It is so easy to take for granted the things we see everyday, the ancient landscapes and buildings that sit within them become part of our own present lives.
Last weekend I had the joy of visiting the British Library to see their Anglo Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. To see such a collection of original manuscripts brought together in one place was quite simply stunning. However many images you see it doesn’t prepare you for the crispness and almost timelessness that the real things present. A trip to London is always a fun expedition but I decided to go and find some Anglo Saxon treasures of my own at a local parish church, that of Corhampton Church in Hampshire.
Corhampton Anglo Saxon church.
The church at Corhampton sits close to the River Meon in Hampshire. Across the river is the Early English church of St Andrew at Meonstoke. Corhampton church was built in 1020 during the reign of King Canute as part of a royal estate of the West Saxons. It does not have a titular title, i.e it is not dedicated to a saint, which in itself is very unusual but what is most important about this ancient building are the wealth of Anglo Saxon architectural features that can be clearly seen.
Anglo Saxon features of the church.
The church is unusual in that it sits on an artificial mound, the suggestion is that this mound was the site of an earlier Roman temple, there is evidence of Roman occupation in the area. The northern part of the graveyard is partly circular, apparently an Anglo Saxon characteristic.
Large flints were used for the main construction, these were plastered over. The flints could be easily and cheaply gathered from the surrounding fields. The walls are thin, as in many Saxon buildings and the church consisted of a nave and chancel. A look at the external corners of the walls also gives away it’s Saxon origin. In order to reinforce the structure, long and short stone quoins are used. The stone is harder than the local chalk and was brought up the River Meon having been quarried on the Isle of Wight at either Binstead or Quarr.
Vertical pilaster strips surmounted by horizontal string courses further added to the strength of the walls. There is a perfect example of this on the end of the west wall. Note also the pair of Saxon windows.
Walk around to the north wall but take note of the mound you are standing on and the moat feature that defines the mound here. The north wall has later windows cut into it but the feature worth noting is the blocked north doorway. This plain and simple doorway might seem unremarkable but there are two features that are particularly interesting. Where the arch springs from the uprights the stone has been carved in unusual horizontal rolls and then look at the base of the uprights. The carving here mimics that at the end of a gold altar cross presented by King Canute to the New Minster at Winchester in about 1020AD. Is this simply a coincidence or did the designer of the two have a connection? Note also the original Anglo Saxon stone plinth on which the church was built.
Ready for some more Anglo Saxon gems?
The unique mass dial to the right of the south porch is divided into eight tides. This dial is the best preserved Saxon mass dial in Britain and is thought to pre-date the church and could date back to St Wilfrid, (if you want to know more about him, you’ll have to jump over to our sister site Hampshire History.
Come inside for more Anglo Saxon.
The chancel arch is a simple narrow arch with un-carved capital stones at the top of the uprights from which the arch springs. Pilaster strips support the arch up the side. The font could be Anglo Saxon, the rope design is indicative of it being so but it also has a close relationship to other later Norman fonts.
There are some wonderful C12th wall paintings but we’ll save those for another day. Finally let us wander back outside and stand beside the ancient yew tree, which with a girth of 7m has been dated to at least a 1000 years ago, making it the oldest bit of the Anglo Saxon on the site.
So an Anglo Saxon afternoon spent close to home to compliment the amazing Anglo Saxon Kingdom exhibition at the British Library which continues until February 2019. Days well spent! If you are interested in exploring more about the Anglo Saxon period in Britain then jump over to our Anglo Saxon period page or search Anglo Saxon for more posts on the period.