THE HISTORY OF ST MARY'S CHURCH
ITCHEN STOKE

by Dr. Isabel Sanderson


Architectural Features

The architect of the church, built in 1866, was Henry Conybeare, the brother of the Revd. Charles Ranken Conybeare, then vicar of the parish of Itchen Stoke with Abbotstone. The design of St. Mary's was based on that of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

The site is several feet above the level of the road and this adds to the imposing nature of the building. Some years ago, the graveyard was planted with wild daffodils and the irregular spacing of conifers and other trees enhances this site. A steep path leads from the churchyard gate to the west door, above which is a small statue of the Good Shepherd. A large, circular rose window above the doorway was given by Lady Ashburton in memory of her husband. In the evening sunlight the glass in this window can give rise to brilliant reflections.

When seen from the outside, the proportions and design of the east end of the church, though very different from those of neighbouring village churches, are nevertheless pleasing. The roof is of purple and grey-green slates, skilfully laid in a regular diamond-shaped pattern: at the east end of the ridge is an open belfry with two bells, built above the chancel arch. The walls are faced with ragstone and the quoins are of Portland stone.

The entrance to the church is through the west door which opens into a wide vestibule with a vaulted stone roof. The vestibule is divided into three compartments and round the walls of the outer ones is a low stone bench. Light comes from two small, cross-shaped windows, one in each of the north and south facing walls. Placed in the vestibule is ^an ancient font of stone, standing on four plain pillars, its sides rudely sculptured with something like an arabesque pattern of surrounding foliage' — such is the description recorded by John Duthy in the early 19th century after his visit to the old church in a meadow adjoining Water Lane where he saw the font. It is some three feet high and somewhat weather-beaten. Having been found in pieces in the present churchyard hedge where it had been dumped many years previously, it was reassembled by a recent vicar, the Revd. H. L. Atkins.

Inside the church, the beauty of the shape, colour and design of the windows at the east and west ends, the absence of exposed and elaborate roof timbers, and the size and proportions of the nave with its four large bays create an uncluttered feeling of simplicity allied to dignity. There is no screen to obscure the view of the long, elegant, arched windows of the chancel which contain small pieces of clear, red, blue and green glass arranged in geometrical patterns. The chancel contains five windows of two lights, each surmounted by a small rose window similar in design to the larger one in the west wall. The chancel has a vaulted stone roof: the floor is circular in plan and covered with glazed brown and green tiles laid out in the form of a maze.

The pulpit on the north side of the nave is entered from the yestry. It is made of wood and is supported on a tall pedestal. Each of the five recessed panels is filled with scroll work and foliage in cast iron and this design is repeated at the ends of the pews.

On the walls of the nave and chancel are several memorials though some have been removed. The oldest are two brasses on the west wall near the door. Originally these were in the old church; they were taken away when this building was demolished in the early 19th century. The larger brass, 1ft. 7in. in height, is in memory of Joan Batmanson who died in 1518 and underneath is a brass plate with the following inscription:-

"Of your charite pray for the soule of Johan
Batmanson late the wyffe of master John
Batmanson doctor of Sevell which Johan
deceased the xviii day of may the year of our lord
mvcxvtii on whose soule Jhu have mercy"

Joan Batmanson is portrayed standing with hands together in an attitude of prayer. The sleeves of her gown are plain and finished with deep, fur-trimmed cuffs and round her waist is a loose. ornamental girdle.

Joan Batmanson's will of 1518 is in the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester. She had three daughters and some grandchildren. Various people in the village are mentioned including the vicar, Sir Bernard Byknell, and a James Dodds. It is interesting to note that one of the fields belonging to Manor Farm, Itchen Stoke, is called Dodds, some 450 years after the death of Joan Batmanson.

The second brass is that of a lady of about 1500 kneeling at a desk. She is wearing a pedimental headdress and a close-fitting gown with fur-trimmed cuffs. Three roses form the clasp of a girdle round her waist. This brass was missing from the church for several years and its disappearance was reported in 1941 by C. J. P. Cave in the Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society. The brass had been put in a chest and this was sold at the end of an incumbency. For many years it was on the wall of the chapel of West Hayes School, Winchester. In 1950 it was returned to St. Mary's church and fixed on the west wall near to that of Joan Batmanson.

Charles Ranken Conybeare (1857 to 1885) and his son. Charles Henry Conybeare (1886 to 1903) were the incumbents of St. Mary's for nearly 50 years and there are several memorials to this family in the church.

The patron of the living was Lord Ashburton who lived at The Grange, a large mansion set in beautiful parkland in the adjoining parish of Northington. In his absence, the Revd. Charles Ranken Conybeare was the squire, parson and father-figure of the village, including the school.

The first Conybeare memorial to be seen is an elaborate font in the aisle near the west door. It is octagonal in shape and is supported by eight slim columns of different coloured marbles, spaced round a central black marble shaft. The ends of the columns rest on a circular plinth of polished black marble and this. in turn, stands on a marble step some seven inches high. The font was erected by Henry Conybeare, the architect of the church, in memory of his ten-year-old daughter who died in 1861. The inscription round the top of the font records the death of his wife, Annie Conyheare. in 1871.

The inscription on a small plaque under the central window of the chancel reads thus:-

To the Glory of God
This Chapel in memory of I. H. Markland
by his widow and children
Charlotte Markland, Charles and Elizabeth Conybeare 1866

Other windows in the chancel were given by the vicar, Revd. C. R. Conybeare, in memory of his mother and sister, his father, W. D. Conybeare the Dean ofLIandaff, and brother W. I. Conybeare. Another window was given by friends in memory of I. H. Markland.

Practically all the cost of building this church was defrayed by the vicar. The parishioners contributed 50 towards the windows on the south side of the nave as a mark of regard for the incumbent.

Memorials of those killed in battle in the First World War, 1914 to 1918, took many forms. A simple brass plate on the north wall of the nave, not far from the pulpit, records the names of five men from Itchen Stoke who died in this holocaust. Two men from the village were killed in action in the Second World War, 1939 to 1945, and two brass vases were a memorial to them. These were placed on a narrow shelf just under the earlier brass plate.

Historical Notes

Mention has been made of an important ford at Itchen Stoke and this gave rise to an early settlement on the north bank of the river Itchen. A church in the village is listed about 1270 in Bishop Pontisarra's Register and by 1327 there were 24 householders paying tax to the king. This number represents a population of about 100. The manor of Itchen Stoke was held by the Abbess and nuns ofRomsey and remained in their possession until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Subsequently the manor passed into the ownership of William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester, and remained in this family until it was bought by Lord Ashburton in the early 19th century. He also bought the adjoining manor of Abbotstone, to the north of the village of Itchen Stoke.

The site of the old parsonage, church and churchyard is shown on a plan in the Hampshire Record Office, drawn up in 1833, when six acres of glebe land were exchanged for a piece of land alongside the road to Alresford, on which a new parsonage was built. The first occupant of this house was the Revd. Frederick Baring, a younger son of Lord Ashburton. This old site, in a meadow on the east side of Water Lane, is now fenced off. Gravestones can still be located amongst the tangle of undergrowth and nearby are two majestic lime trees. John Duthy described this church in his book Sketches of Hampshire afterhis visit to the village in the early part of the 19th century. The church was then in a dilapidated state but 'displayed some interesting vestiges of Norman architecture in two rows of pointed arches supported on low round pillars'. In addition to the brasses already described he recorded that just below the altar rails was a flat monumental stone, with the Paulet arms and the following inscription engraved on it:-

"Here lieth the body
Of the Lady Elizabeth Pawlet
Relict of the Honble
The Lord Charles Pawlet
Brother to John the present
John Lord Marques of Winchester
Late of Abestone in the Comptey
of Southampton
Who died the 22nd day of
February in the yeare
Of our Lord 1671."

Lady Elizabeth Pawlet (or Paulet) lived in the capital messuage at Abbotstone that had been built in the 16th century by William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester. The main residence of the Paulet family was at Basing: Abbotstone House was seldom used and there were few inhabitants living in the village in the 16th century. In 1589, the 3rd Marquess of Winchester wrote to the Bishop asking him to consolidate the parishes of Itchen Stoke and Abbotstone for the support of one incumbent and from that year, St. Mary's has served both parishes.

The advowson of the church of St. Mary also belonged to Lord Ashburton, the new owner of the manors ofitchen Stoke and Abbotstone. The churchwardens' accounts for this period show that a good deal of money was paid for repairs to the fabric: and the church, situated in the meadow near the river, was cold and damp. A more convenient site for a new church was given by Lord Ashburton and the old building was pulled down. The new site was in the centre of the village, away from the river, bounded on the south by the road to Alresford and on the west by the lane to Abbotstone.

There is a brief description of this church in William White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (1855). The church was 'a neat structure in the Early English style with a tower containing two bells and crowned by a lofty spire . Although no illustration has been found there are two plans drawn to scale in the Hampshire Record Office. The church was 60ft. long and 32ft. wide with a porch on the south side, facing the road to Alresford. The second plan shows the seating arrangements, the position of the windows and gallery. These plans indicate a simple, dignified building in keeping with the unpretentious homes of the villagers. The school opposite was built about the same time. of undressed flints, and maybe the church was built of the same material together with brickwork. Laurels and Irish yews were planted in the churchyard by Thomas Barker, the parish clerk, who also planted ivy round the church walls. Some of these trees are still in the churchyard, including two of the yews, one on either side of the original footpath leading from the porch on the south side to the Alresford road. In 1840, Mr. Coles was paid 10 for slating the tower: the church was heated by a stove fitted with a 15ft. stove pipe, and coal was bought at first by the bushel. An organ accompanied the singing and this was repaired from time to time by Edward Grainger, the village carpenter. Such was the village church when the Revd. Charles Ranken Conybeare was instituted in April 1857. Within ten years, this 35-year-old church had been demolished and the present building erected on the site.

A year or so after his institution, the Revd. C. R. Conybeare was complaining about the cold, damp church and that to correct these faults would cost almost as much as building a new church. He had applied the same remedy to the church in his parish in Oxfordshire before coming to Itchen Stoke. After receiving the consent of the Bishop of Winchester and Lord Ashburton, plans for the present building were drawn up by his brother. Henry Conybeare.

The following comments about this church are recorded in the Victoria County History. 'Though the materials used are not in all cases of the best, the general effect is extremely good, and an appearance of richness has been obtained with considerable skill.' The use of inferior, simulated stone has, over the years, given rise to many serious problems including the crumbling of the mouldings round the west door and the arches in the chancel and the cracking of slim, marble columns. The large, rose window at the west end of the church was repaired some years ago but the cost of necessary extensive repairs to the fabric at a later date was beyond the means of a small rural parish and regular services in the church were discontinued, the last being held in 1971.