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All Saints, Little Somborne
The village of Little Somborne is in a lovely and particularly rural part of Hampshire to the south-east of Stockbridge. It consists of little more than the church and a few groups of houses. To the south-west are simple brick and flint terraced cottages, and behind these is a large farm. Somborne Park is situated to the north, and its grounds, together with the large brick mansion, can be seen from the churchyard.
The church is positioned within an open graveyard, making a particularly sweet and attractive sight from the road. When Henry Moody published his Antiquarian and Topographical Sketches of Hampshire in 1846 the church was apparently "covered with ivy, which finds its way into the interior". It has a small collection of gravestones to the south and east, including a brick table top tomb. The gravestones mostly date from the 19th and 20th centuries, but a few date from the 18th century. They include Thomas Sopwith, the pioneer aviator, whose gravestone is situated near the south-east corner of the church . The church itself is a small rectangular nave and chancel in one, with a timber bell turret within the west end. It is built of flint with a whitewashed plaster surface (the inside wall are also plastered), and the stone used for the dressings is believed to come from Binstead in the Isle of Wight (1). The church possesses several early architectural features, and the pleasant barn-like interior includes a particularly enjoyable roof.
Chronology of the building
The church strikes one as being more of archaeological interest than of aesthetic or atmospheric interest. Indeed, although the church has long been recognised as being both Saxon and late Norman, this seemingly simple church was found to have a surprisingly complicated building history when it was archaeologically investigated in c.1976. This has rendered many of the earlier descriptions, including Taylor's Anglo-Saxon Architecture, (1965) and Green's Saxon Architecture and Sculpture in Hampshire (1951), out of date. The current church guide is very useful in detailing the history of the church, as illuminated by archaeological investigation, and includes a particularly helpful church plan which, together with its annotations, encapsulates most of our current understanding of the church.
Somborne is mentioned in the Domesday Book as being held by the King, hence King's Somborne. Two churches are mentioned, and although there is no explicit reference to Little Somborne, it is likely that one of these churches is All Saints. The church is now redundant and cared for by The Churches Conservation Trust.
Saxon: The most striking features of the exterior are the long and short work of the west quoins, the pilaster strip on the north wall, and the remains of the pilaster strip on the south wall. There is in addition to this a double splayed north window (now covered up externally by a glazed wooden panel), and the remains of a south window, of which only the inner splay can be seen inside. However, the west wall of the Saxon church was approximately 6 feet further west of the current west wall, so that the long and short quoins were reused when the wall was rebuilt in its current position during the 14th century. This is surprising in one way, but not in another as stone was not readily available in this part of Hampshire. Furthermore, the Saxon stone is of good quality, being a hard, rough grained stone that seems to weather well (2). Saxon stone, apparently from a pilaster strip, was again reused in the east jamb of the blocked north-east doorway.
The Saxon church did not extend as far east as the current building, and the position of the nave east end, chancel arch and rectangular chancel are all marked out in stone within the church.
Of the surviving architectural features, the pilaster strip on the north wall is the most significant . It extends to the full height of the wall and consists of seven stones, the lowest apparently fused with the wall (3). To the west of this is believed to have been a doorway, the outline of which is partially marked in the plaster . Immediately east of the pilaster strip is a Saxon double splayed window, presumably only recently uncovered as it is not mentioned in the earlier sources. It has open flints to the outside, original surviving plaster on the inner splay, and a slight groove for shutters. It looks wider than the blocked south window opposite.
On the south side, another pilaster strip can be seen, but the protruding stones have been hacked away . To the west of this, and opposite the Saxon north door, was another doorway, although no obvious visible signs of this can be seen. Immediately west of the current south doorway is a vertical chamfer about the height of the doorway which looks as if it could be the remains of pilaster strip, but this is apparently not the case.
The long and short west quoins were reconstructed in the 14th century . They are not entirely consistent in pattern, although this can also be the case with in situ long and short work. Other stones appear to have been used for the top of the north-west quoin.
Norman/Transitional: The late 12th century alternations to the church are if anything even more interesting, and a surprising part of this was uncovered during the archaeological investigation. The Normans dispensed with the Saxon chancel and extended the nave eastwards so that it was more than twice the length. The current east end represents the east end of the Norman nave, and to this the Normans built, surprisingly, a minute chancel which was approximately one metre in depth. Its extent is now marked in the ground immediately east of the church, having been demolished at some later date . Stunted chancels may not have been that unusual in Norman times, but if they did occur the majority must have been rebuilt or extended since I cannot recollect seeing a similar surviving example. It must have served as little more than a sanctuary. In any case it is a great pity that it no longer survives.
The nave has Norman doorways in both its north and south walls, so presumably the Saxon doorways were no longer used or considered worthy. The doorways are even now fairly centrally placed (both are to the west of centre), but the south doorway must, if anything, have been just to the east of centre, which is unusual for a medieval church. Doorways were nearly always situated at the west end of the nave's north and south walls. Presumably it was easier to build the doorways as part of the new eastern extension rather than inserting them into the existing Saxon walling, and they do indeed occur immediately east of the Saxon nave walls.
The south doorway is typical late Norman (4), with a round arch and a continuous chamfer . It also has a hood mould but only the top of this remains. The east jamb has remains of graffiti, including a roughly scratched cross just above the springing of the arch . The north doorway is narrower, again chamfered (with stop chamfers below) but with a straight head which is also chamfered . There exists a question here which also extends to the two Norman nave windows, both of which are situated to the east of the doorways on the north and south walls. Are they original Norman designs or were they tampered with at some late date. My personal feeling is that they all represent modifications made during the 17th century, when other work on the church apparently took place. The church guide seems to believe that they are original features, or at least does not suggest otherwise. However, they would have been unusual for a church of this period. The straight head of the north doorway could be a lintel which is now missing its tympanum and arch, although no evidence of the existence of these features remain. It is indeed built of the same stone used for the Saxon and most of the Norman work, which points to it being original work. On the other hand, the lintel looks slightly fresher than the jambs, with a cleaner and more defined chamfer. The door itself looks old, of two large timber panels with a peep hole in the middle (and another below it), although the bottom parts have been renewed.
The windows are small and square headed, so that they appear rectangular . Inside they have original round-headed splays, but the outer frames are constructed of stones with a square section which look 17th century rather than Norman (5). Hinges for shutters remain inside, and the openings are rebated externally.
Despite being partially obscured by later masonry, the Norman chancel arch still survives, and its details, together with the south doorway, suggest a date of c.1190. The arch is pointed but unchamfered, and the responds are of two stepped orders with attached shafts . These have fairly deeply moulded bases , abaci with a chamfered underside which may originally have continued (or returned) on the west side of the wall but are now flush with the wall (6). The capitals each have four tall trumpet scallops which bow at the corners and move from circular at the base to square at the top .
To the south of the chancel arch is a small arched recess which is either a reused Norman window (as Pevsner suggests) or an image niche (as the Victoria County History and the church guide believe) . It has a round head and a slight chamfer. The east quoins look original, and are probably Norman.
Early English: At the east end of the north wall is the remains of a doorway with a heavy timber lintel and a visible east jamb which appears to be reused stones from a Saxon pilaster strip . It is believed to have been the entrance from the church to a 13th century hermit's cell, the extent of which is marked by stones on the outside of the church . The church guide believes it to be the cell of Peter de Rivallis, who was a benefactor of Mottisfont Priory and who, upon his death in 1226, was buried within the walls of the priory. If this was the case, the cell was presumably constructed in the early 13th century. It is not clear when it was demolished.
The existing church received a substantial lancet window at the east end of the south wall, which is set lower down than the other windows . It has a continuous chamfer plus a rebate where the glass currently sits and is partly renewed (e.g. the head). Inside, the splays continue to the floor, and the remains of a fire place, believed to be 18th century by the church guide, can be seen, including a metal back-plate . Moody describes the east end, as it was c.1846 as follows: "There are no altar rails, but the east end of the chancel is formed into a pew, with a fire place in it". The splays themselves are original, of a chalky stone which is different from the rough-grained stone used elsewhere. Two more lancets are situated in the east end gable above the former chancel arch . Presumably these were from the former chancel east wall and if so would have represented a modification to the original Norman fenestration. They are splayed in a similar way to the south-east lancet (e.g. the head is not splayed and has a low rere-arch), and look partly original and partly restored. The north lancet has a restored north jamb, and the south lancet has a partially restored north jamb (lower part) and a restored head.
Decorated: By the time the church had reached the end of the 13th century it had probably reached its largest extent. From the 14th century onwards the church started to contract in size.
In the mid 14th century the west wall appears to have been rebuilt, approximately 6 feet east of the Saxon west wall, but reusing the original long and short quoins . The wall surface has an undulating flint and plaster surface which is quite different from the other walls. The west window is cusped and of two lights with a quatrefoil in the head and a hood mould which is early 14th century in style . The rere-arch is slightly chamfered and the sill is rounded towards the back. It mostly looks original.
17th Century: The east window, which was reset within the chancel arch when it was filled in, is of three rectangular lights with a rebate and continuous hollow chamfer (apart from the sill which is simply chamfered) which extends to the mullions . Inside it is splayed at the bottom and again hollow chamfered elsewhere, and has a timber lintel. It looks 17th century and suggests that this was a time when significant work on the church took place, including the modification of the Norman windows, the demolition of the Norman chancel, and the reconstruction of the roof.
The roof appears to have earlier timbers, but much seems to date from the 17th century. It has chamfered tie beams, struts which meet the roof below the purlins, and wind braces. At the west end, a tie beam holds the timber structure of the bell turret, which is now open to the nave. The bell turret may also date from this period, although the fact that the bell is dated 1590 suggests that it may be a little earlier. It has a series of vertical beams and one horizontal beam, and the timbers look old. Two modern vertical beams with arched braces now relieve the tie beam and the nave walls. Outside, the bell turret in renewed, with horizontal timbers and louvre openings on the south and north sides. The north side also has two modern glass openings.
19th-20th Centuries: The small restoration apparently took place in 1870 (7) but the church does not appear over restored. The only significant addition seems to have been the square headed window to the west of the south doorway. It is larger than the Norman windows, and may have been a modification of an earlier window. It is splayed internally, with a rough circular head.
Considerable repairs took place to the church, including the roof and bell turret immediately after the church came into the care of what was then The Redundant Churches Fund in 1975. This included the archaeological investigation already mentioned.
They are all 19th-20th century and simple, including the pews (8), altar table, organ and stone font. The font is very plain, with a circular bowl on a fat circular stem .
There are no wall monuments and only one monumental inscription can be seen. This is the ornately lettered grey ledger stone to Robert and Mary Crapp (†1706 and †1709) . There is also a defaced black stone next to it.
The church has no stained glass windows.
1. E.g. The Victoria County History. Back to top of page
2. This can be seen at Steventon, also built with Binstead stone, which has required little renewal. Back to "Chronology of the building: Saxon"
3. The VCH says that "the alternate stones are bonded to the wall", but this is not obvious to the visitor. Back to "Chronology of the building: Saxon"
4. A similar doorway can be seen at Mapledurwell in the west wall. Back to "Chronology of the Building: Norman/Transitional"
5. Pevsner also considers them altered, but the VCH believes them to be "of late 12-century date". Back to "Chronology of the building: Norman/Transitional"
6. They look like they may have been hacked off at some stage. Back to "Chronology of the building: Norman/Transitional"
7. According to the church guide. Back to "Chronology of the building: 19th-29th Centuries"
8. According to the church guide they come from the church at Shipton Bellinger. Back to "Furnishings"
Most of these sources date from before the archaeological investigations of the 1970s, when much was discovered about the church's architectural history:
- Dalton, C & Sawyer, R. All Saints' Church, Little Somborne Hampshire. The Churches Conservation Trust, 1999. Excellent church guide, and now the primary general source.
- Green, A R & Green, P M. Saxon Architecture and Sculpture in Hampshire. Warren & Son, The Wykeham Press, 1951
- Moody, H. Antiquarian and Topographical Sketches of Hampshire, 1846
- Page, W (ed). The Victoria History of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight: Vol.4. Constable, 1911
- Pevsner, N & Lloyd, D. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Penguin, 1967
- Taylor, W.M & J. Anglo-Saxon Architecture: Vol.1. Cambridge University Press, 1965
- www.astoft.co.uk/arch/index.htm Includes some good pictures of the church, and narratives from Pevsner.
- www.visitchurches.org.uk. The Churches Conservation Trust.
Questions for further research
1. Are the square window openings and straight lintel of the north doorway genuinely Norman or a post-reformation modification? Has archaeological investigation proved it one way or the other? Are there comparable example of straight headed Norman openings?
2. When was the hermit's cell demolished?
© Copyright 2004, Barry Meehan