Ancient Churches in North East Hampshire - an illustrated guide
Woolmer Forest Archaeological & Historical Society

Cover of Some Ancient Churches

An illustrated collection of notes on 12 ancient churches

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Front cover: St Lawrence Church, Alton
Back cover: Map showing location of churches in the book: Bentley, Upper Froyle, Holybourne, Alton, Selborne, Hartley Mauditt, West Worldham. East Worldham, Binsted, Kingsley, Headley, Bramshott

Paperback - 28 pages
John Owen Smith; ISBN: 1-873855-11-7; April 1995

Inside Flap . Preface . Contents . Glossary . Architectural Periods . About the Publisher . Further information

Inside Flap


This book is based on notes made by the late Don Steele. When his eyesight was failing, he asked fellow members of the Woolmer Forest Archaeological & Historical Society to take over the project. Susan Allden, Colin Brash and Basil Smith have carried out his wishes.


We are indebted to Mr Rodney Hubbuck, who very kindly read and suggested amendments to the original text, and to incumbents of the churches, whose suggestions have also been incorporated.


Colin Brash and John Owen Smith.


Initially our study was to be confined to the 'Hundred of Alton' of AD 1610, which poses some interesting questions such as "What is a Hundred?", and "How is the area defined?".

In the 10th century, the word 'Hundred' was used to qualify an administrative district, possibly a sub-division of a shire, and there are several different theories as to the origin of the word. Ecclesiastically, the modern parallel might be the Deanery.

The size of the 'Hundred' has varied enormously. At one time the Hundred of Odiham, for instance, extended as far as Farnborough and included Alton. The map of 1610 showed Alton Hundred with a curious shape including Bramshott and Binsted, but excluding Headley which was in the Hundred of Bishop's Sutton.

Further research into the area of our study showed that we ought to include churches on the periphery of the Alton Hundred if we were to truly look at ancient churches in North East Hampshire.

To look at the churches themselves, we need to return to Celtic England to establish the reasons for their existence and location. The Celts brought Christianity to Britain, possibly around the year AD 250 at a time when the Romans were still building temples dedicated to Minerva and other gods. The churches of the Celts, perhaps wooden structures, have not survived, but many of our churches today have Saxon foundations and, in rare instances, traces of Saxon walls.

The original churches would have served small isolated hamlets (or steads), though one modern theory suggests that the sacred place may have been the only building, pre-dating the village, and associated with the many superstitions of the time. Conceivably, the church developed from a small pagan temple where propitiation and sacrifice were made to the gods of land, air and water.

Ancient tribes, as they abandoned their nomadic ways for a system of farming, needed to enlarge forest clearings to grow their crops. The counties of Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex still bear traces of those forests. Windsor forest extended westwards beyond Guildford; the great forest of Andredswold filled the Sussex Weald and continued deep into Kent; in our own locality, Alice Holt and Woolmer forests dominated. If we picture them as they might have been in Roman and early Saxon times, we can perhaps get a feeling of dense forests criss-crossed by the tracks made first by animals, then by man, between clearings and towards running water.

These would be the conditions in which our ancestors lived. Their 'churches' were community meeting places, perhaps simple rectangular structures, with the east end partitioned off in a similar way to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This was the area where the priest offered prayers and oblations on behalf of the village. As the population grew the church also grew, and often assumed a cruciform shape. Forms of worship expanded and involved those who gathered in the nave.

All the churches in our survey show a continuous pattern of change and enlargement which has resulted in some peculiar, even ugly, additions to the original conception. Towers were built, sometimes over the west door or above the centre of the building. The tower gave a useful place to hang bells, which before had often been in a separate building at ground level.

The function of the church also changed as the centuries passed, from a largely secular building with the east end set aside for Christian worship, though perhaps still with some pagan connotation. In some cases the priest lived adjacent to the sanctuary, but by the 14th century in a house built nearby.

The congregations were mainly illiterate, so the Scriptures were drawn on the nave walls and traces can still be found in a number of churches, some having been hidden under plaster. In our area, there is an example of 15th century wall plaster and lettering at Bramshott. Many of the treasures of our churches were defaced or destroyed by the Reformation or by the Roundheads, but some were recovered later from local gardens and rubbish pits.

Churchyards offer few clues to the origins of the building, and it is rare to find tombstones earlier than the 17th century, but there is evidence of many centuries of Christian burial in some churchyards.

Forms of worship have continued to change with the times, as when the Church of England separated from the Church of Rome and English Catholics lost their ancient churches and monasteries.

The following notes on individual churches are based partly, though by no means entirely, on personal observations, leaflets already available, and photographs taken during visits to the churches.

One has to remember each of these churches has been a place of Christian worship and veneration for many centuries. They have been, and continue to be, islands of comfort in their silence to past and present generations.

The upkeep and regular maintenance of these gems of our past heritage is carried out by the members of the congregations, but the major repairs and replacements are a heavy burden on small country villages and church treasurers are very grateful to visitors who share their interest by adding a small contribution to church funds.



Explanation of some Architectural and Ecclesiastical Terms used in this book

Approximate Periods of English Church Architecture


c7th - 1066


1066 - 1190

(Transitional Norman/E. English)

(1175 - 1200)

Early English (Gothic)

1190 - 1280

Decorated (Gothic)

1280 - 1370

Perpendicular (Gothic)

1370 - 1550

About the Publisher

John Owen Smith was born in 1942 and trained as a Chemical Engineer at London University, but spent most of his working life designing commercial Information Systems for the paper-making industry. Following redundancy, he 'fell' into researching and recording the local history of east Hampshire, where he now lives. His own output of historical community plays, lectures, articles and books includes:-

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