St Mary's church, Avington
St Mary's church, Avington

St Mary's church in the Hampshire village of Avington stands just inside the grounds of Avington Park, a historic Georgian mansion beside the River Itchen. St Mary's is a wonderful example of a Georgian church, built of striking red-brick, and thankfully escaped the attentions of Victorian restorers because of its rural location and lack of money. Curiously, though the church is inside the grounds of Avington Park it has never been part of the estate.

History

There was a medieval church on this spot above the mansion, but Margaret Brydges, Marchioness of Carnarvon decided to rebuilt it in fashionable 18th century style. Unfortunately, she did not live to see the church completed; she died in 1768 at the age of just 34. The church was finished in 1771, and holds a marble memorial to Lady Carnarvon, with a long eulogy of her many merits. Her grieving husband makes his feelings clear; 'Best of women! Most unfortunate of Men'.

The exterior of the building is severe, and has been compared to an industrial building, but the interior is a delight. The first thing you notice are the richly carved mahogany box pews, with seats facing the centre aisle. The largest pew, with a carved interior and well-padded seats, was reserved for the manor house inhabitants.

Mahogany box pews from a Spanish galleon
Mahogany box pews from a Spanish galleon

The wood is said to have come from a Spanish ship captured in the defeat of the Armada in 1588 by the Duke of Effingham. One has to wonder what happened to the wood in the intervening 2 centuries.

Dominating the nave is a huge three-decker pulpit, also of mahogany, reached by steep stairs. On the wall is a funeral hatchment to Anna Brydges. The hatchment would have hung over the door of Avington Park House for several months after her death before being moved into the church.

The walls are painted white, and the barrel-vaulted ceiling a pale blue, making the interior seem light and spacious. The sense of spaciousness is enhanced by the fact that most of the window glass is clear, filling the interior with soft light. On the walls are hat pegs for gentlemen to hang their wigs on during services.

The layout of the church makes it clear that it was designed foer sermons, not for sacraments. The altar is not even visible from many of the box pew seats.

The east window holds the only non-original glass in the church. The window, in Palladian style, is inset with stained glass in memory of William Green, rector of Avington from 1872-1896. It was designed by James Powell of Whitefriar's Glassworks in London, and the Archdeacon of Winchester paid for the central light.

Look for the memorial to John Shelley, the brother of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Shelley family came to Avington in 1847 when Sir John Shelley bought the estate. The Shelley family vault is in the graveyard across the road from the church.

On the south side of the chancel is a memorial to George Brydges of Avington Park, who died in 1751. Other memorial include that of Anna, Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos (d. 1836). When the Duchess died she was buried in a glass coffin, under the floor on the north side of the church.

The chancel and altar
The chancel and altar

At the west end is a gallery, with two rows of seats for musicians. The gallery is supported on slender wooden pillars, and holds a beautifully crafted barrel organ installed in 1849 and still in use. Hanging from the gallery is a royal coat of arms to George III, dated 1771.

Though the church stands within the grounds of Avington Park there is a path from the roadway, screened from the mansion by an avenue of trees.

We came to Avington to visit the mansion house on one of their open days. When we saw the tower of St Mary's poking through the trees above the house we knew we had to explore it after our house tour was over. We're glad we did, for it is a wonderful historic building. As soon as you enter the door you feel transported back to Georgian times.

It is rare to find such an unaltered Georgian church. St Mary's is a delight; a wonderful country church where time seems to have stood still since the late 18th century.

About Avington
Address: New Cottages, Avington, Hampshire, England, SO21 1DD
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: In the grounds of Avington Park House, on a minor road just south of Itchen Abbas.
Website: Avington
Location map
OS: SU532322
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Avington Park - 0 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Itchen Stoke, St Mary's Church - 1.6 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Northington Grange - 3 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating

Hyde Abbey - 3.4 miles (Abbey) Heritage Rating

Brooks Experience - 3.5 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Winchester Guildhall - 3.6 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Wolvesey Castle (Bishop's Palace) - 3.6 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Winchester City Museum - 3.7 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating



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    Nearest Tourist Information Centre ('as the crow flies')

Winchester
Tourist Information Centre
The Guildhall
The Broadway
Winchester
Hampshire
England
SO23 9GH
Tel: 01962 840 500
Fax: 01962 850 348
Email: tourism@winchester.gov.uk
Web: http://www.visitwinchester.co.uk/
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