A Church is a congregation of people worshipping God through Jesus Christ. There has been such a church in Whitchurch as early as 800 A.D. and probably earlier. Archaeological evidence of Roman inhabitants of the first to the fourth centuries A.D. has been found on the outskirts of our town. These inhabitants have left evidence of the faith that inspired them and that is still in our church to this day, as you will find in your tour round this building. For some 1,200 years or more, townsfolk have gathered here Sunday to Sunday and week by week , to share their Christian joy and love.
We invite you to imagine you are making a short walking tour around our church with the help of this guide. Generally, it will take you around in a clockwise direction, starting at the door, but some of the descriptions of features will diverged from the sequence, in order to keep a story running.
On the left as you enter the church is the Baptistery. In the mid 1990s, the south west corner of our church was transformed into a carpeted area where families can congregate in comfort near to our Tudor front, in a companionable atmosphere for the sacrament of Baptism. Whether the Baptism service is held as part of one of the weekly services of worship, or as a special service in its own right, this special time for a family can be enjoyed as a small group.
The font is Tudor, as can be seen from the Tudor rose, which you will find on one of the panels on the side. If you lift the lid and look inside, you will see that it is lead-lined, and that the lead is pierced by two by two holes. These holes once housed two bolts which kept the cover firmly in position, to prevent people from taking baptismal water for superstitious purposes.
Go on now to the centre of the main aisle, and look away from the altar, towards the west and south. You will see:
Norman Pillars and Arches
The pillars and arches to your left (south) were probably built in the 13th century and are typically massive, measuring two and a half feet across. The proportions are splendid and simple, bold arches describing equilateral triangles.
Looking west up to the steps towards the tower, you will see the arch above them, which is also Norman, and is contemporary with the pillars. The tower is also Norman but more about that in a minute.
Now look to your right (north), and notice the difference in the pillars on this side. These pillars are perpendicular, which ill suit the Norman bases on which they stand, nor do the arches meet the capitals comfortably. Now look up into the roof. The wooden beams which span the nave are of the 15th century and, like the bells, which will be described later, indicate a new-found prosperity, as England recovered from the ravages of the Black Death. Now go up the steps into:
The lower part of this tower was also built in the 13th century by the Norman lords of Whitchurch, who came from Fecamp, on the Normandy coast.
Originally it was not so high and showed the Norman Nave and chancel, with the perpendicular-style columns on the left South aisle, with Brooke effigies and wall brass and, on the right, the World War I memorial plaque.
With a fondness for strength in building -- the Victorians added the upper part and the spire. Behind the door leading to the bell chamber is an unusual wooden spiral staircase built round a central newel of single length of oak. These stairs are at least 500 years old.
In the tower are two memorial plaques, one on the south side to the Rev John Blair, vicar of Whitchurch for 37 years until 1783, and one on the other side of the tower, to Fanny Blair, daughter of the said John Blair, who died of consumption at the age of 17. On this stone you will be able to read her epitaph, which she wrote herself just before she died.
Also in the tower, but behind the locked door, are the remains of a clock movement dating from before 1660. It never had a face, but simply boomed out the hours, and the marks of the striker can still be seen on bell 8.
If you look at the ceiling of the ringing chamber, you will see a large ring with ten ropes coming through from the floor above. These are the ringing ropes of our peal of ten bells, which are all in the bell chamber two floors above you.
In order of age they are: No 6, 1448; No 4, about 1450; No 7, 1611; No 5, 1612; No 3, 1748; No 8, 1724; No 1 and 2, 1919, and Nos 9 and 10, 1999.
The Commandments Board
Move back into the church, and down the nave aisle to the crossing and turn left, and then go left again to the back of the north aisle. Here you will see the Commandments Board, which was found behind a panel in the White Hart Hotel in the middle of Whitchurch. It is dated 1602 and vividly depicts the fate of those in the Bible who disobeyed the Ten Commandments.
These are written in the centre, but as it is older than the King James Bible, the translations and spellings are sometimes quaint.
On the north wall of the north aisle are a number of interesting things. First:
The Portal Memorials
At the west end of the north wall is an elaborate memorial to John Portal of Freefolk Priors. He was the third generation of Portals to be commemorated in this church. The first was Henri (later Henry) Portal, whose memorial stone is on the south wall of the chancel above the choir stalls. Henri was a Huguenot (French Protestant), who fled his country for sanctuary in England after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
He set up the paper mills at Laverstoke that still bear his name, although the main factory has now moved to larger premises in Overton. These mills produce bank note paper for the Bank of England, and now also for many other countries around the world.
At the east end of the north wall is the third memorial to a Portal, this time Joseph Portal, son of Henry, who died on 14 December 1792. This memorial is worth reading, for the paean of his achievements. Joseph was the father of John Portal, whose memorial we started with.
The Mary Maze
This mosaic, conceived by a local designer, executed by a local mosaicist and installed by a local builder, was put into the church and blessed by the vicar in 1993. It shows the Mother Mary with the Christ child on her lap. Joseph looks on from behind. There is a long history of mazes in churches. This one shows that the journey through life to salvation may not be the direct and obvious one. This maze has two paths, the direct and the indirect, and it is set low in the wall so that children can come and trace the paths and find their own way to Jesus.
Close to this maze and a bit higher up is the memorial to those of Whitchurch who fell in the South African War of 1899-1902. It is not common to find Boer War memorials in churches.
To the right of the maze is a table with a cross and chairs, defining an area for quiet prayer and meditation. Visitors are invited to write their prayer requests on the cards provided, and these will be included in the daily prayers at evensong.
Looking to the east, you will see, stretching from a pillar to the north wall a wooden screen, which was originally across the entrance to the chancel and was erected in honour of Queen Victoria in 1901. It was later moved to its present position, losing a small amount at one end, so that it would fit the new aperture.
Through this screen, you can see some of the pipes of the organ, and more pipes can be seen in the chancel. This is a three-manual instrument with 41 speaking stops and was built by Rushworth and Dreaper and given to the church in 1935. Now move now up the north aisle and towards the chancel, stopping at:
The Saxon Stone
This stone was discovered embedded in the north wall when the Victorians were rebuilding the church in 1866-68. It is unique but reminiscent of the style of the stones found on Hadrian's Wall. It shows a carved figure in relief. The halo with the cross behind the head indicates that it is of Jesus, who holds the gospels in his left hand while his right is raised in blessing. In spite of the damage of centuries, the fingers are easily discernible.
Like other very early representations of Christ, the chin, albeit damaged, seems to be clean-shaven. Across the top, and possibly at some later date, an inscription has been carved, commemorating a Saxon lady whose name means "Pledge of Peace".
It reads: "HIC CORPUS FRITHBURGAE REQUIESCIT IN PACEM SEPULTUM", which is translated as: "Here the body of Frithburga lies buried in peace". Whoever she was, she represents the Saxon community of centuries ago.
On now to the chancel itself. If you go up towards the altar, on your right you will see high up a lovely little stained glass window to the memory of 10-year-old Rustat Hemsted. In the chancel are two framed lists of all the vicars of Whitchurch from 1283 until the present day (listed below).
Move around the pulpit into the east end of the south aisle to see:
The Brooke Memorials
On the east wall you will see the brass memorial to members of the Brooke family and, nearby, effigies of two other Brookes. These can be seen in the photograph (above) of the south aisle. For more information about the memorials and a short history of the family, please click: The Brookes of Whitchurch
Also in the south aisle are the two memorials to the fallen of the First and Second World Wars. The First World War memorial is just behind the Brooke tomb, while that for the Second World War is at the western end of the south aisle. Beneath each of these two memorials there are glass cases containing photographs of those mentioned in the memorials; both presented by the Whitchurch branch of the Royal British Legion. The pages of the photo albums are turned at regular intervals.
Thus, we come back to the entrance door. But before you leave our church, you should know that we feel a wonderful sense of heritage.
Outside All Hallows
Just as All Hallows grew and changed over the centuries to reflect the tastes and needs of a changing church, so it has continued to do so in recent times. Attached to the west end of the bell tower is a fine church room, generously donated and built in 1974. This provides facilities for meetings, social and other activities in which the church is involved today.
As you go outside the church, look at the recently cleaned tombstone at the northeast corner "ln memory of John Haime, soldier, preacher and fellow labourer with John Wesley. Died August 18th 1784". This stone was placed where it now stands by the local preachers of the district in the 1930s. The original stone is now on the wall of the Methodist Chapel in Winchester Street, Whitchurch.
No new plots have been allocated in the churchyard since the early 1900s, although burials continued to be made up until the 1920s. The gravestones leaning against the north wall were moved there during the course of construction of the church room in 1974.
For Further Information
If you want further details about the history of the parish church or if you want to research your forbears, all of the old records of All Hallows are kept at the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester in order to preserve them under ideal conditions. For more details and information about opening hours, you can write to the office at: Sussex Street, Winchester, SO23 8TH, or telephone (01962) 846154 or go to their website.
--Credit: Steve Hoffman (text taken from parish magazine website)