A Holy Hinterland

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Drivers on the A33, have you ever wondered what this is?

The M3 and A33 run close to each other for several miles to Winchester. In between these 2 roads are pockets of history hidden away, which could easily get forgotten about.

One such curiousity I pass on the A33, near Popham, and I have happened to find out a bit more what it is…

On first appearance it looks like a wall to a property, shielding the noise of the traffic, or maybe it is to do with the motorway.  Whilst I had been researching another idea for the blog at a nearby spot, using the phone maps, helped me pin it’s location…

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The curious rectangle… © Google maps

There’s quite a lot that can be said about the A33 road layout here – (going back to when the M3 ended and merged into the A33, before 1985), but for now, I’m drawn towards the grass rectangle marked between the 2 roads. Its marked on current O.S. maps.

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I can’t see any relation to the road or other properties. So my instict was to look at older maps of the same spot. (The National Library of Scotland has a brilliant resouce for peeling back the layers of time…)

So, going back in time we can see a symbol marked for a church on the spot.

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O.S map from circa 1885

By the time we get to a post war O.S. map, its marked as a cemetery, but no church is marked by this stage – intresting…

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But then below, on this 1950’s One-Inch map suggests there is a building, but no name…

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I saw enough to make me want to go on foot and explore the site in a bit more detail. The layby by here, sadly seems a spot for fly-tipping. The track is surfaced, but slowly being covered by a creeping moss. I sense its a place of debauchery from time to time! The track is defined so it looks like I can go on. I have to be honest here and say that earlier in the day curiousity had got the better of me, so I had an idea of what I’m going to find, but its still exciting, if a bit creepy!

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The track slowly turning to moss

So I’m glad its still daylight…  There are iron gates beneath forboding trees. It seems something out of a Hammer Horror film…

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© Nigel Smith
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The gates… © Nigel Smith
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Popham Cemetery © Nigel Smith

So here it is.. Popham Cemetery. There are some ‘recent’ war graves from WW2 in here and scattered some other plots, but that’s only half the story. The maps tell there was a church here at some point, and I want to find out what happened to it…

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looking inside Popham Cemetery © Nigel Smith

Looking back again over the maps… on the 1888 -1913 survey, at last I have a name for the church “St. Catherines”. We have the site, but with no evidence of building now. So what become of it?

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St Catherine’s Church

I really want to see an old photo of what it looked like… I have been able to find several sources that tell me about St. Catherine’s, (or St Katherine’s Church, as older documents refer to it). I also got in touch with Church of England Record Centre in Southwark to see what information they held. It seemed they had similar accounts to what I had found, and parish records, but sadly no photographic evidence they knew of. Still, I have an invite to go up and see the originals, which I may well do!

The Church & The Popham connection

I’ve discovered The Popham family is linked to the fortunes of this church. The first mention of the Popham family can be traced back to the 13th Century to a Gilbert de Popham, (c1195 – 1251). It seems from a time after the Norman Conquest, his family came into possession of an estate tied with lands of Hyde Abbey near Winchester. The De Pophams became known as The Pophams, and their name was associated to the manor.

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The Popham coat of arms (centre) and examples in that can be found at Colyton, Devon & Wellington, Somerset

Already aspiring to law making and governace in Hampshire, Henry Popham (c. 1339 – 1417/18) was Sherif of Hampshire. Later branches of the Popham family began to hold other estates in Berkshire, Somerset and Devon. Some of these decendents were to become influential figures in British politics and courts, such as Sir John Popham (c. 1531-1607) the Lord chief Justice & Edward Popham (1610–1651).

One plausable naming of the church could be attributed to a Medieval interest there was in saints and pilgrimage. ‘The cult of St Catherine‘ gained popularity specially in Northern European countries during the 13th & 14 centuries, with a fascination of her life and Martyrdom. In fact, St. Catherine’s Hill, near Winchester was named after her, and was a popular place of pilgrimage – some 15 miles from Popham. There are other parallels from research I’ve carried out that suggest to me, The wider Popham Family held St. Catherine, (or Katherine) in high esteem. John Popham (c. 1395 – c. 1463), Treasurer to Henry VI, rebuilt St. Sepulchre Church, on Newgate Street, London around 1450, and the church had been know as ‘fraternity of St. Catherine‘. A later John Popham (1603-1637), was a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. St Catherine is it’s patron saint, and their chapel is named after her. Popham himself gave a large donation towards the installation of the screen. In fact the family crest was there, but the Chapel was remodelled again in the 1857. However, some of the glass work survives and can be seen.

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(You can read more of The Pophams history in these articles here and  here.)
George Popham (1550–1608) left Somerset to establish a Colony that would bear his name in Maine, North America. (For more Interest in the Popham colony see here.)

An Older Church…

The M3 divides them now, but the Church and the Manor were once more accessable to each other, and from the documents I’ve seen say there was an older church. The original church is referenced in The National Gazetter (1868) as ‘ajoining the Earl of Popham’s Mansion’. The British History Online site says the old church ‘stood at the back of the manor farm’, saying very little survived and talks of the new church… 

Old maps seem to back this up. (Taylors – 1751, below), whilst not the most accurate representation, implies that a church was closer to the manor and the example clearly sets it away from the main road… Milnes map 40 years later, also shows a church ajoining a house, not by the road.

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Taylors map 1751
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Milnes map 1791

Having walked around Popham, The court has its wall around it (which looks easily several hundred years old), and does it’s job stopping any viewing so I’m none the wiser in suggesting the old church’s location…

I’ve really been hoping to find some evidence of the old church – something physical to make a connection, so you can imagine my delight in finding the font from the original church now resides in St. Micheal’s North Waltham! As its stands, this is the only surving artifact known of… (some tiles were mentioned as being used in the ‘new church’ but alas no more).

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The15th Century font from St. Catherines © Richard Tanner

Its that Man again… A new church

 

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This 1894 map clearly shows some detail  © Ordanance Survey

The O.S. maps I started with, (from late 19th Century onwards), show the church sited by the Winchester Road. It had a chancel and nave and a belfry for one bell. And its here a name pops up I’ve heard of before – by the 19th Century, Popham Court was in possession the of Lord Ashburton. It seems that by 1875 the old church in some state of disrepair, so Baring  financed the building of a new church. BHO describes it : “The church of St. Catharine is a building of flint with stone dressings, erected in 1879, in a modern Gothic style, at a cost of £2,500, defrayed by Lord Ashburton”. Like before, it may have also been a convienent reason to move the site away from his residence. I now know there are several other Churches rebuilt as projects by Lord Baring in villages ajoining his lands such as nearby Woodmancott. He certainly seemed happy to finance these projects.

A vicarage & final years

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Site of the old vicarage in relation to church
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Possibly the old gates?

The ‘new’ church was to survive less than 100 years. The main problem always for a church here was a small population it relied on. With its restraints it shared a vicarage with Woodmancott. Not easy to picture, again, the Motorway has cut through older lanes though I tried to join the pieces…

Whilst in the local library, still hoping to find a photo, I did find a couple of articles from the Basingstoke Gazette, written by local Journalist and historian Arthur Attwood. He speaks of passing the church on journeys he made, and he felt it ‘looked comparatively new.’ He also thinks the reason the church closed, was due to structural damage from nearby bombs dropped in World War 2, (maybe jettisoned after a raid?), but by around 1950, the church had been pulled down.

In 65 years or so, traces of a church have all but gone… The Cemetery is maintained, but closed and nature is taking over the roads. Its amazing how easily we loose our links to history. What was once connected to Popham Court may well have been more of architectural interest, whilst its replacement not in exisitance long enough to be historical value. But I’m still on that quest for that photo… and will add it here if I find one!

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