Deep in the
woodlands of the Meon Valley, the Church of Our Lady of Warnford stands in peaceful isolation. This is hallowed
ground where God has been worshipped continuously for thirteen hundred years. The church serves a scattered parish of
farms, there is no real village centre of Warnford.
As you enter, you will wish to begin by taking in the vista of
the whole length of the church. Nave and Chancel are under a single roof without the division of a chancel
arch. The building is Early English of the simplest style, as befitting so tiny a parish. This is the
newest part of the church, rebuilt about 1190 by Adam de Port who held the Manor of Warnford from 1171 to 1213.
There was an earlier church here, founded about 682 by St. Wilfrid the Bishop during his exile from
Northumbria. A strong tradition remains that he made his
headquarters here for the work of converting the heathen Meonwara,
the Jutish tribe inhabiting the Meon Valley. No trace of that
first church remains, although there are still Saxon remains in
the west walland you passed the Norman Tower on your way in.
First turn to the back of the church, where on your left there is
a collection of dressed stones. Some came from the former east window, whilst others probably formed part
of the mediaeval Rood Screen, almost certainly dismantled at the Reformation. While here notice the
various pictures and charts on the wall, giving some idea of the past history and present life of the
church and parish.
Next, move to your right and examine the typically Jacobean Tower
Screen, contemporary with the present chancel screen of 1634. It is set within a fourteenth-century
arch and has carved, fluted pilasters with large panels arranged geometrically. On either side there are cuts in
the stonework where from 1811 until 1906 stood the beams of a West Gallery. Notice how low it must have
been. The front and wings were supported by cast iron pillars in the idiom of the last century. The
entrance was from inside the tower by a doorway in the infilling of the arch, now hidden by the Victorian
triptych once set above the altar at the east end. The gallery was used by the singers with a barrel organ to lead them.
Still further to the right, in the north-west corner, stands the
War Memorial, only erected in 1974. It commemorates the remarkable fact that in two world wars only one
man was lost from Warnford. Notice here the seventeenth-century Altar Table and the oak panelling
surrounding it. This is the altar first placed against the east wall, as ordered by Archbishop Laud in 1633.
Apart from 1828 until 1906 when there was a gothic altar, this remained in use continuously until replaced
by the present altar in 1942. The panelling came from the old squires' pew, where the organ now stands.
Before leaving the west end, look at the Font, of Purbeck stone
and dating from about 1130. The old lead was once covered with a plain lid, in turn secured by a
padlock and iron staples, of which one remains. Carving is still just visible on all four sides of the font.
Now go into the Nave and look up at the north wall on your left.
There are two Funeral Hatchments, carried at the funeral of those whose arms are displayed. One is
for Luke Dillon, a member of an Irish family who settled in Co. Meath in 1185, who died at Hall Place,
West Meon in 1825. The other is for Elizabeth Lancaster, the wife of Richard Lancaster, rector from
1802 until 1853. The third board is the Royal Anns of George IV,
formerly displayed above the chancel screen. The solid oak
benches are of 1906, but with older, straight-topped ends of the
sixteenth century. Looking behind the organ there is a doorway
with steps leading to the former Rood Loft, a few feet west of
the present screen. The Organ is more than a century old and was
built in Winchester, brought here in 1937 to replace a harmonium
by the Rector, Canon S. N. Sedgwick.
The Chancel Screen is good Jacobean of 1634. The solid base was
once much higher, partly obscuring the view of the chancel and altar. Modifications were made in 1958 as
a memorial to C. E. Cholmley of Riversdown in the parish, a
former churchwarden. The Hanging Rood is the work of Martin
Travers of 1938, harmonising well with the older classical screen.
The Hanging Rood
First look at the East Window, inserted in 1377 and now
displaying two small medallions shewing the Neale Arms. There is no more stained glass in the church. The
window is surrounded by a strange, large, plain round arch. Either side are the screw eyes that once
supported the Victorian triptych as it rested on the cill below. The Altar with its cross and candlesticks was given
in 1942 by the family of John Tomkinson, killed in action on 13 March 1941. The Altar rails are early
nineteenth century, and have unusual pierced balusters.
|The Neale coat of arms
on the memorials
||The memorial to William
Neale and his two wives
to Sir Thomas Neale and his two wives
of the Neales those carrying skulls died in infancty
|Close up of Sir
Thomas Neal and his wives
||A Madonna and child
Either side of the altar are the Neale Monuments, magnificent of
their kind but overwhelming in so small a church. The simpler one on the left is to William and his two
wives (1601) and the grander to his son Sir Thomas and his two wives (l621). Notice the charming row of
nine of the ten children of the last, four carrying skulls to shew they died in infancy. The children
are dressed in a rather later style than their parents. Both Neales were Exchequer officials under Elizabeth I
and James I and lived in the house they built in the park in 1577. The ringed stone in the floor gives
access to the Neale vault below. Against the north wall of the chancel, on your left, are three Miserere seats, of
unknown origin but probably of the fourteenth century. On the south wall opposite stands the Processional Cross,
of oak from the tower restoration of 1951, with a modern ash staff.
Before leaving the chancel look west and see the only remains of
the former Saxon Church. Quoins, the dressed stones at the angle of a building, and masonry above the
tower arch including the inverted 'v' of the drip stone, identify the west end of that building and the pitch
of its roof. Saxon nave walls were discovered under the floor in 1906, running as far east as the screen. Under
your feet lies an apse, so far traced only by dowsing in 1967.
As you return to the nave you will see, let into the floor on
your left, a thirteenth-century sepulchral-slab with a carved foliated cross on it. It seems undisturbed and lies
just within the walls of the Saxon church. Nearer the wall a larger slab has been moved here from the back
of the church. It has been suggested that the larger commemorates Adam de Port, rebuilder of the church, and
the smaller his confessor. Half way down the nave another stone let into the floor commemorates Laurence
Cook and his wife Anne who died on the same day. There is no
record of the cause.
Before leaving the church, look up again at the roof, entirely
renewed in 1906. Only the tie beams are old. Notice the one with a castellated frieze marking the chancel,
and the one next to the west with sockets from which the figures of the mediaeval Rood were once suspended.
The sundial in the porch
As you go out through the porch, look back at the Saxon Sundial
above the door. It has foliated leaves in each corner, and is
almost certainly from the Saxon church. Compare it with one at
Corhampton just down the valley. Under the sundial is a twelfth-century Inscription in
Lombardic letters. In translation it reads "Brethren, bless m your prayers the founders young and old
of this temple; Wulfric founded it; good Adam restored it. It is undecided whether Wulfric is Bishop
the founder of 681, o.r the Abbot of New- minster (Hyde), Winchester, of 1067-72. Outside the porch you
will find traces of at least five scratch dials, a primitive form of sundial to regulate service times.
Outside the Church
Now rum to your left and walk round the church. Under a holly
tree on the bank is a grave stone with an unusual carving of a tree with a sawn-off limb and a skeleton
pointing at it, his saw leaning against the tree. It is told how George Lewis, the estate carpenter, was in
the habit of cutting trees on a Sunday in spite of warnings and continued until one day a branch fell and killed
Next you pass the old Priests door in the chancel wall, its arch
pointed and with slight chamfers, and then the first of four new buttresses of 1906, supporting the
ancient fabric. Some fifty yards ahead stands the ruined St John
House, one of a very small number of thirteenth- century halls
remaining. It was built about 1210 by the St John family, who had
married into the de Ports. You enter a three-aisled hall of three
bays with slender, circular piers 25 feet high standing on
octagonal bases. One has completely disappeared and the complete
pier with its foliated capital is a rebuilding of 1910. They
appear never to have carried arches, so presumably the roof was
wooden. The east wall is without windows, though with corbels on
which a gallery may once have been supported. The main entrance
is in the south-west corner and the two western doorways led into
ground floor kitchens. The family presumably lived in quarters
above. After 1577 the old house became a bam until made into a
scenic ruin in the eighteenth century. The new house, where you
parked your car, was demolished in 1956.
Right round the church on the north side is another Inscription
contemporary with the former. It is above where there was another doorway and porch, and reads
"May the race
signed with the Cross (i.e. Christians) from the rising of the
sun bless Adam de Port by whom I have been thus restored."
At last we reach the tower, assertively Norman, broad and sturdy
with clasping quoins of Quarr stone from the Isle of Wight. It may well be as early as 1130, but the
brickwork at the top is a rebuilding of 1752. The tower is 50 feet high and stands against the west wall of the
Saxon church. The big, circular bell openings are most unusual.
The west doorway in the tower and the Holy Water stoup, both of
the fourteenth century, seem contemporary with the tower arch and east window inside. Within the tower,
not normally open, two of the three Norman windows are single stepped and quite plain, but the westernmost
above the colway is the most beautiful in the whole church. It has been partly reconstructed with two
orders of Early English pilasters and foliated capitals of acanthus leaves.
There are six bells in a new iron frame installed in I960 after
the tower had been reinforced and locked together with steel and concrete. All six ringing bells were new-cast
in 1959, the tenor weighing 12 cw t. Another bell, the fifth saved from the old ring, hangs dead to
serve as a tolling bell. It dates from 1600. Renewal cost £1,760 of which £1,200 was given by two anonymous
parishioners. The tone of the bells is exquisite, and the whole work a fine achievement for so small a
The living has always remained a rectory, the advowson following
the descent of the manor until 1850. It was then purchased by John Wynne who himself became Rector
three years later, followed by his son and grandson in succession until 1933. Since then it has been in
the hands of the Diocesan Board of Patronage, and was united with
the rectory of West Meon in 1963. At the Taxafio of Pope Nicholas
in 1292 the value of the church was £21:6s:8d, and by the time
of the Valor Ecclesiasticus of Henry VIII it had risen only to £21:9s:3d.
As you leave the churchyard, in a few paces you step upon the
original Meon Valley road which ran close to the church for many centuries. The village stood close
about the church until it was moved about half a mile away to where it now is, when the new road, the A32,
was built at the end of the eighteenth century by prisoners from the Napoleonic wars.