All things must come to their natural conclusion and so it is with Dine and Divine. It was in early 2017 that my old school pal BQ and I decided that we needed to find a new excuse to have a decent lunch together from time to time, in order to catch up on news of family and friends. As I mentioned in the last entry, our friendship began over 70 years ago and during that time we have met up, albeit rather irregularly, and shared a current mutual interest that reflected the natural progression through life. In the early days it was rock climbing until a near miss led us on to the safer option of hill walking, then a long addiction to golf, and finally our shared interest in historic church buildings when, with the help of my techno-savvy son, we set up this internet diary of Dine and Divine. It was an unlikely partnership as BQ is a devout practising Roman Catholic whilst I am quite ambivalent to all forms of religion. But we decided on a format which was simple enough – church first, eat second – and arranged our first visit which was to St Leonards Church in Bursledon on 15th March 2017 and now, 5 years later, sadly this will be 48th and final entry. There are a number of reasons for our decision to stop now, but the main one is that we feel that the time is right. We seem to have visited all of those churches with sufficient interest to warrant a visit without having to endure hours of driving – that activity which, during that same progression through life, gradually morphs from pleasure to angst.
Our hosts, WordPress have been able to give us a range fascinating statistics about our site and from them, I see that our entries have been viewed very many thousands of times by people in 88 different countries. Top of the list, as one would expect, is the UK followed by the USA then Australia, but surprisingly in 4th place comes China. All very interesting.
And so, goodbye to our many followers, thank you for your interest and comments with particular thanks to those who have taken the trouble to research other sources where they suspect that we have made a factual error. In most, although not every case, claimed mistakes have been corrected.
BQ and I will, I am sure, continue to meet for the occasional lunch when family obligations permit and, who knows, we may even hear about an elusive Saxon church hidden away in a corner of the Meon valley, and so perhaps the right concluding phrase is au revoir. MW
What a wonderful church it was for this final entry, one that we had somehow previously overlooked when searching though our bible – the Simon Jenkins book ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’.
The Church of St Andrew could not be in a more beautiful and tranquil place than its situation on the North slope of the Sussex Downs. It was difficult to find with no help from the satnav, but we finally deciphered the rich Sussex dialect of a passing farm worker ‘Keep going to the end of Bugshill Lane then look for a narrow track on thy left which shall tak thee to Didling’. We parked the car and stepped out into a beautiful warm late spring morning in perfect silence, save for birdsong and the sound of distant sheep which reminded me that the building we could see through the trees has long been known at ‘The Shepherds’ Church.
With its overwhelming sense of isolation and simplicity, The Church of St. Andrew is a magical place. Its setting could scarcely be more perfect, but as I pushed open the ancient oak doors and saw an interior virtually unchanged from medieval times there was an added impression of timelessness. Only the row of scarlet prayer books indicated that this was still an active place of worship.
But what adds to the magic is the fact that the building has no electricity and, during the winter months, services are still held by candlelight as they have been for centuries. I could imagine the parishioners trudging through snow along Bugshill lane towards the welcoming sight of a lone building with its windows radiating a warm yellow glow. On an impulse I suggested to BQ that a visit to the church in winter to attend evensong could well be a transformative experience, but he pointed out that it would involve almost four hours of driving in the dark. A convincing point.
This ancient Yew in the churchyard had a narrow escape in 1945 when workmen sent to lop off a large branch which was damaging the roof of the church, misunderstood the order and began to cut the whole tree down. A local farmer saw this and notified the rector who was just in time to avert the tragedy, as may be seen by these axe marks..
BQ’s Final thoughts
A spiritual journey comes to a fitting finale at the most simple and beautiful church located in a fold in the downs, where prayer was easy, accompanied by the bleating of sheep. How apt that my final photograph captured me in prayer alongside an Anglo-Saxon font, which predates the building of the church. During the past five years I have searched out the Anglo-Saxon remnants of our past, criminally obliterated by the Norman invasion. My astonishment at finding that our little corner of the mainland was the last to be converted to Christianity made the hunt even more exciting. We followed the rebel Saint Wilfred as he converted the native ‘meonwara’ and founded churches in the Meon valley.
The occupying Normans were great builders and we marvelled at some of their impressive churches, and the discovery of wall paintings unearthed under the whitewash of the reformation. The journey was better than any history lesson, particularly in the company of my best friend MW, and of course there was always the food.
I have known BQ for a long time, a very long time, in fact it is 72 years since we met on our first day at the Chislehurst and Sidcup County Grammar School and shared the trauma of adapting to life in this vast modern glass structure having moved from small village schools of less than 30 boys. It was an ordeal that one can never forget. Discipline was rigorous. Minor transgressions resulted in either detention or having to join the daily pressgang of miscreants sentenced to push a heavy roller back and forth on the school cricket pitch while their fellow pupils enjoyed lunch. More serious wrongdoing resulted in the dreaded cane, applied to the bare buttocks by the headmaster himself. Heaven help any boy who rejoined his class having succumbed to tears. The old lags always made a point of smiling broadly afterwards and, in the communal showers after PT, displayed the ugly red wheals on their bodies as a badge of honour.
In later years I have sometimes wondered why such brutality was needed or indeed permitted. Perhaps there was an acceptance of the need to ‘toughen up’ the younger generation. After all, it was only four years after the end of the Second World War and most children, including me, on leaving secondary school would then go on to do their National Service where ‘toughened up’ they would definitely need to be.
BQ and I have kept in touch ever since those far off days and met up when possible in between forging careers and and rearing children although for much of our lives we were living in different countries, and sometimes different continents. But in retirement, by coincidence, we have finished up little more than 10 miles apart.
Remarkably during our lengthy friendship we have seldom had a significant falling out, that is until we we were faced with the intractable satnav versus road-atlas and past knowledge dilemma. I am a committed satnav devotee, happy to blindly follow the electronic lady’s instructions although I realise that they might not always result in the best possible route. BQ is a techno-luddite preferring to rely on his memory of travelling around these roads during his past working life. And so, once again I allowed myself to be persuaded to deviate from the advised route and take a road that BQ assured me would take us more directly onto the A272 and so on to our destination. The inevitable followed when we found ourselves locked into a procession of slow moving vehicles through Winchester’s convoluted one-way system. Happily, 30 minutes later the atmosphere lightened when we moved from urban sprawl into perhaps one of the most attractive counties – West Sussex. And how could it not? There is surely nothing more beautiful and uplifting than the English countryside in the midst of Spring. MW
What a neat simple church in a lovely farmland setting, almost a picture postcard of the perfect English country church. However it’s simplicity is soon disturbed by a wonderful interior. which is early Gothic ‘single cell’ with a ‘splay foot’ spirelet hung with tiles. The church is a complete rebuild from around 1220
No finer sight than the wild spring flowers in the graveyard. Also clearly visible on the north side is the vestry, originally built in the 17th century by Henry Shelley, the ancestor of the poet, as a burial chamber.
For a church that has had no regular clergy since 1845 and was declared abandoned in 1980, the interior is magnificent; the only word to describe it is ‘bespoke’. Everything is in its rightful place. A superb Queen Anne screen composed of three classical arches topped by a giant tympanum divides the nave from the chancel. A very fine arched roof and two of the three Georgian hatchments of the Butler family are visible on the north wall. The eighteenth century pinewood box pews fill the whole nave.
Once entering the chancel one is struck by the perfect symmetry of design with no intrusive memorials – those to the Benet and Riches families which are attached to the right hand wall are in pleasing proportion. Beneath the Benet memorial there is a rectangular double piscina from the 13th century. The altar rails are fine turned 17th century balusters.
This is a power pulpit, climb it and imagine putting ‘the fear of God’ into a rapt congregation of upturned faces. Below is the custom built chair for the clerk who was obviously built like Billy Bunter. The lectern is designed to fit into the corner of the pew and is yet again in modern advertising jargon, ‘Bespoke’.
In such a tiny church the giant tympanum may have been a Royalist political statement. The Queen’s coat of arms is unmissable against a sea of drapery more reminiscent of a theatre. Was this the new Lord of the Manor, James Butler, divorcing himself from the previous occupier William Penn and Quakerism?
This inset brass commemorates Edward Shelley, (d. 1554) together with his wife and children. It has lost its depiction of the Holy Trinity, presumably carried out after the reformation. However this is as naught compared to the youngest son Edward Jnr. who was originally portrayed at the furthest left hand side. The lower part of his body can still be seen but his head was removed after he was hanged for sheltering a catholic priest in 1558. One’s is always astonished at the history to be found in such a humble abandoned church; all thanks to the Churches Preservation Society
Whilst researching the Church I noticed that a short distance away was ‘The Blue Idol Meeting House’, an intriguing name faintly reminiscent of old Amsterdam. This needed further investigation and, as we had time to spare before our reserved lunch, we made our way there and were rewarded by finding a most beautiful building set in equally attractive grounds.
It is the oldest surviving Quaker Meeting House. The building, with timbered walls and stone roof was built in 1580 and was originally called Little Slatters. However it fell onto hard times and was in a poor state of repair when it was purchased by William Penn and others and it has been a Quaker meeting house for the past 300 years. It’s unusual name of Blue Idol is possibly because it was once painted with a blue wash and for several decades was left standing idle.
William Penn was a prominent early Quaker and the founder not only of this meeting house, but more famously of both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, the state in which it lies.
We liked the Rising Sun pub in the village of Nutbourne, the interior was genuinely olde worlde and to quote their own website it ‘combines traditional and contemporary features creating a very pleasant and civilised ambience for enjoying a drink and some good conversation’. The staff were the perfect combination of being friendly and efficient and we enjoyed chatting to the genial owner for the past 40 years, Regan Howard. The award of three stars reflects our own unrealistic expectations of the range of menu choices in such a difficult period of emerging from yet another lockdown
After my usual disagreement with MW’s sat nav, I sat high in the Range Rover, such a nice change from his sporty model so close to the ground. It was our first outing after lockdown and before us – the A272 my favourite road in the south of England which follows the line of the South Downs from Winchester into Sussex. Having read that our church was difficult to find we were sent on a long diversion before the village of Ashington and the road to the church was identified by the blasted sat nav, so yet again I was wrong. Surveying the interior of the church whilst the drone was flying high above, something unique in our many visits took place as two strangers entered and proceeded straight to the altar rails, knelt and prayed for a considerable time. It seems strange to report that despite running into many visitors this most acceptable behaviour should seem unusual to us in these times. Have we moved so far away from the concepts of prayer and belief that even I, a practising Christian should find this unusual? Later. as they ate their sandwiches outside, I discovered that they were a Catholic married couple and I said I hoped that they were praying for the soul of Edward Shelley jnr. Thence to the home of the Quakers and some quiet contemplation in the beautiful garden before the pangs of hunger disturbed my reverie. The charming village pub was very welcoming although the meal was a little disappointing but who could blame them as they had been shut down for a long period After such a long break even the return journey around the dreaded Chichester by pass and along the M.27 seemed pleasurable and for the first time, I and the sat nav were in complete agreement. BQ
Crayfish and lettuce sandwich served with salted crisps and salad BQ
Smoked mackerel ploughmans served with loaded fries with Sriracha mayo and cheese MW
What a strange, unsettling year this has been – and it’s not over yet. However, the good news is that our salvation in the form of a vaccination is apparently close at hand and we octogenarians are going to be at the front of the queue. I shall ignore the scurrilous talk on social media of expendable guinea pigs and be both willing and grateful to receive it. But, for the present, we remain in the twilight zone of another lockdown and BQ and I only just managed our visit to the Wilton area the day before the shutters fell. Even so there was so much talk of risk and danger that, for the first time we substituted a picnic instead of a restaurant lunch for the ‘Dine’ element of the day. And what a gorgeous day it was, unusually warm autumn sunshine with just a hint of a gentle breeze.
I arrived to collect BQ from his Southampton home in the mid morning and, after a coffee and a catch-up on family news, we made our way towards Salisbury avoiding the horrors of the Salisbury bypass by circling the city to the west. Of necessity our day’s destinations were two redundant churches in the care of that worthy organisation the Church Conservation Trust; all other churches being closed to the public except for brief periods of private prayer.
Church of St. Mary and St. Lawrence, Stratford Tony
Even with the use of the satnav, this church was so hard to find that eventually, in frustration, I left BQ in the car and with the help of the ordnance survey map continued by foot along a well used path that followed the banks of chalk stream until, after a while, I arrived at a collection of cottages. This was surely our destination, the hamlet of Stratford Tony, for there on the brow of a hill was a church which surely must be that of St. Mary and St. Lawrence. But here was the next problem – the only access seemed to be by a steep muddy path and I wasn’t sure whether BQ was capable of an ascent, but I should have had more faith for, although it was a slow and laboured climb, he made it. Later on we were faced with the descent which was rather more challenging but, with the aid of his trusty walking stick on one side and a steadying arm on the other, to my great relief he returned to level ground unscathed.
When the time came to do some research for this entry I was amused by the opening sentence in one of our guides:- ‘The church of St Mary and St Lawrence at Stratford Tony is a quiet country church located in a secluded – one might even say scarcely accessible – location near the River Ebble.‘
The small community of Stratford Tony that we see here today is a fraction of it’s size that it was when the church was built during the 14th and 15th centuries when it had a population of well over 100. However, there had been a village here long before that, at least since Roman times, as it was here that the Roman Road from Salisbury to Blandford crossed the River Ebble. Hence the first part of its name – Strat (Street) ford. The second part wasn’t added until the 11th century when William the Conqueror’s standard bearer at the Battle of Hastings – Ralph de Toni was given the manor in recognition of his services.
It is likely that the present building stands on the foundations of an earlier church. The chancel dates from the 14th century and is constructed of flint with stone dressings. In the south wall there is a piscina of Purbeck marble which, like the 13th-century font, was probably part of the previous building. The tower arch and porch date from about 1500, the tower is typically Wiltshire, with blocks of stone alternating with panels of flint.
Responsibility for the preservation of the building was transferred to the Churches Conservation Trust in 1986, as although the building had previously been lovingly cared for, the cost of the required repairs to the roof and stonework was just too great for the tiny community, Work commenced immediately under the supervision of the redoubtable Mrs Margaret Maxwell and was completed in 1988.
Two views of the interior which has scarcely changed during the past 300 years. It is beautifully fitted out, the standard of work in the pews, chancel stalls and screen is exceptional and, to quote an early guidebook, the overall effect enhances the building’s ‘wonderful serenity’.
The chancel and the perfectly petit choir stalls. Above the altar sits the only coloured glass window in the building. It was installed during the programme of refurbishments carried out in 1882 and is the work of the most eminent of the 19th century stained glass suppliers, Charles Eamer Kempe. Kempe had originally considered entering holy orders, but a habitual stammer made it clear that his future did not lie with preaching. His interest in stained glass stemmed from his dissatisfaction with glass he ordered from a supplier. He decided that he could do better – and he was right. In 1866 he started his own business in London and became highly successful. Kempe decided early on that he needed to use a trademark, and he chose a wheatsheaf, which appears in the Kempe family coat of arms. Finding the wheatsheaf in a Kempe window is apparently a popular pastime for people exploring Victorian churches! His studios produced over 4,000 stained glass windows during his lifetime and cathedrals at Chester, Gloucester, Hereford, Lichfield, Newcastle upon Tyne, Winchester, and York all contain works by him. A shy man by nature, he never married.
In the recess behind the handrail a leper squint can be seen. These were common in medieval churches and were designed to allow lepers to use the aperture in order to follow the service from the outside of the building without risking infecting the members of the congregation inside. A rather inhuman picture that has an uncanny parallel with the situation we find ourselves in 600 years later where distressed families are forced to communicate with confused elderly loved ones through the closed windows of care homes.
The short flight of stairs lead to the early 17th century pulpit that was reduced in height during the 1882 refurbishment. Quite why is a mystery, perhaps there was a diminutive incumbent parson at the time.
The oldest object in the church – a 13th century Purbeck marble font, a relic from the previous church that stood on this site.
By the time we descended from the church back to the village green it was time for lunch and by good fortune there was a bench seat perfectly positioned on the side of the River Ebble. Incidentally I had to check on the ordnance survey to confirm that this was indeed the River Ebble that we had read about as it looked more like a stream than a river. The strange truth is that there are two River Ebbles that flow in parallel through Stratford Tony, dividing and rejoining either side of the village – and this is the smaller of the two. But I digress – back to lunch.
In contrast to the very ordinary ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches, the accompanying wine was as close to perfection as one could wish for when dining al fresco. It was a bottle of Waitrose’s finest Pinot Grigio, crisp and dry with a punchy acidity and a slight effervescence. Exquisite! With our usual restraint we had intended to have just the one glass each but I fear that by the time we had finished the last of the petits fours the bottle was drained. I hasten to add that as I was the designated driver it was BQ who had by far and away the lion’s share.
And then – on to the charming town of Wilton whose history dates back to the Anglo-Saxons in the 8th century. By the 9th century it was the capital of Wiltunschire, later to be known by the present county name Wiltshire. Nowadays most people know of Wilton because of its association with carpet weaving which began in 1741 after two French weavers were brought across to teach the local people new skills. Carpet manufacture prospered helped by the introduction of the mechanical loom shortly after, together with a plentiful supply of local wool. Manufacture of quality carpets has continued in Wilton to the present day.
St. Mary’s Church
At one time evidence suggests that there were 8 or 9 churches in Wilton but, with the building of the new city of Salisbury nearby, Wilton was eclipsed and, by the 16th century, all churches apart from the original Church of St Mary in the market place had disappeared. Between 1841 and 1845 a completely new ‘Italian Romanesque’ parish church was built for the Herbert family at great cost, and soon afterwards the old church of St Mary was reduced to a picturesque ruin with only the chancel still keeping its roof.
The remnants of the 15th century Church of St Mary. The intact section to the left was the original chancel but now forms the entrance to its 19th century replacement.
On entering the present church, my first impression was that it is surprisingly small and underwhelming and its main purpose seemed to be to glorify the great and good of Wilton by a series of memorial tablets that cover the walls of the chancel. However, some had originally been installed in the earlier church and were more interesting, as they commemorated the lives of less worthy Wilton residents, such as Thomas Mell (d.1625), a servant to the 3rd Earl of Pembroke, and later to Kings James 1 and Charles 1; Edmund Philips (d.1678), ‘sweeper of Burbridge’ (a suburb of Wilton) and ‘farer’ (i.e. farrier) to the Earl of Pembroke and John Thomas (d.1798) ‘an eminent Manufacturer of this borough’, a local clothier.
There are three benefaction boards on the walls of the tiny nave that record gifts to the parish and I found this one particularly interesting. I was intrigued by the final paragraph and the significance of 20th January. It must have been an important day if sufficient money had been allocated for bells to be rung on that day in perpetuity. Could it possibly be Robert Sumpton’s birthday? it seems a bit immodest in an otherwise charitable gesture, but after a bit of research I found the christening records of the parish and there he was – christened on 24th January, 1717. By today’s standards, christening a 4 day old infant would be unusual, but in the 18th century when death in infancy was common, an urgent baptism for a newborn was vital in order that it’s soul could not fall into a state of limbo should it not survive. Thankfully such nonsense no longer applies.
No month of the year has undergone such a bewildering change as November, from the foggy yellow smog of my youth in London, to the warm clear sunshine and bucolic setting of our visit early in the month to Wiltshire. It’s not just the temperature that has changed but strange feasts and celebrations have altered over the years. Our visit therefore sat between the new of Halloween and the old of Guy Fawkes day and still I miss the sight of youngsters with a guy requesting a penny. However perhaps the move from bonfires is responsible for the excellent weather as in the clear blue sky above the church, not a vapour trail in sight.
When visiting churches I have always favoured this time of the year when the low sun illuminates the interior and dark corners and cobwebs become alive with reflected glamour. Not that there were many of the latter in both churches which, despite being redundant, are scrupulously maintained by the Churches Preservation Trust.
After the usual disagreement between me and MW’s sat-nav, we had a pleasant journey into Wiltshire replete with autumn colours which was a delight. Whilst attempting to find our village we speculated on the origin of the name and finally decided Stratford Tony sounded like the country retreat of an East End mobster! As someone who is the recipient of a blue badge the access over a bridge and up a steep hill was not easy, and I was grateful for MW’s shoulder. As usual, after making sure I was safely installed in the church MW exited to attend to his usual activities with his drone. This interlude is always a quiet and reflective opportunity for prayer which somehow feels appropriate in these buildings which have listened to them for centuries. As I prayed I wondered if my request for divine intervention would differ in any way from those during the Black Death in medieval times. To quote the book of Ecclesiasticus perhaps’’There is nothing new under the sun’’. What a delightful nave for this reverie, being brightly lit by the southern windows and the warm sunshine was a tonic compared with the usual dark and cold interiors of unoccupied churches.
MW with his usual painstaking research has covered all the main features in his usual detailed fashion and it would be wrong if I did not admit to a rumbling tum whilst waiting for the goodies of the picnic that would follow our visit. In this respect we were clearly following our mission statement set out three years ago to follow in the manner of the church excursions in the book ‘Keeping on Keeping On’ by Alan Bennett who, together with his companion, regularly ate sandwiches during their visits.
Now might be the time to recall an incident from our past history that is relevant. A great many years ago, together with our families, we went to the Grey Mares Tail waterfall in Scotland to enjoy a picnic in the great outdoors. MW with military efficiency had prepared a feast which was stowed in a large box, but whilst he was absent a few of us started eating tit bits to assuage the growing hunger. On his return MW blew his top as he had prepared a full layout with tablecloth, cutlery and all the accompanying details, and there we were scrabbling in the box like a pack of animals.. This had taught me a lesson so, when picnic time arrived, I remained seated and allowed the master chef to arrange the goodies from a similar box as that from the past. In line with the present times and on the verge of lockdown, the meal was modest but, as before, it was laid out with much aplomb. A passing local resident greeted us and then asked if we would keep a lookout for a lost dog. Would you believe it ! That even in this sublime setting, was my meal to be interrupted by my nemesis – a dog? Thankfully not.
Then on to Wilton which, in the past, has always represented a traffic bottleneck at the end of a long wall when travelling to the west. But now it was a time to stop and enjoy the central ruins and church of St Mary. Although a townie by nature this partial ruin is somewhat disappointing compared with our earlier visit. However, the lit lamp on the altar signified that a further prayer should be offered – which was that at the end of restrictions I would be able to visit the nearby St Mary and St Nicholas church, an extravagant Italianate confection built in Victorian times. Something to look forward to. BQ
“On the Road Again” In the words of Jimmy Nelson we have ventured out of isolation to seek the “‘Beakheads”, but more of that anon. All churches are now open, but wisely only for prayer, and the disruption caused by our probing would not be welcome. Thankfully our dear friends, the Churches Preservation Trust have come to our rescue and have opened all their redundant churches between the hours of 10.00 to 16.00 daily. As we have found in the past (Privett and The Sombornes) this is a treasure chest of rare jewels and support of this charity is highly recommended.
Tortington lies just south of Arundel on that fertile plain between the South Downs and the sea. MW’s driving was exemplary on the M27, scrupulously adhering to the new 50mph speed limit, but in lanes temporarily narrowed during the conversion to a ‘Smart’ motorway, sitting in the passenger seat was unnerving as vast lorries passed close by.
Founded in the 12th century to serve both a priory and the villagers, it appears little changed apart from a 19th century restoration The flint and Caen stone building was used for worship until 1978 when it was declared redundant . Set close to a farm and surrounded by open tilled fields it is a perfect eerie spot for the ‘’grotesque bug eyed monsters to dwell in the original carvings on the chancel arch and porch. BQ
The church was erected close to Tortington Priory, a medieval Augustinian monastery, and served a small agricultural community known as the Torthta people. The hamlet is mentioned in the Domesday Book, but there is no mention of the church which was built in the 12th century. Surprisingly, despite subsequent alterations, little has been changed and the church presents a perfect example of sympathetic adaptation through the centuries.
This lovely porch erected around 1140 just shouts its Norman provenance. What craftsmanship and carvings are on show in this humble hamlet, and here we get the first indication of the bug-eyes which will dominate the chancel arch.
In this picture one’s eye is drawn imperceptibly toward the chancel arch which is again clearly Norman, and dates from the same period as the porch. The roof is of ‘king post’ design, probably from the 14th or 15th century. Two hatchments can be seen between the roof timbers which were carried at the funerals of members of the Leeves family in the 18th century. Also visible is the 16th century oak carved pulpit. The north wall has two stained glass windows depicting St Richard of Chichester and St Mary Magdalene – both by the 19th century artist Charles Kemp.
Scurry quickly through the chancel arch avoiding eye contact with the forces of evil and sink into the inner sanctum and pray at this time of pestilence for the deliverance from the plague. How this church historically is a reminder of times which we glibly thought had past. The 1836 east window depicting the Lamb of God, the Blessed Trinity and the four evangelists is the work of Thomas Willement. The other windows are by the local artist Henry Wright from Arundel.
“Beakheads”is the name commonly given to a great diversity of carving dating from the 12th century. Their grotesque character can vary greatly and I wonder even in these far off days they represent the sin and vice that fills the world which must be rejected by the man of God – a view put forward by Michael Camille in his book ‘Image on the Edge’ in 1992.
The south aisle is narrow and probably dates from the 13th century. Against the wall is a small original oak bench dating from the early 15th century with carvings at both ends. This view is back to the entrance where behind the door sits the vast tub font.
For such an intimate and lovely church the tub font can only be described as overwhelming. Although in a recess, its size is the first thing that grabbed my attention on entering the church, its decoration with honeysuckle and shell motifs is in stark contrast to the rest of the bestiary visible elsewhere, which leads experts to think that it was the work of Anglo Saxon masons. Regular readers will know my own love of the Anglo Saxon which was so unlike their Norman conquerors.
The Parson’s Table Arundel
Our second visit for lunch in Arundel was much more convivial than our last visit (see July 2019 visit to Cathedral). This time the trauma was under control and I enjoyed an excellent meal made memorable by the cauliflower soup which, after discussion with the chef, led me to put chilli flakes in my own spicy parsnip soup, the pride of my culinary powers. A definite four star performance.
It seems like an eternity since we were in Salisbury for our last Dine and Divine visit. In fact it was almost exactly six months ago, but what a six months it has been. A period dominated by uncertainty and concern which, although not over, has improved sufficiently for BQ and I to venture out for our first post-pandemic Dine and Divine visit.
As the stringency of the lockdown eased, so the traffic levels have increased so that as we travelled along the notorious A27 progress was as bad as ever. The problem is the roundabouts. There are nine of them in the ten mile section between Chichester and Arundel and at each there was a grindingly slow lengthy tailback. When they were constructed 50 years ago these roundabouts were the perfect substitute for traffic lights at road crossings, as each vehicle quickly slotted into a gap in the flow of rotating traffic but now, with such increased car ownership, often there are no gaps. In many European countries the solution has been to build a simple flyover for the dominant road, but here the answer has been to reintroduce traffic lights at each entry point – the worst of all worlds, as when the lights turn green the roundabout is frequently still congested by vehicles from the other direction. It would be more efficient to return the whole arrangement to the original crossroads. Usually this journey is the source of frustration and annoyance but today, after our extended period of house arrest, we had plenty to chat about and the time flew by. However, it is the poor wretches who have to endure a daily commute along this dreadful road that I feel most sorry for. On our arrival in Tortington the village seemed deserted. It was only the sight of the church weathervane high above the surrounding buildings that guided us to our destination.
BQ has comprehensively described the church building, but it is worth mentioning the manor of Tortington which has had a long and varied history having been in existence for over nine hundred years. It was first recorded in 1066 and, since then, the lands forming the manor have expanded and contracted as they passed through the hands of subsequent owners, landlords and tenants. Among this number were several Earls of Arundel and the religious community of the Augustinian Black Canons. Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 the land reverted to the crown which, in turn, gifted the land and farm to a succession of courtiers until it was sold in the late 17th century and, sometime later, the residence of Tortington Place was constructed.
In 1879 the manor was sold to the Duke of Norfolk who let the estate to a succession of occupants until in 1922 it was converted into a Catholic girls’ boarding school. Extensive additions were made during the 20s and 30s but at the outbreak of the Second World War the school and buildings were requisitioned by the War Office for billeting WAAFS and other personnel based at nearby airfields. Tortington Park was handed back to the school in 1948 and continued to operate until the end of the summer term of 1969. Shortly afterwards it was sold to the New England College for use as its UK campus. The college, based in the USA, wanted to provide an opportunity for students to study in England opening in 1971 with over 180 resident students.
Finally a new chapter in Tortington’s varied history began in 2001 when the site was substantially redeveloped into a new community comprising estate houses, town houses and apartments in a garden setting.
After our visit to Tortington we made our way to Arundel. This was not the first time that we have had lunch in Arundel. We were last there in July 2019 after visiting the Cathedral but then, as BQ has mentioned, it was not a happy occasion. In contrast, dining at the Parsons Table was an absolute pleasure and its award of 4 stars well deserved.
Spiced Cauliflower Soup BQ & MW
Pan Roasted Cod, Salt Cod Croquettes, Tarragon Peas, Tartare Sauce BQ
Grilled Sussex Bay Mackerel, Mint Potatoes, Fennel, Tomato, Black Olives, Saffron MW
What a life affirming visit to make before the dark days of isolation descended among us. For here at last was a church at the vibrant hub of a city on market day with bustle, street vendor’s cries and all the joy of being alive. In this day and age the nearest I have felt to a medieval past. For this was a church built for the masons and craftsmen working on the new Cathedral after it was moved from Old Sarum, a few miles away. Therefore it predates its more illustrious and glorious neighbour on the posh side of town.
If the surrounding town was bustling with activity this was as nothing compared to the activity inside the church where many were gathered for morning coffee and music. It was not long before we were chatting away to our neighbours at the table. It is sad to think that now with churches closed and close proximity frowned upon it may be sometime before that joy of good companionship is restored.
The initial impetus for this visit came from newspaper publicity that the largest “Doom ‘’ painting in the country had been painstakingly restored after three years of work but more of that later. BQ
Built in the 13th century with a freestanding tower which was later incorporated into the church when it was rebuilt in the 15th century. The size and clear glass in the perpendicular windows reflect the wonderful light in the building . A real tonic after the gloomiest winter I can recall , or is it just my age!
The Nave;- MW’s next three photographs clearly shows the extraordinary light and grace of the perpendicular style with exquisite thin piers rising to foliated capitals with the recently installed light oak benches adding to the airiness.
Yet again the amazing delicacy of the craftsmanship dominates, but just visible above is a magnificent roof with crested and painted beams and a profusion of carved angels including the recently discovered tricepholous which, on orders of the Pope Urban was covered up and banned. Thankfully now restored in all its strange symbolism. The new altar fits in well with the decor but MW disagreed.
Now for the star of the show the recently restored and complete ‘’Doom” painting which sits above the arch dividing the nave from the chancel. What a timely and witty reminder of our present situation. Despite the theme there are wonderfully amusing details which resonate with our present times. On the descent into the mouth of hell are a bishop, two crowned heads and a barmaid presumably for serving short measure (the most heinous sin of all). Painted at around 1470 then covered in 1593 and finally restored in 1881 I first saw it over forty years ago and the present restoration is a delight. I am entranced by the Prince of Darkness resting his foot casually on the chancel arch.
It seems pointless to go into a lengthy description of the action as these paintings were originally intended to guide those who could neither read or write and most of the action is fairly obvious. It is interesting that on the downward ramp there are no merchants presumably they were paying the artists for their work, there’s nothing new in society! In the north aisle is the coat of arms of Elizabeth I, which would have hung above the chancel arch when the painting was whitewashed over. The word had triumphed over the picture.
The Lady Chapel in the north aisle includes the most sensitive and earliest pictures of the Annunciation. If one looks high on the left side there is the last of a group of three wall paintings showing the adoration. The remaining two, shown below, are the Annunciation and then the visitation to Elizabeth mother of John the Baptist. The atmosphere of all the doom and hellfire within the church is suddenly quelled by this most intimate and humane image as they place their hands on each other’s bump.
The Chancel and high altar with the choir stalls in front
‘They shall have music wherever they go’ a delightful duo who serenaded us with Mozart and songs from the shows. It made a pleasant and cheerful change from the usual silence. The principal difference between this church and most of the others we have visited was the happy mixture of good fellowship with the divine. This was in part due to the cunning provision of a coffee bar behind the organ named the people’s vestry. On our visit this was as well populated as any of the commercial coffee shops in the surrounding town.
Alchemist’s Door; MW with a passion for irony decided to shoot me before this door through which an alchemist escaped from a demolished tower driven out by noxious fumes
It was fitting that our last visit for sometime should be to Salisbury almost two years to the day that it suffered partial lockdown for eight months following the poisoning by nerve gas of Russian defectors. The fine photograph of the river shows, in the distance, the gardens where they were discovered behaving oddly.
After such a history it was obvious that we would choose Zizzi restaurant, the site of the Skripal’ s meal that day, for our lunch. As the above pictures show the passage of time has led to a thorough clean and re-paint. My meal I am glad to report was magnificent really four star and whilst tucking in I was disconcerted to watch MW picking at his garlic kale and broccoli , obviously in remembrance of things past.
As a result of my preoccupation with dealing with the effects of the developing pandemic, I have to thank BQ for shouldering the lion’s share of the research and writing in what is likely to be our 43rd and final Dine and Divine submission, at least for the remainder of this year – and who knows what the future will bring. I shall certainly miss our regular excursions which we began in early 2017. It was an unlikely joint venture; BQ, a devout and active member of the Catholic Church and I, a lapsed member of the Anglican Church, although I did serve my apprenticeship during several years of my childhood by singing weekly at both Matins and Evensong. However, I have certainly not lost my great affection for the institution of the church and I am an ardent supporter of those organisations dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of the many wonderful historic churches now classed as redundant.
In retrospect it seems ironic that our visit to Salisbury was prompted by a newspaper article about a recently revealed 14th century ‘Doom Picture’ in St. Thomas’s Church that had been restored over many months and was now revealed in all its magnificent and colourful glory. Ironic, because there was a general sense of doom beginning to build in the country with the first predictions of the likely effects from the rapidly approaching pandemic. And now, less than four weeks later those predictions have come to pass with a vengeance together with restrictions on our personal freedoms that previously would have been considered unthinkable. Both BQ and I are of an age that puts us firmly into the highly vulnerable category so incarceration will have to be total and, if we are to believe the latest prognosis, it will last at least six months – about the same period of time that repeat offenders get as their first taste of prison.
This sudden lack of freedom and the associated general anxiety that now pervades all aspects of our lives comes as a great shock to the system, but in a strange way it is not dissimilar from my generations’ earliest memories. BQ has done such an excellent job with the above review that there is little I can add and so, with our readers’ indulgence, I can deviate from our normal format and reminisce about those distant times.
My earliest recollections are of running to our Morrison shelter at the sound of the air raid siren. This type of shelter was essentially a heavy duty steel cage which was in our dining room and was designed to protect a family even though the house had collapsed on top of it. This was life in ‘Bomb Alley’, so called because our home was in North Kent which was on the direct route for enemy bombers on their way to London. When a plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire or if a novice pilot chickened out, the bombs were jettisoned and frequently they fell on our village. Eventually a ‘daisy cutter’ landed in our back garden. These were smaller bombs that exploded sideways just above ground level designed to target the emergency services who would be dealing with casualties from an earlier raid using high explosives. Our house remained upright although extensively damaged and so I was packed off with my mother to Gloucestershire to stay with relatives while Dad remained to battle with the War Damage Commission who eventually arranged for sufficient repairs to be carried so that we could return home. It couldn’t come soon enough for me as I hadn’t enjoyed the boredom of country living. By the time we got back the bombs had been replaced by doodle-bugs, the pilotless flying bombs that usually flew unhindered overhead on their way to London. Life was austere with few toys, but on the way home from school we would make a detour to one of the numerous bomb-sites in the village searching for shrapnel – steel bomb fragments which we collected and swapped. Most prized were the larger pieces and particularly those stamped with the German manufacturer’s code numbers.
By now Dad, who worked for the London County Council, was responsible for delivering the weekly pay packets to firemen in the east end of London. As a treat he would sometimes take me along, hanging on to him as he drove his pinky-pank (a small noisy motor bike) along streets bordered by mountains of rubble. Air raid warnings were becoming less frequent, but when they sounded we would race along looking for a communal street shelter. No matter how full, the cheery east-enders would invariably push together to welcome in the new arrivals. Now, it is all just a distant memory but there is one treasured item that reminds me of that period, my mother’s art nouveau bureau, still perfect except for a pair of identically shaped holes in the sides that trace the path of a daisy-cutter fragment.
And so, thinking back to those days, as I potter about the garden enjoying the spring sunshine it is easy to concentrate on the positives rather than the negatives of the present situation. Firstly there is the absence of traffic and other extraneous noise to the point where the air seems to be full of birdsong. For the first time in many a year, I even heard the distinctive cry of a yaffle (green woodpecker) yesterday. And the sky, usually by mid-morning it is criss-crossed with aircraft vapour trails, but now it is a flawless blue from horizon to horizon. Wonderful!
Finally I would like to thank our many followers who have been reading our blog during the past three years. They come from over 30 different countries and in increasing numbers – we had over 320 visits to the site in one day in early March. Your interest makes the whole endeavour worthwhile. Hopefully rather than goodbye, it is au revoir. If you want an alert when the blog recommences, just tap ‘follow’ on the site. MW
Toscana Soup MW
Pork Belly Calabrese – oven-roasted pork belly in a roast pepper, tomato & spicy ‘Nduja sausage sauce with potatoes, mascapone & crispy sage BQ
Lemon Butter Seabass – Two pan-seared seabass fillets, with garlic kale & broccoli, fried herby potatoes, lemon butter and white wine sauce
After three Dine and Divine visits using rail transport we had to revert to car travel for this visit, there being no railway station close to Boxgrove. It was slow going as 15 miles of the M27 are being converted to a so-called Smart Motorway. As we drove along I was surprised to see that the re-aligned nearside lane was now hard up against a fence or wall in many sections. In these days where so much in life is governed by health and safety considerations, it seems extraordinary that if one is unfortunate enough to breakdown away from one of the infrequent emergency refuge areas, there is no escape. The horrific reality is that the only option is to sit in the car and pray for a quick rescue, whilst there is very good chance of being obliterated by one of the numerous heavy goods vehicles speeding along nose to tail on this busy route that connects Southampton and Portsmouth.
However, I don’t want to appear too curmudgeonly as I remember complaining about the travelling in our last visit. So… moving on, soon after passing Chichester we arrived at the pretty village of Boxgrove and, right on cue, came across the Boxgrove Stores and Tearoom. On entering, it was clearly the local community centre as well. We found a table well away from the animated group discussing vital village matters and enjoyed a decent cup of freshly brewed coffee together with some valuable advice regarding the best nearby eaterie for our lunch.
Although nothing remains of the Anglo-Saxon church that was recorded in the Domesday book of 1086, the Priory Church of St Mary and St Blaise that we see today is part of a Benedictine Priory that was founded by Normandy on the same site in 1117. The building is surrounded by the ruins of the original monastery, the most obvious being the shell of the priory guesthouse that can be seen in the above photo in the adjacent field. From the foundation of the priory until just after the reformation, the Priory was maintained by the Anglo-Norman family of the de la Hays of Lessay in France and then, by family link, the de la Warrs whose name is immortalised by Boxgrove’s most impressive monument, the fabulous de la Warr chantry installed just before the reformation by Thomas West, the 9th Lord de la Warr.
The French influence can be seen in the steeply-pitched roofs and flying buttresses. The wall to the left of the porch was once part of the original priory. BQ sits by the porch enjoying the sun.
In 2008-09 the whole church was closed for restoration and most of the floor was taken up. Incorporated into the new flooring is this remarkable labyrinth, designed in a darker stone, which is situated under the crossing. This is the second time we have come across a church labyrinth, we saw an earlier one last year in the 1866 St Mary’s Church at Itchen Stoke. Labyrinths, which pre-date the Christian Church have a point of entry leading to a destination. Traditionally Christians were expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to follow Jesus’s footsteps and visit the places where the gospel stories took place. However, human conflict in the Holy Land made the journey unsafe and one of the solutions was to make a symbolic spiritual pilgrimage using a labyrinth. I see from the church notes that walking the labyrinth in Boxgrove Priory Church is encouraged as an act of ‘self examination’ or ‘thanksgiving’.
Seen here are the pulpit, the de la Warr chantry and the high altar, the stone top of which came from the 15th century chapel of the Halnaker House, now in ruins.
The de la Warr chantry chapel constructed in 1535 is the most extraordinary piece of Tudor architecture, with some of the finest 16th century carving anywhere in Britain. It is quite breath-taking, particularly the astonishing decorative vaulting and pendant bosses that are embellished with Tudor symbols and the de la Warr arms entwined with flowers and foliage. Unfortunately, within a few years of the chantry being built, Henry VIII decreed that monasteries be dissolved and chantrys abolished and so the structure could only function as a tomb, but alas, not for the De La Warrs as he fell out of favour and was compelled by the King to exchange the manor of Boxgrove for an estate in Hampshire.
One of the pillar carvings in the chantry depicts a man climbing a tree while a maiden waits at the base. This scene represents the ‘danse macabre’ or dance of death, a common theme throughout the late middle ages, originally inspired by the catastrophe of the 14th century Black Death.
The tomb of Admiral Philip Nelson-Ward who died in 1937. Strangely, he is depicted in the manner of a medieval knight, but dressed in naval uniform. He had seen action during the 19th century in Egypt and during the Boxer Rebellion and was recalled to service in order to assist with the organisation of North Atlantic Convoys during the First World War. In 1919 he was appointed Gentleman Usher to the King, holding the post until the death of George V in 1936.
St Catherine’s Chapel, dedicated to the martyr who was put to death by being ‘broken at the wheel’ after refusing to renounce her faith as was demanded by the emperor Maxentius. The lancet window on the left shows St Catherine with the ‘Catherine Wheel’ upon which she was put to death.
The nave ceiling is spectacular considering that it was painted in the 1530’s. As with the chantry, it was commissioned by Lord de la Warr. Each of the four bays in the vault is decorated with his personal heraldic achievements and badges together with those of his parents and wife’s family. Considering the scale of his investment and his life-long dedication to the church, one can only imagine Lord de la Warr’s despair when he was dispossessed of the building together with the manor as a result of the “greed and violence of Henry VIII’s regime”.
We left the church and walked out into the unusually warm winter sunshine. BQ relaxed in a seat by the porch while I explored the graveyard and came across an intriguing memorial. Billy Fiske III was born in Chicago in 1911, son of a New England banking magnate. He was first educated in Chicago, then later in France where he discovered the sport of bobsled. In 1928, as driver of the first five-man US bobsled team to win at the Olympics, Fiske became the youngest gold medal winner in any winter sport. He then attended Trinity Hall, Cambridge and, after graduation, worked at the London office of Dillon, Reed & Co, the New York bankers. In September 1938, he married the Countess of Warwick. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Fiske was recalled to the New York offices of the bank, but in August 1939 he returned to England and joined the RAF. In his diary, Fiske wrote, “I believe I can lay claim to being the first U.S. citizen to join the RAF”. On 16 August 1940, in the midst of the Battle of Britain he was scrambled to intercept a squadron of German dive-bombers. Fiske was flying a Hurricane, but after just 15 minutes, a German gunner put a bullet through his fuel tank. With his aircraft badly damaged and his hands and ankles burnt, instead of bailing out, he nursed his plane back to base. Although landing safely, he had to be extracted from the aircraft and was taken to hospital for treatment, but died later. He was 29 years old. Fiske’s funeral took place on 20 August 1940, his coffin, covered in the Union Jack and Stars and Stripes was borne to Boxgrove Church and buried.
Some interesting items of trivia discovered during our research:-
At the time of the dissolution there were eight priests, one novice, twenty-eight servants and eight children living in the priory.
Several parishioners of Boxgrove were prosecuted for playing cricket in the churchyard in 1622 following concern about the safety of the church windows.
In the early 17th century the US state of Delaware was named after a later member of the de la Warrs – another Thomas West, this one the 3rd Baron de la Warr who was appointed governor-for-life and captain-general of the colony of Virginia.
The Gribble Inn and Brewery
Once home to the village school teacher Rose Gribble, the cottage was bought by a local farmer after Rose passed away, and converted into a public house in 1980. The onsite microbrewery dates back to those early days. Over the years the original head brewer passed on his knowledge to his son, Rob, the current head brewer.
As soon as we entered the Gribble Inn we suspected that we were in for some quality food as virtually every table was occupied – always a good sign. And so it proved to be. My pan fried seabass with saffron spaghetti was an inspired creation and BQ positively relished his liver and bacon. Bethan, our charming waitress was a delight with her combination of smooth efficiency and good humour. An excellent, thoroughly enjoyable meal.
It was quite by accident that our visit coincided with the inaugural Saturday break ordered by the Football Association, thereby freeing me from my usual occupation of viewing and reporting on the game. What a joy to journey door to door in MW’s new car rather than having to face the arduous walking that train travel entails.
Boxgrove Priory is a delight, formed by the French in 1117 AD, so there is none of my beloved Anglo-Saxon architecture to cover up or destroy, this is pure Norman and what great builders they were. We knew it was special for as we arrived, so did the sun which had been absent so far this month. Its rays flooded the interior and illuminated a box of jewels and particularly the astonishing painted ceiling.
I am always interested in the dedication of these churches and here was St Mary and St Blaise, the latter having a private chapel which at the time of our visit was unfortunately blocked from view. In my youth I well remember receiving the blessing of St Blaise when two crossed candles encircled my throat, and an incantation was delivered by the priest. Peeping through the curtains I was pleased to see a pair of candles on a bench correctly crossed. The Feast Day of Saint Blaise is February 3rd and if only we had visited the Priory a week earlier we could have enjoyed Boxgrove’s St Blaise Fair complete with refreshments, a variety of stalls and of course Morris Dancers. St Blaise is also the Patron Saint of wool-combers, a massive commercial venture in medieval Britain and still celebrated to this day in Norwich.
Whilst MW did his outside photography I sat contented in the sunshine and listened to the birdsong which floated round the churchyard. Pure Bliss! Then to The Gribble which the real ale aficionados in my local knew well, so in celebration, I drank an excellent glass of home brewed porter, I was just beginning to think things could not be better when up turned the curried parsnip soup and the heavenly liver and bacon. Pure happiness.
Curried parsnip soup BQ
Home cured gravalax with a celeriac remoulade MW
Liver and bacon with mashed potatoes BQ
Pan fried seabass with saffron spaghetti and basil oil MW
Being gentlemen of leisure, now free from the tyranny of the daily toil, we are usually able to choose the sunniest day from the weather forecast for our Dine and Divine visits. In general this has worked well but, on this occasion, the outlook was for perpetual gloom and all we could do was to opt for the day of least rain. I mention this by way of apology for the drab appearance of the overhead shots which do no justice to the beauty of the richly coloured Ham stone from which most of Sherborne’s buildings are constructed.
So far I have enjoyed travelling by rail rather than by car for these church visits, but today was a disappointment. The train that arrived at Salisbury to take us on to Sherborne was virtually filled to capacity on arrival so that, by necessity, we were seated far apart. I had the misfortune to be sitting next to a corpulent businessman, unsuccessfully trying to keep his laptop and files on his side of the double seat while BQ spent the journey in animated conversation with his elegant lady travelling companion. On arrival, in poor fettle, I questioned the Sherborne stationmaster as to why the train was so crowded at a time outside the rush hour and he explained that it was all due to limitations of the infrastructure. Apparently much of the track we had come along was just a single line, worked in both directions and so it was impossible to add extra services. Furthermore, many of the existing trains were already twice as long as some of the platforms they served so could not be lengthened. All this on a route from London to Exeter! For the first time I could see some merit in the argument that perhaps investment should be made in our existing rail network rather than in an entirely new high speed track. It was a short walk from the station to the Chapter House bookshop and cafe where the charming proprietress improved the day by serving us some excellent freshly brewed coffee. I left BQ to explore the shelves while I deployed the drone for our usual overhead photos. MW
BQ, who has done the lion’s share of the research for this visit, continues…
On arrival at the station I was ushered by MW into the Chapter House bookshop for a cup of coffee in the midst of the most wonderful Aladdin’s Cave of books, which despite the muddled appearance was well referenced.
On leaving on this dull and dark morning I was suddenly aware of being surrounded even on this dank day by a delight of buildings in the distinctive Ham stone. It has a warmth which transcends everything and leads gently into the centre of the town and the Abbey church.
If judged by status, Sherborne Abbey can be compared to a fallen lady. Once a Cathedral, then an Abbey and now a humble Parish Church but wait, as John Constable once described it in a letter, ‘On Monday Fisher took me a magnificent ride to Sherborne a fine old town with a magnificent church finer than Salisbury Cathedral’’. However this lady survived, which is more than can be said for many monastic structures and Queens during the reign of Henry VIII. Not only survived, but each new generation has enhanced the structure including our own with contributions from Laurence Whistler, Richard Carpenter and John Hayward.
Dating from 705, when the diocese of Winchester was divided, St Aldhelm the Bishop of Malmesbury was appointed and built his cathedral at ‘Siere- burne’ or ‘clear stream’. After the Norman conquest the diocese was moved to Old Sarum , and subsequently the building became a Benedictine Abbey until surrendered to the King at the dissolution in 1539.
How strange that the glorious building we see today was born out of a riot against the Abbott by the local citizens in 1417 in which the nave, tower and roof were burnt. The town was punished and ordered to pay for the reconstruction. After half a century the Abbot and monks had only seventeen years before it was surrendered to the King. What a pity the day we visited was so dark, as with sunlight streaming through those large perpendicular windows, it must look sensational.
Note to visitors, remember to take binoculars, I didn’t and regretted it. I will have to be content with MW’s excellent photographs. I am no expert in this area so let’s turn to Simon Jenkins, who is – “I would pit Sherborne’s roof against any contemporary work of the Italian Renaissance’’.
The Quire: Here the Saxon-Norman origins are clearly visible as in the porch in later picture
The Chancel: The perpendicular dominates in all its glory, restored in the Victorian era. The Reredos is in Caen stone by R .H Carpenter and portrays the Ascension.
Pulpit and Quire: The flower arrangements in preparation for a wedding the following day.
Lady Chapel is 13th century early Gothic and the home of the blessed sacrament. The chandelier of 1657 is the earliest dated one to survive in an English church. The glass reredos was engraved by Laurence Whistler and placed here in 1986.
St Mary le Bow Chapel was originally the drawing room and study of the headmaster of Sherborne School. An old fireplace is still visible on the east wall. Rumour has it that on windy nights one can still hear the swish of the cane (see MW notes on misericords). Inside and visible through the doorway is a composite font which is the result of the antagonism in 1473 between the Abbey and Allhallows Church.
South Transept – Earl of Bristol Monument memorial to John Digby (d 1698} a swaggering, smug, pompous gentleman flanked by his two adoring wives. Besides the supporting columns are figures weeping, presumably with laughter. So will you when you read the inscription.
The Organ, but more importantly this view shows the heavy Norman supports for the tower which houses the largest peal of bells in Britain and at the time of our visit my enquiry regarding their use on the 31st of January was not known
St Katherine’s Chapel, which houses in the distance the remaining medieval stained glass. In the foreground the memorial to John Leweston and wife of Leweston Manor.
Sherborne’s most famous resident Sir Walter Raleigh worshiped here after he bought the Manor from Queen Elizabeth.
The Great Hailstorm of May 16th 1709. A salutary tale and a reminder that not all natural disasters are of recent times
The Horseys – The Wykeham Chapel portrayed even as late as 1546 in full armour are John Horsey and his son, who purchased the abbey at the time of the dissolution and then sold it to the town. In these days of entrepreneurs he must command respect for the town having paid for the reconstruction after the riot then had to buy it back.
The Great West Window is a wonderful addition to the structure designed and executed by the eminent stained glass artist the late John Hayward, and was dedicated in a service attended by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1998
The Norman Porch and those wonderful perpendicular windows above
The Three Wishes Restaurant
The Three Wishes Restaurant was just a five minute stroll from the Abbey. The food was efficiently served, but the quality was good rather than great and we both felt that three stars would be appropriate. I am curious that in these days of equality between the sexes, the clientele that we see at lunchtimes is always almost exclusively female. On this occasion we were the only two representatives of our gender. I wonder why.
Sherborne is one of those churches which has such an embarrassment of riches that it is difficult to know what to include and what to leave out. Romsey Abbey, which we visited in June 2018, presented us with the same dilemma. They have much in common, both buildings were originally vast medieval abbeys which were confiscated by Henry VIII during the reformation, then later purchased by the townspeople as a suitable place of worship for their expanding populations. As a result, both buildings are substantially larger than any of the other churches we have visited and contain more historical detail and artefacts. Hardly surprising as they share a similar history – five centuries as a Roman Catholic Abbey followed by almost five centuries as a Protestant church.
BQ has done an excellent job with his research on the Abbey, as shown above, but it is worth drawing attention to some less obvious details where the sacred gives way to the secular. These features are tucked away and not easily seen but they are fascinating as they give an insight into the human interest and humour of the late 1400’s.
The abbey’s most celebrated features are the spectacular fan vaults. They were completed at the end of the 15th century and, incorporated into the design of the nave ceiling, are 115 bosses, each one fixed at the point where the ribs of the vaulting meet. The majority of the boss designs are either heraldic or of flowers and foliage, but if one has brought along a pair of binoculars and is prepared to forego dignity and lie flat in the centre aisle, as suggested in the abbey guidebook, it is possible to pick out a few where the mason’s imagination has been given a free rein.
On the left is the most famous of Sherborne’s fan bosses, an eye-catching mermaid holding a comb and mirror. To the right, two dogs argue over a bone
Four lions licking. Few people in the Britain of 1450 would ever have seen a lion, so this representation could only have been based on descriptions from returning overseas travellers. On the right an owl is shown being mobbed by birds – still relevant.
Misericords, sometimes called mercy seats are the small hinged flaps situated in the choir stalls of a monastery. In medieval times the unfortunate monks had to attend up to eight masses a day where they were expected to stand during the long periods of prayer. This would have been hard enough for the young and fit, but when old and infirm this became an impossible ordeal and so the narrow mercy seat could be lowered thus allowing the unfortunate monk to appear to be standing whilst getting some modest relief. The craftsmen of the day used their skill to decorate the undersides of the misericords, but the sacred or religious themes that they would have normally have worked on were not thought to be appropriate, being in such close proximity to the unworthy posterior. As a result humorous and sometimes even bawdy scenes were depicted. There are ten such carvings in Sherborne Abbey from around 1450 and they are some of the finest in the country but of course you will have to lift up the seat to find them!
Perhaps the best known of the misericord carving. A schoolboy being thrashed by the schoolmaster as his classmates look on, laughing.
Another violent scene. A wife gives her husband a good whack, no doubt for some discovered transgression.
A face-puller. A common medieval subject.
Risotto of smoked salmon, spinach & pea with double cream BQ
The Three Wishes fishcakes, minted crushed peas, chilli jam and balsamic syrup with dressed salad and chips MW
This was a day that didn’t go to plan. Our new policy of using a more relaxed and greener form of transport by travelling by train, instead of car, ran into the buffers. We had originally planned to go by Southwest Trains to Sherborne Abbey in Dorset, but the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers decided that the month of December would be a good time to bring their train drivers out on strike and so we had to come up with a plan B. Fortunately the good men of the Southern Railway had a more compassionate regard to the public during this month of peace and goodwill and their services were running as normal. And so we searched our guidebooks for a suitable destination along their line from Southampton to Brighton and came across Lancing College Chapel. It was a pleasant enough journey, trundling along the aging rail-track laid down in the 1840’s that follows the south coast through such towns as Chichester, Angmering, Goring-by-Sea and Worthing. This is not a high speed railway but, to my mind, all the more pleasant, with its contrasting views of both the sea and the beautiful South Downs rising up to the north. After 90 minutes we arrived in Lancing which had the air of a town that had seen better days. We walked past the usual charity and betting shops but then had the good fortune to come across Cornucopia, a bakery/coffee house. Excellent coffee, charming mother and daughter management and indulgent home baking which I voraciously enjoyed whilst BQ resisted, clearly occupying the high ground. The ladies kindly called a taxi for us which arrived in minutes and soon we were gazing up at the mightily impressive Lancing College Chapel.
It is impossible not to feel a sense of awe when arriving at the Chapel. It is vast. Not only is it the largest school chapel in the world but, with a nave reaching to 90 feet, its height is only surpassed by Westminster Abbey and York Minster. It is considered one of the finest examples of 19th century architecture in Britain. But what I find astonishing is that this magnificent edifice was constructed not to meet the spiritual needs of the residents of a town or city but as a place of worship for the pupils and staff of the adjacent school; although I see that the original intention was that it should act as the mother church of all of the independent schools founded by the Woodard Corporation.
In 1868 construction of the building commenced with the laying of the 70 feet deep foundations – an unusual depth due to underlying chalk and the anticipated weight of the soaring structure above. Although the chapel was dedicated in 1911, it was not complete. A planned 350 foot tower had to be abandoned and work on the west end of the building suspended. It would be another 36 years before a new design for the west end was commissioned and then a further 31 years before the west wall and its magnificent rose window was dedicated. Even so, to this day the chapel is still incomplete as can be seen by the exposed brickwork around the entrance. However, during our visit I was assured that the stone facing and the arches that will form a new entrance will finally be completed by the end of 2020. Surely, at over 150 years from start to finish this must rank as one of England’s longest-running building projects.
The unfinished west wall exterior as it is now and an artists impression of how it will appear by the end of 2020. God Willing!
In 1848 Canon Nathaniel Woodard, the curate of the nearby town of Shoreham-by-Sea, put forward the idea that the country needed more – and less exclusive – independent schools with a strong religious emphasis based around the Book of Common Prayer and, following these principles, he founded the College of St Mary and St Nicolas, which eventually became Lancing College. In his lifetime Nathaniel Woodard founded a total of eleven independent schools and acquired a number of others. They were to be known as Woodard Schools
Originally the pupils of Lancing College were exclusively boys who all boarded, but in 1971 girls were also admitted. Currently there are approximately 550 pupils between the ages of 13 and 18 of which 65% are boarders at a cost of £33,000 per year.
The stunning interior of the nave is brightly lit from the unusually tall clerestory windows. The floor is of Portland stone salvaged from a ship that was wrecked off Shoreham in the 1870’s.
The high altar was inscribed with golden Christian symbols to mark the second millennium. The silver cross dates from 1490 and was donated by Martin Gibbs, a former pupil who became one of Woodard’s most devoted supporters. He contributed generously to the chapel as well as paying for the building of Great School and other parts of the Upper Quad, part of which is known as Gibbs’ House. Incidentally, to this day, new arrivals at Gibbs’ House are known as ‘Gibboons’ and are carefully mentored by the senior boys.
The west wall, finally completed in 1978. Pride of Lancing Chapel is the spectacular rose window which, with a width of 32 ft, makes it the largest in England. The stone tracery which encloses 30,000 separate pieces of glass weighs 52 tons – truly remarkable statistics. It was dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the presence of Prince Charles.
Detail of the intricate design of the rose window. The 16 trefoils at the outer edge of the window contain designs showing the arms of all of the Woodard Corporation schools that contributed to the cost of the window. The adjacent triangular trefoils contain the arms of the dioceses in which the schools are situated.
The south aisle which leads to the Saint Nicholas Chapel and the Founder’s Chantry.
In the Founder’s Chantry on a slab of Sussex marble lies the bronze figure of the man who inspired so many excellent centres of learning, Nathaniel Woodard.
The Huddleston Memorial window, dedicated in 2007 by Desmond Tutu in memory of Bishop Trevor Huddleston who attended Lancing College in the 1920’s. He was known for his strong anti-apartheid views. Nelson Mandela said of him ‘No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston’.
The War Memorial Cloister built between the wars by the last of the resident college masons. The white limestone plaques are inscribed with the names of over 400 ex-students and college staff who fell during the various 2Oth century hostilities.
Toto Restaurant, Lancing
We were not spoiled for choice when researching a decent eatery in Lancing and entered the Toto Restaurant at the head of an uninspiring shopping mall without high hopes. However, we were most pleasantly surprised, the quality of the food was only exceeded by the friendliness of the staff and the warmth of our welcome. As our Italian patron bade us farewell it was though he was saying goodbye to much loved family members. A definite recommend!
It was fitting that we visited this chapel just before the election as I imagined that by the end of the week it was possible that Jeremy Corbyn would have plans to convert the existing school into a comprehensive. However, it was not to be and these buildings will continue to dominate the landscape for at least another five years. In my working life, during the many years of travelling along the A27 at night, this eerie gothic structure usually illuminated in a hideous orange glow would put the fear of God into me, no doubt achieving its object. My unease would not be relieved until I saw the friendly John Sainsbury sign on the outskirts of Worthing.
Now, as we alighted from the station, there it was again dominating the humble and friendly peasants below reminiscent of a famous novel set in the Balkans. From this preamble I hope it has become clear that, if there is one period of church building which I do not like, it is the neo-gothic revival . A movement that was an answer by the church to the non-conformity which was rife in the country. It represented both a philosophical and Catholic change based on original medieval architecture. I have always regarded it as pretentious, a word which fits effortlessly into the description of the largest school chapel in the world, and the largest rose window. At the age of sixteen my favourite writer was Evelyn Waugh who, whilst a pupil at Lancing College, wrote in his diary that he would speak ‘against’ in a debate that proposed ‘That this house is of the opinion that the nineteenth century Gothicist revival may be justified by the school buildings’.
Our visit coincided with the younger pupils rehearsing for the carol service, and the amplified recitation of the events at Bethlehem which resonated around this vast structure thankfully restored my humanity. It made me aware that the building was conceived and built around this humble moment in a stable, and was as relevant here as it would be in more modest surroundings. With my focus restored I looked again and found an awesome majesty in the narrow lofty interior which constantly drew my eyes upward. Whilst MW retreated to do his external shots I sheltered on this cold morning against the heating pipes that ran along the length of the building and thought of how many school children had done the same. In the front of every pupil there was a pamphlet setting out the form of services and responses for Advent and every place was assigned to one of the various houses. The raised side aisle seats were reserved for the staff and, in overlooking the pupils there was not much room for hanky-panky. This must represent the perfect template for Victorian values and discipline, and yet by the entrance to the crypt is the window dedicated to the memory of former pupil Trevor Huddlestone , the Bishop who did more to defeat apartheid than any other European.
Finally after much delay in the freezing wind the taxi arrived to take us back down the hill to civilisation, and the welcome heat of Toto’s Italian restaurant where a very welcome warming pasta was consumed before boarding the train home.
Garlic Mushrooms with olive oil, garlic, white wine, parsley BQ
With the passing of the years I had been feeling an increasing urgency to tick off some of those places on the proverbial bucket list while I am still reasonably sound in mind and body. One of those destinations was the Atlas Mountains, a remote range that stretches 2,500 km through the Maghreb in North Africa. I had visited the section between the Sahara Desert and the lowlands of Morocco with my son some years ago and had fond memories of the beauty of the area and the friendliness of the Berber people who live there, but I had an urge to trek along those ancient mule tracks one more time. And so it was that a couple of days after we took the train to Bradford on Avon, I was on a British Airways flight bound for Marrakech leaving BQ, for the first time, with the task of researching and recording the details of the two very different churches that we had visited.
I have to say that he has done such an excellent and thorough job that I feel seriously tempted to find future excuses to reverse our normal roles in the preparation of our blog entries. MW
Unbroken grey skies and a sharp wind could not disguise the charm of Bradford on Avon when we finally found our way from the railway station. For yet again the new green version of Dine and Divine had journeyed on the Great Western Railway right into the centre of this jewel. Deep in the valley with steep hills surrounding, I was relieved to find all of our proposed visits were within short walking distance of the station and more importantly on the flat. After earlier visits to the churches founded by St Wilfred in the Meon Valley in Hampshire my love of the pre-Norman Anglo Saxon Church demanded a trip to see St Laurence. As one can see from the drone shot it is the lofty building in the foreground and even to my eyes could not be described as imposing alongside the Norman and Perpendicular church of Holy Trinity.
Holy Trinity Church
Holy Trinity Church dates from the 12th century and has fragments of its Norman background in the chancel, but it is primarily a perpendicular structure built in the late 15th and early 16th century The church was virtually rebuilt in the 1860’s. At the centre of this thriving market town it is a living church that radiates its influence evident over many centuries. However even in this shot my eye is drawn to the modest church beyond which pre-dates it by some time.
Entering by the south door, the initial impression is one of extreme modernity and lack of clutter. The lighting was exceptional reflecting off the modern white tiled floors, an effect that fitted in well with the pristine condition of the surrounding town. Antiquity had to be hunted down in the nooks and crannies particularly the north aisle arcade. However the eye is rightly concentrated down the full length to the chancel and the high altar.
The Chancel; The tie bars across this area give a solid feeling that one is now within the oldest section of the church which splits into four separate sections. It is pleasing to see the sanctuary lamp (albeit electric) signifies the presence of the Lord. To the left of the High Altar there remains a 14th century wall painting of the Virgin Mary with her mother St. Anne. On the north wall nearby is ‘Lady with a Wimple ‘ a 13th century sculpture. Also on the north wall is a brass memorial to Anne Long (1601) and on the south Wall, a 15th century panel showing St Augustine and St Jerome. Another tomb to Charles Steward (1698) has a swaggering air and pose.
South Door; What an array of memorials to the local burghers of the town. I bet this church almost sets a record for the number as a percentage of the local population.
The North Aisle; Rebuilt in Victorian times with these rather original and eccentric wrap around inscribed ribbons which I find a little out of character. Beyond, on the wall is a reproduction of the painting ‘Christ Blessing ‘ by Quentin Metsys which was sold in 2013 and hangs in its original position. Further east is a carved cross probably from a Chantry Chapel which possibly could have been in this aisle during medieval times. The font has now been moved beneath it. It is necessary to go round the back of the large organ to view the ‘squint’ one of the longest in the country but, on our visit partly obscured by a stack of chairs.
The view from the chancel looking West gives some idea of the length of the church. In my constant desire to be in the photographs I can be seen at the end in front of the West window This is approached from the choir vestry via a fine oak screen and modern staircase to a comfortable eyrie which commands a fine view of the church. From here the wonderful fan vaulting above is visible and the roof of the nave with its exquisite wooden bosses. A fine picture of ‘The Last Supper’ by James Thornton RA is at the head of the stairs.
An ancient section of panelling depicting St Augustine and St Jerome attached to the Chancel wall. Age unknown
13th century carving ‘Lady with a Wimple’
The finely carved 1866 pulpit has been carefully incorporated into the new Portland stone floor. At the same time the moulded Bath stone steps were crafted and set in place.
St. Laurence Church
St. Laurence church – ‘the one that got away’. After 1066 the Normans successfully managed to rub out most of the previous decades of worship with an astonishing display of building regeneration . Nothing escaped these wonderful builders and one is lucky to find even the slightest artefact or evidence of previous places of worship. St Laurence is therefore unique in this country and its survival is to us Anglo-Saxon lovers an example of a miracle! Tall and narrow with small windows, it is characteristic of the time, which is open to dispute reaching back to 700 ad but not acknowledged until 1120 by William of Malmesbury. After years of hiding successfully in other buildings as a warehouse and a school, Canon Jones realised its significance in 1857.
What a contrast to the Holy Trinity Church next door but fortunately, despite the withering cold, a perfect place for prayer. Why should we Christians always don the hair shirt and seek discomfort? Entering through the south door the gloom envelops one and one wonders whether the interior was painted in the past. Although the walls are plain, remnants of decoration are visible on the plinth.
Saxon carvings are evident in the chancel, carved stones found nearby have been used to form the altar, above which is the Ring of Doulting, a stone carving by John Maine RA. Below this is a piece of fossil tree with an existing fragment of a Saxon cross at the base. This is to be seen as a three part work and even to my eyes fits perfectly into the structure.
The north portico survives which may have served as a chapel with an altar on the east wall. Shown here is a stone bowl found locally and today used as a font. Almost hidden in the gloom and too dark to photograph is the Altar Frontal designed by Sir John Ninian Comper and worked by his sister in law. Regular readers will remember that we visited Comper’s last Gothic interior in St Phillip church in Cosham. As a parting shot before finishing my pilgrimage I noted from the church notices that services in St Laurence only took place between May and September and as I stamped my freezing feet I knew why!
Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn
The nearby Tithe Barn is a magnificent structure erected in the 1330’s and was associated with Shaftesbury Abbey, one of the richest convents in the kingdom. A grade one listed building, it is 51 metres long and has 14 bays. As neither of us knew the topography of the town we hired a taxi to find the location, little knowing it was only a short walk from the railway station along the Kennet and Avon Canal.
What an interior, and remarkably the astonishing roof structure is original and, according to my research, it is a cruck construction. Cruck or crook means rounded arches. It is worth pointing out that there is a very cozy cafeteria alongside.
Frozen stiff and ready for warmth and good food, we crossed the river by the McKeever bridge named after the town’s gold medalist in the London Olympics and fell into Ravello restaurant. Although not our first choice it was warm welcoming and the food was delicious. The service could not be faulted and my roasted monkfish garnished with capers was outstanding. A perfect ending to a visit to a town, to which I will certainly return.
I am enjoying our switch from car to train as a means of travelling to our Dine and Divine destinations. So much more relaxing and so much more to see as, unlike roads, railway lines in this part of the country pass through mainly undeveloped glorious countryside. BQ and I boarded a virtually empty three coach train at Southampton Central then, as we stopped at a series of country villages, first in Hampshire, then into Wiltshire, the carriages gradually filled with commuters and shoppers on their way to Bath and Bristol until it was standing room only.
Few other passengers got off at Bradford on Avon, an attractive town but like so many others, cursed by the volume of traffic trying to negotiate narrow thoroughfares unaltered since the days of the horse. I had to restrain BQ at one stage when he was forced to flatten himself against a sidewall by an arrogant 4×4 driver. But thankfully we soon entered a quiet cul-de-sac that led to our destination.
Since commencing this blog almost three years ago we have reviewed over 40 churches, from small and simple to vast and opulent but all visits have one thing in common – we never know quite what to expect when we first enter a new church. Many are predictable, some come as a surprise, but just occasionally they can astonish, and this was the case when we entered the brilliantly lit interior of the Holy Trinity Church.
The initial impression was that we had walked into the foyer of a successful corporate headquarters. From the gleaming white Portland stone floor to the superb new timber fittings and seating, not to mention the latest led lighting, I was left wondering how on earth such quality could have been paid for as, for many of the churches we have seen, it is a struggle just to keep the buildings wind and watertight. The answer lies in an act of charity that occurred long ago.
In 1940 a retired couple living in the nearby village of Holt, donated an unremarkable looking oil painting to the Holy Trinity Church. It hung, undisturbed, on the West Wall of the nave for the next 70 years. In 2010 an art expert was called in to examine another painting in the church – one that was believed to be by Charles I’s court painter, Van Dyke, but it turned out to be a copy. However, while he was there the expert had a look at other paintings and immediately suspected that the donated work was something special and after careful research it was shown that the painting is the work of Quentin Metsys, an influential painter who worked in Antwerp in Belgium in the 16th Century. It was first assumed to be a single piece but after four years of painstaking research and consultations with the National Gallery in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, it was confirmed to be the left half of a rectangular panel that had been sawn in two. The right side depicted the Virgin Mary at prayer. The two halves were temporarily reunited at the National Gallery. The expert who was present at the time commented “When they were put together on an easel it was such exciting spine-chilling moment. The two pictures fitted together like a jig-saw”.
The good news for the church was that it was valuable, far too valuable to be left hanging in such an insecure place and after lengthy consultation with the parishioners it was decided that it should be sold and the proceeds used to fund much needed repairs and flood protection.
Metsys’ painting ‘Christ Blessing’ and the refurbishment underway
The picture went to auction and achieved £1.5m, exceeding all expectations, and it was realised that in addition to repairs, an ambitious programme of refurbishment could be carried out. In total £2m was spent with the additional £500,000 being raised by the parishioners. The Church reopened after a 12 months closure on December 18th 2016. A truly heartwarming tale! MW
Pane e Olive; Homemade bread, marinated mixed olives, served with butter, aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil. BQ
Gamberoni Picante; Pan fried king prawns, with fish stock, white wine, chilli and garlic, served with homemade ciabatta bread MW
Codo di Rospo; Oven roasted monkfish, black olives, cherry tomatoes, caper berries and roasted potatoes drizzled in a caper, butter and lemon sauce. BQ
Ravioli del Giorni; Ravioli stuffed with minced shrimp and italian sausage in a cheese and cream sauce. MW
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.
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.
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.
The nave looking east gives the most impressive view of the 13th century Norman arches with their chevron decoration typical of the period.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 Kings 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Spiced sweet potato soup with coconut & coriander BQ
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
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
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’
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
We usually manage to find a sunny time in the week to organise our Dine and Divine outings, but on this occasion the best we could do was to pick the one day where the forecast was for showers rather than the constant rain that seems to be a feature of this soggy June. However, despite the lowering skies, the little village of Bosham (pronounced Bossum) looked particularly attractive as we drove round searching for a parking space. Eventually I dropped off BQ and his walking stick by the church gate and returned to the road that runs along the foreshore and parked next to a cautionary sign warning that the road floods at high tide. However, looking across the seaweed covered beach to the distant waters of Chichester Harbour, I estimated we would be returning to the car well before the returning tide.
Bosham, with its well protected harbour, has been inhabited since Roman times and the remains of several important Roman buildings have been discovered there, including one that is believed to have been used by the Emperor Vespasian. Nine hundred years later, King Canute also had a palace in Bosham, thought to have been situated where the Manor House now stands. This Viking King, who ruled England for nineteen years during the 11th century, is best remembered for vainly raising his hands to hold back the incoming tide, (perhaps he had his carriage parked on the foreshore road!) . On a sadder note, his young daughter drowned in the nearby mill-stream and her remains lie in a tomb covered by a memorial that was put in place by the children of the parish in 1906. Bosham was also the principal home of Harold Godwinson, King Harold of England, who lost his life at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Bayeux Tapestry shows him and his retinue riding to Bosham before the famous confrontation with William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy which resulted in William becoming the first Norman king of England.
In recent years Bosham became the centre of the most intensive police investigation ever carried out in the county, but I will leave it to BQ to describe the dark events that led to such interest, as it was he who came across the details when carrying out his own research.
Bosham is one of the earliest Christian settlements in the South of England according to evidence that shows that there was a small Christian community on the edge of the creek in the 7th century. There is a long held tradition that the church was built on the site of a Roman Basilica, and several artefacts from the period have been discovered nearby, including the head from a colossal Roman statue which dates from the 1st century, suggesting that it could well be that of Emperor Nero (AD 54-78). For a long time the head was the central feature of the parsonage garden next to the church, but is now on display just a mile away at Fishbourne Palace, the largest residential Roman building ever discovered in Britain.
The church is basically Saxon, built between the end of the 10th and the middle of the 11th century, with additions and alterations carried out shortly after the Norman Conquest. The north aisle and the Fishbourne Chantry were built during the 12th and 13th century as the local population increased, with the South Aisle, Crypt and Allhallows Chapel being added 100 years later. The spire was constructed during 1406 or 1407.
Looking down the nave towards the chancel. The South Aisle and Allhallows Chapel are on the right. The impressive chancel arch is thought to be Saxon, particularly as it is of similar appearance and proportions to the one depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. It is likely that King Harold worshipped under this same arch before boarding the ship that took him to Normandy prior to the fateful conquest.
The chancel was built in three stages, Saxon – nearest to the camera, Norman, with the typical herringbone masonry just beyond the doorway on the right, then finally Early English which would have been during the early 13th century. An organ was first installed during the late 19th century and in 1908 it was considerably altered and enlarged. It served the church for almost 100 years until 2006 when it was completely refurbished and modernised.
In the south-east corner of the north aisle is this trefoil headed 12th century piscina with a hollow column forming the drain. Piscinas were used to wash communion vessels at a time before the reformation and, as they were normally situated next to an altar, it suggests that at the time of the construction of the north aisle it was intended to have the main altar situated there.
There are no windows of stained glass in the church apart from these four strange roundels included in one of the windows in the Allhallows Chapel. They are from the 15th century and are of Flemish origin. According to our guidebook they depict four angels holding implements of Christ’s Passion, pincers, spear, scourge and hammer. Having recently walked along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem following the 14 stations of the cross, I can recall only the scourge (a whip with multiple thongs) being mentioned – at the second station, where the Church of the Flagellation stands where Christ was flogged by Roman soldiers. So why the other rather sinister implements of punishment appear on the window is puzzling.
BQ chats to some of the volunteer ladies who we must thank for sharing their knowledge of the Church. The North Aisle that now includes the childrens’ corner is in the background
At the back of the nave sits the base of the tower which was built in the mid 11th century – the very oldest part of the church.
Bosham is probably best known for the fact that the church is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. King Harold, whose principal home was here, is shown together with his retinue riding to Bosham before embarking on his fateful trip to Normandy in 1064. The Latin text in the tapestry translates; ‘Where Harold, Earl of the English, and his retinue ride to Bosham’. It is interesting that although there have been many variations in the spelling of Bosham over the centuries, it is spelt the same way today as is recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry.
By coincidence, during our visit, a new Altar Frontal cloth was on display in the Allhallows Chapel with a design based on the Bayeux Tapestry. It looked quite stunning thanks to the talents of Beryl Dean who worked on the design and her student Elizabeth Elvin who did the embroidery.
The crypt, situated under the Allhallows Chapel. Now used as a small chapel, its original use is unknown, although there is some suggestion that it was once used as a charnel house.
The Millstream Restaurant
It was just a short drive from the church to the the Millstream Hotel, but as we arrived, the heavens opened and we had to make a dash into the building via the staff entrance. As soon as we were shown into the dining room it was obvious that this was an establishment a cut above the norm. White crisp linen tablecloths and napkins, orchids on the tables and immaculate professional, friendly staff. The overall impression resulted in high expectations in the food department and we were not disappointed, resulting in a rarely awarded 5 stars.
However I did have one grouse which I asked our charming waitress to relay on to the management; When it was time to pay and I was handed the card machine for my PIN number, on the screen was a message asking if I wanted to add a tip. Normally I like to tip in cash giving it directly to the person who has served the meal but, if it was company policy to collect gratuities via a credit card, I was happy to go along with that. However, on impulse, I decided to check the bill and was shocked to see that a 10% tip had already been added. I am not sure if this was an oversight or sharp practice, as it would have been easy to double-tip, as normally I seldom check restaurant bills. But, it seems a pity to end on a critical note as all other aspects of our lunch were flawless.
Written in Blood
How apt was the title of the 1998 episode of the television series Midsomer Murders which was filmed in Bosham, when years later, Valerie Graves was brutally murdered whilst house sitting in the village at Christmas. The old adage of truth imitating fiction was not true in this case as, unlike the results achieved by the redoubtable Inspector Barnaby in the television series, the murder remains unsolved. All this despite finding the murder weapon in a nearby stream – a claw hammer with partial DNA – which was compared against the DNA of the entire local male population.Having however briefly covered the salient facts, I refer those of an enquiring disposition to consult the web where the full gory details will be revealed.
All this should not divert us from the purpose of our visit to report on a wonderfully historic church which was at the centre of a significant moment in our history. Gosh ! that last sentence does sound like another politician talking about Brexit.
Regular readers will know that I view the Norman invasion of these shores and the end of our Anglo-Saxon culture as a defining episode for the nation. To be depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry is without doubt the highest accolade afforded to any church and I am delighted to learn that President Macron has agreed to loan the artefact to Britain in the near future. It will be the first time it has left France in 900 years.
Then we will be able to see the representation of the great arch, one of the noblest spans in English architecture which may date back to Roman times, and beneath which, Harold prayed before embarking to Normandy. The tower is the only remaining Saxon part, as the nave and chancel at Holy Trinity are early Gothic.Within the church one becomes aware that there is virtually no stained glass which, on this dull morning, aided our investigation. There was also a refreshing lack of monuments and tombs which greatly assisted the feeling of an integrated whole. The small memorial to the eight year old daughter of King Canute occupies a quiet corner.
As a resident of Southampton however, I must register a protest against Bosham claiming that it was there that King Canute attempted to turn back the tide, as this has always been part of Southampton folk lore.
If the village and church exceeded my expectation that was nothing compared to the culinary joy that awaited us at the Millstream Hotel close to the church.Entering by the rear entrance to avoid the rain, we found the dining room warm and welcoming with laundered white substantial napkins. I have of late avoided comment in this area as I had imagined from recent visits that they had disappeared for ever.
To add yet more class to the proceedings the head waiter, after adjusting our chairs and, with a movement born of a life of service, flicked the rectangle into a perfect triangle which gently landed in our laps.
Wow!Could any subsequent meal live up to this prelude and the answer was in the affirmative.The starter which mixed warm seared white scallops with dark menacing ‘written in blood’ black pudding seemed not only appropriate but delicious. As was the melt in the mouth roast beef medallions, beautifully dressed.
This was a five star experience and after MW had driven me home, I snoozed in the armchair hoping that on waking I would interrupt yet another repeat episode of Midsomer Murders which would magically dispense justice to the guilty.
Seared Scottish Scallops, black pudding, cauliflower, capers BQ
Twice baked blue cheese soufflé and spring onion sauce MW
Fillet of English Beef, potato and pancetta terrine, watercress puree, hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, bone marrow BQ
Whole Lemon Sole, Jersey Royals, local asparagus, lemon & caper butter MW
Shiraz, Dry River – Australia BQ
Château Lascalle, Bordeaux Supérieu MW
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The magnificent organ has an impressive 4,500 pipes, some of which date from the Priory’s first organ installed in 1788
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
The Fez Restaurant, Petersfield
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
As was common practice at the time, Sir Richard’s helmet, together with a single spur, hangs over his tomb
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
Apart from the medieval roof structure, what we see to day is the result of the 19th century restorations and enlargements
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Museum 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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
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