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Holy Trinity, Wonston
Wonston is one of a group of three villages straddling the River Dever on the east side of Sutton Scotney. It it an attractive village, mainly consisting of modern housing, but with some thatched cottages of brick (especially Wonston Cottage), and also a few of timber and flint. To the west of the church is a very attractive house within substantial grounds called Old House.
The church feels slightly detached from the village, with the churchyard set away from the road. It consists of nave, chancel, north aisle, north vestry, porch and west tower, and feels substantial without being particularly large. The churchyard is quite extensive , and is memorably entered through a heavy lych-gate . It is well stocked with gravestones from at least the 18th century onwards, and has many enjoyable gravestones to the south and east, mostly in rows. There is a lovely tree-lined field to the north, near the River Dever , and the south-west corner of the churchyard is shrouded by trees, which makes the church seem dark, intimate, and in shadows.
The church is of flint but mostly rendered, apart from the tower, north aisle and north vestry.
Chronology of the building
A church is mentioned in the Domesday book, but the earliest architectural evidence appears to date from the late 12th century. Despite two serious fires in 1714 and 1908, the church remains substantially medieval.
Norman/Transitional: It must be stated straight away that there exists a question as to how much time, if any, separated the construction of the south door and the chancel arch. The south door is distinctly late Norman in character, whereas the chancel arch looks essentially early Gothic, although the capitals have much of the Romanesque in them. It has been suggested that the unusually rounded mouldings, which are a feature of both, signify that they belong to a single campaign (1).
The south doorway is of two orders, mostly original but with a renewed label . It has a round arch and simple moulded imposts. The label, which is decidedly Norman in style, has two odd stops which are like fanciful scalloped capitals . These may or may not be faithful reproductions. There are apparently several types of stone represented in the doorway, which may date from c.1190. The outer order of jambs are chamfered, but the arch and the entire inner order have rounded corners rather than a chamfer . The vertical chisel marks, where the stone was originally dressed, can still be seen on many of the doorway's stones , and there exist various graffiti, including crosses and three mass dials (two west and one east ). Internally the doorway has a chamfered segmented arch.
The chancel arch is perhaps a little later , and could be late 12th or early 13th century (2). It is certainly more Early English in style, with its pointed arch and stiff leaf on the capitals. However, it shares the rounded edges of the doorway, with a fat half-circle moulding to the arch and a rounded outer order. The moulded (and renewed) abaci are round and look Early English, with carved capitals of two orders above attached circular shafts (with a chamfer between) and renewed, shallow moulded bases. A detailed description of the capitals is given below.
Interestingly, the lesser capitals have stiff leaf, even on the south side where they flank a capital far more Romanesque in style. The principal capital on the north side also has stiff leaf, though it still retains a 12th century feel with leaves that are upright and stiff, not twisting and lithe like the lesser capitals on the south side. The bases of the south and north responds are essentially the same. They are rounded, slightly moulded at the top, and fairly flat.
Whatever the precise dates of these features, they suggest that a church was built c.1190-1210.
Although the chancel piscina was apparently replaced during the restoration work which followed the 1908 fire (3), the large round arched recess looks early medieval work, e.g. c.1200, as the dressed stones appear to exhibit their original chisel marks .
Early English: The chancel has two partly renewed lancets in the north and south walls, with more recent trefoils added within them. Were they originally trefoiled? Inside, much of the stonework of the splays looks original (e.g. the south-east lancet), although the sills look renewed.
Hugging the east angles of the chancel are two low plinths . These are rare for a parish church and appear to date from the 13th century. The quoins also look original, and built of good quality stone. The east window is perpendicular, but the remains of two splayed rere-arches, to the north and south , can be seen inside. They match the splays of the side windows both in style and height, and probably represent two lancets from a stepped three lancet group.
The chancel may have been rebuilt at the same time as the chancel arch, or a little later.
Perpendicular: The chancel east window is of three lights, with a kind of reticulated tracery design emphasised by the use of major and minor mullions in the head . The tracery is renewed, but the surround looks original with a label and two small head stops, one of which has a crown. In the south wall of the nave is a big three light window, entirely renewed, and very coarse . It may not have a medieval precedent, although a window appears in this position on the Incorporated Church Building Society plans of the church (c.1825-30), which can be seen at www.churchplansonline.org.
To the west of the porch is a single light window with a cinquefoiled arch and straight head . It is mostly renewed and the most recent stones stand out as looking clinical, unattractive, and divorced from the stones around it. There is a similar window on the south side of the tower at ground level which is shorter and entirely renewed . According to the Victoria County History the head was reused and the window only inserted "in modern times".
The tower itself is late perpendicular (4) and rather thin. The south-east stair turret is square in section, and about ⅔ the height of the tower. It is entered externally by an arched doorway of brick . The tower has battlements, diagonal buttresses and a small plinth. The heavy west doorway is original, with two hollow chamfers and a thick label . Above is a three light window with renewed tracery, and the top stage has simple two light bell openings. Inside, the tower has a holy water stoup in the south wall with a wavy moulding and the remains of a flat sunken bowl . The tower arch cannot easily be seen as it is obscured by the organ, but the imposts have a hollow chamfer, and the arch itself has several hollow chamfers.
18th Century: It is not clear how much of the church was rebuilt after the fire of 1714. White's directory of 1859 says that the tower was rebuilt in 1714, "after the old one had been destroyed by fire". However, this is modified in White's directory of 1878 so that the tower was "nearly rebuilt in 1714, after the old one had been partially destroyed by fire." According to the Victoria County History, which must have recorded the church not long before the fire of 1908, the nave roof was dated 1714. Only the west truss survived the 1908 fire, which consists of an arched collar beam with King post and two diagonal struts.
Above the porch is the date 1727 which, according to the church guide, was discovered carved in the render above the porch during works carried out in 2000.
19th-20th Centuries: The main 19th century restoration took place in 1871-2, the architect being George Edward Laing. The usual gallery removal and re-pewing of the nave took place, and stonework was renewed. However, the north aisle was apparently built sometime between 1825 and 1830, at a time when a gallery was also built to accommodate the growing congregation. White's directory of 1859 may be referring to this when it states that the church was "repewed and repaired in 1829, at the cost of £750". Certainly the Incorporated Church Building Society plans of the church suggest that this is the case, the churchplansonline web site giving 1829-30 as the date of the plans. Two of them show the church without an aisle, and also show that the original north wall had three windows. One of these also shows a porch. A third plan, actually dated 1829, shows the church with a north aisle, a three bay arcade (or at least two detached posts), and three north windows with buttresses between. This has remained the current plan. However, it is not clear what the architectural details of the aisle were, or how it evolved during the restorations of 1871-2 and 1909. Pevsner attributes the current arcade to the 1909 restoration by Sir T.G.Jackson. However, it is now believed that the arcade, together with the windows, date from the 1871 restoration (5). White's directory of 1878 provides more detail than usual for this restoration, including the name of the restorer, but there is no mention of a new arcade:
It was restored in 1872, when it was newly roofed, the tower arch and west window were thrown open, two galleries removed, four windows inserted in the north aisle, and open benches substituted for the old pews. The total cost was £1200, including the gifts of a pulpit, font, altar-rails, and books, and the filling of the east window with stained glass (executed by Clayton & Bell), in memory of the late rector, the Rev R C Dallas. G E Laing, Esq., of Gray's Inn, was the architect, and Mr Wilkes, of North Waltham, the builder.
The north aisle is built of flint with brick bands and quoins . The three windows consist of three single lights with ogee arches, and certainly do not date from c.1825. The arcade is very graceful with tall bases and thin piers exhibiting perpendicular-style mouldings which continue uninterrupted through the arch. The arch has a label and stylistically the arcade does suggest 1909 rather than 1871-2.
Like many Hampshire churches, the restorations were significant, but the church still retains much of its character. The stone flooring in the nave looks old, and the chancel east quoins, which are built of good quality stone, appear to be original. The chancel stone flooring looks new, and may date from either 1871-2 or 1909. The south porch is 19th century, and built of timber with trefoiled single-light side openings on a brick base .
The lych-gate was built in 1903 with oak timbers "from an old house at Tytherley" (6).
The fire of 1908 took place in the chancel and the east half of the nave. A contemporary picture which is reproduced in the church guide shows the chancel entirely roofless, with the nave roof considerably damaged at its east end. Apart from the west truss, the nave roof was rebuilt after the fire, and consists of tie beams, king posts, and two levels of diagonal struts. The chancel has a barrel roof resting on modern foliage corbels.
The architect for the 1909 restoration was Sir Thomas G Jackson, who had built East Stratton church in 1885-90, and Northington church in 1887-90. Both are heavily influenced by the perpendicular style, which is why the north arcade could conceivably be his. Also, the style was not generally favoured during the 1860s and 70s, or even the 1880s. In any case, the north-east vestry was built at this time, and a simple moulded arched doorway was inserted in the north aisle east wall to gain access to it. The vestry is of flint, with a gabled north doorway and an east window consisting of three trefoil-headed lights . Also from this time is the segmental headed recess in the south wall of the the chancel, which accommodated the organ console before it was moved to the west end of the nave.
The furnishings virtually all date from the 19th and 20th centuries, and particularly the restorations of 1871 and 1909. The octagonal font of 1871 (by Laing) is perpendicular in style (perhaps suggesting that he too had perpendicular sympathies), with quatrefoils on the stem and thick foliage on the bowl (7) . The wooden pulpit has roundels and columns . Above the south doorway is a coat of arms to George IV , and the porch holds a bell from St Luke's Church, Sutton Scotney, which was demolished in 1982. Finally, there is a charity board in the north aisle dated 1892, and a benefaction table on the nave west wall dated 1830.
There are many groups of tablets in the nave and north aisle, e.g. a group of four on the nave south wall (†1827-1913), plus an oval tablet (†1788), and a group of oval tablets on the nave west wall (†1814-1897). The north aisle has two groups of Dallas tablets, one of which includes two triangular tablets (†1824 & 1852) and three others (†1825-46). The other group has five tablets (†1846-60), and there are two others (†1858 & †1918).
The church's stained glass was produced by three of the main glass firms of the early 20th century. The chancel is entirely glazed, creating a typically dark area.
1. The Victoria County History suggests that the doorway is "doubtless of the same date" as the chancel arch. Back to "Chronology of the building"
2. The church guide states that the chancel arch is "thought to date from around 1170" which seems a little early. Back to "Chronology of the building"
3. This is according to the church guide. Back to "Chronology of the building"
4. The VCH suggests "the early part of the sixteenth century", and the church guide is more specific, suggesting that "the tower dates from the early Tudor period and was completed in 1520". Back to "Chronology of the building"
5. These dates are given in the church guide. The attribution of the arcade to G E Laing is apparently evidenced in photocopy accessions 401-600 at the Hampshire Record Office, although I have yet to see these papers. Back to "Chronology of the building"
6. Information from the church guide. Back to "Chronology of the building"
7. The church guide says it was carved by Farmer & Brindley. Back to "Furnishings"
- [Anon]. Holy Trinity, Wonston [church guide], c.2000. This is a useful, apparently well researched and produced church guide, albeit with perhaps one or two questionable medieval dates.
- Bond, D. & Dear, G. The stained glass windows or William Morris and his circle in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Hampshire County Council, 1998. No.13 in the "Hampshire Papers" series.
- Page, W. (ed). The Victoria History of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight: Vol.3. Constable, 1908
- Pevsner, N & Lloyd, D. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Penguin, 1967
- White, W. History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, 1859
- White, W. History, Gazetteer, and Directory of the County of Hampshire including the Isle of Wight, 1878
- www.churchplansonline.org Church plans from the Incorporated Church Building Society, held at the Lambeth Palace Library.
Questions for further research
1. Does documentary evidence exist for the building and completion of the tower?
2. Is the three light nave south window a replica of the pre-restoration window? Is there an early drawing of the church which may determine this?
3. Where can a picture of the church, taken immediately after the 1908 fire, be seen?
4. What is the precise architectural development of the north aisle? Do architectural drawings exist for the 1871 and 1909 restorations?
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© Copyright 2004, Barry Meehan