St Swithun's Church, Hinton Parva
St Swithun's Church, Hinton Parva

St Swithun's Church in the pretty Wiltshire village of Hinton Parva dates mainly to the 13th-century but incorporates parts of a late Saxon building.

We know that there was a Saxon settlement around the church (and a pair of much-earlier Roman settlements before that). The most likely date for St Swithun's is the early 11th century.

The lower section of the tower may be Saxon and you can spot the outline of the 11th-century tower roof is the east wall of the tower. There is a lovely 15th-century clerestory rising above the nave, with three-light windows. The construction is rubble stone under a stone slate roof.

The south porch dates to the late medieval period. It protects a 12th-century doorway with billet hoodmould decoration on the arch.

The late Saxon font
The late Saxon font

Inside the church the most obvious signs of its age are the very large rounded pillars on the north side of the nave. The pillars have a very large diameter and plainly carved capitals.

Compare them to the pillars and arches on the south side of the nave, added around 1200. There the arches are still rounded but the pillars are much more slender and their capitals are beautifully carved in several different early Norman motifs.

The Saxon Font

Another obvious sign of the church's age is the beautifully carved font in tub style. The font is carved in wide bands, each with different motifs. On the top is a wide band of blind arcading, while underneath this is a band of saltire crosses.

The main section is carved with interlace patterns and scroll design incorporating an animal arching its head backwards. Beneath the interlace is another band of cable work and beneath that is a band of intersecting circles, perhaps a section that was left incomplete. The font carving is exceptional, with a wonderful vitality and artistry.

Set into the floor by the font is a 1653 grave slab to a member of the Wallrond family who fought for Parliament in the Civil War.

Carving of a beast on the Saxon font
Carving of a beast on the Saxon font

The nave is filled with Victorian box pews. At the north-east of the nave is a beautifully carved pulpit dated to 1637 while across the aisle is a reading desk of the same date. The lovely oak roof of the nave is of 15th-century date, though it had to be raised to make space for the late medieval clerestory.

The chancel arch is pointed, compared to the rounded Romanesque arches of the nave arcades. This suggests a date around 1200. Both north and south chancel arch capitals are carved with lovely stiff-leaf crockets.

The east window is probably a 19th-century restoration of a medieval window, with three lights and 19th-century stained glass. On the north chancel wall is a memorial to Elizabeth Kete, who died in 1630, while set into the floor beside the altar is a worn grave slab dated 1610.

Elizabeth Kete memorial, 1630
Elizabeth Kete memorial, 1630

On the wall high above the tower arch is a royal coat of arms dated 1789. It commemorates the recovery of King George III from the first attack of the madness that would eventually claim his life.

In the tower hang four bells, the oldest of which dates to 1500. One of the bells was cast at the Albourne foundry in 1730, and another is presumably from the reign of Charles II as it has several coins from his reign inserted into it.

St Swithun's Church is an absolute delight to visit. The village setting at the foot of the Ridgeway Downs is simply wonderful, and the village itself is worth exploring. Over the churchyard wall is Hinton Manor, a Grade II listed building dating to the 17th century.

The church is normally open daylight hours and was open when we visited on a sunny day in February.

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About Hinton Parva, St Swithun's Church
Address: Church Row, Hinton Parva, Wiltshire, England, SN4 0DW
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On Church Row, just off Bodyhorse Hill. Well signposted. Limited parking along the verge.
Website: Hinton Parva, St Swithun's Church
Location map
OS: SU232832
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express

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