Programme of Events | Membership | Publications | Editorial Board | Officers | Library |  Medieval Graffiti Survey  
Hampshire Field Club logo
Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society
Registered Charity number 243773     Homepage | Archaeology | Historic Buildings  |  Hampshire Papers  | Landscape | Local History   
" "

St Mary, Ashley

Postcode: SO20 6RJ Grid Ref: SU384309

Exterior of St Mary's, Ashley Photo 1: Exterior of St Mary's, Ashley

This modest church stands within the outer bailey of a Norman ringwork. The building is essentially Norman, with a narrow nave and chancel which was extended in the 13th century. The walls are mainly flint rubble, with chalk block dressings and quoins, rendered with lime mortar. A brick south porch is dated 1701, and there is a Victorian bell-gable. The Purbeck marble font is probably contemporary with the founding of the church, and there is a sturdy wooden alms box dating from the 17th century. A restored 13th century wall painting of a young woman is in the jamb of the chancel south window, and there are traces of earlier paint, mostly red, throughout the building.

The church was under the patronage of the Priory at Mottisfont from 1201 until the Reformation, when it passed to the Sandys family. In 1980, due a dwindling population and large repair programme it was transferred to the Redundant Churches Fund, now the Churches Conservation Trust, who maintain it with support from an active Friends group.

The South Porch

Over the entrance to the brick porch is a date stone of 1701 with the initials R + L, with CW beneath. (Photos 2 & 2a) The church guide (Vigar, 2005) suggests that these are a pair of churchwardens’ initials from that time: RC + LW (Figs 1& 2). Inscriptions with pairs of churchwardens’ initials (or their full names), recording works carried out during their tenure are common from the early 18th century. Examples include the 1703 plaque on the rebuilt brick tower at St Andrew’s Tichborne, and the wooden table dated 1704 in the new St Peter’s church in Stockbridge. In these cases, however, unlike at Ashley, the designation “churchwardens” is included so their status is confirmed.

South Porch Initials from South Porch Photos 2 & 2a: The South Porch with a close up of the initials.

Inside, on the plastered walls, are various scratched marks and shapes including crossed diagonal lines, and on both east and west walls is some red-painted writing from the 18th century, seemingly made by the same person, George Poll. Poll is a variation of the name Paul or Pool. The dates 1707/8 and 1712 are associated with repetitions of this name. A process called DStretch was applied to some images. This technique enhances the pigment colours to show up detail. Photo 3 demonstrates the use of this technique on sections of the west wall where the name George Poll, followed by the date June 1712, can be seen very clearly.

DStretch enhanced image of writing in the South Porch Photo 3: DStretch enhance image of George Poll's signature.

The Interior

The largest concentrations of graffiti within churches are usually found around the entrances, and Ashley church is no exception. There are many crosses, the main Christian symbol, incised on each side of the doorway and on the jambs. On the east jamb of the doorway one block of stone has 2 crosses whose terminals are joined to form a triangular shape at the top; next to these are some compass-drawn intersecting circles. (Photo 4) These circular motifs are common finds in churches, and also in post-Reformation domestic contexts where they are thought to be apotropaic in function, made to protect the building and its occupants from evil. They are usually found around building openings such as doorways, windows and chimneys. Similar circular symbols also appear on the chancel arch, see later for discussion.

Crosses and circles on east jamb of south doorway Photo 4: Crosses and compass drawn circles.

The Chancel Arch

The chancel arch is Norman in date, with later openings on each side, made to improve parishioners’ views into the chancel (Photo 5). Graffiti was found on both sides of the arch, on the jambs and the surfaces facing into the nave and chancel.

Chancel arch looking eastwards Photo 5: The chancel arch looking eastwards.

On the north side of the arch, on the chamfered edge, are 3 triangular shapes which probably represent heraldic shields (Photo 6). Each has different patterning inside and they might represent the arms of local families. However, without any colour, it is hard to identify them. Below these shapes is a five-pointed star or pentagram. This is another Christian symbol which evolved into a protective symbol, and later in the post-Reformation period became associated with witchcraft and magic. In Christian iconography it symbolised the five wounds of Christ, and in the legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it appears on the shield of Sir Gawain, representing his purity and serving as a defence against demons (Champion, 2015).

Shields and a pentagram on the north side of the chancel arch Photo 6: Shields and a pentagram from the north side of the chancel arch.

Appendix: the graffito inscription

The most notable piece of graffiti at St Mary’s is a graffito Latin inscription in 16th century script, scratched at eye level into a layer of whitewash on the north jamb of the Norman chancel arch (Photo 7). Medieval Latin graffito inscriptions are notoriously hard to decipher, due to worn surfaces, the use of dog Latin, many abbreviations and a cavalier approach to spelling. They are also rare finds in Hampshire. There is one example: several lines of Latin text incised over the 14th century wall painting on the north chancel wall at St Hubert’s church, Idsworth.

Graffito Latin inscription Photo 7: Graffito Latin inscription.

At that stage we realised that ordinary photography could not reveal any more of the inscription, so, following a Church Planning meeting led by CCT’s Local Community Officer and generous contributions made by the Friends of St Mary’s Church and the Hampshire Field Club Historic Buildings Section, the HMGP commissioned a specialist firm, Archaeovision, to photograph the inscription using a technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (English Heritage publication on Multi-light imaging). This survey took place in August 2022.

The resultant sharply-defined images allowed us to view the inscription as a whole and to confirm that it was restricted to one particular block of stone. We sent images to Tom Olding, a medieval Latin specialist and palaeographer, who confirmed the date we had seen and made out the abbreviated words for huius ecclesiae - of this church. This, and the use of Latin, added weight to the idea that it had been inscribed by a person who was literate and that it related specifically to this church building. This may have been related to the requirement, under Edward VI, to remove all vestiges of the Roman Catholic Church from English churces. Images, such as that in Photo 8 below, may have been covered at this time.

Restored 13th century wall painting  Photo 8: Restored 13th C wall painting on the south chancel window.

Survey Archive

153 photographs were taken during the survey. The RTI survey resulted in over 250 images. All images and record sheets are held by the Hampshire Field Club Medieval Graffiti Project archive and are available on request. A copy of this report has been lodged with the Hampshire Historic Environment Record, the Churches Conservation Trust, the Friends of St Mary’s church and posted on the HFC website.


We would like to thank the Churches Conservation Trust for their support with this project, especially Tina Osgood, CCT Local Community Officer, for bringing us together with the Friends of St Mary’s church, who, with the HFC Historic Buildings Section, provided generous financial support to allow us to commission the RTI survey.


This document has been prepared for the titled project or named part hereof and should not be relied upon or used for any other project or assessment without the permission of the Hampshire Medieval Graffiti Project.

The full report is available as a PDF download.

Surveyors: Karen Parker, Aldous Rees, Kirsty Rodwell, Karen Wardley.

Any questions about the web site?
Then email Webmaster