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History of St. Mary's Church, Old Basing, Hampshire by David Nash Ford

O L D      B A S I N G
Resting Place of the Marquises of Winchester & Dukes of Bolton

St. Mary's Church, Old Basing

The parish church of St. Mary in Basing is an ancient building steeped in history. Though the church we see today is largely 16th century in date, there are glimpses of earlier developments to be seen and the site itself has a long pedigree stretching way back into the mists of time.

The earliest definite surviving mention of a church in Basing comes from a 1077 record of the rights of advowson owned by the Abbey of Mont St. Michel at Basing Church and a second dependent chapel in Basingstoke. This patronage was confirmed nine years later in King William I's national survey, the Domesday Book:

Mont St. Michel holds from the King 1 church with 1 hide and the tithes of Basingstoke manor.
A priest; 2 villagers and 4 smallholders with 1 plough.
A mill at 20s; meadow, 2 acres.

In King Edward the Confessor's reign, this had been held by Queen Edith's private chaplain, Bishop Walter of Hereford. If, as seems likely, the entry refers to the greater church of Basing rather than the lesser chapel in Basingstoke, there would appear to have been a church on the present site as far back as Saxon times.

The oldest structural features of the present building are the early 12th century northern and southern crossing arches under the tower. Some believe these may date from as early as 1089 when, presumably, the Monks of Mont St. Michel had the old wooden Saxon building, rebuilt in stone. It appears to have been a church of cruciform plan with chancel and nave of the same dimensions as those of today and transepts of the same width as the present aisles. It has been suggested that the eastern end may have been apsidal in shape, necessitating the positioning of the altar in a spot much further west than at present. This is indicated by the now blocked squint of uncertain date near the tower-crossing.

The Norman monks held the church and its rectory throughout the 12th century, and their position was confirmed by Godfrey de Lucy, Bishop of Winchester in 1194. However, in 1233, the advowson of Basing was purchased by another Bishop of Winchester, Peter de Rufibus. He was collecting churches for the endowment of a new Augustinian priory which he established at Selbourne the following year. This gift was later confirmed by the Pope himself. It may have been at this time that some additional building work, perhaps cosmetic, was undertaken at Basing, for the north door is of 13th century date, though it is not in its original position. Ten years after Selbourne took on the running of the church, however, a vicar was established at Basingstoke "to serve the cure by himself and two other chaplains ministering the Church of Basingstoke; one to celebrate for the living and the other for the dead". The vicar was to find two other "fit chaplains for Basing, who were to reside in the house formerly occupied by the vicar himself". This new arrangement marked a reversal of status for these two neighbouring villages and Basingstoke's important quickly grew at Basing's expense.

The following century saw some decorative embellishments at Old Basing Church with the laying of a floor of glazed and decorated tiles, some of which can now be seen in the north chapel. In 1349, John de Port of nearby Basing Castle, Lord of the local Manor, added his free chapel of St. Michael (within the Castle) to the possessions of the canons of Selbourne. The dedication to St. Michael of both this chapel and that at Basingstoke shows the influence of Mont St. Michel and may betray the original dedication of Basing Church itself. The many church dedications to the Virgin Mary in North-East Hampshire are thought to have been desperate rededications during the plague years of the late 1340s, when at least three of Basing's incumbents died in quick succession. It was hoped that the Virgin would thus intercede on behalf of the disease-threatened parishioners. Perhaps there were similar motives behind De Port's gift.

In 1486, Selbourne Priory was dissolved and the advowson of Basing passed to Magdalen College, Oxford. This may have precipitated in further constructions at the church, for the present east window and much of the eastern wall of the chancel is certainly of 15th century date. Not long afterward, perhaps due to the distance of the new patrons, the Paulet Lords of the Manor (heirs of the De Ports) appear to have begun to take a great interest in Old Basing Church. An inscription over the eastern arcade of the north aisle declares (in Latin) that "To praise Christ and Mary, his mother, by John Paulet, Knight, this work was completed AD 1519". The south aisle and rebuilding of the nave are of similar date and, as Sir John's coat of arms appears beneath the statue of the Virgin Mary on the outer gable of the latter, it would seem that all three were erected at the same time. Sir John actually died the year the inscription was raised, leaving unfinished his endowment for a chantry chapel to the north of the chancel at Basing. It was probably completed within the next five years along with monuments to himself and his parents flanking its entrance.

Sir John's son, Sir William Paulet, was a man of great wealth and standing in England, during the turbulent reigns of four highly demanding monarchs. He rose through numerous positions in the Royal household to eventually become Lord High Treasurer of England. For his services to the Crown, he was made Lord St. John of Basing in 1539, Earl of Wiltshire ten years later and Marquis of Winchester in 1551. There were several Royal visits to Basing Castle. Perhaps the monarchy attended services at the parish church as well. By this time, the Marquis' major rebuilding works at Basing Castle (now transformed into Basing House) may have been largely complete; whereupon, he turned his attentions to the parish church. The rood screen with its minstrels' loft (the stairway of which can be seen south-east tower pier) may already have been taken down. Now the Marquis undertook more drastic endeavours. He erected a large chapel, the Bolton Chapel (named after his descendants, the Dukes of Bolton), on the south side of the chancel as a fitting resting-place for himself and his heirs. There is a fine monument to the Marquis adjoining the high-altar, with a second, presumed to be for his son, making the pair mirror those of William's father and grandfather opposite. Both are finely decorated with renaissance friezes and once highly coloured coats of arms proclaiming their proud ancestry. Portrait busts, believed to be of the Marquis and his first wife, can be seen flanking the second buttress on the outside wall.

During the Civil War of the following century, Basing village became the reluctant home to many regiments of parliamentary soldiers, as the famous three year siege of Basing House unfolded. There was much destruction, as can be imagined, and the zealous puritans did not spare the church or its monuments to the family of the soldiers' 'Popish' enemy, the 5th Marquis of Winchester. Their graffiti can still be seen. The Paulet arms and their antelopine supporters were smashed and saints torn down from their niches. The family vault was broken into and the bones of the dead strewn across the floor; the great lead coffins being melted down and used for bullets. It is unlikely that the Paulet monuments ever had brasses or effigies but, if they did, these were completely destroyed. Only the statue of the Virgin Mary survived on the outer western gable of the nave. Tradition says it was hidden by a covering of ivy. To add insult to injury, the Roundhead soldiers made the church their stables, with row upon row of horses sheltering in the aisles! Bullet holes and other damage can be seen across the church's facade. Particularly notable is the large breech (later filled with bricks - no doubt from Basing House) beneath the west window of the south aisle.

At the restoration, the building was in such a poor state that there was a National appeal for the relief and restoration of 'Desolate Basing Church,' headed by Lord Chancellor Clarendon. During the war, it was said to have been "demolished, the seats and pulpits burned and bells and other ornaments plundered and taken away, the window ledges used as breastworks with firing platforms beneath them; the walls had been breached and the lead roofs disappeared." Indeed, the bells are traditionally said to have been given to several of the surrounding parish churches. Luckily, donations of money and more substantial forms of help appear to have been forthcoming, for the Basing Church was soon patched up - at some points in a rather grand manner. For the baroque style west door was inserted from designs attributed to Inigo Jones. During the war, this famous architect had sought refuge within the defences of Basing House and later, possibly during early restoration work, he was staying at Hackwood Park with the 5th Marquis' son, now the 1st Duke of Bolton.

Over the following centuries, life seems to have been relatively quite for Basing and its church. The Dukes of Bolton continued to patronise the place and the family burial vault was brought back into use. Several additions from the 17th or 18th centuries have since been swept away by a number of Victorian restorations: amongst them, the singing gallery from the west end of the nave and the southern church porch. The church was, however, made much lighter at this time, with the unblocking of several windows. During a major restoration (or desecration) at St. Michael's, Basingstoke in 1840, Basing acquired its beautifully carved Jacobean pulpit, and probably the ancient font too. Another major fitting arrived in 1878 with the erection, in situ, of the present organ, replacing a smaller version in the nave. During the mid-19th century, activity at the church was increased, not only by restoration work, but by the conversion of the Bolton Chapel to a schoolroom for local boys. This only lasted until 1868, when a proper village school was built. At around the same time (1864) the ecclesiastical parish of Basing was finally split from Basingstoke and the church acquired its own unshared vicar.

Internal Tour of Old Basing Church
External Tour of Old Basing Church
Old Basing Church: A Description in 1843
Where is Old Basing Church?


David Ford grew up in North-East Hampshire and has always been fascinated by the history of the local area. Old Basing Church holds a special interest as many of his ancestors are buried in the adjoining churchyard.

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