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St Swithun Nately Scures

The Church

The church is one of the smallest in England, and is a gem of which any village would be proud, consisting of a nave 30 feet long and an apse 16 feet in diameter. Erected towards the end of the 12th century, the church is built of flint rubble with angle quoins and door and window dressings of Binstead stone. It is probably the most perfect example of a single cell Norman aisleless apsidal church existing in the country. There are only two other complete examples of this type of church in Great Britain: North Marden in Sussex and Little Tey in Essex, and both these have had porches and vestries added (vide “Aisleless Apsidal Churches of Great Britain” by F. H. L. Fairweather).

A peculiarity of the church is the sole entrance being on the north side. This is very unusual in England, yet Up Nately church only a mile away and Greywell two miles away have the same peculiarity. Another peculiarity is the fact that the centre window of the apse is not truly centred but inclines to the north – more noticeable externally than internally. The reason for this peculiarity is not known, and all plans give the window truly centred. Possibly the feature had something to do with the sun on St Swithun’s Day: Nately Scures church, like many Norman churches in Hampshire, being orientated due east (vide Shore Memorial Volume, Hampshire Archaeological Society, Part 1).

Externally, the most striking detail of the church is the beautiful Norman doorway. This is of two styles; the outer semi-circular and enriched with zig-zag moulding in two planes, the edge being worked into a bead and reel pattern. This style rests on circular pillars. Of the heads of these pillars, that on the west is one of the original bases, that on the east is the “Mermaid Capital” (for the legend, see below) – this carving being a copy of the rather worn original which is preserved in the nave. The other carved head and carved base disappeared at a 19th century restoration (vide Gentleman's Magazine, October 1836, in which an account of the church is given as it was before this restoration and from which the framed engraving in the church is taken). The inner style is square with a trefoiled head and rolled cusps.

The present roof dates from 1786. The bell gable dates from the 19th century restoration and replaces a wooden bell-cot of the 17th century.

On entering the church the first thing to note is the small plate on the inner side of the underbeam on the gallery. The inscription on it reads:

   Willm bbedall founder here
   Henrye Barnes Parson
   Builder Heere 1591. H.B.

The importance of this inscription is that it shows that the original gallery, of which this beam remains, was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, galleries erected after the Reformation (vide Journal Hampshire Archaeological Society, vol. VII, part II). The rest of the present gallery dates probably from 1786.

The two windows on the south side of the nave date from the 18th century. They replace a window of three lights inserted probably in the l4th century (vide Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1836). Previous to that time there was probably no window in the nave except the west window, the upper portion of which is original though the window has been lengthened. The south window of the apse is a last century reproduction of the original window, this window having been enlarged into a mullioned window of two lights probably in the 14th century. The other two windows of the apse are original. Beneath the north window of the apse is a small square chamfered aumbry.

The tiles in the chancel were gifted from Winchester Cathedral in the early 1800s. The pulpit, reading desk and font also all date from the 19th century.

Of particular interest are the memorials. One, erected about 1661, remembers John and Mary Palmer who lived in the village for some 10 years. The brass plate may be seen on the wall above the recess at the west end, the inscription reading:

Here lies John Palmer and Mary his wife
Prisoner of hope to Eternal Life
Who deceased
Hee May the 15, 1661, aged 61
Mary make room
To thee I come
And my last home
To the day of doom
Then shall we wake rise live for ay
With Christ a never dying day
Come then my dear we'll sleep in blisse
And in the dust each other kisse
Twice sixteen years we lived together
In sunshine and stormy weather
In wedlock bands husband and wife
In joy love peace void of all strife
And ten times changed our habitation
And here at last we find our station
When after ten years spent we have
Obtained at length a quiet grave
Shee October the 13, 1660 aged 50
I went before
To ope death’s Door
I could not stay
But now give way

Palmer eram ante obitum nemo fit palmifer at nunc
Palmifer in caelis qui modo palmer eram
Palmer on earth are pilgrims such as I
My pilgrimage is done and here I ly

The Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1836, mentions a 17th century brass tablet, obviously this one, as being affixed to the apse wall, so it was before the 19th century restoration that it was removed from its original position probably on the floor of the nave.

Other memorials – including four of marble, each shaped to recall playing card suits – commemorate the lives of various members of the Carleton family who, as Barons Dorchester, have been lords of the manor here since 1787. Sir Guy Carleton, first Lord Dorchester, is buried in the Carleton vault which occupies the entire space beneath the nave, and his memorial brass is on the north wall close to the pulpit. Sir Guy is an important figure in the development of the British Empire. Having served under Wolfe, he was appointed Governor-General of Canada in 1766. He was several times commander-in-chief of our forces in Canada. He also organized the settlement in New Brunswick of some 70,000 loyalists banished from the United States after the American War of Independence. On the south wall of the church is the memorial brass erected by the legislature of New Brunswick to General Thomas Carleton, who is also buried in the Carleton vault. This is William Cobbett’s Governor of New Brunswick. It was General Carleton who carried out the loyalist settlement of New Brunswick organized by his brother Sir Guy.

The Mermaid Legend

In relation to the charming carving of a mermaid on the left side of the church door as you enter, tradition has it that a young sailor somewhere far away in the great oceans made the acquaintance of a mermaid, but after a flirtation he forsook her and returned to England, where he soon fell in love with a girl of Nately Scures. Their wedding day came, but as the bridal party approached the church door, there, sitting outside it, was the mermaid. She seized the sailor and carried him off (hence the little figure on the mermaid’s back in the carving). She plunged with him into the nearby stream at Water End, and from hence swam down the Lyde and the Loddon into the Thames and so out to sea. And the head of the church doorway was carved as a warning to all flirtatious youths.

Such is the local legend; and this story, somewhat surprisingly, is also told in the King George V Jubilee Number of Punch, 1st May 1935, but there it has a different ending: the mermaid and the girl, discovering the sailor’s fickleness, both decide to have nothing more to do with him and depart leaving him forlorn.

A more prosaic explanation for the carving may be that when the church was built the mermaid was carved at the door to remind church-goers that “nature” spirits (mermaids are thought to represent water spirits) and superstitions have no place in Christian worship and should be left outside.

Saint Swithun

This church is dedicated to St Swithun, as is Winchester Cathedral, but there are not many others. Unlike many saints, Swithun is rarely used as a Christian name, although a character in Ga1sworthy’s “Forsyte Saga” is called Swithun. Many people know the old legend, that if it rains on St Swithun’s Day it will rain for forty days:
   St Swithun’s day, if thou dost rain
   For forty days it must remain.
   St Swithun’s day, if thou be fair
   For forty days ’twill rain na mair.

Little is known about St Swithun, which probably accounts for his relative obscurity. He succeeded Helmstan as Bishop of Winchester in AD852 and died in that city on 2nd July AD862. What little that is known of him was recorded, some 200 years later, in a biography by a monk called Goscelin. It is thought that St Swithun may have been an Abbot prior to his consecration as a Bishop, and that he was chosen by King Egbert of Wessex to be tutor to the king’s son, Prince Ethelwolf.

He is credited with rebuilding Winchester’s bridge over the Itchen and with a single miracle during his lifetime – the restoration of an old woman’s dropped basket of eggs!
Swithun is said to have asked to be buried in a humble tomb in the western forecourt of Old Minster “where his grave would be trodden by the feet of passers by and made wet by the rain that falls from heaven”. His wish was respected, but in AD971 Bishop Ethelwold exhumed the saint’s bones which were ceremonially carried into the church. A few years later they were placed in a splendid shrine. From that moment many miracles are said to have occurred, and St Swithun’s shrine attracted pilgrims and sick people in search of a cure.

A violent storm occurred on the day St Swithun’s body was elevated, and this may be the origin of the saint’s legendary influence on the weather. It is a pity that a man so holy, gentle and zealous should be remembered for summer’s rainy days!

The Manor

The Manor of Nately Scures formed part of the Hampshire possession of Hugh de Port, Lord of Basing. The overlordship continued with the descendants of Hugh for many centuries, the manor being said to be held by William Paulet Marquess of Winchester as of his manor of Basing as late as 1617. The exact date when the family of Scures, who held the manor of the de Ports and their successors, and gave their name to the church and parish, obtained the demesne lordship is uncertain, but it is probable that they did so at a very early period. In the reign of Henry l, Roger de Scures witnessed a charter of Henry de Port to the abbey of St Vigor of Cerisy, and he was probably at the time lord of Nately Scures.

The last male de Scures to be lord of the manor was John de Scures who died in l381. His heir was his sister Sybil who married .lohn Uvedale of Titsey, Surrey, and brought Nately Scures to that family with whom it remained for nearly three hundred years.
Sir William Uvedale, who died in 1652, settled Nately Scures upon Frances, his second daughter by his first marriage. This Frances married Sir Edward Griffin of Braybrooke and Dingley, Northamptonshire.

Nately Scures next passed, probably by purchase, into the possession of Anthony Henley, whose son was created Earl of Northington. On the death of the second Earl in 1786 his sisters and co-heirs sold the manor to Guy Carleton, first Lord Dorchester. In 1899 Henrietta Anne, elder daughter of the third Lord Dorchester, was created Baroness Dorchester, and her grand-daughter, the Countess of Malmesbury, was patron until 1996. A grandson of the last Lord Dorchester, James 7th Earl of Malmesbury, who lives in Greywell, is the present head of the family.