Thursday, 7 July 2016

St Peter & St Paul, Exton

Exton is the small country parish church of a small linear village, nestling in the exquisite valley of the river Meon.

The church is approached through a very neat and orderly graveyard, belying its 13th century origins, although there has in fact been a church on the site since AD970. The present building is 13th century, though much restored in 1847. It consists simply of a nave and chancel (the porch is Victorian). The nave has single lancets of the Early English type, with a pair forming the east window, with a quatrefoil over. This forms a most attractive ensemble, considerably enhanced by being filled with attractive Arts & Crafts stained glass depicting sheafs of wheat, with a tree of life painted in the surround. It is the work of Charles Spooner (1862-1938) and is quite wonderful.

On the east wall of the nave is a tombstone, formerly in the churchyard, surmounted by a scene of Father Time recalling a scholar from his deathbed. The hour-glass and bookshelves are delightfully picked out, although slightly weathered.

The church has regular services as part of the Meon Bridge benefice, along with Droxford, Meonstoke and Corhampton.
St Peter & St Paul, Church Lane, Exton, Hampshire, SO32 3NU

St Andrew, Meonstoke

Situated close to the lovely River Meon, St Andrew is a well preserved 13th century church with a long and interesting history.

There has probably been a church on the site since St Wilfrid brought Christianity to the Meon Valley, in the late 7th century. The east bank was originally part of a Jutish kingdom, separated from the Saxons by the River Meon, which was then both wider and navigable at this point. This explains the presence of separate villages and separate churches on either side of the river: Corhampton church is just 100 yards away.

A church was mentioned in the Domesday Book, but the present structure was built around 1230, probably by masons working on Winchester Castle (1222-1235), which shares the same style of windows as those in the clerestory. The interior is Early English in style, with lancets in the chancel and tower, and an elegant arcade of pointed arches on alternating round and octagonal piers. The only oddity is the rounded 19th century chancel arch (at least according to Pevsner and the Listing details - the church guide claims it as original).

The nave roof was raised in the 18th century, as is clearly evident from the corbels in the aisles and the position of the clerestory windows under the aisle roofs. As a consequence, the 15th century tower was somewhat squat in comparison, a problem solved neatly in 1900 by the erection of the distinctive two-stage tower.

The fittings include a 14th century Easter sepulchre in the chancel, the very fine original font of Purbeck marble and a 13th century painted consecration cross.
St Andrew: Church Lane, Meonstoke, Hampshire, SO32 3NA

St Nicholas, Chawton

Situated next to Chawton House, both church and house will now forever be associated with Jane Austen, who worshipped here and whose mother and sister are buried in the churchyard.

There has been a church here since 1270, but the foundation may be earlier. Jane's brother Edward inherited the estate at Chawton in 1794, and offered Jane and her mother and sister the use of a house in Chawton, and she lived here until a few months before her death in 1817. The church she knew was largely the mediaeval original, but a fire in 1871 destroyed most of the building except the chancel.

The present church is therefore largely a late Victorian work of Sir Arthur Blomfield, who provided a large church with flint walls, a nave, north aisle and three cross gables on the north, and a tower with distinctive pinnacles. The whole is very enclosed by mature trees, which are picturesque from a distance but also make the approach through the churchyard rather gloomy. The gloom continues inside the church, not helped by the profusion of heavy Victorian stained glass (some by Kempe).

However, the chancel survived the fire, along with a number of monuments and fittings. Most impressive of these is the large monument to St Richard Knight (d. 1679) in the chancel, which shows him grandlysemi-recumbent in armour, with a huge periwig. Behind the altar is a reredos, donated by the Kinght family in 1898. It is attributed to Agostino Caracci (1557-1602), although Pevsner simply says "Netherlander, probably c. 1600". For most tourists, though, the pretty 18th century altar rails have a special place, since it was at these that Jane Austen would have knelt to take communion.

St Nicholas, off Winchester Road, Chawton GU34 1SJ