BREAMORE VILLAGE lies on the
right bank of the Christchurch Avon on the high road from
Fordingbridge to Salisbury. On the north-cast side of the parish
lies Charford, and in connection with the origin of the Kingdom
of the West Saxons the early legends ofWessex tell us that a
great battle was fought here (Cerdicsford) in A.D. 519 by the
Saxon invaders under Cerdic, which ended in the slaughter of 5,000
Britons and their King, Natan-Leod, who, according to local
tradition, is buried in the Long Barrow on Breamore Down, on the
Whitsbury side of the Miz-Maze, nearGrim's Ditch.
About half a mile from the village stands the church,
picturesquely situated, surrounded by beautiful trees, in
From the years 980 to 1130 information about Breamore Church is
scanty. Who built it or how it was administrated during that
period is the subject of further research. With the founding of
the Augustine Priory in 1130 there is a very complete history of
the successive priors who administered the church. A full account
is set out in the Victoria History of Hampshire, Vols 2 and 4.
In 1536 Thomas Cromwell, as the King's agent, appointed a '
Commission of Visitors to the Monasteries to give colour to their
confiscation. In the account of 30th May, 1536, not a single
scandal is even hinted at in
connection with the Hampshire Houses, the report on the Austin
canons of Breamore was "that they are of good conversion.''
Not withstanding the nature of these reports every one of the
smaller houses was suppressed before the close of the year.
Prior Finch was, on 21st June, 1536, assigned a pension of £18
per annum, and in March, 1538, he was made Suffragan bishop ofTaunton. The site of the Priory was granted to Henry Marquis of
Exeter and Gertrude his wife, together with all its possessions,
amongst which is enumerated the Manor of Breamorc and the
rectories and chapels of Breamore. the site of the Priory can
still he seen adjoining the River Avon and North of
Breamorc Mill. Excavations on the site in 1898 revealed only
trace of the cloisters and some stone coffins, three of which
were removed and placed beside the old Yew tree in Breamore
Churchyard to preserve them from damage. Some beautiful old tiles
found during the excavations can be seen in Salisbury Museum.
Breamore church is a large and handsome structure and is of
special interest, being a valuable and practically complete
example of a Saxon building dating from late in the Xth or early
in the XIth century. It is exceptionally long (96ft 6in) and
consists of a chancel and aisle-less nave, separated by a square
central tower, from which there opened originally a lateral
porticus or chapel or transept on each side, the one on the north
having now disappeared, and there are indications that a western
adjunct also existed opening into and of the same width as the
The walls are composed of whole flints with large quoins of
irregular long and short work and pilaster strips of green
sandstone and ironstone, but the appearance it now presents is
very different to its original aspect, for the whole church both
within and without was covered in pro-conquest times with plaster,
the only portions left uncovered being the quoins and pilaster
strips, which projecting from the face of the wall are cut back
to receive it, but it is continued unbroken over the splays of
the windows. Alterations have been few, but the chancel was re-built
in the XIVth century, the old walls in their lower part being
retained, and a south porch has been added.
Breamore is not, strictly speaking, a cruciform church, but its
most interesting architectural feature is that it presents a step
forward in the evolution of the cruciform or cross plan (which
eventually became such a prominent feature in mediaeval church
construction in England), with the tower between the nave and
chancel resting on piers and arches, the latter opening to
transepts of the same width as the tower, the whole connected
together in one structure. In some of the earlier churches there
had been side chapels (porticus), as for instance as St Pancras,
Canterbury, where they projected from the side of the nave, half-way
up its length. In latter churches, such as Britford, near
Salisbury, and Deerhurst, Gloucestershire, the chapels projected
on each side near the east end of the nave.
At Worth, in Sussex, the plan is unmistakable cruciform, with
partially developed transepts projecting from the eastern part of
the nave, but there is no original tower. At Breamore a distinct
advance is made-the quoins of the tower, which is one of the same
width as the nave are carried to the ground, while internally a
square space is formed between the nave and the chancel, the side
walls of which are pierced by narrow archways which lead into a
lateral chapel. These lateral adjuncts are not real transepts,
they are narrower than the tower and their roof-line is lower
than the nave, and still more important, they do not act as
abutments to the central tower, which was essential in the fully
developed cruciform plan, but they represent a step forward
towards its planning and construction.
THE CHANCEL: was rebuilt in the XlVth century,
but probably the lower parts of the wall belong to the original
Saxon Church. The east window, with its reticulated or net-like
tracery, dates from about 1340. On each side of it is an IMAGE
BRACKET of XVth century date, ornamented with angel heads and
foliage. The one on the north no doubt supported an image of the
Virgin Mary, and the one on the south perhaps St Michael, the
dedication of the church being to St Mary, but formerly to St
Mary and St Michael.
The north wall has no windows, but externally, towards the west
end, there arc traces-part of the sill and one jamb-of one of
those curious openings to which the name "LOW SIDE WINDOW"
has been given. Popularly, but mistakenly, they are called "Leper
Windows", and although many theories have been advanced none
of them can claim to explain the purpose for which all of them
were originally constructed. The theories which receive the
greatest support from ecclesiologists at the present time are: (1)
The Sanctus Bell Theory, which suggests that "low side
windows" were for the purpose of ringing a hand-bell through,
at appropriate time during Mass, so that people who were unable
to be present at the service might take notice and bend their
knees, and (2) The Confessional Theory, which suggests that these
openings were for hearing confessions through, the penitent being
outside and the priest inside the church.
In the south wall a XVth century PICINA in a niche, which
originally was closed by a door, one hinge pin of which still
remains, and above are two recesses for cruets. To the west of
this are a window and a priest's door dating from about 1340, and
a XVth century window. Externally, the original weather table
shows that the early chancel roof was of about the same height as
that of the nave and the original walls much higher than they are
THE CHANCEL ARCH and the arch in the west wall
of the tower were inserted early in the XVth century in the place
of the original Saxon arches. They are now as wide as the chancel
and are stopped on bands of foliage and supported on capitals,
short wall-shafts, and corbels with beautiful foliage, and one
with a human head. The foliage is peculiar-thistle leaves, oak
leaves and acorns, and vine leaves and grapes are all represented,
and the sculpture evidently belongs to the same school as the
work at Christchurch Priory.
A ROOD-LOFT formerly stood across the western
arch, and its upper door-way with its old wooden frame, can still
be seen on the north side. Rood-lofts were ordered to be removed
in Edward VI reign(1548), and in the place formerly occupied by
the Rood the Royal Arms was set up, hut the ROYAL ARMS now
present here are later and date from the XVIlIth century, and
those used by George I, II and III. The west wall of the NAVE has
been re-built, but in the lower part of the jambs of the original
door-way which opened into the destroyed western chamber can
still be seen, and also, under the diagonal buttresses, the start
of the walls of the chamber. On the right-hand side of the south
door, inside the church, is a niche for the HOLY WATER STOUP. The
FONT is ancient, but of uncertain date.
THE CENTRAL TOWER originally had a floor of 15
feet from the ground from which the bells were rung; this has
disappeared and the bells arc now rung from the ground floor. The
entrance to this upper roof was from the south transept by a
narrow square-headed doorway and a ladder or a wooden stairway.
The upper part of the tower is a curved timber structure as seen
from the inside, and externally it may well represent a Saxon
original. The north transept has disappeared, but the weathering
on its roof can be seen on the north wall externally, and the
lower part of the blocked jambs of the archway leading to it.
THE SOUTH TRANSEPT or chapel remains, and the
archway leading to it is of more than ordinary interest. The wall
in which it is placed is three feet thick, and the arch, semi-circular
in shape, is of one square order, the voussoirs being "through"
stones. The jambs support massive square abaci, with a large
cable moulding on the angles, a somewhat rare ornament in the
An inscription in Anglo-Saxon is incised on the north face of the
arch, which reads as follows:
"HER SWUTELATH SEO GECWYDRAEDNES THE."
This may be translated-
"Here is made p'ain (is manifested) the covenant (the word)
to thee." which would seem to be a quotation from Titus i, 3:
"But God hath in due time manifested to us His Word."
The sentence may have been completed elsewhere, possibly upon the
three corresponding arches now destroyed, indeed there is one
other stone preserved in the wall which bear the letters "DES."
From the form of the letters, it seems certain that the
inscription must date from the latter part of the reign of
Ethelred II, 979-1016.
SAXON WINDOWS. Seven of these remain, and they
are characteristic of the late Saxon period, being "double-splayed",
with the actual aperture for light at about the middle of the
thickness of the wall and having a splay both outwards and
inwards. They are round-headed, and their jambs, which slope
outwards, are comprised of Hint rubble covered with plaster.
There arc three on the first floor of the tower, but they have
all been altered and have now square-headed stone frames
externally. The south-east window has been destroyed. In the
south transept is one of these windows, complete and unaltered.
It is on the east, above a XIIth century door-way, and on the
south is another, but a pointed XIIth century lancet has been
inserted into its outer splay. On the north side of the nave,
placed high in the wall, are two more original windows, and there
is another blocked up, and now partly hidden by the porch in the
The other windows of the church date from the XIVth, XVth and
XVIth centuries. The large west window is modern, and over it is
set a shield, on which is carved the letters W.D. and the date
1603, no doubt the initials of Sir William Dodington, the then
Lord of the Manor. On the west side of the south transept is a
XVth century window, carved on a shield on the west dripstone is
a besant between two harts' heads cabossed in chief quartering a
chevron between roundels, which is perhaps a Popham coat
quartered with Zouche. In the transept there is a print from Hart
MSS., fo. 420576, of Sir John Popham Knight, who lived at Charford.
He belonged to the knightly family of Popham, of Popham, near Micheldever, and was Treasurer of the Household of King Henry VI,
and died in 1463.
THE PORCH: which covers the south doorway is of
very great interest. It is of two dates the lower portion being
erected in the middle of The Xllth century, to which time the
south door-way belongs and the upper part was added in the XVth
century. The half-timbered gable is modem. The upper chamber, the
floor of which has been removed, was no doubt constructed like
the similar Chamber at the west end of Headbourne Worthy Church,
to do honour to, and to preserve the rood. It is decorated with
wall paintings, and the piscina belonging to its altar still
remains, as also the stone corbels inside the porch which would
have carried the main
beams supporting the floor.
THE SAXON ROOD, with figures of Our Lady and St
John. has been dreadfully mutilated by some miscreant, but enough
remains to show what a striking sculpture it must have been in
its original state. It may be compared with similar sculptural
pieces at Headbourne Worthy and Romscy, and in all these there is,
above the head of the Crucified Saviour, the Manus Dei (the Hand
of God) projecting downwards from the cloud. The frescoes, in
brown, blue and black colours, are noteworthy, and form a
background to the three figures. A rolling landscape is depicted
with a church and other buildings, and trees and woods the sacred
I.H.S. and the letters A.B.M., "Avc heata Maria"
("Hail blessed Mary"), arc faintly visible. On the
western side the hanging figure of Judas can be seen. Below the
paintings are continued on the east and west walls, where
the rood is a XIIth century circular medallion containing iin
AGNLJS DEI fLamh of God), carved in low relief.
THE BENCHES: in the porch were made by a local
carpenter from the original steps and rails leading to the old
belfry in the towers, and the date 1617 on one of them applies to
the steps and not lo the bench.
MASS CLOCKS: A mass clock is an early kind of
sundial which we often Find incised in the walls of ancient
churches: they are ralways incomplete, the pointer or gnomon
having been lost. Before clocks were invented they no doubt told
the time for the time of the church services, especially the time
of Mass. There are three Mass clocks here: one a very small dial,
at the west angle of the porch, and two others on quoins at the
south-cast angle of the transept.
THE BELLS: There are four bells, and each bears
an inscription and date and the initials of the founder:
Treble: "Seek God." J.W., 1604.
Second: "FearGod." J.W., 1613.
Third: "Give God the Glory." J.W., 1591.
Tenor: "0 sing praise unto God." J.D., 1629.
They were cast in Salisbury by John Wallis, a well-known bell-founder
of that city, and by John Danton, who succeeded him. They were
recast in 1922 by Messrs. Taylor and Sons, of Loughborough, much
of the original
metal being used.
THE ROOFS: The nave roof contains some old
material re-used, but the chancel roof is modern.