Here’s The Other Stuff…

My sister blog of travels and curiosities around the UK!

It seemed a good idea to share my same interest in travel and an area’s history on a separate blog. I love history, landscapes and architecture and of course these curiosities are everywhere.

I had recorded places before as ‘excursions’ when I was ever out of Hampshire. In lockdown because of my son’s treatment, we found ourselves located for a time in Manchester (and I had kept a blog of my experience there). I just felt I had enough material to move it to a new site, and keep the north Hampshire stories their own opus.

Please visit ‘The other stuff around us’ and take a browse HERE

Hopefully people who might have felt forced to stay at home have reconnected with just how great our landscape is, and (for the most part) our heritage… Now we can all travel more freely, there is much to share.

Already this year I have been to some new places for me – Suffolk and Shropshire – and its only May!

“Manc Noir”

The gathering of information of a place I visit might differ slightly, as I may not know the local resources, but every place has a story to tell…

Please visit ‘The other stuff around us’ and take a browse HERE

Track and Trace – The light Railway, Part 1

Photo © Edward. C. Griffith

The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway didn’t have the easiest of existences, or longest life of a railway – it even got pulled up once to help the war effort.

I grew up near a disused railway line in Dorset, which with hindsight might have proved a profitable one with increased usage… Had it been known the area north of Bournemouth would likely see rapid population growth. A victim of the countless Beeching cuts, The ghost of that railway left a nagging feeling of what might have been…

Well this railway didn’t make it to Beaching’s axe – It didn’t even make it to the second world war, but it’s ‘ghost’ is still pretty traceable 80 years on through the landscape, with a few surprises left. My intention is to retrace the line in full, but I’m starting close to home.

The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway had just 5 stations on its route. © Nigel Smith

The history bit…

The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway was opened on 1st June, 1901, and was sadly to have a short existence…
The lobby for a railway to connect this region with Portsmouth had reached Parliament in the late 1890’s. But the proposals became watered down due to costs, so the majority of the line was single track, and a limited service were factors that meant it never really got established – including the line being taken up and used in France for the ‘war effort’ in 1917.
There was some public affection for it to be reinstalled , which was operational again by 1924, but passenger services were ended in 1932. Goods services ran on it till 1936 with some sidings at each terminus used until the mid 60’s.

Read more on the history
Anyone interested in our local history knows a bit about this railway. Much has been dedicated in print, photos and web pages already. I can’t link to all, but here are some worth a look for facts and images…

I was grateful to a short booklet by Edward C Griffith “The Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway 1901 – 1936“, published in 1947, for encouraging me to finally share my own thoughts on a well documented railway.

Click on links below…

First Stop Buggleskelly

Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway

Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway – (

A humerous postcard from around 1915 mocking the service

The Walk – Part 1

Section 1 – Basingstoke to Cliddesden

Toggle the image below to trace the route and photo points…

The railway fed into Basingstoke Station. Today, from the train you are heading south, You can still see some rusting track feed off into the undergrowth.

The closest part we can get to the track to walk is just south of the main line, by the waterworks and allotments, north of Churchill Way, where it still lays slowly overgrowing. I’d say get to it why you can

  • 1) A few people that have seen the next couple of images were generally amazed there was something tangible linked to the past.
The last bit of track I could see… © Nigel Smith
© Nigel Smith
Line of the track © Nigel Smith
  • 2) Across the dual carriageway by the ‘Wickes’ car park, its route is less defined, but I’m pretty sure it ran through here.
© Nigel Smith

Spoilers – The Ringway West pretty much follows the course of the track from The Thorneycroft Roundabout to Winchester Road Roundabout.
That said, there is a lot of heritage along the route.

© Nigel Smith
  • 3) One memory people still might remember was the swimming pool at West Ham, which was situated alongside the track, and were a public baths in use till the mid 1960’s.
West Ham Swimming Baths © Basingstoke Gazette
West Ham Swimming Baths. Photo © R L Brown –
  • 4) People will associate the name Thorneycroft, with shipbuilding, but an original strand of their business built commercial and military vehicles Sitting on the current side of Morrisons, and had its own sidings to the railway, which made perfect sense. You can see many fine examples of their vehicles – steam and Motor in the Milestones Museum just oppostite.
Some restored lifting machinery from site of Thorneycroft’s factory © Nigel Smith
  • 5) The railway served Thorneycrofts factories and worksheds. The factory was here for almost 80 years, and after the railway closed to passenger use, the sidings were still in operational use to join up to the the national rail network. But even this Thorneycroft operation would not survive for ever, and they left Basingstoke in 1969.

Read more about the history of Thornycroft here

  • 6) Just to the left of the current petrol station, the old track tree line runs to the Worting Road alongside some business premises. The old photo beneath was ‘almost’ at the same position and you can see the old Worting Road bridge.
© Nigel Smith
By the Thorneycroft factory Photo © David Pearson

A quick look on the map to see when the rail went went south from Thorneycrofts and under Worting Road… On the digital map the join the track doesn’t seem to align! – But this might have been as the track had been lifted by this stage. There was cemetery on the right.

In the photo below, the railway line can be seen – although it had already been closed several years when this image was taken…

1939 Worting Road Cemetery © Britain from Above
  • 7) The cemetery is still there on the left side. The bridge has been replaced, but from its 1960’s successor, you can see the railway course. As with a lot of redeveloped Basingstoke, embankments and trees can be misleading, and need research, but we know this part Ringway West was built pretty much on the course of the old railway.
© Nigel Smith
Read more about another Railway line unique to Basingstoke HERE…

Section 2 – Winchester Road Bridge

Historically ‘Winchester Road’ is a main route of Basingstoke, south and west.

The map here shows by the 1940’s Basingstoke was expanding out but there were still numerous nurseries and smallholdings on the edge of town.

Toggle the image below to trace the route and photo points…

  • 8) After a bit more scrambling around to see any vantage points, I found a footbridge over the Ringway West to look back North. It seems the consensus from other contributors, that the track was alongside the trees and scrub to the right. There were some wide cuttings made along it, which when you consider the lines usage seem generous.
© Nigel Smith
Before the Ringway was completed – an O.S. map from early 1970’s

Sometimes, ‘Google Maps‘ really is the ‘safest’ way to view a section! Some hedge cutting carried out last April has helped clarify definition, and it tallys with the edge of the line down from the cemetery. House gardens back onto it. When we get to the modern roundabout, it will help in define the course.

© Google Maps

… and contemplating the modern day roundabout…

© Google Maps
  • 9) Below is Winchester Road Bridge around 1952 – Photo taken after the railway was closed to passenger use.

    Where the bridge stood is now inside a large roundabout layout. It’s tempting to see the other embankments and think they were part of the line… Though largely true to the course, this has more to do with the road junction that was built here later. This part of the Ring road (Ringway W) was the last part completed in the early 1980’s. I would think much earth was moved around in its construction.
Winchester Road Bridge © Britain from Above
Winchester Road Bridge © Britain from Above

To access, use the subways to get to the crossing site. You can make out the same houses from the old photos in Winchester Rd in the background…
Looking at the aerial photos and map again, I had some doubts this was the exact spot – It looked like the railway run much closer to the houses. But my view is that from the map, it looks like a couple of properties were demolished when the roundabout was constructed.

spot of bridge crossing © Nigel Smith
Approaching the bridge… © Nigel Smith
© Nigel Smith

Section 3 – Through Cranbourne

Toggle the image below to trace the route and photo points…

This was a generally easier section of to track to trace – even if from Winchester Roundabout it’s a bit confused.

The Cranbourne area was historically used by commercial nurseries from the 1900’s. Sadly it was to be another industry that suffered post war to increased competition from foreign markets. The housing developments and roadbuilding of post war Basingstoke filled the gaps.

Walking around the industrial estates and Wella Road up to where the track crosses. Wella Hair products had their UK headquarters in Basingstoke till 2011 – but they have left us a road!

As I indicated, the first part off Winchester Road roundabout is much remodelled, so no real details to see. To the left are trees which could be on the trackline, but its pretty unclear in the scrub.

  • 10) But looking to the right, and I know there are clear signs of the course. The fence is modern, but has maintained the border.
Another den of iniquity beyond… © Nigel Smith
  • 11) Going through a park, on the right you can make out a boundary line quite clearly here…
© Nigel Smith

I don’t suppose this view this way has altered much since the railway… As you leave the park, There is a bit of scrub, and a path which leads away from the course. I might always been an embankment to deter trespassers.

Crossing the trackbed © Nigel Smith
  • 12) Looking back, with what I assume belonged to Wella on left, the line would have carried through the premises of the current building.
© Nigel Smith

From the same spot looking south, it’s hard to say which side of tree line has survived. Peoples gardens back onto the line. I wonder if they ever find rail memrobilia?

© Nigel Smith
  • 13) A bit further down, from the number marked. A housing estate prevents good access, but entering a little industrial estate can visibly pick up the course again.
© Nigel Smith

Section 4 – Viables to M3

Toggle the image below to trace the route and photo points…

Lots of glimpses and an iconic throwback…

  • 14) One of the best reminders in Basingstoke of the Light Railway can be visited here. It can be accessed by numerous subways off The Harrow Way on the Viables roundabout.
The tree line of the track meets Viables Roundabout

The Harrow Way is one of the oldest routes in England- maybe as far back as the Stone Age travellers have used this route.
This was the bridge that went over (the disused line), when the first Basingstoke By-Pass was built in the 1930’s. This road was also the old A30. The roundabout came later (see below)

(Read more about the Harrow Way here..)

Harrow Way Bridge. Probably taken around 1947 Photo © E.C. Griffith
  • 15) Sitting inside Viables roundabout is a piece of original track in situ. The line had been taken up, but this original piece was placed in 1976, I assume when the roundabout was remodelled.

    It’s often a gripe of mine that Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council don’t do enough is promote the history of it’s places. Even if they build on them… But here The County Council have, so credit where its due… It really helps people learn about their environment and give a sense of place.
© Nigel Smith

I used to think it followed the tree line boundary of what was Viables Farm, (now arts centre) – and almost ‘romantically’ picturing the scene 100 years ago. Actually its a few yards over the other side of Jays close but there is good access to see the trackbed. Generally, it’s one of the easiest parts to trace. The unlikely construction of an industrial estate has preserved the boundaries, even if you can’t access all of it it.

Whilst your here….
Incidentally. there us a great Model railway you can get a ride on at Viables- Great for the kids and steam enthusiastssee more here

Oh Mr Porter Mural

In one of the subways there is a sprightly ‘pop art’ reference to the film ‘Oh Mr Porterwhich was filmed at Cliddessden… and starred Will Hey.

Can see for the trees…

Across from Viables, you can easily see the trackbed
  • 16) On the industrial estate, it cuts through at several points..
Its one of the best preserved sections © Nigel Smith
© Nigel Smith

One side of Jays Close….

© Nigel Smith

…and following Jays Close around, the other.

© Nigel Smith
  • 17) Alongside the Police headquarters, the last piece of the route is visible before it is cut through by the M3 motorway.
© Nigel Smith
© Google Maps
  • 18) The M3 motorway now slices through and the access to Cliddesden was also changed.

From the motorway looking south, a mobile mast occupies the track line…

The point of crossing © Google Maps

Station approaching…

I was in two minds as whether to continue the journey to the next station, Cliddesden, but I’ll save it for Part 2.

The M3 motorway cutting across my path is a division that came long after the railway, but now seems a good place to stop.

I have been able to follow much of its course. Sadly Its bridges and crossings would find it hard to survive modern roads, but The route lends itself to many boundaries of modern Basingstoke.
Leaving the town the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway will take on a different feel, but 70- 80 years later, it’s ghost is still here with us…

Ceasar’s Camp

There are 2 ‘Ceasar’s Camp’s quite close to each other, but this one can claim to be in Hampshire – just..

One can look at maps of the Berkshire/Hampshire /Surrey heaths and make the assumption it’s a bit of an odd landscape and uninspiring . I know I have. On modern maps, you see the commuter towns that have grown up , and it’s intersected by main rail lines motorways, a place of army camps and canals, In a process of re-evaluating the area, I’m finding out particularly with the latter 2 the landscape is a very old one.

Across the 3 counties The heaths has come under the the umbrella of the Thames Basin Heaths Partnership for special protected areas. This might help promote it to people (like me) who could overlook its importance of this landscape.

My Grandfather always said in ‘bygone days’ the heaths stretched out from London to Dorset. There was a link- When we lived in Feltham, I grew up hearing of ‘Hounslow Heath‘ mixed up with stories of Dick Turpin and highwaymen. When we moved to Dorset we had plenty of heath – Purbeck, Holt, and the large swathes in the New Forest close by. Thomas Hardy referred to them in his novels, but he also gave reference to the landscape in his ‘North Wessex Region’. Quatershott was his place name for Aldershot, which is near to where I’m starting this walk….

Ceasar’s Camp
Type: Earthwork, Hillfort, Settlement
Directions: On heathland between Farnham, Fleet and Farnborough and Aldershot
Co-ordinates: 51.243°N 0.804°W
Parking: Rowhill Nature reserve

Back to todays destination… Nestling on the Hampshire/Surrey border, Ceasars Camp name is a bit misleading, as it could date back to Bronze Age… Finds do indicate Iron Age settlement though… Its a gravelly terrain with sands, so it’s been prone to erode the evidence.

Starting point of our walk, Rowhill Nature Reserve at Heath End

The woods around the base give way to open heath. It’s a gradual ascent. I am reminded a bit of Ringwood Forest and Verwood area. The gravelly path takes me past a pond on the heath.

Ceasars Camp

The last bit is steeper – The air was cold but clear and allowed distant views and glimpses towards the London skylines. The old map says its about 600ft at the top. But its a large plateau. It’s easy to see how an settlement could have existed here. The hillfort has been scheduled as an Ancient Monument since 1981.

Far stretching views… (Farnborough airport in distance)

The views and landscape are more dramatic than I thought it would be. We were was helped by the most wonderful November day you could ask for!

Surrey heath, (er, but from Hampshire side…)
Whisky in a flask, but not a hip one!

How we got to ‘St. Johns’

© Nigel Smith

You won’t find this area marked on the map as district as such, but a look at the road signs you seen see the thread to a name, a wood and there was also a church, but more of that later.

Local history research can sometimes get a bit bogged down with ‘who owned which manor, and who inherited that one..’ You need the history to state the facts, but after a while it just becomes a fog of names, which can get a little bit well boring… I am interested to know who lived where, but finding how a place evolved through maps can keep history a lot more interesting as well as posing more questions…

The Oakley and Deane Parish website history, says in 1392 A.D. that oak trees from a ‘Singet’s Wood’ were harvested and taken by cart to aid the construction on the roof of Winchester Cathedral’s Nave. A staggering 91 carts loads in all! Thats a lot of trees… The area of woodland used was described as being to the east of Oakley, across Manydown towards Wootton St Lawrence. A look on a map now will see pockets of trees in several coppices. Several of these copses you can still walk in and they do retain an old woodland feel which I have written of previously.

The early maps I saw show a ‘Burnt Wood’ -maybe as there was regularly clearing going on in the area? It was obviously a name in circulation for a while.

Early marked map of Oakley,
Milne 1791

A Copse

From the 1800’s a Singins Wood is indicated on maps. Why it was called Sinjuns/Singins/ Sinjins wood is most likely a connection to lands belonging to the Baron St Johns of Basingstoke, a family dating from the Norman conquest. It was quite common in English for this phonetic spelling to mean ‘St. Johns’ – so I’m quite happy to assume ‘Singets’ was just an earlier incarnation of that .

Greenwood 1826

The village of Oakley is still clustered around its farms and the first railway line appears – part of the London to Weymouth line.

Ordanance Survey – originally an 1810 map – No St John’s Road yet,
but shows the railway added!

St. Johns Lane

St Johns Road today, with the copse on right

So we can say sometime between the 1820′ – 1880’s a new road in Oakley appears, (which was to become ‘St. Johns Lane/Road), marked in Pink below. It also happened to coincide at the time the railways started to came to Oakley, So maybe after – as its 2 bridges have to go over the railway line. ( The older Oakley Lane, it was the railway that went over…)

Ordnance Survey c 1880

It appears as ‘St Johns lane’ with the running past the copse that is also named ‘St Johns

During the inter war years, Oakley began to grow slowly. On the beneath map is the first recording of St Johns Church which was built around 1914. The road is still called St Johns Lane…

A church…

© Hampshire Cultural Trust

I never saw St. Johns church like this in its prime… In its relatively short 100 year existence, it had lost it’s lustre by the time I knew it, as the materials weathered! I remember a drab grey outer and the roof was patched up.
This building was always supposed to be a ‘temporary solution’ for congregational use, but parent St Leonards church, faced with rising costs of upkeep decided to demolish it in 2011. That met with a rather unsavoury reaction from some villagers. Being ‘consecrated ground’ and a place of family burial, I can understand some of the sentiment. Thankfully the dust has settled and villagers now have a remembrance garden which becomes the focal point for the annual act of Remembrance in November.

The church in 2009 © Google Street View
St Johns today © Nigel Smith
The War Memorial on the site of the church © Nigel Smith

St. Johns Rd carries on to the Pardown junction in Hill Lane. The building of St. Johns Piece, originally a local housing estate, added to the sense of a district being created as development increased in the 60’s.

The road acts as the eastern boundary to Oakley village, All lorries and buses have to use it to avoid a low railway bridge in Oakley Lane so it can be well used, but I hope the fields and farmland on its doorstep will be allowed to remain so…

Original route of Lane by the old St Johns Church

A blot on the landscape

The Satellite camera doesn’t lie.. @google

The above image summed up the whole issue with the Gateway /Amazon Warehouse project.

With the attention on Lockdown, the clandestine approach before the project had been granted approval, was in my view an arrogant statement of intent to push through a scheme that didn’t take any consideration of the communities and environment it would effect.

The image shows the coverage area but not the height of warehouses that would have been seen for miles around.

When I first became aware of the plans when the planning applications signs started appearing last Autumn, I was surprised that so much ‘prelim’ could be carried out in advance. Surveyors and Engineers would say you have to know what conditions you’re dealing with, but it just looked like local concern was being ignored for the inevitably of this project getting the green light – and the machinery was ready to go…

Goodbye Gateway?

The latest turn of events ( or is that U- Turn ), last week Basingstoke & Deane councillors voted 9-2 in favour to refuse the plans. Credit where it’s due for these councillors listening to the concerns of residents, but That doesn’t mean the leaders of the council agree with the decision… They are a little bit narked, so I wouldn’t rule out an appeal. There is a game that goes on and it’s not over yet-

I’m sure last summer eagle eyed residents of Dummer were alarmed to see diggers and surveyors, pop up occasionally, but that would only have been the start of their misery…
As Julian Jones, chairman of Dummer Parish Council put in his case
what was a stake:

“A vast centre for super-efficient distribution of imported consumer desirables that will be transported… by thousands of lorries 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is a perfect example of economic exploitation at its worst.”

The campaign led by several local organisations including CAGE and the South West Action Group started raising awareness – basically doing the councils responsibility…Initially an announcement the size of a small postcard was put out hinting at the councils ‘vision’ for the M3 Gateway but it was very woolly to say the least.

A petition garnered over 100,000 signatures opposing the scheme, and highlighting the the loss of 72 Oak trees also helped catch the public’s attention.

The proposed warehouse site main entrance

Something as large as 38 football pitches. The buildings alone would dominate surrounding the landscape, but the 24/7 effect of transport would have changed the 2 villages of Dummer and North Waltham forever.

Newlands Developments seem a mysterious enterprise – very little in the way of a social profile exists, but look on their ‘linked in’ project across the UK and its a bit alarming scary to see some of the projects they are involved in and how close we are to getting so badly considered eyesore.

Well done to all the campaigners but one mustn’t get too carried away yet – I’m sure this land is marked for something else, but its a refreshing to hear the council and lobbying developers can be challenged.

Spooky goings on…

A reminder of the unusual scenes you’d expect to find on houses decorated for Halloween…

Back in June, I saw these eerie hedgerows by the main road to the neighbouring village of Wootton St Lawrence, Hampshire

Turns out these this spooky webs aren’t made by spiders, but the Ermine Caterpillar. I don’t know if the host plant has a good outcome from all of this whilst the caterpillars’ turn into moths, but they do it for their protection against predators.

I’ll just put the images here, but if you want to read the full article its here…

All photos © Nigel Smith

Far from spooky, what a marvellous wonderful detailed world God has made for us to discover!

Psalm 148

Take the chance

A walk from Oakley to Deane

© Nigel Smith

The weather today was glorious… We’ve not had a bad end to late summer, and todays blue skies lured me away from my desk for a couple of hours.

The Walk

Oakley – Deane – Oakley – Under 2 hours
Terrain: Even – Slight rise out of Deane & muddy around Deane Down Farm! (Caution – Path on road by Oakley Hall)

I walked out from Oakley beside St Leonards Church and took the lower footpath south of Oakley Hall. In its history, Jane Austen with her family who lived nearby and would have visited the Hall as guests. It was also a boarding school for Naval offices children ( My first Basingstoke map I purchase shows this!) and latterly became became a Hotel.

There is a trickly bit of having to share the B3400 road before I can take the safest route to Deane.
Its is said the moniker ‘Deane’ was chosen to represent rural village life in the merging of Basingstoke District Council & Basingstoke Rural Districts in the mid 1970’s. The village is small but pretty. The footpath I join is part of the Wayfarers Walk and cuts across farmland and slowly rises. The photo below may look a bit stark and devoid of features, but it’s a good open space with a scattering of flints and some other objects I found of interest…

From Deane © Nigel Smith
© Nigel Smith
© Nigel Smith

Soon I reach an edge of Hedgerow and the field is alive with daisies and Borage.

© Nigel Smith
The Borage Herb © Nigel Smith

I crossed the Railway and the path brings me back down on the Harrow Way We had heavy rain this week, but it got really muddy by the gate where the livestock that congregate there. I suggest good shoes.

This is still in one of my favourite spots – I can’t explain it – Maybe it’s the donkeys I’ve seen there before, but in this glorious weather, its a sleepy idyl..

Deane Down © Nigel Smith

I walk along the road and the railway runs on the right hand side. At the meeting of Summerdown lane, I turned right under the bridge and come to The Beach Arms. On the Andover Road. On the maps, it is marked as Clerken Green.

I cross the road to a footpath that will take me back to Church Oakley. We are on the edge of the village and even on this sunny day I can’t help but think of the building plans the council have to expand the village and how the vistas will change. In my view, and going on their recent behaviour with Manydown and Dummer, They should leave this part well alone, but I think they listen to developers ideas more than the residents…

© Nigel Smith
St Leonards Church, Oakley © Nigel Smith

Where Angels fear to tread

Photo of Laverstoke Park © Herry Lawford

The remains of an old church by the River Test, hidden from sight.

Laverstoke and Freefolk are two pretty neighbouring villages on the fledgling River Test, in the north of Hampshire. Driving through, you could be forgiven in thinking they are the same village, linked by the Bombay Sapphire Distillery. Not far from the ancient ‘Harrow Way’ and on the main coaching road to the West Country, these premises were formally Portal’s paper mill supplying notes for the Bank of England. That’s quite a lot of history in itself to attribute to these small settlements.

These days Laverstoke Park is owned by ex Formula 1 champion Jody Scheckter, now an organic farmer and businessman. But hidden from view in the grounds are the remains of old St. Mary’s The Virgin Church,
Almost 150 years ago, it was made redundant as the parish church to become the Portal family mortuary. Sadly it was to be on borrowed time from that point.

Laverstoke Park
“The undulating park is thickly planted with specimen trees, both native and exotic, much of the surviving planting being from the C20. In the clump of yew trees to the east of the House are the remains of St Mary’s church. After the benefices of Freefolk Syfrewaste and Laverstoke were united the church was remodelled to become a mortuary chapel of the Portal family.
This work was completed by Melville Portal in 1876.”

Historic England,

Why the church was there

The old church is adjacent and now very much seen in the context of Laverstoke Park. Older sources referred to it as ‘Freefolk House’ which before that was a manor, and both were on land in possession of Hyde Abbey, Winchester.

Originally the old road went by the church through the grounds of Laverstoke Park. This is my speculation, but the church’s location may have also been due from where it’s parisher’s were drawn. Prior to the printing mill, and factory houses, the area south of the church (and now the B3400), has signs of medieval farming with ‘strip lynchets’ marked on maps today. It is here that there may have been an original settlement, and close proximity to the church.

The area to the south of B3400 still has traces of Medieval farming.

The dating of the old church is unknown. We know from the ‘Diocesan Registry‘ held in Winchester, the list of rectors of the Parish of Laverstoke, commences with William de Cryche in 1289, but it looks there was some ‘irregularity’ to his credentials, as well as his age. But this same rector was still around there in 1348!
How Churches were administered is quite different to now. Between Overton and Whitchurch there was a string of churches and chapels that came under the of guidance of clergy and ‘locum tenens‘, which meant there were temporary and not always present. Historically a ‘Rector’ who would oversee, could be appointed and yet remain quite unconnected to their parish, and a landowner might typically have their say on parish matters.

In an article by the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society from 1907, it noted The abbots and priors of Hyde Abbey, Winchester were appointed patrons up until 1539, the time of The Dissolution.

The bell in the turret dated from1624. There are records of furnishings which are detailed here. After the Dissolution, The manor was acquired by ‘The Crown‘, and then on to several landowners. In 1759, the manor was sold to Joseph Portal.

” Previous to 1850 there was neither parsonage house nor school house in the parish. The rectors were generally incumbents of some other parish in the neighbourhood, and lived, for the most part, at some distance from Laverstoke. The only service in the church was matins on Sunday at 1.30 p.m.”

Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society

So this little church in the north of Hampshire made it’s way through history, with little fanfare… There was one notable exception:

Jane Austen’s brother James was married here…

As the norm, Parish records were kept and baptisms, marriages and funerals were conducted through the years. One wedding of note was that of Jane Austen’s older brother, James when married has first wife Anne at the Old St. Mary’s, in 1792. The marital service was overseen by their father Rev George Austen. It is curious that this venue was chosen, but the Austen family would have known the Portals, and most likely Jane would have attended.

Up till this point the church and house quietly co-exisited. The old House was pulled down and rebuilt in a form we see today, by Melville Portal (MP) in 1852. But he didn’t stop there. Like Melville’s Grandfather Joseph, who had diverted the old road south of the river and around their estate, landowners loved to fashion their parks to their preference.

As I have written about with the case of the nearby Baring family, they would seem to prefer to fund a whole new church, in a more suitable location – if there was the choice of gaining more privacy for their estate in the process. As well as being a politician, Portal was later to become Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire in 1852 and later High Sheriff of Hampshire in 1863. He would have had a huge amount of influence. Portal, has been described as a ‘strong minded individual’ and would also later become a lay member of the Winchester Cathedral Committee…

The last map shows the church, as a church… dating from 1872

Why was a new church built?

In August 1872, The Bishop of Winchester, petitioned to the Privy Council, at a special court at Osborne House. At the request of Portal, the case was made for the uniting of Freefolk and Laverstoke into one Benefice, and thus provision of a new church and school. The Old St. Mary’s would become the family mortuary. By 1876, the refurbishment had been completed. The new St Mary’s wasn’t completed until 1896, so It fell to the chapel at Freefolk to hold regular services in between this period. I wonder if the nature of the identified small congregation helped stifle any resistance there may have been?

(Read the full report here...)

The Portal’s Laverstoke Park, by G.F. Prosser

What happened to Old St Mary’s?

O.S. map from early 20th Century

Old St. Marys became the Portal family mortuary. It was still consecrated
and sat in the grounds of Laverstoke park visible from the house, maybe more obscured as trees were added.

I finally found some reference to images of Old St Mary’s on Overton Pictures It was a joy to discover these, and a bit sad too. Until I saw these images, I could only imagine how the little church looked. It was never grand example, which may have eased the decision to make it redundant.

Old St. Mary’s, Mortuary chapel of the Portals, © Paul Homes
Old St. Mary’s, Laverstoke © Viv Brown
Inside the redecorated mortuary chapel © Viv Brown

Hold this last image of the interior in mind for later…

The old church was still marked on maps

Borrowed time…

The Portal family graves and memorials were dutifully added, but it’s what happened next which caused the most concern. The church had survived Melville, but was in a state of dilapidation and by 1952 was raised to the ground.

It was still a consecrated building and a final service was held on 13th July, 1952- The old church was to be demolished – 80 years after the remnants of Freefolk Manor had too been destroyed.

It was in 1953, The Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act came into law which was intended to protect historic buildings.

“An Act to provide for the preservation and acquisition of buildings of outstanding historic or architectural interest and their contents and related property, and to amend the law relating to ancient monuments and other objects of archaeological interest”

31st July 1953
UK Parliament

I’m sure the old St. Mary’s church was not a unique one to grapple with for landowners and the costs involved, if it was to be preserved. It might just be a co-incidence the year before this law came into effect that a decision was taken to level it, but you do wonder.

What’s left?

Basically a mound. With the help of ‘Google’ was and ‘Bing’ maps, this is the closest we can get to see what’s left of Old St Mary’s…

©Google Earth- The remains in relation to the house – (middle right of image)
The old track that run up to the church from the B3400.
The adjacent house of the road is still called ‘Church Lodge’

Any Takers?

There have been a couple of occasions where by accident, I have discovered the old church furnishings elsewhere which had been saved. I’ve not been looking for them but it all adds to building up a picture.
There is a church at Hinton Ampner, who had family connections – see the images below.

One of my favourite chance discoveries was some finding some ‘church debris’ in a local chapel. It was at home I realised when looking at of the photo of the interior what it was, so I made a special trip back to view.

I’m not claiming this small church was anything special, but to me, there looks a familiar theme of how a landowner’s could remove a church ‘in the wrong place’ legitimately from their land, providing they fully contributed to a new church for the parish. It looked a win, win.

Some people say a church is the people not a building. and theologically I go along with that – but I’ve often wanted to raise awareness of this church and its fate – I would have loved to have seen it when it was still standing. It’s the final destruction more than the ‘utility change’ it went through that I find frustrating , especially when you know the importance of 1953 act. So grateful to see the images of what it was like and discover that parts of the fabric still exist.

Read more about The Bank of England and the printing industry in North Hampshire here

Sunshine on St. Swithin’s Day

St. Swithuns Church, Nately Scures © Nigel Smith

On St. Swithins day 2019, this was a visit I made to St. Swithuns Church in Nately Scures, a fine example of an early Norman church in north Hampshire, plus an unusual legend….

You may not know much about the life of Saint Swithin c.800 – 862 AD, but most people have heard the legend that if it rains on July 15th, it will rain for next 40 days.

St Swithin was an Anglo Saxon Bishop at Winchester Cathedral, and there are number of Churches, particularly in Hampshire named after him. One of the finest, is between Old Basing and Hook, tucked away off the A30.

I’d been there once before, on an aptly rainy day back in 2003.
Today on St. Swithins Day the weather couldn’t have been better.  After work, I drove up the M3 in ernest to look around the beautiful church. I had a feeling it would be open, today of all days.

© National Library of Scotland
Side of St. Swithuns, Nately Scures © Nigel Smith

Serveral sources reckon it to be the smallest Church in the county of Hampshire. It also is one of the best surviving examples of a ‘Norman single-cell apsidal church ‘ (not my words), but it’s easily to appreciate its a very early example. A lot of the the church fabric of flint dates from the late 12th century.

The stone used for carvings is ‘Binstead stone’ which was quarried on the Isle of Wight.

© Nigel Smith

Mermaids Upstream?

By the door there is a curous carving of a mermaid relating to ‘The Legend of Nately Scures’. We are almost 40 miles from the coast, but that didnt stop a mermaid tracking down a sailor who had jilted her for a new love in Nately Scures.  He was taken off to ‘Water End’ less than a mile away, and dragged to via the River Loddon, into the Thames and then the sea to meet his watery end!
The original mermaid is now inside the church, and a new carving replaced the original in 1968, but sadly the mermaid’s face has been damaged.

© Nigel Smith

As the church was open, I was able to look inside. Tombs and inscriptions aren’t really my thing, but I can see there is much of interest for those that like to ponder. It was a lovely clean and bright interior – quite different from the previous church I visited at St Aldhelms Head in Purbeck…

Hampshire History have some detail of a poignant inscription from the English Civil war  on their site here .
More detail on what can be seen around the walls and tombs can be read of St Swithuns on


I was pleased I made the effort to visit here after work. A very unique piece of historic architecture we should treasure. There are some other nearby sites I’ll get round to blogging on soon, making this an unexpectedly rich area.

I guess there’s 3 more hours for it still to rain…

Thanks to ‘The National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies’ for their fact sheet, and The United Parish of

Spooky Wonders…

© Photo by Nigel Smith

Ok, so it’s not Halloween yet, but spooky webs have been appearing in hedgerows near Wootton St. Lawrence. ..

Often on a Saturday morning I’m heading out to football, and you’ll see many Basingstoke cyclists venturing out across Manydown. Today was no different. Driving by turning to Wootton St Lawrence on the B3400,
I saw the one of the strangest sights. It was like the land had invaded by a plague of spiders…

The Gazette had mentioned the story in the week so, I set off a bit earlier to take a look myself and get some photos. It didn’t disappoint…

© Photo by Nigel Smith

Turns out these this spooky webs aren’t made by spiders, but the Ermine Caterpillar. I don’t know if the host plant has a good outcome from all of this whilst the caterpillars’ turn into moths, but they do it for their protection against predators.

© Photo by Nigel Smith

This site is actually where the Manydown development will happening -Be lovely to dream that these little fella’s could stick a lasting preservation order on the site!

Manydown Plans…

As well as housing, the land in the above image will have a new road built across it. I think the roundabouts are to remind us we’re becoming part of Basingstoke.

Scroll the image below to reveal the coming development…

In the plans the village of Wootton St. Lawrence has been spared with the buffer of a ‘country park’ but how successful that is will depend on the respect of the new home owners.

© Photo by Nigel Smith

I have commented on Manydown for a few years… – its good to highlight the history of the landscape and where it gets its name.

Read more of my blogs about Manydown here

Many (makes me) Down

See it before it goes…

Jane Austen, one of our own…

Places, history and curiosities in the north of Hampshire, UK