Restoration of St Mary's Church,
Kingsclere

from the Winchester Diocesan Chronicle, October, November 1914


 

The Restoration of the Church in the [eighteen] Forties

By the Rev. R.T. FINCH, Vicar of Kingsclere.


The condition of the building is known from a report made by Mr. Charles Pink, Surveyor, and dated September 16th, 1846. The lead on the roof of the nave and transepts had become "by age cracked in many places and very uneven." The wet was "continually getting in," so that the boarding was "nearly rotten," and some of the principal timbers in a state of decay; the lead for the most part was "past reparation." It was necessary that all the stone coping to the gables should be new because, as the report states:-

It is become very defective, and consequently the wet is admitted, and runs down the walls, keeping them always in a damp state, and rotting the timbers, as for instance, see the plates of the roof in the north-east comer of the north transept.

In the nave, things were no better.

One oak tie beam nearly over the south and north entrances is rotten for four feet from the south end, and is not safe; a new tie must be inserted in its place of Quebec oak.

And again:-

The north end of a beam near the organ is decayed and requires to be strengthened with iron bars. The ornamental panelling of the roof near the Queen's Arms, to be restored. The stone battlements of the round tower are quite decayed: to be replaced by six new ones of Bath stone.

An inspection showed the roof of the Kingsmill aisle to be "in a very dilapidated and almost unsafe state." The report goes on to say:-

Some of the tie beams and rafters are rotten at the ends; the ridge piece is quite decayed, and the boarding is in a bad state . . . .The roof should be new, as it is too flat.

The late Mr. C. P. Darke, who was learning farming at Kingsclere Farm (since called "Fox Grove," and subsequently-shortly before the house became the residence of Mr. Wyndham Portal-Kingsclere House"), in giving an account of his attendance at Church in 1840-41, remarked on its dilapidated state, shewing how necessary it was to take steps to preserve the building. The authorities, however, did not begin to move till 1846.

The chancel, for the fabric of which Lord Bolton was responsible as Lay Rector, was evidently in much the same state as the nave and transepts, for the initiative seems to have been taken by Lord Bolton, acting through his relative, Mr. Orde, previously the Rector of Winslade and Vicar of Kingsclere. A letter from the architect, Mr. Thos. Hillyer. of Ryde, dated September 9th, 1847, tells us how he was requested to come to Basingstoke to" receive instructions about repairing the chancel of Kingsclere Church." This letter is addressed to the Curate-in-Charge - Mr. Tanner - for the Vicar, Mr. Mitchell, was living at Southsea owing to ill-health. Negotiations do not appear to have been much hindered through the absence of the Vicar, for Mr. Tanner knew Kingsclere well, and had been in residence since 1833. It is through letters addressed to him by the architect that we learn about the proceedings.

The Architect visited Hackwood Park several times in September. He then submitted plans to Lord Bolton, not merely in respect to the transept, but for "a complete restoration." Evidently he found a ready approval of his plans, for he writes, "Lady Bolton seems very interested, and well disposed." The next month seems to have been occupied with correspondence between the Architect, Mr. Drake one of the Churchwardens of Kingsclere. and Mr. Orde. At length, on November 23rd, we hear that Mr. Hillyer's plans for a perfect and worthy restoration of the chancel" have been "approved at headquarters." Doubts are expressed as to whether objection would be raised to the expense. "I do not think there will by Lady Bolton" is the significant sentence which follows. Kingsclere then had a friend at court of whom the present worshippers in the Church should think with gratitude.

Mr. Tanner must have been very busy in the last month of 1847, for now a decision to restore the whole Church had been arrived at, and the plaster was being stripped off in places under the supervision of the Curate-in-Charge, preparatory to Mr. Hillyer's visit from Ryde. In this way was discovered the remains of a Norman arch "below the beam at the west end." Some of the Stones of this Norman arch are still seen. In the Victoria County History of Hants (vol. iv, p.263) the opinion is expressed that they are "of real twelfth century workmanship removed apparently from elsewhere." Mr. Hillyer's letter shows that they are part of an original west window. Mr. Tanner was requested to find if "any traces of old weather molds" remained up the tower, the object of the Architect being to raise the pitch of the roof so that it could run up just under the sills of the small circular windows on the W. and E. of the tower. The futility of trusting to an inexperienced assistant is seen now. The roof of the Chancel runs not "just under the sills," but across the lower part of the small windows!!

But now a momentous day was drawing near, January l0th, 1848, when the Vestry would "consider the report of the Architect on the state of the Church, and determine on the sum to be contributed towards the repairs required to be done." Mr. Hillyer writes to Mr. Tanner, who is to preside, in virtue of his position as Curate-in-charge, discussing what had best be said, and what best left unsaid. He is evidently suffering from an attack of nerves, and at the same time anxious that the proposals formulated through the wise heads of the parson and himself should not be upset. He writes:-

As we intend in the restoration to go on the destructive principle and not the conservative (beyond the tower and Kingsmill aisle) or eclectic. I am afraid it will alarm some of the sticklers for antiquity.

Another fear obsessed him. It appears that Mr. Orde was of an economical turn of mind, for Mr. Hillyer writes that he fears he will "go on the saving plan "-always the dread of an architect!

The fateful day arrived, and at. a large meeting in the Church the report of Mr. Hillyer was considered. Mr. Easton was there on behalf of the Duke of Wellington, Mr. Lamb and Mr. Dewey represented Lord Bolton; Mr. Orde also attended. The meeting separated after gifts amounting to £850 had been promised, and a unanimous vote of £1000 on the security of the church rates had been obtained. A committee was formed to "superintend the restoration of the Church," namely, the churchwardens, Mr. Drake and Mr. Platt the Rev. Jas. Tanner, the Rural Dean, Mr. Pole, Rector of Wolverton, Mr. Holding, Mr. Easton, and Mr Dewey.

It is this committee with which the Architect had now to deal. By this time he had made up his mind as to his recommendations, e.g.: -

"I should proceed on the conservative course in the nave, and complete the transepts in the Early Decorated. The west front must then be taken down and rebuilt, and the entire windows of the small chapters as now."

Mr. Hillyer writes on the 11th to say how pleased he was with what had been done at Vestry, and "to find such a capital Committee appointed." But, poor man, he was singing a different song even before the first meeting of the Committee on the 18th!!! By the 12th the feeling of the members had been reported to Ryde by Mr. Tanner, and it gave great concern. The question' at issue were the use to be made of the Kingsmill aisle and the height of the pewing. Mr. Dewey seems to have been the chief offender as regards opinions about pewing, and the Architect remarks that his ideas "will equal ant times of the Puritans." Mr. Hillyer was also in favour of using the Kingsmill aisle for seating the congregation instead of shutting it off (as indeed was done) by a glazed partition. Even before the Committee had met, Mr. Hillyer is indulging in the vain hope that he will be given

If the Committee will leave the matter in my hands I will undertake to make the Church comfortable without violating architectural propriety or committing errors which in these times of improved taste would entail odium on all concerned.

Upon the Committee meeting on January 18th, the claim of the parish, in opposition to Mr. Kingsmill to the ownership of "the aisle, called Kingsmill's aisle," was definitely asserted. Hence we do name of the Squire of Sydmonton among the subscribers! At their meeting on February 7th the influence of the Puritanical Mr. Dewey is seen, for it was decided "the pews to be all closed, and of the height of 4ft. by 2ft. 9in.. in width, and of foreign plain oak."

A controversy now arose about the position of the organ. The Architect was of opinion "that the situation in the south transept is the best for the organ." The authority of Lord Bolton had to be invoked against those who wished to place it in the chancel. There also developed considerable difference of opinion between the Architect and the Committee about the size of the gallery, and the Architect remarks in sorrow, "I am afraid very low Church ideas exist in some of the Committee" (February 24th, 1848). Such fears were not groundless, for on the 28th the Committee decided to have closed pews not only in the nave, but also in both transepts, but of different heights. It was also ordered "that the Kingsmill aisle should be screened off instead of partitioned at the westernmost arch in the same way as the chancel is separated from the aisle."

March had not far advanced before the Committee had so grievously vexed the righteous soul of Mr. Hillyer that the interference of the Archdeacon was invoked. The Curate-in-Charge received, on March 4th, the appeal "to listen to the Archdeacon as setting at rest any further suggestions that may be made, or I shall never get done."
We hear nothing of the Vicar, who vas resting all this time at Southsea; he was brought back for burial on February 26th, 1849; and accordingly the Archdeacon was called upon to put the Committee right where the Architect thought they were wrong. The Archdeacon did not do all that was expected of him, for Mr. Hillyer writes, "I wish he had condemned a gallery and high pews." Indeed, Mr. Hillyer ad to fall back upon the two clerics on the Committee as his only support. He writes, "I do really rely on you and Mr. Pole doing all you can to make the restoration as free from criticism as possible. By trying for what I suggest you are violating no part of the rubric or leaning to the tractarians" March 4th).

We do not know how much the lay embers of the Committee knew of these efforts of the Architect, but they were in vain. Neither the Archdeacon, the Rural Dean, or the Curate-in-Charge could exercise a restraining influence on the five lay members of the Committee of seven. The Architect seems to have finally given up the hope of getting his own way towards the end of March, it he writes on the 25th:-

The matter of blocking up the arch and the position, etc., of the font I shall leave in the hands of the Committee. I regret the want of perception of the beautiful that exists in some parties.

With a final wail over the pewing he concludes his letter

The pews in the tower I suppose must be 4ft., or shall we run the risk of keeping them 2ft. 10in. high?

The lay majority on the Committee continued to attend the meetings very regularly, and the clerical minority learnt the truth of Mr. Birrells recent cruel words - "minorities must suffer."

Acts of vandalism proceeded apace, e.g., on April 28th it was ordered that "the east window in the north transept be stopped up." This is one of the most interesting windows (Early English) in the Church. It has only recently been opened again and the mullions restored The late Rector of Pangbourne, Mr. Finch, perceived its beauty, and started the project with a donation of £10.

As the spring of 1848 advanced, the work at Kingsclere Church proceeded in earnest. The Curate-in-Charge continued his correspondence with the. Architect. From this it is seen that no provision had been made in the contract for the removal or protection of the monuments. This was a source of anxiety to Mr. Tanner. The magnificent alabaster tomb to the memory of Sir Henry and Lady Bridget Kingsmill escaped injury except that the sword lying by Sir Henry's side was broken. He also notices the charming effect when the workmen had removed an old screen, and the arch opening from thetransept into the Kingsmill aisle was no longer blocked up. But the Committee was obdurate, and the Architect had to design another screen!! The Curate-in-Charge was a busy man that spring, for letters from Ryde show that the Architect expected him to act as a sort of Clerk of the Works. He is exhorted to superintend in these words­

I shall feel obliged if you will look and see the flints are taken out full six inches, and the walls well wet while they are rebuilding it (May 19th 1848).

How Mr. Tanner could attend to the duties of a large parish, comprising as it did at that time Sydmonton, Ecchinswell, and Kingsclere, while the Church was being restored passes our understanding.

Meanwhile the Committee met every month to sign cheques for the contractor and issue directions. On June 26th the following decision is recorded:

That the interior of the eastern arch of the south transept be filled with a glazed parclose to the same height as the chancel.

At this meeting another effort was made to obtain some con­cession to the Architect's views about the pewing, and we see the result from the minutes:-


It was directed that the pews in the nave should be 2ft. 10in. instead of 2ft. 9in.; and the pews in the transepts should be 3ft. 9in. instead of 4ft., and that such latter range do extend as far as the projection of the tower piers. The remainder of the space under the tower set apart for sittings as per plan to be fitted with movable benches, low, with close backs."

This was indeed a concession, for the doors of the pews up to 1847 measured 5ff. 1lin. One is still used in the belfry. Three more meetings of the Committee were held during 1848, when various matters were dealt with - the entrances to the vaults, the position of the font, prayer desk, and pulpit, the "ridge lead on the nave and transepts," and "the position of the mural tablets." We are not surprised, having regard to the absence of the Architect at Ryde, and necessarily inefficient assistance of his improvised Clerk of the Works at Kingsclere, a busy clergyman with many responsibilities, that by the end of November the Committee were having trouble with the contractor. It is reported that it was necessary to give notice to him "of his liability to a penalty of £100, and the other responsibilities attendant on the non-performance of the contract" (November 27th). At this meeting it was resolved

...that the rim of the western arch be restored as per the Architect's estimate of £7. 8s. and that six ventilators be introduced as required."

The winter of 1848 sped away and still the work at theChurch had not been finished. However, on .January 8th, 1849, the contractor, Mr. Balding "attended the Committee, and engaged to complete the whole of the works contained in his contract, and the several additions thereto on the first day March next."

In February additional donations were announced. Among these is the following:-"Wyndham Portal Esqre., decorations and additions to the Lanthorn, £30." His grandson, Sir William Portal, Bart., last year went to the expense of renovating this work. March 5th the contractor is "on the carpet" for not fulfilling his contract.. The winter of 1847-1848 was a very wet one, but at the next meeting (April 2nd) it was found possible to fix upon May 15th as the day "for the opening of the Church." Great must have been the hurry to be ready for this auspicious event, for as late as May 7th a letter was sent to Mr. Hillyer. "The Committee," it states, "wish your attention to the following points:-

1.-The non-completion of the font.
2.-The non-completion of the heating apparatus.
3.-The benches not finished.
4.-The Communion Table and chairs.
5.-The weather vane.
6.-The rail in front of the gallery.
7.-Handle, etc., inside of the door in the chancel aisle.
8.-The decalogue not completed."

Difficulties such as these were overcome or passed over, and the Church was duly re-opened with great rejoicings on Tuesday, May 15th, 1849, after an .expenditure, exclusive of the chancel, off £2,726. 6s. 10d.

We of the present day do not share to the full in these rejoicings. Some of us are "sticklers for antiquity." We mourn the loss of the old W. doorway and window of the Perpendicular Period, and of the lancet windows giving much needed light at the E. end of the nave. The porches of both N. and S. doors of the nave have gone, and even the Norman doorway on the S. side is covered in. The failure to preserve the monuments in the N. transept and memorial slabs in the chancel invokes displeasure. The encaustic tiles were mostly thrown away. It has taken the present incumbent many years to get together a collection, of varied design, dug up in various places.
Those of the parishioners who are interested in preserving the building from decay look back with regret to the Architect's disuse of tie beams for his new roof. The roof has since spread, and rests upon the flint casing which he built round the old rabble walls. In using the old mullions for ties the casing was not properly keyed to these walls. On the S. side of the nave the casing is coming away from the wall, and some day will come down with a run. The nave roof has recently been tied together with iron rods to prevent its further spreading. The lead on the roof is in tar too large strips. When the Diocesan Architect visited the Church he said the lead must all be taken off and relaid. It often leaks, and repeatedly slips, the weight tearing-through the nails. The plaster used inside the building is of an inferior quality. Its blotchy appearance spoilt the appearance of the church until recently, when a colour-wash, recommended by Professor Lethaby, was adopted. Not only inferior workmanship, but inferior material was used when casing the Church with flint. As a consequence, last year the damp was penetrating through the tower wall, 3ft. thick, on the south side.

Successful constructional achievement can hardly be expected when we remember that Mr. Hillyer was a very busy man (he restored or built over forty Churches), and he had no Clerk of the Works except the parson, who had no practical knowledge, and could not superintend the work as well as serve a large parish. The Committee were very diligent, and had a keen sense of their responsibility. Mr. Drake was present at every one of the twenty-two meetings, Mr. Pole and Mr. Holding only missed one meeting, Mr. Tanner and Mr. Dewey were only absent twice. Mr. Platt had a long way to come from his farm at Canon Heath, and so missed seven meetings. Mr. Easton, with his many duties as agent to the Duke of Wellington, could not attend very regularly. Our sympathy is with these gentlemen, because they suffered from the neglect of their forefathers, who had allowed the Church to fall into the state described by Mr. Pink. Had Canon 85, which regulates the duties of Church-wardens, been obeyed, beautiful windows, doorways, and timbers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries would not have become ruinous, and regarded as beyond reparation in 1848. The moral of the preceding pages seems to be this:

The Churchwardens are, in justice, bound to effect the requisite repairs, however slight and trifling they may be: for the practice, unfortunately but too common, of leaving this to be done in a future year is most reprehensible and unjust, as it must ultimately increase the cost of repairs, and throw on the parishioners of a future period a burden which ought to be borne by the parishioners of the current year" (Prideaux, p.82).

A. T. Finch.
Kingsclere Vicarage,
July 1914


N.B.-In spite of all the imperfections of the restoration in 1848,
Kingsclere Church remains one of the most interesting and imposing structures in Hampshire.