Twyford Down, the scene of running battles between protesters and workmen when the road was constructed in 1992.  Over the years the deep walls of the cutting have gradually changed from dazzling white to shades of green as the memories of that bitter confrontation fade.  We slipped off the motorway one exit early on noticing brake lights being hurriedly applied, a sure sign of trouble ahead. The contrast was immediate, busy motorway to quiet traffic free lanes so overgrown that they were little more than the width of the car.  Soon we arrived at Upton Grey, one of the prettiest villages in Hampshire.  We stepped out into the fierce heat of yet another day in this seemingly endless summer and quickly entered the cool interior of St. Mary’s Church.

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St Mary’s Church dates from Saxon times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. However the first stone structure wasn’t built until the early 12th century and since then the building has been altered on numerous occasions.  A south aisle was built in the 13th century but fell, or was pulled down in the 16th century.  The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century and the nave shortened in the 15th century.  The result is a church that today, seems to be a very odd shape with an unusually narrow chancel attached at a slight angle to a wide combined nave and north aisle.

Upton Grey Church Plan

Upton Grey Church Choir

The chancel, strangely narrow with a high roof but none-the-less is very pleasing

Upton Grey church chancel
The deeply recessed lancet windows above the main altar are typically early English, although the glass is 19th century.

Upton Grey Church north transept

The North Aisle with its own altar.  The 15th century font is of Caen stone and weirdly, carved on it’s north side, is a monkey with it’s tongue out.  If any of our readers know the significance of this please let us know. 

Upton Grey Church Monuments

The walls of the nave and north aisle are adorned with memorials to the local great and good.

Upton Grey Church plaque

This 18th century memorial is interesting in that it shows the attitudes towards the importance of devotion to duty that were current at the time.  One cannot imagine  a present day widowed husband praising his departed wife for her perseverance in performing her conjugal duty under the discouragement of sorrow, sickness and pain. However, after a little research, it becomes more understandable.  Apparently, in those days conjugal duty was not a duty to her husband, but to God.

Upton Grey Church Writing

This early 14th century inscription on the east wall of the nave has only recently been deciphered. The lettering is English and is believed to be the rather enigmatic warning ‘For God’s love beware by me’.  It is thought that a modern translation might be ‘I was once as you are; take warning of how I have become’.  Dead, presumably.

cross
One of three consecration crosses, dating from around 1100, etched into the west wall of the nave and revealed during the 1880  restoration.
Upton Grey Church porch
The quaint 17th century oak framed porch.

The Manor House Garden

Our fortunate meeting with Simon de Zoete during our last Dine and Divine outing led to the opportunity of visiting not only his wonderful garden but now another garden, equally attractive and with a fascinating history.  Following our visit to Colemore , Simon kindly gave us an introduction to Rosamund Wallinger, a remarkable lady who has restored her garden at The Manor House in Upton Grey back to the original design created by Gertrude Jekyll over 100 years ago.  Despite the recent arrival of a party of mostly American ladies, Rosamund found time to warmly welcome us and, with the help of the display of photos and plans in the Garden room, described the re-birth of her unique garden.

It was in 1908 that the renowned garden designer, Gertrude Jeykyll, was asked to design the garden of the then owner of Upton Grey Manor, Charles Holmes, an established figure in the Arts and Crafts movement.  Gertrude’s formal design included many of her hallmarks, dry stone walls, a sunken garden with geometrically shaped beds plus flanking borders and lawns on separate levels.  Over the years the garden became sadly neglected and by 1984, when Rosamund and her husband moved in, it had become a jungle of weeds and brambles, but although some of the Purbeck stone walls had collapsed, no constructive damage had been done.

upton grey before

As soon as copies of Gertrude’s original plans for the garden were found (6,000 miles away in California) Rosamund set about accurately restoring the garden back to its original design. The result is a triumph, featured in several TV programmes and given a variety of awards.   BQ and I lingered for as long as time allowed, and like many before us, were  hugely impressed.  Others interested should consult:- gertrudejekyllgarden.co.uk/

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Upton Grey Manor Garden 3

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The Hoddington Arms

Saved from falling into disrepair by four local businessmen, the Hoddington Arms is a true community pub, a real hub of village life.  Our lunch was excellent and, to BQ’s approval, we had ‘proper napkins’.

 

Hoddington Arms

BQ

 

BQ’s Impressions

Now for the braces.
Since my last two visits on Dine and Divine, my friends in the Waterloo Arms are becoming so fed up with my constant enthusiasm for gardens they have renamed me Monty Don.
As someone who in the past has never watched Gardeners World or listened to Gardeners Question Time on the radio my new name was a mystery.  However my research showed that I was in urgent need of some well used clothing but most of all large dark braces, and a docile and loving dog.
My conversion to the joy of gardens was completed by this visit to the wonderful historic Upton Grey Manor House, whose restoration of the garden, based on the original plans prepared by Gertrude Jekyll, was as exquisite as any conversion of a medieval church.
Meeting the incredible Rosamund Wallinger was a real pleasure, and my impression was of an indefatigable character full of charm and energy.
After a lengthy inspection of the gardens whilst MW flew his drone, fortunately to the approval of all present, I found a shady corner and although I could manage the braces the dog was a step too far.
Thence a short step to the church which was close by and, yet again, entered into a wonderfully cool atmosphere on this hottest of days.  The first impression is one of strangeness at the rather weird conjunction of a narrow small original nave connected to a large 17th century extension whose width destroyed all symmetry of the whole.
The Norman chancel arch leading to the altar in the narrow part of the church has a definite feel of the Anglo Saxon, although it dates from the 12th century and it would not surprise me if it did not cover the original, probably wooden, church.  The sound in this area is dominated by the ticking of the large clock on the tower and the bottom of the pendulum can be seen at the top of the stairs.  I found the almost dual personality of the church somewhat disturbing and retreated to the main altar stalls to collect my thoughts.

Nowadays I am grateful for the pews to rest and contemplate on but, before the reformation, everyone stood although there would probably be a shelf around the church to rest on.  With the emphasis of services changing to the ‘word’ post reformation, Protestant clergy became fired up into giving long sermons, even the one at that recent royal wedding would have been regarded as a mere trifle.  In some churches, pews were sold to members of the congregation and became their personal property registered by ‘pew deeds’.  It is worth remembering that most of this activity took place when attendance at church was legally compulsory, so the internal layout would resemble a graphic plan of the hierarchy of the community.
Then on to the  Hoddington Arms for lunch and, joy of joys, a laundered white full size napkin and an excellent meal, my soufflé fully deserving the four stars on its own.
However the trip had been dominated by yet another beautiful garden.

Our Lunch 

  • Warm Salad of Tunworth Cheese, Crispy breaded Tunworth, baby gem lettuce, spiced apple chutney, celery, toasted walnuts and pickled apple  BQ
  • Crisp goujons of Cornish plaice, warm sauce tartare, peas, pea shoots and mint oil  MW
  •  Twice baked Yellison Goats cheese soufflé, pea, mint and semi dried tomato salad  BQ
  • Slow roast belly of Wiltshire pork, English asparagus, sauté and fondant potato  MW
  • Vin de la Maison – Sauvignon Blanc  BQ
  • Vin de la Maison – Viognier  MW

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Colemore – Church of St. Peter ad Vincula

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.

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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.

Colemore Church

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.

Colemore Church Nave

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Between the nave and chancel is this charming 16th-century rood screen, originally intended to protect the mystery of the communion from the congregation.

A squint that connects the north transept to the chancel, BQ’s explanation below

Nave looking to the west
The nave, looking towards the west

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.

Font
The 12th century Purbeck marble font is the oldest object within the church.  Intriguingly it is carved with different designs on all four faces, and it is thought possible that the craftsman was practising his skill prior to applying for work at Winchester Cathedral which was under construction at the time. The mounting and cover are Victorian.
Memorial
The Cookson Memorial.  James Cookson was rector of the church for 59 years and, at the time of his death in 1835 at the age of 83, he was also the oldest magistrate in Hampshire.  He had the misfortune to lose four of his children and his young wife within the space of 20 years

Colemore

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.

Simon
Simon de Zoete

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The wonderful Colemore House gardens

BQ’s Impressions

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!

 

 

Romsey – Romsey Abbey

Romsey Abbey2

In contrast to the frustrations and disappointments during our last church visit, our day in Romsey couldn’t have gone better.  The weather was warm and sunny, the roads were quiet and within 30 minutes we were negotiating Romsey’s convoluted road system to arrive at Romsey Abbey.  Parking might well have been a problem but BQ’s disability badge yet again came to our aid and enabled us to park conveniently within the Abbey precincts. 

As it was still relatively early in the day, the east frontage of the Abbey was still bathed in sunlight so I quickly deployed the drone to capture a clear view of the most impressive elevation of the Abbey.  From above, the building appears to be very nearly symmetrical if somewhat squat.  It’s not until viewed from the side that the true  scale of the building becomes apparent. It really is quite vast considering that Romsey is a small town.

I caught up with BQ who was in quiet contemplation in St Anne’s Chapel and after a few minutes exploration it was obvious that our modest internet diary couldn’t begin to do justice to this iconic building. The best we could do was to record and comment on things that particularly caught our eyes.

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For 650 years, until the time of the dissolution, Romsey Abbey was a centre for female worship and education. It was founded by King Alfred’s son Edward as a nunnery in 907, but the early years were very unsettled due to the persistant attacks on Christian buildings by the pagan Vikings.  Eventually the building had to be rebuilt following its almost total destruction by Sweyn Forkbeard and his soldiers in 994. The nuns, apparently warned by divine intervention, were able to flee to the Nunnaminster in Winchester.

In the 12th century, following William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066, the Abbey was again rebuilt, but this time in the Norman style that we see today.  The building now housed not only the convent which occupied the southern section of the building, but also the town’s parish church which was situated in the northern side.  Life for the nuns eventually settled down and the convent flourished until the catastrophe of the Black Death which swept through England in the mid 14th century. The convent was particularly badly affected and it’s numbers went into a decline which continued, not only in quantity but in quality. While nuns of the Saxon and early Norman period generally had a genuine vocation, by the Middle Ages convents had become a convenient place to dispose of inconvenient women. Here, families could leave daughters who were unlikely to attract husbands due to either a lack of looks or a lack of a dowry, husbands could confine an unfaithful or unwanted wife and many widows simply had nowhere else to go.

The building was saved from demolition during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, not only because of its size, but also because the building provided the only place of worship for the residents of Romsey who were permitted to purchase the building for £100.  However, as decreed by Henry VIII, the convent was ‘dissolved’.  Little is known of the fate of the remaining nuns apart from the case of  a Jane Wadham who married the Abbey Chaplain claiming that she had been forced into the convent and did not feel bound by her vows.

nave

The first impression on entering the cathedral-like interior of the Abbey is one of surprise at just how spacious it is and it is hardly surprising that, in the past, some of the space has been used for purposes other than as a parish church.  In the early part of the 18th century a Free School and a Grammar School were established within the building and several old prints exist showing children playing among the graves. During the 19th century some of the town’s fire-fighting equipment was stored in what is now the choir vestry and, when a fire was reported, the Abbey bells were rung to alert the firemen.

Capital
The Norman pillars are of interest, particularly two where the capitals are historiated, that is engraved with images that tell a tale. In most churches capitals depict Bible stories, but here, they show historical events.  The one shown above depicts the aftermath of a bloody battle, with decapitated heads, carrion birds snatching up body parts, and a riderless horse fleeing the scene. In the centre stand two kings with drawn swords, but angels stand behind each king, grasping the weapons as if to prevent further bloodshed. The most common theory is that the scene depicts the 878 Battle of Edington.
Retro Choir
The retro-choir – the area behind the main altar

South AisleSt. Anne’s Chapel;  looking very fresh and bright and for good reason, as it has only recently been ‘re-ordered’.  One never imagines that sections of a church need periodic refurbishment, although admittedly not that frequently, as the last time the Chapel was fitted out was in 1855 under the direction of the then Vicar’s wife.    During the recent work much of the timber has been expertly and sensitively replaced including the altar.  But, what is most impressive, is the way that modern LED lighting has been used to illuminate the Abbey’s most precious relic, the 1,050 year old Saxon rood.

The Saxon Roods

A rood, basically a cross or crucifix, is most commonly seen above the entrance to the chancel in medieval churches.  Early Saxon roods are extremely rare yet Romsey has not one but two of these treasures.

Saxon Rood
On the outside wall of the South Transept is the famous Romsey Rood, a Saxon relief of Christ, his welcoming arms spread to greet us. Above is the hand of God appearing from a cloud. Alongside is a small recess for candles and above a triangular vent to disperse the smoke.
Saxon Rood 2
 The exceptional and beautiful Saxon low relief carving on a block of limestone dating from the 10th century depicting the Crucifixion, now exquisitely displayed in the Chapel of Saint Anne, a place for silent prayer where the light burns for the Blessed Sacrament

Memorials

Romsey Abbey has such a wealth of impressive memorials and it is difficult to choose which ones to feature, but three seemed to us to be particularly notable, one flamboyant, one famous and the other poignant.

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The impressive 17th century Memorial in the south transept is to John and Grissell St Barbe who died within hours of each other of  ‘sweating sickness’ in 1658.  Their ancestors originally came over with the invading Normans and fought at the battle of Hastings
Children
John and Grissell’s four sons – only one survived to adulthood.
Mountbatten Plaque
Many visitors come to Romsey Abbey in search of the simple black memorial to Earl Mountbatten who was assassinated by a terrorist bomb in 1979.  Earl Mountbatten lived nearby at Broadlands, the estate, coincidently, that had also been the home of the St Barbe family mentioned above.
alice
It is hard not to be moved by this beautiful memorial to Alice Taylor who died of Scarlet Fever in 1843 at the age of two.  Her father, who was a doctor, was also a sculptor and designed this tomb inscribed with the words ‘Is it well with the child?  It is well’ {II Kings 4;26)

The St. Lawrence Chapel Rerodos

Rerodos
This c1525 century painting was discovered in 1813, when the arches behind the high altar which had been sealed up for centuries, were opened up.  The panel had been painted over with the Ten Commandments and when these were removed, the reredos was revealed.  It depicts the Resurrection of Christ surrounded by saints together with a figure in the left hand corner that is reputed to be the last Abbess of the convent.

The Head of Plaited Hair

Hairpiece

Until 1853 burials within the church building were permitted, and a considerable number of people lie under the Abbey floor.  In 1839 John Major, the sexton at the time, discovered an ancient lead coffin five feet below the floor level and, on removing the lid, found ‘a beautiful head of hair, with a tail plaited, evidently that of a young female lying on a block of oak. The hair was in perfect form and appeared as though the skull had only been recently removed from it.’   There was no inscription of any kind.   The sexton showed it to the vicar who, obviously uninterested, threw it into his coal hole and had the coffin sold for old lead.  Mr Major however rescued the hair, which had been considerably damaged in its treatment, and had it enclosed in a glass case where it can still be seen.

In 2016 the team at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator unit studied the hair and concluded that there was an almost 70% probability that the person had died between 965 and 1045 AD. They also concluded she had enjoyed a diet rich in fish, although quite how I cannot imagine.

The Corbel Heads

Corbels

There is a fascinating collection of corbels carved around the outside of the building, some of mythical beings and some depicting bestiaries – strange creatures that, in medieval times, were believed to inhabit far off lands. Shown above left is a Blemmyae, a headless human figure with its eyes, nose and mouth on its chest.  On the right, next to the cat-like creature, is a strange looking humanoid playing a rebec.  Several of the corbels seem to resemble cats and it has been suggested that this may be because they were popular pets with the nuns.

Brians and Liz

Our visit was made so much more enjoyable as a result of meeting Liz and Brian who are based at the Abbey and whose knowledge of the building was comprehensive.  We are indeed grateful for their time in sharing their knowledge with us.  For anyone who has an interest in Romsey Abbey I can thoroughly recommend Liz Hallett’s various books and booklets on the subject.

La Parisienne

I enjoyed my meal at La Parisienne without reservation.  I felt that both food and service were faultless and fully deserved five stars.    BQ and I had a full and frank discussion on the level of this award, as he felt that one star must be deducted for the failure to provide proper napkins.  Frankly it matters little to me whether the serviette is of linen or any other material and we failed to agree.  However as I type up the blog – five stars it is!

Parisienne Restaurant Romsey 4

Parisienne Restaurant Romsey 3

Parisienne Restaurant Romsey 2

BQ’s Impressions

A favourite church
Over the thirty eight years that I have lived in Southampton, my frequent trips to Romsey have never been complete without a visit to the Abbey church, and the wonderful feeling of devotion that it has always aroused in me.
Although built on the scale of a cathedral, its grand demeanour has never overpowered the warm and comfortable interior and the hospitality of the welcomers.  It also does not have an entrance fee which I feel demeans a holy place.  So it was with a feeling of excitement that I was able to write on this building which has given me so much joy in the past.
Although the occupying force of the Norman invasion of 1066 now dominates what we see today, fortunately there remains Saxon artefacts that are worth a visit on their own.  The greatest of which is the wonderful Saxon Rood which can be found on the outside wall of the south transept which is not a crucifixion scene despite the spread arms. The crucifixion scene which is also a Saxon rood is reserved in a chapel and together with a coffin lid of a medieval abbess these represent some of the finest remnants of this lost period of our history.
That having been said, the Normans were wonderful builders and the interior is massively proportioned with the three decks of arcade, gallery and clerestory. The westernmost bays however are early gothic, but do not disturb the integrated rhythm of the whole.  How often I have stood in such buildings and marvelled at the artistry of all those nameless masons who crafted such beauty, but at Romsey a sprightly mason has signed his work with his name Robert.  Of course the locals have now renamed him ‘Bob the builder’.
The capitals, corbels and carvings are a fitting testament to their art as faces, battle scenes, animals and musicians all stare down on you both inside and out.  Having, over the past millennium, graduated from a nunnery, parish church, school room and even fire station the building is nothing short of adaptable.
In contrast the La Parisienne restaurant has only been on its present site for thirty years, which is also a sign of high quality and service to the town.
As with the Abbey, my visits to La Parisienne have recently been less frequent as its charms have been reserved for high days and holidays.  As usual, I was transported to Paris very quickly without the necessity of travelling on Eurostar.
MW having spent the previous week trekking in the Lofoten Islands living on a diet of dried cod and whale-meat, and having stated that he had eaten and smelt enough fish to last a lifetime, then proceeded to order a Dover Sole.
The food and service were impeccable, and I would be very happy to award five stars but for the paper napkins which is a perennial grouse of mine.
Mind you on our last trip we had immaculate white laundered napkins and poor food.  Yet again you can’t win them all.  BQ

 

Our Lunch 

  • Soupe aux Oignons  BQ
  • Salade de Foie de Volaille au Vinaigre de Framboise  MW
  • Entrecote Bordelaise  BQ
  • Sole de Douvre Beurre Meuniere  MW
  • Brie BQ
  • Ile Flottante MW
  • Vin de la Maison – Merlot  BQ
  • Vin de la Maison – Chenin Blanc  MW

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Barton Stacey – All Saints Church

After a quick count I see that this is the 25th Hampshire Church we have visited since we began this internet diary at the beginning of 2017.  Ignoring a few minor hiccups these visits have all gone to plan and been thoroughly enjoyable.  So I suppose it was inevitable that this run of good fortune must eventually come to an end.

For a start the weather that had been forecast to develop into sunshine remained stubbornly overcast and this certainly put a bit of a dampener on the day, but most dispiriting was the dreadfully slow moving traffic. A combination of accidents and roadworks made it bad enough on the way there but the return journey was even slower, static even for lengthy periods.  In hindsight we couldn’t have picked a worse day – the Friday before the May bank holiday.  Families on their way to the South Coast combined with impatient commuters returning from London to create an ill tempered traffic jam where any show of courtesy was abandoned.  A wrongly entered destination on the sat-nav didn’t help and nor did BQ as he extolled the virtues of the old-fashioned road atlas compared with modern technology.

With relief we finally arrived in the little village of Barton Stacey and after cups of freshly brewed coffee in the village shop things seemed much better.

Barton Stacey Store
The Barton Stacey Stores which seems to be the social centre of the village is also the place where the key to the church is kept.  Fortunately I had discovered this vital piece of information in advance by contacting the very helpful Parish Clerk, Jo Gadney.

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It is quite possible that All Saints Church is standing on one of the earliest sites of continuous Christian worship in England. Although the date of construction of the first church here is unknown, it must have been very early in the Saxon period as the original dedication was to St Victor, a 5th century African bishop.

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The Saxon church was replaced in the 12th century by a building in Transitional style but the church we see today is the result of yet another rebuilding in the 13th century.  The tower was added in 1510 and carved decorations on some of the fragments suggest that part of the material used in its construction was from the earlier Norman church.

nave

The interior is pleasingly proportioned although comparatively plain with few memorials.  I do like the semi box pews in the main part of the nave which look absolutely right and probably date from the 1877 restoration.  I know it has been fashionable in recent years to replace pews with free seating, but I hope the more conservative members of the congregation will resist any such change here.

Pews were removed from the north and south aisles in 1971 in order to facilitate much needed repairs.  Work was carried out by the Royal Engineers from the nearby Barton Stacey camp, All Saints being their official garrison church at the time. In addition to other improvements, the brick floor was replaced with tiles and, during the course of this work, a vault containing six 16th century coffins was discovered.  One of these coffins contained the body of a headless man – a victim of the Civil War perhaps?  The vault had been last sealed in 1740 and, before being resealed, a watertight bag was left inside containing a copy of the Hampshire Chronicle, some pre-decimal and some ‘new’ money, a copy of the parish magazine and a letter to the next person opening the vault.

Sancturary
The sanctuary is paved with extremely fine medieval tiles similar to those found in Winchester Cathedral.  The altar table is 17th century Flemish and bears the carved figures of Faith, Hope and Charity.
Toward thr tower
Looking to the west end of the nave and the base of the tower.  The two furthest columns are the only remnants of the 12th century building.  Apparently one of them has been the cause of recurring structural problems over the centuries as it is out of alignment due to the shifting chalk foundations.  Hard to see, but I think it could be the right hand one.
Plaque
One of the few monuments in the nave and one that I find particularly sad.  Two brothers, around the same age, killed in action during the First World War within the same week. As a father, I cannot begin to imagine the degree of grief felt by their parents.

 

The Great Fire

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In May, 1792 the following vivid account appeared in the recently established Hampshire Chronicle_

Fire at Barton Stacey

On Tuesday last, about the middle of the day, the most awful conflagration ever beheld by human eye desolated this village.  Some people being at work in Mr Moody’s smithy, a large flake of red hot iron flew out of the window and falling onto some dry litter near a cucumber bed set it instantly on fire. This communicating to an adjoining mill-house covered with thatch, the high wind blowing in a direct line with the street carried the thatch like a storm of fire swifter than a man could run till the whole village was in flames.  Volumes of liquid fire occupied the atmosphere, which taking different directions was whirled by the wind to a prodigious height; til the flames and combustible matter roaring and burning with the most tremendous noise fell again in showers of fiery hail until everything covered in thatch was entirely consumed. 

Happening in the middle of the day only one life was lost; and that through obstinacy.  Farmer Friend, at the advanced age of sixty, persisted in going upstairs after his money.  He was purported to have 400 guineas in a coffer which he said he was determined to have or perish in the attempt which was unhappily his fate.  The Dean and Chapter of Winchester have generously sent 20s and a quantity of bread for the relief of the unfortunate sufferers who were obliged to take shelter in the church.

The events of 7th May, 1792 are remembered in the simple wording carved into the church gates;   

 For God is our refuge   The Great Fire 1792

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Barton Stacey Today

 

The Swan Inn

(Update March ‘19;  I have recently heard from a Barton Stacey resident that since writing the following unfavourable review of our lunch at the Swan Inn some 10 months ago there has been a change of management and the meals there are now quite excellent.  My correspondent suggests that when we are next in the area we should give the Swan Inn another visit and that we will certainly do.)

Swan Inn Barton Stacey

It is with heavy hearts that we can only award one star for our meal at the nearby Swan Inn.  Heavy hearts because the young ladies behind the bar and serving the meals could not have been more charming and efficient,  the general atmosphere was welcoming and the furnishings attractive.  But the food was summed up in one short remark by BQ as we left the building ‘My God that meal was grim’.  In fairness I did enjoy my curried parsnip soup, but everything from the deep fat fryer had emerged with an unpleasant flavour of greasiness and my omelette when sliced open revealed a translucent uncooked interior with floating lumps of tough fatty ham.

I am afraid that neither of us could escape our polite English upbringing as, when asked if we had enjoyed our meal, answered ‘Yes, very nice, thank you’.  I am sure it would be fairer to be more like our American cousins and respond with honesty.

Brian Eating

BQ’s Impressions

Being a Southampton resident whose regular journeys are mainly coastal and New Forest, I have in the course of the last year discovered an unknown and unexplored area called Hampshire. Between the Meon Valley to the east and the Hampshire Downs to the west there is a real wealth of undeveloped and beautiful countryside with quiet roads connecting ancient villages with a startling selection of small mainly pre-gothic churches.

In fact we have not come across a Gothic church in all the 25 we have visited, which usually means the absence of sheep. For during the rich days of the wool trade every wealthy landowner felt obliged to outdo his neighbour in sheer magnificence and the country profited from a proliferation of ‘Wool Churches’.

In this case All Saints Church in Barton Stacey ticked all the right boxes and fitted seamlessly into the mould of Hampshire village churches.  Saxon originally, indeed one report thinks it could be the oldest place of Christian worship in the country, then altered by the Normans but the majority of what is visible today is Early English from the thirteenth century.

When we finally found our destination after driving along small lanes lined with lace-like cow parsley, the layout of the village could not have been more convenient for car park, village store, public house and church were all within a few yards.

Evidently, in the 10th century the church was dedicated to a Saint Victor of which there are nine listed, all before the fifth century, but I presume it is Pope Victor I who came from Africa and legend had it that he was the first black Pope.

The interior of the church has retained its pews in the centre of the nave and, yet again, when sitting, one realises that the original backsides must have been very narrow.

There is a refreshing lack of memorials inside and the whole church exudes a straightforward and refreshing simplicity which assists prayer.

Unfortunately I must agree with MW about the Swan Hotel, my starter of Welsh rarebit was a dark grey in colour. It made me wonder whether I had misread the menu and it was indeed rabbit.  However this was as nought compared to the whitebait and chips which was so plentiful I could not see the salad which was mostly hiding underneath submerged in fat.

However in mitigation the beer was well kept and in good condition.

My one star however is reserved for the immaculately laundered white napkins.

You can’t win them all!

Our Lunch 

  • Welsh Rarebit  BQ
  • Curried parsnip soup  MW
  • Whitebait with chips and salad BQ
  • Cheese and ham omelette with chips and salad  MW
  • Saxon Gold ale  BQ
  • Razorback best bitter  MW

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Fordingbridge – St Mary the Virgin

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.

church

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.

Fordingbidge Church

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.

Gravestone Path

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.

Nave flowers

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.

font
The 14th century Purbeck marble font is considerably weathered as a result of having lain in the churchyard for a century or more before being restored to the church in 1903.  But for how long and why was it abandoned in the churchyard?  Could it be a victim of the Puritan’s zeal.  In which case there must have been over 300 years of weathering!

lady chapel with bq

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.

choir stalls

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.

Aumbry

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.

Fordingbrfidge Church Choir
These windows on the south side of the chancel behind the choir stalls are the earliest in the church

Brass Plaque

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:

Here under lyeth buryed ye bodyes of Wiftm Bulkeley Esquier and Jane his wiffe daughter of Baron luke of ye Quenes highnes exchequer who had between them iii sons Charles, Withn whose bodies lyeth here buried & John, and v daughters. An, Jane, Judyth, Susan & Cilcelei, whom Jesus Christ have mercy and grant them eternal joy.

 

oxhead
This carving of an ox head, set into the wall above the door to the choir vestry, is the only surviving fragment from the earlier church that was built on this site.

flower girls

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

Fordingbridge

fordingbridge river

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

High street

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.

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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.

Surma Valley Bangladesh Restaurant

 

Bangladesh Restaurant and Waiter

BQ’s Impressions

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.

Our Lunch 

  • Vegetable Pakora  BQ
  • Junglee Bhajia  MW
  • Tandoori king prawns, Pilau rice BQ
  • Chicken Tikka Gowchi  MW
  • Kingfisher Indian Lager  BQ
  • Echo Falls Shiraz  MW

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Boldre – Church of St John the Baptist

Boldre Church is not too far from my home and so, when the weather conditions were right, I had called by a couple of times beforehand to take our usual photos. On each occasion I happened to meet and chat with some of the parishioners and got the overwhelming impression that St John’s is a particularly friendly church with a vibrant community spirit which they attributed to the influence of their popular vicar. When I got home I looked at the parish website – bsbb.org.uk/st-johns/ – and came across Reverend Canon Andrew Neaum’s entertaining and compelling welcome to the church and immediately understood the attraction. As a lapsed Anglo-Catholic with fond memories of singing in a church choir some 70 years ago, I felt a regret that I didn’t live closer to St. John’s.

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The church of St John the Baptist is surely one of the most picturesque churches we have visited since we began this diary a little over a year ago.  Its hilltop position in open countryside away from any village adds to its attraction.  For centuries, St John was the Mother Church of the southern New Forest and this possibly explains its unusual position in that it was intended to serve several communities rather than just one village.

There seems to be some uncertainty as to when the site was originally a place of worship but the discovery of three sarsen stones in the foundations suggest it could have been as long ago as 2000BC.  The earliest Christian Church was constructed in the 1080’s – the 900th anniversary was celebrated in 1987 and a commemorative plaque to mark the occasion can be seen at the eastern end of the south aisle.  During the 13th century the north Chapel was built, the south porch added and the nave lengthened resulting in a building substantially similar to the one we see today.

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For the first time photos were taken on two different occasions, although just a few days apart. A decent snowfall in the New Forest occurs so infrequently nowadays, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss

 

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The lower part of the tower was constructed in the 14th century, and the upper section in brick was added in the 17th century.

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The entire Norman Church occupied the space within just the central part of the nave beginning at the point where it has been extended to the left.  In the 12th century the south aisle on the right was added

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A view of the nave, chancel, north aisle and 14th century barrel roof. In 1958 several of the bosses were taken down to be repainted and have woodworm damage repaired.  However seven could not be removed from the strong iron spikes holding them in position, so a member of the congregation volunteered to climb the builders scaffolding and repair and paint them in situ.

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The choir and chancel.  The choir singers have had a long if sometimes unsettled history.  In 1792 they were described as ‘a fine band of singers full of rough harmony’.  However, in 1811 they struck for more pay and were replaced by a less demanding choir from the daughter church in South Baddesley.  Since then there has been a succession of excellent organists and choirs of a high standard.

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The ornate pulpit was designed by Norman Shaw (he who designed New Scotland Yard). It was given in memory of the Reverend Charles Shrubb, curate then vicar for 57 years from 1817.

Traditionally, in exchange for one guinea and a goose, the vicar of the day has been expected to deliver The Wild Beast Sermon on the Sunday nearest to March 18th to commemorate the escape of a member of the Worsley family from a wild beast. This could be quite a challenge as it was uncertain whether the animal concerned was a wild lion in Africa, a wild boar in the New Forest or an escaped lion from a travelling menagerie, all of these versions having been advanced at one time or another. In the 1990s the endowment set up to fund the payments was amalgamated with another parish charity.

The lectern was carved over a period of twenty years from two pieces of oak  from nearby Boldre Grange.  The impressive wall tablet is a memorial to John Kemp,  MP for Lymington in 1640 and is one of just a few busts to have survived the Cromwellian age unvandalised.

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The beautifully engraved Millennium window shows the church in its rural setting with trees, river, flora and fauna each having a symbolic meaning.

It was commissioned by the Parish Church Council to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ and was designed and engraved by Tracey Sheppard and installed in April 2000.

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When HMS Hood was sunk in Icelandic waters in May 1941 by the German battleship Bismarck it became the worst naval disaster of all time. Of the crew of 1,421 just 3 survived.  Vice Admiral L. E. Holland who, with his wife and family, had been a regular worshipper at Boldre was among those who were lost.  After the war, when it became clear that no official memorial was to be raised to those who had died, Mrs Phyllis Holland planned and carried out the scheme to bring the HMS Hood memorial to Boldre Church.  The illuminated book of remembrance can be seen in the north-west corner of the north chapel.  Many of the church kneelers and the two fine oak benches in the porch depict the Hood’s famous badge featuring a Cornish Chough grasping an anchor.  In the poignant photo below those same iconic Choughs can be seen on the tampions fitted to protect the Hood’s two 7.5 inch gun barrels from sea water.  I find this photo of the Hood incredibly sad, with the relaxed crew, sailing in warm waters, far from the terrifying Icelandic sea.  Mostly young lads, who should have had a long life ahead of them destined for an early and violent end.

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Boldre Church has long been a favourite subject of artists attracted to this picturesque corner of the New Forest.

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During one of the earlier visits when I took the drone photos, I had the pleasure of meeting the church mouse catcher, Pam Knight as she emerged from the building with a recently caught victim. I was only too pleased to be able to help her remove the animal from the trap which she quite rightly insisted must be well away from consecrated ground.

 

The Fleur de Lys

The little community of Pilley, not much more than a mile from the church, is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and in the centre of the village is the Fleur de Lys, the oldest pub in the New Forest.  Depicted in this Victorian painting, it is only nine years younger than the church having celebrated its 900th anniversary in 1996.  A list of landlords is held at the inn and goes back to Benjamin Stones in 1498.

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1
I thought our lunch was quite excellent, thoroughly deserving a 4 star award.
1a
BQ, after complaining of the draught from an open door moved almost into the vast fireplace together with the collection of ancient cooking implements.

BQ’s Impressions

Out of Town Religion
What on earth is the mother church of Brockenhurst and Lymington, both thriving communities, doing sitting isolated atop a hill in splendid isolation?
Did the occupying force of the Norman invaders foresee that one thousand years later the arrival of the motor car would make this site and its large car park a magnet to the area?   Is this yet another case of Norman Wisdom (one for the oldies)!
On the morning of our visit we arrived to find a funeral taking place at the church, and the large car park was full with a sizeable overspill on the road, and so in deference, we made the decision to divert to dining first.
After a good meal, more of that later, the church had returned to its quiet and isolated best although we happened upon a pair of hikers in the porch drying their soaked clothing.  I was struck that even in these modern times the church was offering shelter and rest to those on foot.
Built within a few years of the conquest this Norman structure was probably placed on the hill to show the populace “who’s boss”.  However the site is very beautiful and the building sits exquisitely in the large graveyard with its seats and trees offering places of quiet contemplation in an ideal situation. The fine squat tower is placed to the south of the chancel and the grouping is pleasingly symmetrical.
The entrance porch has two benches carved with the “Cornish Chough”, the emblem of the stricken cruiser HMS Hood whose memorial is inside the building.
The interior is largely unaltered since the 13th century, its Norman heritage is given away by the eastern bays on the southern arcade with the remainder early Gothic.  The pleasing light in the building is the result of modern windows which, despite being decorative, also allow the natural light to penetrate the interior.
This is particularly true of the modern east and west windows, designed by Alan Younger whose semi-abstract designs although conveying deep spirituality do not exclude daylight.
It is difficult to escape the ghost of William Gilpin who in the 18th century arrived to find his parishioners ‘little better than a set of bandits’ – perhaps the New Forest rivalled at this time Sherwood Forest.  His memorial is in the North Chapel but his paintings and enthusiasm for the countryside reached out to the wider public and he made the local area popular.
Although this seems an odd landlocked situation to find the memorial to HMS Hood sunk in the Second World War, the Vice-Admiral on board was a local man and so the church became a moving memorial to those who perished.
And so to lunch and very good it was, the nearby Fleur de Lys is probably the oldest inn in which I have drunk, as the first pint recorded was downed in 1096.
This was very much on my mind as I sampled a taster of Jail Ale brewed on Dartmoor which was so good I ordered a flagon.  Throughout my life I have often found that longevity is no guarantee of quality, but I am pleased to report that in this case it was.
After placing myself almost in the inglenook wherein blazed a comforting log fire, I made the mistake of having a starter, a large bowl of excellent homemade soup with bread.
With advancing years I must learn to discipline myself, as I was unable to finish the excellent liver and bacon due to my gluttony, which was a shame as the main course was a delight.  Hopefully in future I will learn from this lesson.

Our Lunch 

  • Leek and Potato Soup  BQ & MW
  • Calves liver, creamed potatoes, buttered cabbage, red onion sauce  BQ
  • Chicken and ham pie, creamed potatoes, root vegetables  MW
  • Dartmoor Jail beer  BQ
  • Chilean Merlot  MW

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