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Reflections: The story of the clifftop church moved from the waves

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FOR centuries the inhabitants of the parish of Hordle had attended their parish church situated not far from the cliff edge.

Handy for those living in Taddiford and in the few isolated dwellings running eastward towards the point where the parish boundary abutted that of Milford at Kivernells.

But this was not by any means a convenient location for most of the population which, though scattered, had their homes mainly in the Downton and Arnewood areas situated from one to two miles from the church.

Hordle is fleetingly noticed by two or three writers on the locality in the late 18th and early 19th century, for example, The Rev. David Garrow in his History of Lymington (1825) observes: “Of the village we can say little, as scarcely two houses stand together, throughout the whole place.”

Factually he informs us that the census of 1821 stated that it contained 116 houses and 517 inhabitants.

In the past, prior to the Reformation, political, social and religious life was inextricably bound together and the bulk of the population had no effective voice except through local court meetings based geographically on manors.

There was only one religion and that was Catholicism and it exercised an all-embracing control over the single faith population, from the poorest to the wealthiest.

Since the Conquest, when the whole territory was owned by the monarch, the land was subdivided in various ways, the smallest unit being the manor. Manors varied in size from areas of a few hundred acres to those occupying many square miles.

It became the responsibility of the lord to encourage the erection of a church for his subject population to worship in – a basic scheme emerged whereby the sacred part of the church became the financial responsibility of the lord (which might, in a few cases, be the church), while the part for the worshippers was to be provided by the manorial tenants and serfs.

The lord’s part became the chancel where the rituals and services were conducted and the main body of the building was the nave which provided accommodation for the worshippers. This division of responsibility was fully acknowledged when the replacement church was constructed.

The removal of the church

We have seen how relatively isolated the Hordle church was and it is evident that something needed to done to redress this situation.

This first recorded documentation appears in the churchwardens’ account book, dated 25th February 1830, wherein it is stated that the church is in a decayed state and “most inconveniently situated” and that a replacement should be built “somewhere near the Poor House in the centre of the Parish”.

It should be noted that the poor house had been constructed in 1814 about half way along Woodcock Lane.

It was recognised that considerable funds would be required to carry out the demolition and, more especially, the construction of a replacement church.

This early-1900s photo shows how massive the tower was built to support large proposed spire
This early-1900s photo shows how massive the tower was built to support large proposed spire

To start this, “it was agreed that a rate of one shilling in pound shall be raised and the option shall be given to each Parishioner to pay his rate in money or in drawing the materials from” the site of the old church to that proposed for the new one.

Further money was to be raised by borrowing on the security of repayment through the church rate at 4% per annum until “the whole sum borrowed is paid off.” In addition to the two churchwardens 12 parishioners were present to discuss this matter.

Evidently there had been considerable unrecorded discussion prior to this meeting because the architectural firm of Messrs Jacob Owen and Son of Portsmouth had already been approached to draw up plans for the replacement church and that tradesmen and builders living in the parish or neighbourhood should be approached to tender for the work.

It was decided and confirmed that a petition should be circulated in the parish to gain approval of the churchwardens’ decisions. This survives and, though not dated, is likely to date to early March 1830.

Its preamble states that the church “being most inconveniently situated” and “far removed from the greater part of the houses in the Parish, besides being in a very dilapidated state which renders expensive repairs necessary every year” should be replaced.

It lays out the ways of funding this venture and concludes by appealing for the widest support for this to go ahead for “the immense benefit of all the inhabitants...especially to poorer part of them”.

Sixty-seven signatures follow and it is not without interest to note that of these no fewer than 33, or virtually half of them, sign with crosses or marks – perhaps an indication of the need for a local school?

The reality of the situation is confirmed by the repair costs recorded in the churchwardens’ accounts.

For example, we are informed that the windows were constantly being replaced as they suffered the attentions of hooligans and on 1st June 1801 John Scott the local glazier was paid 6s for repairs and a couple of years later John Springer was paid £4 6s. 4d. for general repairs while the glazier’s bill came to a hefty £1 8s. 8d (replacing a single pane cost 6d.).

An indication of the extent of this problem is revealed when in order to give protection to the windows iron bars were fitted in 1825 at a cost of 9s. 6d.

Work went ahead and the old church was dismantled stage by stage; some of the demolition was happily recorded by Mary Ann Theresa Whitby in a series of drawings, and its ancient stones carried north to a plot on Downton Common which became the site of the present church.

The appointed builder, George King of Milford, could then proceed with the work which did incorporate some of the old stones in the footings.

The lord of the manor, John Rogers, residing at Hordle House, the manor house of the parish, was indemnified from further costs on agreeing to a one-off payment of £50, thereby meeting the lord’s historic responsibility for the chancel.

Appropriately perhaps, the new chancel, as constructed, was very much in keeping with churches being constructed in the first half of the 19th century, being a tiny addition to the east end (on this topic see Reflections January 2017).

The paragraph penned by William Ravenscroft (1848-1943), himself a fully qualified professional architect, (M-o-S Record Soc. Occasional Magazine, vol. 3, no. 6 (Feb. 1927, 12), is worth quoting: “As to the design of the Church, perhaps the less said about it the better. It was in the worst taste of the early 19th century.

"The spire, as contemplated, was never carried out and fortunately the construction of the Church was so bad that an attempt to make some addition or alteration in it revealed the fact and involved its demolition.”

The spire proposed by the architects for the present Hordle church
The spire proposed by the architects for the present Hordle church

Perhaps it is appropriate to remark that the proposed rather splendid spire for the present (1872) church was never built either though the substantial tower base to support it remains!

George King had submitted his estimate for the work which came to a total of just over £1,262 but with the allowance he had agreed for the use of materials salvaged from the old church this was reduced to £1,077.

Thomas Owen, the architect, whose work had cost £60, indicated in a letter that he was sorry the funds raised did not meet the entire costs and submitted a personal gift of £10.

It should be recorded that the silver plate belonging to Hordle which comprised a chalice dated 1630, and a silver paten or plate which had been given to the church by Henry and Jane Kitcher in 1651 was stored in All Saints, Milford, during the upheaval of the demolition although not specifically recorded.

The same was probably true of the parish registers, the churchwarden’ account books and those relating to the administration of the Poor Law and the Poorhouse and other miscellaneous parochial documents as they survived and were stored in the new church until removed in 1986 to the Hampshire Record Office where they were carefully catalogued and now fully available for research.

The three surviving church bells were also stored to await removal to the new church, two were dated 1594 and 1619 both cast by John Wallis (1581-1624) and the other dated 1637 by John Danton (1624-40); all made at their respective foundries in Salisbury.

The two dated 1594 and 1637 were recast in 1972 and dedicated on 4th February 1973 by the vicar, the Rev. Fred Barwood, making the peal of eight bells we hear today.

It is of some interest to record that the old churchyard continued in use for some interments after the demolition. Five are specifically recorded in the burial register for the years 1836-7 and there are three surviving tombstones, dated 1843, 1853 and 1855, the last commemorating a nine-year old boy, Robert Laing, is on the site of the original chancel.

The only known photograph of the replacement church (Photo: Milford Historical Record Society)
The only known photograph of the replacement church (Photo: Milford Historical Record Society)

The A&T in its issue of 26 July 1933 published a long account of the demolition of the old Hordle church, under the heading ‘The Tragedy of Hordle’s Lost Church’ written by William Ravenscroft of Milford.

It might be appropriate to conclude with his romantic description of the site a century after the demolition: “There it is, hard by the main road, and the motors and people pass it by; on one side of the hedge a busy, moving world, on the other an unusual silence, unbroken except by the song of the birds, and at times the murmuring of the sea.

"This sense of loss seems to have taken hold, even of the very gravestones, which stand some upright, some falling and others prostrate, ageing, timeworn and not at peace...”

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