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St Nicholas Newnham

The information below, on the building and its history, is taken from the booklet “Newnham: A history of the Parish and its Church”, by Nigel Bell, written in 2004 and with some limited updating in 2012-14. A PDF of the text of the whole booklet (but not the illustrations) is available here. A printed copy of the booklet, including illustrations, is available in the church, price £2.00. The list of contents is shown at the bottom of this web page.

The History of the Building

There is no record of whether or not the present church was preceded by an earlier building. However, if the ‘new settlement’ was established before - say - 800 or 900 AD the author suggests it was probable that a Saxon church already existed. Without appropriate excavation this can only remain speculation.

The first reference, as noted above, is in a Charter of Henry de Port to the Priory of West Sherborne, now Monk Sherborne, dated about 1130; in this he provided income for the priory to enable the monks to support the village's church.

This charter gives no dedication for the church, but it seems probable that from 1130 it was identified with St. Nicholas. Certainly it has been St. Nicholas’ for generations e.g. the will of Thomas Fielder, dated 1540, requests burial in ‘the Church of Seynt Nicholas of Newnham’. Perhaps it was named for St. Nicholas at the suggestion of Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, 1129-1171 there is some evidence that the bishop felt a duty to St. Nicholas who was inter alia the patron saint of seafarers.

The chancel arch, which stands where it has done for centuries, is in the Norman style with dog-tooth decoration typical of its period and has been dated to about 1125. Thus the charter already mentioned would seem to coincide with the building of the church. Over the subsequent centuries there is no written information about how the church may have been modified; the ground plan may not have changed at all but assuming the first windows were small ‘Norman’ apertures it seems some were altered at an early stage to meet the evolving fashions.

By 1846 major restoration work was necessary and was completed early in 1848, when the Rector, the Reverend George Wylie, stated the building was almost a new one. In fact major changes to the structure had been introduced - a totally new bell tower with a new staircase to the gallery and a new vestry, new buttresses at every corner, re-designed windows and a new interior seating layout. Nevertheless, it must be stressed he had an interest in trying to impress on the Incorporated Church Building Society, from whom he had sought funds, that a major 'improvement' had been achieved.

In fact the nave’s dimensions before the modifications only differ modestly from those visible today. It seems probable that the nave walls stand where the Norman builders placed them, and that the chancel walls are sited exactly as before. The west window may be an innovation, but there was perhaps a window to illumine the gallery.

The church before 1846 was tiled, not thatched or slated, also there was a porch. The exact positioning of this porch is unknown; the painting of 1832 shows it was not a south porch; a north porch is not possible because of the positions of graves which predate 1846. The author believes it was a west porch, and that the old shafts and capitals which stand either side of the tower doorway were probably part of the inner doorway to the original porch and those at the entrance to the nave probably originally stood at the west end of the porch. This may explain why they have suffered so much weathering.

The pre-1846 church had a separate entrance for the parson leading straight into the Chancel, but there was no vestry.

Description of the Present Church

The church is reached from The Green via Church Path. At the entrance to the graveyard there is a tiled oak, flint and stone lichgate dated 1910, and a footpath leads along the south side of the building to the west door. The church comprises a north-west tower, the nave and the chancel; the vestry is below the tower with the entrance from the nave, and there is a gallery or organ loft over the west end of the nave but reached via the tower entrance.

The Tower

The tower dates from 1846/48. Its roof has been described by Pevsner as ‘a sort of Rhenish helm (cf Sompting, Sussex)’. It is surmounted by a weather-vane showing a cockerel in full crow above the points of the compass. Like the remainder of the church, its walls are of flint with limestone quoins, and there are buttresses at the lower levels at all corners. The tower entrance is 12th century work, flanked by undecorated shafts, and it leads up slate stairs to the bell ringing platform, also of slate, and to the gallery. Of interest is the roughly carved cross halfway down the right door jamb; these marks are sometimes thought to be the work of pilgrims. There is also a series of scratches, evidently someone counting in groups of five (sets of 4 vertical scratches struck through by a diagonal).

Information on the bells, with a photograph, may be viewed here.

The church’s west door is flanked by twelfth century shafts and capitals: the north capital is carved with three early volutes, and the other has a small human head with long ears, from which issue two knotted and twisted tails. The rest of the doorway is modern. The significance of this carved capital is unknown but it may have been a visual reminder to worshippers that they should leave their fears of supernatural things outside the church and concentrate on spiritual matters within God's house. At the entrance to St. Swithin’s church, Nately Scures, a mermaid is carved on the left capital: mermaids represented water spirits and perhaps a similar message was being conveyed to the faithful there.

The Nave and Chancel

The interior of the nave is dominated by the chancel arch, almost 7ft. 6ins. inches wide and 10ft. 8ins. to the top of the arch, set in a massive wall. The arch itself is emphasised by the concentric outer curves and the 4 inch wide band of dog-tooth Norman carving, and by the high roof above. Either side of the arch are detached shafts (or columns) resting on two rolls and with cushion capitals.

Long ago, features on both sides of the arch were deliberately destroyed. There is no record of what has gone, nor when, nor why; perhaps the destruction recalls more than one incident of anti-church feeling. Interestingly, the damage at the top of the left shaft was subsequently painted over implying damage done before the Reformation, and the red colour resembles that used in the faded mediaeval scroll paintwork on both sides of the arch. This same red may also be seen on some of the re-used stones around the nave's south-facing windows; this suggests red was used here extensively, in earlier times.

Besides the chancel arch, the visitor also gains a sense of the building's solidness from looking at the entrance and the windows. The nave's west wall is 40 inches thick, and the south and north walls are about the same thickness.

The chancel also conveys this sense of strength. The north, east and south walls of the chancel are almost the equals of the nave. The roof is substantially lower than that of the nave, and the walls closer together. Within this setting, the old style undistinguished pews - the former choir stalls, and the chequer board black and white marble floor, give a sense of intimacy. This is reinforced on winter mornings at early service, when the velvet curtains are drawn to reduce the draught.

The furnishings of the church are 'modern'. A plate on the pulpit records that the refurbishment of the interior, including the pulpit, prayer-desk and pews, also the east window, were completed by Christmas 1892. The reading lectern was given at Easter 1910. The altar was given in 1920 (in memory of Capt. G.A.Maconochy, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, k.i.a. Waziristan, 1920). In subsequent years further gifts and some changes have been made. The kneelers were made by members of the parish in the early 1980s.

The Windows

All the north windows, and the single south window of the chancel, and the west windows in the gallery and the tower, are of clear glass, which allows maximum light into the building. The east window was given by Mrs. Helen Wylie, widow of the Reverend George Wylie, in 1892. It was made by Alfred Octavius Hemming and replaced a painted glass window dated 1731/33 which had shown Christ on the road to Emmaus. The present window represents the Ascension of Christ into Heaven, with two angels holding a scroll bearing the words, Ye men of Galilee why stand ye gazing up into heaven. The scene is of a stylised Jerusalem with the eleven disciples in two groups looking upward at Christ; there are nine other angels in white, and a further eleven angel faces depicted in red glass.

In the nave, on the south side, the easterly window is composed of a frame enclosing individual glass lozenges with four motifs: fleur de lys, vine leaves, oak leaves and a cruciform flower, perhaps dogwood - a symbol of the Crucifixion.

The central window shows Christ with a scroll above and the words, Come unto me all ye that labour. It was given, ‘In loving memory of William and Ann Maria Goring, late of Sheldons, Hook’. The westerly window depicts Christ holding a small child with four others crowding around; underneath are the words, Suffer the little children to come unto me. It was given by a former rector, the Reverend Andrew Wallace Milroy, to record the baptisms of his family. By local tradition the children's faces in the window are likenesses of his five offspring.


There are several memorials on the nave's walls. The first on the north side is to the Reverend George Wylie and his wife Helen. During his 34 years as rector he masterminded the rebuilding of the church in 1846/48. Some feel his Victorian zeal was excessive and that we may have lost forever several features of historic interest, for example earlier memorials, and perhaps markers for graves of those buried in the nave or chancel.

Next is a plaque to the Reverend Charles Henry Coryndon Baker DD, for 15 years rector. Then above the prayer-desk is the 1914-1921 memorial to those who died in the Great War, 19 names in all.

In the Chancel, on the north wall, a tablet commemorates the death in 1781 (aged 38) of Jane Richmond wife of the rector; and also of her husband the Reverend Joseph Richmond DD who died in 1816 aged 97, and who was the incumbent for an astonishing 54 years. On the chancel floor a flagstone records them as 'JR 1781 JRDD 1816'.

Next, on the north wall of the sanctuary, is a feature which may be unique in Hampshire. It is part of an early 14th Century gravestone ‘incised with the head and shoulders of a tonsured and bearded priest, apparelled in alb and chasuble, under a trefoiled canopy’. The only part of the inscription remaining is ‘+ Hic jacet' (= Here lies), but the identity of the person is unknown. The stone was brought to Newnham from Andwell Priory Farm and used to reside on the west wall of the chancel.

On the south wall is a black stone memorial erected by the Reverend Paul Daniel Eyre to his father the Reverend Charles James Phipps Eyre MA for many years rector of St. Marylebone, and also his brother Ernest Eyre who died in 1882, aged 22, while still at Christchurch, Oxford.

Then to the right of the south window, the Reverend Richard Hunter AM (sic) who died in 1844, and his wife Mary who died in 1840, are recalled.

There is also a coffin stool inscribed ‘Louis and Rosemary’. This was given in memory of the Simmonds, husband and wife, who lived at Tithe Barn on Newnham Green and who died in 1947 and 1940, respectively.

On the south wall of the nave are further memorials: a pulpit light to Fanny Vernon Harrop, and there are tablets to the Right Honourable Sir Frederick John Wrottesley Kt who lived at Manor Farm and died in 1948: he was probably the only resident of the village who has featured in the Dictionary of National Biography; Georgiana Pechell (née Harrop) and two of her infant grandchildren, Aimée and Estelle Pechell; and William Mortimer Charles Pechell of Newnham Hill, and his wife Emily Louisa Pechell.

Whether armorial bearings are memorials may be arguable, however the church possesses those of George I, painted on wood. This coat of arms used to hang from the front of the gallery but was banished to the tower for many years. Fortunately the church wardens in the late 1980s arranged for the paintwork to be refurbished and it hangs again in the nave. Displaying the royal arms was a sign of loyalty to the Crown. En passant it may come as a surprise to know that during the 18th Century Newnham, and probably many other communities, also displayed loyalty year by year by ringing the church bells to mark the anniversary of the Coronation and again on November 5th - Guy Fawkes’ Day.

Outside the church there are two benches given in memory of Miss Kathleen Close, 1960, one by the west door the other by the lichgate. She lived at Rookswood on London Road, Hook, where Rookswood Close is today.

The Gallery

The only feature of importance is the organ.

The Crypt

There is understood to be a small crypt under the chancel. The entrance is under the choir stalls on the north side and was formerly covered by a wooden trapdoor. This used to deteriorate because of the damp, and in about 1935 it was replaced by a concrete slab. No recent entry has been made and the present status of the crypt is unknown.

The Church Yard

On leaving the church it is worth looking firstly at the gravestones immediately adjacent to the west end. To the north of the tower are those of Rogers and Rowlands, and to the south of the church are many Webbs, all were local farming families. On returning down the path to the lichgate the oldest extant tombstone may be inspected beside the south east buttress of the nave. It is of very weathered granite and legible with the very greatest difficulty. It records the last resting place of Mary daughter of Peter Justice, who died 14 August 1728, aged four months; her father may have lived at Lyde Mill.

The next oldest gravestone is that of Mary wife of James North. She died on 13 May 1745 aged 37 years, and she lies under the yews to the south of the path. The stone is carved with two pierced hearts on either side of an hour-glass, a symbol of the transience of human life.

Further along the path is the grave of John Callaway who died 24 June 1831; his headstone bears this poem,

   Pray look at me as you pass by,
   As you are now so once was I.
   As I am now so you must be,
   Prepare yourself to follow me.

Just beyond this grave there is a yew on the north side of the path which marks the old entrance to the church yard. A clear earth bank can be seen running in a westerly direction, north and south from this point, towards the Manor Farm farmyard. This was the original boundary of the church yard protected from wandering livestock by a fence.

The churchyard was added to: first on the south side, probably in the late 18th century, the glebe land being given by the Reverend Joseph Richmond. The second extension, to the north, was the gift of Major Sir Herbert Cayzer (later 1st Baron Rotherwick) in 1923 and was consecrated in 1924. And in 2000 a further gift at the northwest edge was confirmed by Mr. Colin Lewin. The memorial garden, east of the Cayzer gift and by the lichgate, was given by the late Mrs. Denys Oppe in 1997.

List of contents “Newnham: A history of the Parish and its Church”




Tha Manor of Newnham

The Parish’s Extent

The Influence of Roads:
   The King’s Highway
   Newnham Becomes Sidetracked

The Local Economy

St. Nicholas’ Church:
   The Building’s History
   Description of the Present Church
   The Tower
   The Nave and Chancel
   The Windows
   The Gallery
   The Crypt
   The Churchyard




Appendix 1: Evidence of Farming from Wills and Inventories
Appendix 2: Clergy: An Historical Record
Appendix 3: Possible Identity of St. Nicholas’, Newnham Architect in 1846/47
Appendix 4: List of Persons Responsible for the Upkeep of the Churchyard Fence

Addendum (2012-14)