St Mary the Virgin Church History

Much of the following is based on "A short History of Micheldever parish and Church", originally written by Revd. Donald Gill in 1966, and updated where appropriate.

The present church, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, is at least the third on the site. The church of Micheldever was included in a grant to New Minster (Hyde Abbey) in about 903 A.D.

The church continued under the Abbey for a long time, and a priest would be sent out from Winchester to conduct services, or else a chaplain was paid to perform these. He would be a servant of the Abbey, poorly paid, and subject to dismissal at any time. Later a vicar was appointed and his position made secure against interference. This was achieved in 1308, and an income established. The vicar was given all tithes of wool, cheese milk, pigs, geese, ovens, honey, apples, and thistles. Possibly, the last were cultivated to be used for carding wool.

Church in 1730
Church in 1730

The nave was rebuilt in its octagonal form in 1806. The Vicar and wardens together with the patron, petitioned the Bishop for permission to rebuild, because the walls, roof, floor, and seats were in a ruinous condition.

It is thought that this work was done under the direction of an architect named George Dance, who was employed by the Earl of Northbrook for the rebuilding of East Stratton House. He was also responsible for a church of similar design in London. It is believed to be the only rural rotunda in England.

Inside it is an unusual and impressive building; the outside is less than impressive. Pevsners ‘Architectural Guide for Winchester and North Hampshire’ (2010) describes the exterior of the church as ‘arresting, a shockingly odd and nakedly unadorned composition of three separate parts, not a little strange in it rural setting’. The design is based on his design for St Bartholomew-the-less in Smithfield London. Pevsner goes onto describe the interior as ‘a thrill of rare delight not least for its brilliant lucid planning and lighting’.

In 1881 the church underwent major repairs and the gallery, which was at the West end, was removed. During this work the remains of a decorated stone reredos were found. Nothing is now known of what happened to these.

Report has it, and it is recorded in some histories, that the church was rebuilt after a fire, but there is no truth in this.

The chancel has monuments to various members of the Baring family. One of these is by Flaxman, and is supposed to be the best example of his work.

The Baring vault is under the chancel floor, but has not been used for many years.

Under the nave is the Bristow vault. When the wooden platforms, which bear the pews, were raised recently the position of this vault could not be identified.

Under the stokehole is a vault called the Popham vault. This was opened in 1917 and seven lead coffins were found. Some of these had names or initials on them, but there is no entry in the registers to correspond with any of them. One coffin without inscription measured seven feet four inches long, three feet wide, and two feet six inches high.

In 1963 this vault was accidently opened when a new boiler was being installed. It was noticed that the top of this large coffin had collapsed at one end, and the interior was full of what appeared to be peat. It is reasonable to suppose that someone died at a good distance from Micheldever and to transport the body, a normal coffin was placed in the bigger one and the intervening space filled with peat. This could account for the unusual size.

THE TOWER

This was probably built by Wriothesley in about 1544 after he had pulled down Hyde Abbey. It is also possible that stones from the Abbey were used in the construction of the tower, because in the walls are some stones of Norman style workmanship and the tops and bases of pillars, etc.

Over the belfry windows are stone panels with a circle cut in each. One of these circles on the west side has inscribed on it a “W” over a tun or barrel. This is a rebus, and evidently signifies W. Overton. One wonders whether this aged joke conceals the name of the builder of the tower, who was W... from the neighbouring village of Overton.

There are six bells. Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 were cast by J. Taylor & Co of Loughborough in 1892. Bells 4 and 6 were cast by “Rob Cor” in 1703. The Cors were founders in Aldbourne, Wiltshire. These bells are regularly rung today.

The north and south interior arches to the east of the tower are the oldest part of the building and date from about 1380, but some authorities suggest a century earlier.

THE REGISTERS

These date from 1538, when records were ordered first to be kept. They are outstandingly complete. In 1597 registers were ordered to be of parchment, and copies to be made of the old paper ones. Consequently many of the original paper registers were destroyed.

Micheldever’s first registers are among the exceedingly rare and there is the original, beginning in December 1538 and a copy made about 1600. The first entry is for the burial of Robert Canterbury on December 13th 1538.

Until 1881 all East Stratton burial entries were in Micheldever registers.

BRASSES

There are no memorial brasses in the church, but there is a record that in 1700, in the south aisle, there was a portrait of a woman under a canopy and a brass surround with the inscription in Latin “Here lies Margery de Knyghton late mother of Thomas Bishop of Durham who died in 1355. On whose soul may God have mercy. Amen” We do not know if Margery lived in Micheldever, nor when or by whom this brass was removed.

PLATE

The Lady Rachel Russell chalice is mentioned elsewhere in these notes. The chalice is unusually large with a plain bowl, straight sided, and with a turned over lip, the stem thick with filleted band as a knob and a moulded foot. The inscription reads, “The gift of ye Honble Rachel Lady Russell 1703”.

In September 1866 Arabella Lady Northbrook gave a chalice, paten, flagon, and two alms dishes, all of silver, in memory of her husband Francis Thornhill first Lord Northbrook.

PRESERVATION REPAIRS

Tower Stonework in 1981 to 1984

A quinquennial survey of the Church building carried out in November 1981 revealed a general deterioration in the condition of the tower stonework, the oldest part of the building, with the battlements and the windows of the bell chamber needing particular attention. The reported condition of the tower came as no surprise because dangerous falls of stone had occurred during the preceding months and it was plain that major repairs were called for. It is believed that, with the exception of repairs to the roof, little work was done on the tower for probably more than 50 years up to 1983. In 1961 the lead roof of the tower and the small roof to the stair turret were stripped and mastic asphalt laid over a 5” concrete base, but there is no evidence of further work other than re-pointing the arches to the bell chamber windows. In addition to major repairs to the tower the survey found several defects in the fabric of the nave, mainly at roof level, which needed attention.

The total cost of the work required to preserve the church was put at £69,875 (at 1983 price levels). Even with the aid of government grants this huge sum caused surprise and dismay and appeared far beyond the reach of a small Parish with no more than 325 families. The alternative to finding the money was to accept that within a comparatively short time the tower would become too dangerous to use and the Church would be forced to close.

Micheldever without a church for the first time in over 1,000 years was inconceivable and the parishioners were not prepared to stand indicted in the eyes of posterity for permitting its closure. They decided that an attempt should be made to raise the necessary money to carry out the repairs and they set about their task with great determination, energy and enterprise.

A public appeal was launched on 11th June, 1983 and the Archdeacon of Winchester, The Venerable David Cartwright, preached at a special service on 12th June to mark the opening of the appeal. Assistance was sought from Government Agencies, Local and Church Authorities and Charities whose objectives included the advancement of religion and the preservation of buildings of architectural merit. At the same time a series of money raising events and ventures were planned by parishioners. The success of the campaign exceeded all expectations. In September 1984 it was possible to suspend further fund raising and a Thanksgiving Service was held on 15th September and the preacher was the Right Reverend David Cartwright, then Bishop of Southampton.

The task of raising such a large amount of money from a small community needed the wholehearted support of the parishioners, their direct involvement in planning the campaign and their willingness to participate in the fund raising activities. They did all these things with great enthusiasm and the whole enterprise engendered a most remarkable spirit of friendliness, fellowship and co-operation throughout the whole Parish and gave much enjoyment not only to those supporting it but also to the organizers as well.

New Organ in 2001

In 2001 the organ in the church was found to be in a poor state of repair. The pipes were primarily wooden, and suffering from the damp. As discussions were held on replacing the organ, it was discovered that an excellent organ in La Sainte Union teacher training college in Southampton was available since the chapel was being converted into a hall of residence.

A large fund-raising effort was undertaken, and as a result the organ was installed in St mary's church

Benefice

In 2006 the Micheldever Benefice was renamed the Upper Dever Benefice and expanded to include the Parishes of Wonston with Sutton Scotney, and Stoke Charity with Hunton.

At the same time the other Parishes in the Dever Valley, South Wonston, Barton Stacey and Bullington were put into the Lower Dever benefice and the Upper and Lower Dever Benefices were put together into a Group Benefice.

In 2016, the Upper Dever Benefice was merged with the Parishes of St Mary's in Kings Worthy and St Swithun in Headbourne Worthy.

Micheldever Vicarage is the vicarage for the Upper Dever Benefice.