|The Church of the Holy
Set 440 feet above sea level this attractive old church
has many features of interest notably the extremely narrow aisles in the nave,
the hewn oak seats and the unusual and possibly unique tower; however there are
many gaps in our knowledge of its history.
Empshott village is of course even older and its name is derived from the
Old English word 'Imbe' or "Ymbe' a swarm of bees and 'sceat' a grove or
uncultivated woodland. A dozen variants of this name have been recorded
including Imbeyte, Yuleshote and Imbishote but in 1098 it was as Hibeste that it merited its entry in the Domesday Book.
"Goisfrid the Marshal holds Hibesete of the king, and Bundi and Saxi held it of
King Edward. It was then, as now, assessed at half a hide. Here is 1 ploughland,
and 4 villeins with 11 / 2 ploughlands, a mill worth 50d, half a acre of meadow
and woods for 1 hog. Its value was in the time of King Edward and afterwards 20s
and now 30s,"
The mill barely half a mile from the church is now known as Hawkley Mill and the
Manor was probably where Grange Farm now stands 200 yards to the north west. The
later history of the village is typical of many others in that there were 'not
ten inhabited homesteads' after the Black Death in 1348. No similar information
became available until 1665 when the Hearth Tax assessment showed that the
parish had 69 hearths or about 45 dwellings, of which only a few still stand.
The population was probably greatest in the late Victorian era but today the
parish contains only about 100 adults in 50 homes.
That there was a Saxon settlement here suggests that it might have included a
simple chapel but this is not proven. However there certainly was a chapel here
by 1181 when Pope Alexander III confirmed that Southwick Priory (founded c.1130)
was in possession of... the church of Portsea and the chapel of Ymbesieta...'.
That this possession was "confirmed" suggests that it could have been taken
earlier but probably after 1163.
The chapel (its dedication is not known) was replaced by the church built
between approximately 1187 and 1220 presumably with a lady chapel and
a second chapel north of the chancel. The finished church was dedicated to
St. Lawrence and it continued as such until its connection with the Priory
was severed on the latter*s dissolution in 1537 as a consequence of Thomas
Cromwell's reforms. There was considerable opposition to those reforms
and this was organised as the "Petition of Grace" under the leadership of
Robert Aske, a Yorkshireman, who also held the Manor of Empshott, but
he was executed for treason in the same year.
Thereafter the church appears to have been neglected and fell into a state
of grave disrepair until the 1620s when, probably at the instigation of the
then Bishop of Winchester — Lancelot Andrews - it was restored - though
not completely to its original form.
The most notable external changes were the addition of a bell tower at
the west and the insertion of Jacobean style windows as shown in the
eighteenth century drawing - which also reveals that the lady chapel was
not rebuilt. Other changes almost certainly made were the addition of a
porch west of the new tower and that the north chapel was not rebuilt.
Nothing is known about any structural changes which may have been made
during the next 200 years. The churchwardens accounts are only available
from 1754 and initially are not helpful as they record only the costs of
building materials and labour. Some of these costs were substantial in
relation to the routine annual expenses - over five times the latter in 1754,
seven times in 1783 and nine times in 1793. (Similar ratios of repair costs
to routine expenditure have been recorded since 1945).
Later records are slightly more revealing for in 1838 "The church was repaired,
several new windows opened, the screen restored, a cross erected on the Eastern
Gable, texts of scriptures painted etc., etc., etc.," but the only relatively
small costs recorded were for bricks.
Then, in 1859 "the tower and chancel were found to be in a dangerous condition"
so the east wall of the chancel was repaired together with "removing tower and
securing roof to the body of the church".
However, seven years later several cracks had appeared in the newly repaired
chancel wall and an independent survey noted many other serious faults and
recommended, inter alia, that all of the walls of the chancel should be rebuilt
and that the whole be re-roofed. This report initiated another major
reconstruction and though the north and south chancel walls were not completely
rebuilt they were buttressed externally and secured to the east wall in which
the Jacobean window was replaced by the present triplet - a memorial to William
Scott. The church was completely re-roofed, that over the nave being raised
above that of the chancel and the new internal timber made to a 15th century
design. The south nave wall was also buttressed and a vestry and new tower were
added to make the church as it appears today.
This work was completed in 1868 "at the sole expense of Mr Scott of Rotherfield
Park". Later there was a special collection "for the workmen" to which the major
contributors were members of the Butler family who then owned the Manor and the
Advowson. The resolution of thanks to Mr Scott for his generosity continued "...
the substantial character of the work and its decorative effect reflects credit
on those who have designed and executed it and affords magnificent satisfaction
to the parishioners..."
Much of this satisfaction was - and still is - inspired by the unusual and
possibly unique tower designed by the architect Mr Pusey about whom nothing more
is known, not even his initials. Although a much quoted record states that "the
tower was restored" in 1884 the cost was relatively small and probably only
represented routine maintenance and its appearance was not altered. In 1897 a
second bell was hung to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
On entering the porch it is obvious that it too has been rebuilt, though when is
not known, as its southern wall is very much thicker than the north one and each
contains a much older Norman window. Around the inside of these windows several
stones have been crudely inscribed with initials and dates - one of 1682.
These windows are not the only features which are not in their original
positions for another separates the porch from the nave, namely the chancel
screen. The screen was moved to its present position either before or during the
Victorian restoration when it was completely covered over on its nave side and
fitted with an equally opaque door. This covering and the door were removed in
1987 when the present half glazed door and matching side panels were installed:
they were made by T. Couzens & Sons of East Marden. The inscription over the
door The gift of: 1624 James Metcaulfe' is surmounted by his family's coat of
arms. Metcaulfe (or Metcalf) was another Yorkshireman who, like Aske, had been
granted land in Hampshire, though not apparently the Manor ofEmpshott.
The nave has several features which invite speculation. One is the extreme and
impractical narrowness of the aisles which are barely 2'6" wide at waist height
and less at floor level. Another is the small part of an arch on the south side
of the east wall of the nave at the usual site for the entrance to a lady
chapel; however this wall is not now wide enough to accommodate a complete arch.
A third is that the southern arcade leans markedly outwards. Together these
three features have given rise to the suggestion that the southern wall was
resited to support the leaning arcade, and this supposition is apparently
confirmed by the presence of the discharging arches which connect the top of
each column to the wall. The proponents of this theory are divided about when
the wall was resited, one view being that this was required very soon after the
arcade was built. This view
implies either that the south chapel was provided with another entrance (from
the chancel or from the exterior) or that it was never completed. The
alternative view is that the south chapel was built and the nave wall was
resited later, probably during the Jacobean restoration.
The apparently conflicting opinion that the south wall is in its original
position is not materially different from the first of these views. There is no
incomplete arch on the north side of the nave wall to suggest that the north
wall was resited and there are no discharging arches on this side - indeed it
has been suggested that those on the south are Victorian.
That both sides of the nave walls also appear to be leaning outwards is largely
an illusion because they are much thicker at ground level.
The two arcades are far from identical, in that the span of their arches varies
and especially in that the overall height of the southern columns is appreciably
greater than those on the north, while there are many detailed differences in
the decorative carving on both sides. Some of the bases appear to be
replacements of a later design and the western responds are markedly different,
the northern one bearing a carved head. The eastern responds also differ but
both are unusual in that they are partly embedded in the wall of the nave.
Conflicting opinions have been expressed about which arcade is the older but the
most recent favour the southern.
Contrasting views have also been put forward to explain the unusual eastern
responds — one being that the east nave wall was built primarily to reinforce
them because there was an unforeseen movement of the arcade - as indeed occurred
in the south side.
A second view is that the nave wall was built to reinforce the chancel wall and
arch so as to support a bell tower and in this process inevitably surrounded the
previously completed responds.
A third possibility, but with the same implications for the responds, is that
the initial stimulus was aesthetic - namely to build the nave arch - and
therefore also the nave wall to support it. Irrespective of why it was built,
the resulting double wall is substantial, but whether the bell tower was ever
built is yet another speculation.
The pews also vary in detail: many are based on massive 15th century hewn oak
benches, the ends, backs and some of the rear shelves being later additions. A
further modification was made in 1934 when 'after prayer and testing of the
seats' the latter were made less uncomfortable by the addition of about three
inches of oak to their forward edges.
The Victorian roof timbers
are to a 15th
century design and at the west some older beams remain visible.
The font itself is of
Purbeck stone, circa
1190 and is similar to
several others in the
country and the carved font cover bears
the date 1626 and the initials T.F. whose
full name is not known.
||The linen fold oak pulpit is
No two of the nave windows are identical - the south west
one is where there was previously a door. One of the adjacent double lights
bears the mark — a small wheatsheaf- of its Victorian designer, William Kemp.
The chancel windows also differ considerably - the Victorian east window has
already been mentioned but the asymmetry of the other two is unusual. The small
northern Norman window has been bizarrely reset inside another surmounted by a
pointed arch visible from the exterior. Also in the north side is the blocked up
arch which presumably once led to a small chapel. Opposite this on the south
wall is another Norman style arch with a smaller pointed arch inside it
surrounding the door to the vestry: before the latter was built there was a door
to the exterior in this position.
However the most important features of the chancel are its magnificent west arch
and the Jacobean altar rails and choir stalls, the latter having three
beautifully carved finials of primroses, ivy and oak leaves respectively: the
fourth being a plain replacement.
The processional cross in the sanctuary was carved in 1987 by Miss Sue Haynes of
Highbury and is a copy of a 12th century Italian crucifix now in the Victoria
and Albert Museum. It was presented to the church by the then churchwarden,
The churchyard contains only two gravestones from the eighteenth century - when
the churchyard was very much smaller than it is today with its northern and
eastern boundaries barely 10 yards from the church, though those on the west and
south were in their present positions. The "waste land" between the church and
the road was incorporated in 1863 but it was not until 1914 that the graveyard
was enlarged to the east to about two thirds of its present extent, the
remainder being added in 1944. The oldest yew tree, that on the north, was
planted in 1829 on the boundary of the waste land.
|There are two bells. Inscribed:-
|1st J. Wamer
& Sons Ltd., London 1897.
Queen Victoria 1837-97. Jubilate.
G.H. Gotley, Vicar Empshott.
A. Christmas, W. Allam - Churchwardens.
F. Carpenter & Son, Liss.
|F. Carpenter & Son
were wheelwrights in Liss who mounted this bell. "F" is thought to be a
mistake for W (Noah Carpenter).Dr. Carpenter, lately Bishop of Oxford, was
|2nd Re-cast by
Gillett & Johnston, Croydon, 1931.
|| (Dia. 22¼")
CFJ (Monogram of Cyril F. Johnston the founder).
Original inscription reproduced thus " EK 1628.
|E.K. is Ellis Knight of the
famous firm of Reading bell-founders.
Son of Henry Knight 1587-1622, Ellis I founded from 1623-1647.
These are now in the care of the Hampshire Record Office at Winchester.
The Baptism Registers date from 1718, Marriage Registers from 1722, and
Burial Registers from 1772.
The first marriage register records that many, indeed most, were between couples
from other parishes: this practice declined after 1753 when Lord Hardwicke's act
tightened the requirements for the prior reading of Banns. Those changes are
reflected in the next register entitled "Banns published and marriages
solemnised 1754-1817". On the fly-leaf of this book is a note - "The Parish
Church of Empshott is called Holy Rood". Exactly when and why it acquired that
name has still to be ascertained.
The need to combat the ravages of time and weather is ever present and at
the time of writing it is the tower which needs repairing. The implication for
so small a parish is obvious and any contribution from visitors will be
thankfully received and faithfully applied.
A charity. The Friends of Empshott Church, was set up in 1997 to maintain,
repair and restore the fabric of the church and surrounding churchyard. The
intention is to give an opportunity to the many people who love this little
church to help preserve it for future generations, even though they may not
attend services in it regularly. You will find further information on The
Friends at the back of the church.