Corhampton Church in Hampshire
Droxford Church in Hampshire
Exton Church in Hampshire
Meonstoke Church in Hampshire
 

Corhampton Church,

Warnford Road,

Corhampton,

Hants

SO32 3ND

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This is one of the few remaining Saxon churches in regular use and in good repair. The building is Grade I listed and dates from 1020. It has been extensively restored with the help of the Friends of Corhampton Church. On its walls, the legend of St Swithin miraculously restoring the basket of broken eggs, knocked from the hands of a peasant woman, can still be seen in the mediaeval painting on the south wall near the altar, and on the opposite side, the expulsion from the garden of Eden.

The sheer antiquity of Corhampton Saxon Church is hard to grasp. The Cluniac monk Raoul Glaber, who died in 1044, wrote about the terrible tenth century – as grim a time for Europe as any since. Invasions by Vikings from the north, Arabs from the south, Magyars from the east; peasant enslavement; famine – “mothers, forgetting their maternal love, ate their babes”; a “horrible plague - a hidden fire which, upon whatsoever limb it toned, consumed it”, now known to be ergot from corrupt rye bread – made everyone’s lives a misery. The year 1000 was thus seen as a significant spiritual milestone, Glaber writing: “So it was as though the very world had shaken herself and cast off her old age, and were clothing herself everywhere in a white garment of churches. Then indeed the faithful rebuilt and bettered almost all the cathedral churches, and other monasteries dedicated to divers saints, and smaller parish churches”.

Corhampton Saxon Church was part of this movement, built in stone (hence ‘white’) in 1020 and used as a place of worship ever since. Another perspective; King Henry the Seventh’s death was about half way between then and now.

You can reach the church on foot from the A32. Alternatively, you can take the B3035 to Bishop’s Waltham (see map) and on the right, about 100 yards along the road from the roundabout there is an entrance, through which you will find car parking on the grass and a narrow pathway leading to the church.

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Photo by Leigh Johnson

History of Corhampton Church

Early history and background
The church is remarkable in having no known dedication. It has just been Corhampton Church as far as we know for the whole of its long life.

There is a reference to Quedementune in the Domesday Book, but there is no mention of the church and this is strange, for not only is it unquestionably Saxon, but it is a wonderful example of a small village pre-Conquest church that has remained almost unaltered from the time that it was built, and which is one of the most important Saxon churches in Southern England.

So what is the origin of the name? In mediaeval days it is said to have borne the name Cornhamptone. However, about two hundred years ago it seems that the people of Corhampton called it Carmenton, which properly should be Carmeonton (‘ton’ is Saxon for an enclosure and
‘car’ means fortress but is of WeIsh derivation). Certainly the church is built on a mound but whether this was ever fortified must be questionable. Writing in Volume II of Hampshire Notes and Queries
published in 1884, A V Walters, B.A, suggests that Carmeonton "would indicate a town on the Meon at the Carrs". Carr means an association of trees and shrubs developing at edges of swamps or fens, and there has always been a mill at Corhampton (to the north of the church). A thousand years ago the River Meon was both navigable and much wider, so this latter interpretation makes sense.

The church looks as if it was built on an artificial mound. This may have been the ‘car’ or fort mentioned above, but it was rare for a Christian church to be so built and the interesting suggestion has been made that it may stand on the site of a heathen temple of Roman or even earlier times. Such temples were sometimes built on man-made mounds. There is no documentary evidence for this, but important Roman remains (now to be seen in the British Museum) have been discovered nearby. There is in the churchyard a Roman sarcophagus currently used for horticultural purposes. However, if the mound was as old as this we would have expected to find some early objects when
graves were being dug, but none has been found.

So we can do no more than record the suggestion as being a possibility without proof. The northern part of the churchyard is partly circular, which is a Saxon characteristic and this is clearly visible in the
drawing of the church that appears in an article on Corhampton Church in the Builders Journal of February 11th, 1903. Christianity arrived late in this part of Hampshire, inhabited before the Conquest by a Jutish tribe called the Meonwara. We learn from the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England that St. Wilfred, a Northumbrian and Bishop of York, spent five years among the South and West Saxons between 681 & 686. Wilfred had disagreed with Archbishop Theodore in 678 and had appealed to the Pope in Rome who had found in Wilfred's favour. However on his return he was flung into prison by Theodore. He escaped to Sussex from whence he travelled to the Isle of Wight, where it is known that he preached, and to the province of the Meonwara. Although Bede was writing in Jarrow, he was wellinformed about affairs in the South through his friend Nothelm, Bishop of London, and he was interested in the career of Wilfred as a fellow Northumbrian. So there is no reason to doubt Bede's History.

Warnford, a mile up the valley to the North, claims to have been Wilfred's headquarters. (The church there and its park, designed by one of Capability Brown's clerks, is well worth a visit.) Although many
of the churches in this area have Saxon work in them, there is little— except possibly the sundial (see below)—that can be dated back to Wilfred's time. He probably built a number of mud and wattle churches that were later replaced by stone structures, around 1000, by which time Christianity was firmly established, parish boundaries had been laid out, and the building of permanent churches was possible.

It was at this time, during the reign of Canute, that the present church at Corhampton was built. Arthur R. & Phyllis M. Green in Saxon Architecture & Sculpture in Hampshire (1951) date the church to the
first quarter of the eleventh century and probably before 1020. For economic reasons, the church was constructed of whole flints, locally available and cheap, plastered over, and consisted of nave and
chancel. The walls are remarkably thin—only 2' 6" thick (about 76cm)—as Saxon walls often were, and they are strengthened by stone quoins in typical Saxon long-and-short work as well as by vertical
pilaster strips or lesenes, which are surmounted by a horizontal string course of wrought stone. All of this is typically Saxon. The stone came from the Isle of Wight, either from Binstead or Quarr, and was
shipped up the Meon. This Saxon church has survived substantially unaltered up to today except for the porch, a couple of buttresses, and the vestry-cum-boiler room all of which were added late in the 19th century. The other major structural change is at the east end.

The original east end, which used to have a large round window (as can be seen in an early water colour drawing and also in the picture hanging on the gallery in the church), collapsed in 1842 as a result of road widening when the mound was dug into and the foundations weakened. This cannot have been the turnpike road, the present A 32, which is well back from the church and crosses the river, and was almost certainly not in existence then. It must have been the earlier road, which keeps west of the river and comes out in Exton at Exton Farm and is still a footpath today. A pen-and-ink drawing of 1908 in Highways and Byways of Hampshire shows a wide muddy track passing close to the north and west side of the church. Ancient buildings have suffered much from traffic and road widening in recent decades, but rarely as long ago as 1842! This collapse necessitated the rebuilding of the east end on the old foundations and this was rather poorly and clumsily done in red brick.

Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester in the reign of King John gave Corhampton to the Premonstratension abbey at Titchfield, whose canons served it up to the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries. In 1545, the village of Lomer (now part of the Preshaw estate), was deserted, the church there fell into ruins and its parish was joined to Corhampton. From the Reformation it had its own priest, who was a perpetual curate, up until 1926 when it became part of Meonstoke whose church is less than ¼ mile across the river. It was at this time, too, that Corhampton and Meonstoke became part of the diocese of Portsmouth, which was created, together with Guildford, out of the
over-large diocese of Winchester.

Across the main road stands the Old Vicarage and attached to it (now demolished) used to be a Free School. Sir Nicholas Hyde, the celebrated Chief Justice of the Kings Bench who died in 1631, received part of his education at this school. In 1669, William Collins vested it in trust for the use of a master (the intention being that this should be the incumbent) on condition that he taught eight free scholars, three from Corhampton, two each from Meonstoke and Droxford and one from Exton. These scholars used trays of sand in lieu of slates or paper as writing materials. In 1816 it became a National School and closed at the beginning of the last century.

For the full history of Corhampton Church, go to our downloads page for a PDF version that you can view or save to disk..


   
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