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FRIENDS OF ST MARY'S CHURCH HARTLEY WINTNEY
In 2009, a number of like minded individuals formed a volunteer group, 'The Friends of St Marys'. The group was formed to increase awareness of this beautiful and historically interesting 13th Century church.
Along with 320 other historic churches throughout England, St Marys is the responsibility of the Churches Conservation Trust. Like many national charities, the CCT has had its government grant cut significantly in recent years and, as a result, they have had to look to local supporters to keep their churches open to the public and preserved for the future. As Friends
of St Marys, we have taken on this task for our church and we organise regular openings and fund raising events.
We are pleased to welcome all visitors to the church, between 2.30pm & 4.30pm, each Sunday afternoon and Bank Holiday Mondays, during April through to the end of September. Admission can also be arranged, during the week, by telephoning one of the following key-holders on any of the following numbers: -
01252-843753, 01252-844530 or 01252-845505.
During the summer months, the 'Friends' are holding fund raising events at the church. Pre-arranged
Groups visits can be organised together with a talk on the history of the church.
(Contact telephone number for bookings - 01252 843309). All monies collected, together with any donations, will go towards the up-keep of St Marys' through the offices of the Churches Conservation
In 2012, BBC South Today made a short video of St Mary's and this can be found by the under mentioned link: -
During the summer months over the past few years, a small group of 'Friends' have embarked on the cleaning and recording all of the memorial head stones, for burials up and including 1911, in the cemetery. They have made good progress but there is still a lot to do. The details of the
memorials, which have been completed, can be found on this website together with photographs - coming soon....
Please visit http://www.fosmhw.hampshire.org.uk to see the work to date.
We hope that this information will be a useful resource for those tracing their family history and for anyone interested in our lovely church or the history of Hartley Wintney and surrounding villages.
This Church is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and the structure that you can see today was begun in the year 1234. It was built by a Cistercian Order of nuns from Wintney Priory, which was established just below the church between 1154 and 1159. The Priory lasted until 1536 when it became a casualty of the Dissolution under Henry VIII. However, there was a church here before this one, almost certainly made of wood with a thatched roof. The present chancel would have been an addition to it, the first incumbent being Richard de Waring in 1221. To put that date into context, King John signed the Magna Charta just up the road at Runnymede a mere six years earlier in 1215. At the time of the stone church’s construction, Henry III was king of England, a Plantagenet; he was born in 1216 and died in 1272.
When the stone church was built the medieval village which surrounded it was called Hurtlege which became Minchen Hartley in 1236, Hartley Monalium in 1270 to reflect its religious connections, and Hartley Wintney around 1371. In 1767 the village moved from here down to the London Road to take advantage of the coaching trade. As it spread along the road it was known as Hartley Row. Later, in 1834, the villagers built the Transept and the galleries, and in 1842 they erected the bell tower to house the peel of three bells cast in 1612, 1642 and 1721. Shortly after this they decided that St Mary’s was too far away from the new village and constructed St John’s church overlooking the London Road (A30).
Most unfortunately, when the Victorians cut through this beautiful old church, they kept no record of the structure that they destroyed and they plastered over the medieval wall paintings as well. Consequently, we can only guess at some of the content which remains. Even more regrettably, the paintings are deteriorating and cannot be restored, so that what you can see now will almost certainly be lost to future generations.
When you enter the church through the West door, you are stepping into a 19th Century addition. The Victorians, when they built this tower in 1842, made an archway into the church through the original doorway. It’s a good idea to turn to your right and hold the inner and outer stone of this arch because if you do your right hand will be in contact with the 19th Century and your left will be holding the masonry laid in the 1230’s. Turn around to the other side and look for the name ‘Israel Woodes’ carved into the stone. He is believed to be the stonemason who helped to restore the church after the damage inflicted by Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War.
However, under the West Gallery on the North wall, there is a representation of the Seven Deadly Sins probably dating from the 15th Century. Walk into pew number 63 and look upwards. At the top of the painting you will just be able to make out the figure of Gluttony - a man pouring liquid, presumably wine, into a cup. Below that, the largest figure in the group, is Pride, and you can easily see the torso, and the ribs, legs, and hand. Nearby, there is a disembodied hand probably representing Covetousness and in the bottom right hand quadrant, at an angle of about forty five degrees are the faces of a man and woman, cheek to cheek, presumably to represent Lust.
Further to the right is a figure of St Christopher. You will be easily able to make out his staff at an angle from top right to bottom left.
Over the East window in the Chancel there is a depiction of St George slaying the Dragon and if you look very carefully at the facing edge of the North window there is a figure of St Margaret of Antioch with a staff and a small dragon. (You may have to spend some time looking hard to see this at all.) All around the Chancel are stencils of Fleur-de-Lys which date from the 15th Century. The wooden Altar is dated 1636, but the Altar rails are a little later.
The wall paintings were all uncovered and restored by Mr Clive Rouse and his team of experts between 1977 and 1980 after being hidden for around 450 years.
One feature of the church that rarely gets a mention is the pews. In St Mary’s these come in a variety of shapes and sizes and the first thing that becomes apparent are the box pews. These had to be rented and were an undoubted status symbol. The best seats in the house are those in the galleries over the Transept. Pew Number 27 has a baize lining, most of which is still there and , being at the front, affords the best view of the hoi polloi below, the balcony front being only hip-height. On the ground floor, pew number 51 is the biggest with benches on three sides, one of which is moveable. Number 56 is a peculiarity in that the bench only goes about two thirds of the way to the wall, and there is a square of concrete in the floor that make one think that this was the place for a fire box. There may have been place for one in number 51 as well.
The smallest box pews are numbered 18 and 24, the latter being across the entrance to the cupboard under the gallery on the south side. These are, at the best, two-seaters provided the sitters are slim.
The pews at the back are unenclosed and reveal a surprising disparity of size. The largest are numbers 65 and 66, where there is ample room to stretch one’s legs. Contrast these with the pews opposite where there is little room except for emaciated Victorian children. Try sitting in pew number 10, but please don’t go in there if you are more than a size 14 or someone will have to extricate you with a chain saw. And if you are taller than 5’ 10” please watch your head in pew 68 if you sit against the wall. Similarly, in the pew behind that, number 67, only a child or a midget is able to stand under the stairs.
Nowhere is there room to kneel and pray, except perhaps in pews 51, 63 and 65 and, maybe, 67. (If you try it elsewhere you do so at your own risk but, in any case, you will soon find that the position is too painful to maintain for long).
On the 12th August 1870, St Mary’s was abandoned, following the dedication of St John’s, the new church in the ‘centre’ of the village. St Mary’s continued to be used for occasional services and as a mortuary chapel. In the Second World War, the tower was an observation post by the home guard. However, in 1975 the church was declared officially redundant and has since been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The Churchyard and the Cemetery are the responsibility of the Parish Council who maintain it to a high standard of care.
The Churches Conservation Trust has spent a considerable amount of money on renovation of the building, having the bells recast, by the Whitechapel Foundry, and re-hung on the strengthen bell frame together with an improved access to the tower. The Bishop of Winchester came to re-consecrate the bells in 2010. The bells were chimed on that day for the first time in many years.
Whilst the church was open to the public for a number of years by Philip Hatt, a group of village residents have now got together to form ‘Friends of St Marys’. Their aims are to open the church every Sunday afternoon during the summer months, to hold fund raising events on behalf of the Churches Conservation Trust, and in conjunction with St John’s Church to be able to have a special Advent Service.
There is a small sub group of the Friends of St Marys who are cleaning and recording all the old memorial stones in the churchyard, up and including the year 1910. Other members are researching the families of the deceased. In time, the information will be placed on a dedicated website to enable the public to access the data to help them trace their family’s history.
We are very fortunate that our ‘old’ church has become ‘alive’ again. We have visitors from far and wide who are delighted with our ancient church of St Mary’s. The church is still consecrated and hence it can be used for christening, marriages and funerals. All enquires must be made through St John’s Parish Office. As parishioners, we have a ‘right ‘ to be buried in the cemetery but no further burials are permitted in the churchyard, unless a claim can be made to a family plot. The cemetery is being extended and in 2012, the new ‘Garden of Remembrance’ was planted with shrubs and flowers.
If you would like to become a member of the Friends of St Mary’s and be involved in the research/recording of churchyard please contact the authors of this article.