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St Mary, Hartley Wintney

OS Grid ref: SU768 558                Post code: RG27 8EE

St Mary's from south west Photo 1 - St Mary's Church, Hartley Wintney, from the south-west.

The church is situated on a low hill within a large churchyard at what is now the southern edge of the village. The earliest part of the building is the small chancel, built partly of puddingstone rubble, probably dating to the 11th or early 12th century. The long nave has late 13th to early 14th century details, suggesting enlargement or rebuilding by the Cistercian nuns of nearby Wintney Priory, who owned the living from c1340. Traces of medieval wall paintings from the 13th to 15th centuries on the north wall of the nave include a large figure of St Christopher, and the Seven Deadly Sins. The growth of the village led to brick transepts being added in 1834, and a new stone and flint tower was built in 1842. An inscription high up on the tower records this as “T. Cooper Built 1842” (Cooper was the architect). In 1870 the parishioners moved to the new church of St John which was closer to the village centre and St Mary’s became abandoned. It was declared redundant in 1975 and is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Generally, most early graffiti in churches is found in the porch and around the entrance, and on pillars close to the main entrance. This graffiti is thought to have been made by those first entering the church, possibly as signs of private devotion.  At St Mary’s, of course, entry is now through the west door of the Victorian tower and there are no pillars. However, the doorway into the nave from the tower is 13th century, with a double-chamfered moulded archway which does have some graffiti around it; see photos 3 and 4 below.

Initials on west doorway   V shapes on west doorway
Photo 3   Photo 4

Other names and initials appear around the church in later contexts. These include the initials TJ on the exterior sill of the north transept window, EH on the west window on the south wall of the south transept (Photo 5), several initials outside on the tower buttresses, and several names and dates, the earliest being 1871, inside the bell chamber.

Initials in south transept
Photo 5

The largest amount of graffiti, dating from the 19th century onwards, is on the pews. Although often discounted as being by “naughty boys” this graffiti can provide a valuable resource for local history and family researchers. A few examples were photographed to show examples of sketches of figures, buildings, patterns, comments and names, some dated. For example, Pew 31 in the south transept gallery contains the names of H. Martin, A. Hester and C. Rex, two pencil signatures dated 1867 (Photo 6), the invocation to “Praise the Lord all ye people”, and the tersely inscribed “HELL”.

Signature and initials on pew.
Photo 6

Other graffiti recorded was made by those doing work on the building. Pencil calculations were found on a mullion of the south transept window. Marks which were made during the construction of the building were also recorded, although not officially “graffiti”. These included a number of arrow shapes on the stone blocks forming the course running round the tower, put on by masons as identifying or assembly marks. Inside the church, there were crosses on two adjacent stones on the east side of the chancel north window. These marks may have been made by masons rather than by worshippers in the church. Carpenters’ assembly marks were seen on the timber framework within the bell chamber.

See further images and read the fuller pdf report.

Survey archive

A total of 97 photographs were taken during the survey. 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.

Survey date: 24th Septempber 2021.

Surveyors: The team consisted Mark Barden, Ron Brading, Viv Jones, Karen Parker, Karen Wardley