The History of Hursley Church

The church in Hursley is the vision of  John Keble

All Saints' church, Hursley

History:  There have been at least three churches on the site, since about 1250 or before, and the tower was built in the 14th century.  The 18th century church was re-built in its present form by John Keble, the then vicar of the parish and one of the founders of the Oxford Movement, who was anxious to provide what he considered to be a more worthy building for divine worship, with the emphasis on the altar and the sacraments, rather than the pulpit.  The architect was J P Harrison of the Oxford Architectural Society who was a follower of the architect A W N Pugin, hence the Victorian Gothic Revival style.  The cost was £6,000, excluding the windows and furnishings, and was paid for from the proceeds of Keble’s writings, The Christian Year and Lyra Innocentium.  The foundation stone was laid on 20 May 1847 and the church was re-consecrated on 24 October 1848.  The church was extensively restored in 1910 and the wooden floor in the side aisles replaced by floor tiles.  Electric light was installed in 1938 and electric heating in 1960, but replaced by gas central heating in 2005.

Exterior:  The walls of the previous church needed only to be re-faced with Burbage stone.  The perpendicular style tower was again retained, but made higher in the decorated style, and the upper windows enlarged.  The present clock is the work of John Moore & Son of Clerkenwell, London dated 1855.  A spire was added, but it later became unsafe and was removed in 1960.  The church has a nave, and north and south aisles under separate roofs, enabling the addition of roof dormers which are unnoticed from the outside.  The north aisle was extended into line with the east wall of the chancel to provide a small vestry.

Interior:  Angels with shields, carved in oak, form the corbels of the roof.  The corbels on the chancel arch are St Peter and St Paul as exponents of the inner mysteries; and those by the east window are St Athanasius and St Augustine, champions of the faith. On the inside of the north porch are corbels of Bishop Wykeham (an early Bishop of Winchester and founder of Winchester College) and Bishop Waynflete (former Bishop of Winchester and founder of Magdalen College, Oxford).  On the outside are those of Bishop Andrewes (former bishop of Ely and of Winchester who oversaw the translation of the Authorised Version of the King James Bible) and Bishop Ken (former bishop of Bath and Wells who was one of the fathers of modern hymnody).  Inside the south porch are corbels of St Augustine of Canterbury (the first archbishop of Canterbury) and Empress Helena (a saint and mother of the Emperor Constantine), and outside are Queen Victoria (the then monarch) and Bishop Sumner (the then bishop of Winchester) to mark the date of the building.

On the steps leading into the chancel are tiles spelling out verses from the Bible.  The carved wooden screen in the north aisle was made by a local carpenter and carved by a number of local amateurs in 1899.  The reredos was installed in the church in 1921 and moved to the south aisle in 1924 from the East window, revealing wall tiles designed by Pugin.  The altar rails were donated by the architect and the carved canopy to the font was donated by Dr Pusey, another leading figure in the Oxford Movement.

Windows: The windows are an excellent example of early Victorian stained glass and were completed in 1858.  They were designed to Keble’s plan, based on that at the church in his home town of Fairford, Oxfordshire, to depict the sacred history as an aid to learning.  The scheme was prepared by architect William Butterfield and the work carried out by William Wailes.  On the north wall are various figures from the Old Testament.  On the east wall of the vestry and the organ chamber, and the east window are scenes from the life of Christ.  On the south wall are various figures from the New Testament, and the west window is Christ in Judgement. (See below for detailed analysis of the windows.)

Furniture and Registers: The bookcase in the north aisle was given to John Keble and his successors by the daughters of the Rev John Marsh, a previous curate of the church who had written a history of Hursley and was buried in the floor of the vestry.  The book boards of the pews were, at Keble’s request, made to slope as suggestive of prayer desks.  The bishop’s chair was made by James Laverty of Winchester in 1939 from oak obtained from the Hursley estate; on the back of which is a crest with a mitre on top, and crossed keys and a sword on a shield-shape (for Sts Peter and Paul).  The clergy seats in the Sanctuary were carved in about 1896; across the back are the words “Just and true are thy ways King of Saints” (Revelation 15:3), and underneath are the symbols a swan (for purity and grace and the love of God), an angel, a lamb with a flag (a symbol of the resurrection), another angel, and a ship(the church); and underneath are a six pointed star made of two overlapping triangles (the star of David), a bearded figure with a book (St Matthew); a lion (St Mark), an ox (St Luke), an eagle with a book (St John the Evangelist), and a portcullis (protection).

The registers date from 1599.  All except those in current use are lodged with the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester.  Two wooden boards at the rear of the south aisle list the incumbents since about 1250.

Memorials:  There are many memorials in the church, of which the following are the most notable.

The reredos (attributed to the architect A G R MacKenzie) and the panelling under the east window are memorials to those men of the village who fell in the 1914/18 war.  The names of those who died in the 1939/45 war were added later.  The figures on the reredos are St Alban (the first-recorded British Christian martyr), St Michael (an archangel and leader of the army of God against the forces of evil), Christ the King (who sits at the right hand of God and is the giver of true peace), St George (a soldier saint and patron saint of England), and King Alfred (the Anglo-Saxon king of Wessex who is considered to rank with the saints for his great teaching and his preservation of the Christian religion for the benefit of the people).  Near the north door is a memorial to the men of Pitt village who died in the 1914/18 war which had previously been in Pitt chapel.  Under the tower is a tablet and the battle field cross of 2nd Lieut. Denis Hewitt VC, a resident of Hursley, who was killed in Belgium in 1917.

The Cromwell family memorial is at the base of the tower, signed by the 18th century architect, George Sampson, and the mason, John Huntingdon, who made it.  Several members of the Cromwell family, formerly of Hursley Park, were buried in the floor of the chancel.  Also under the tower are a memorial to Thomas Sternhold (the principal author of the first English metrical version of the Psalms) who was buried in the churchyard in 1549, and a memorial to Sir Charles Wyndham and his family, late of Cranbury.  Three memorial plaques to members of the Heathcote family, formerly of Hursley Park, are also under the tower, together with a funeral hatchment.

In the chancel floor is a brass plaque to John Keble, designed by Butterfield and made by J G & L A B Waller.

Organ: The first organ was installed in the south chancel of the church in 1857.  It was replaced in 1882 by the present instrument which has subsequently been restored and enlarged.

Bells: There are twelve bells, some dating from 1616.  The three largest were renovated in 1978.  The bells were augmented by two in 1989 and a further two in 2006, at which time the bell frames were extended.  The ringing chamber was rebuilt and the clock mechanism re-sited in 1986.

The Churchyard and Nearby: The churchyard was extended in 1901 by the opening of a cemetery off Collins Lane, which was transferred to the Parish Council in 1995.

A large area of the churchyard was cleared of gravestones and levelled in about 1960, and the gravestones were stood against the west wall of the churchyard.

The Heathcote Mausoleum dated 1771 is in the south west part of the churchyard and was the interment place for many members of the Heathcote family, formerly of Hursley Park.  It is now privately owned and in the care of The Mausoleum and Monuments Trust.  The marble graves (both designed by Butterfield) of John Keble and his wife lie near the entrance to the mausoleum.  There are several Grade I listed tomb chests for members of the White family on the west side of the churchyard.  One of the village residents, Mary Kent Hopkins, was buried at Hursley in 1613 and some believe that her widowed husband sailed with the family on the Mayflower to America in 1620.  The lychgate and adjoining cottage (which is now in private ownership) were built in 1848.

The war memorial in the village at the side of the main road commemorates all those men from the village who served in the first world war.  The circular stone seat at the south end of the village near the Keble Memorial Church of England Primary School, commemorates the assembly of the British 8th army in 1914, from where they marched to embark for France.

The vicarage dated 1825 stands to the west of the church, alongside the site of the previous vicarage which was later demolished.

John Keble: He was born at Fairford, Gloucestershire in 1792.  As a student at Oxford University he became acquainted with William Heathcote, who offered him the curacy of Hursley in 1825, which he held for a year before returning to his father’s parish of Coln St Aldwyns near Fairford as curate.  On his father’s death in 1835, he returned to Hursley as vicar and the next year married Charlotte Clarke at Bisley parish church.  There were no children.

He became well-known for his sermon at Oxford on Assize Sunday 1833 on the abandonment of religious faith, views and principles, and excessive Liberalism, which led to the formation of the Oxford Movement, which developed into the High Anglican branch of the Church of England.

John Keble and his wife both died in 1866 and are buried in the churchyard.  After his death, many buildings were erected to his memory, including Keble College, Oxford, the Keble Memorial Church of England Primary School at the south end of the village, and several other churches.

The Stained Glass

“The glass windows in a church are Holy Scriptures, which expel the wind and the rain, that is all things hurtful, but transmit the light of the True Sun, that is God, into the hearts of the faithful”

William Durandus (c 1220 – 1296) from “The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments”

John Keble (1792 – 1866), the vicar of Hursley parish from 1835, was one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement which brought about a revolution in church building and decoration, which in turn brought about a revival in the art of stained glass manufacture.

As part of that Movement, the church at Hursley was rebuilt at Keble’s instigation in 1847/48 in its present form, although the stained glass windows were made a few years later. Many 19th century designers attempted to recreate or replace medieval glass in effecting church restorations, but the previous church at Hursley had had clear glass in the windows, so there was no medieval glass for Keble to re-use. Accordingly, instead of creating a pastiche of old glass, new designs were used.

The stained glass windows at Hursley were planned by Keble, based on the scheme of the medieval windows at his childhood home of Fairford in Gloucestershire. The scheme was prepared by the architect,

William Butterfield (1814 – 1900), but as Fairford Church is much larger than Hursley, that plan could not be exactly followed. According to Keble’s sister, Elisabeth, “The Hursley windows are meant to be a course of instruction in Sacred History from Adam to the last day; the church being dedicated to All Saints”.

The designs were suggested by the artists William Dyce (1806 – 1864) and Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787 – 1855) and executed under the supervision of Butterfield by William Wailes (1808 – 1881), who was seen as a Gothic Revival artist. Having trained with Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich, Wailes established his own stained glass business in 1838 which became one of the largest in England and was in great demand for use in new and restored churches of the period.

His work retained the style of stained glass produced in Germany and Limoges, being often a little paler and more brightly coloured than many English works. It tended to have distinctive colour combinations in the clothing of the figures (for example in the West window Christ’s red robe is lined with green), and he often used pink glass, which is noticeable in many windows at Hursley. His bright colours have been used throughout the windows at Hursley and, as commented by Charles Winston (1814 – 1864), an English historian of stained glass, dark interiors require more richly coloured glass than light interiors, and indeed Keble found that his new church was so dark that he later installed clerestory windows in the roof.


It was originally intended that the cost of the windows would have been raised from contributions of friends and readers of Keble’s writings but in the end only the four three-light windows and the repentance window were given, two others were paid for by special offertories and the rest were finally given by Keble from his published writings.

The stained glass windows at Hursley are typical of their time, and are a reflection of the changes effected by the Oxford Movement. Yet they have their roots in the past, in that the Hursley windows follow the same plan as the medieval windows at Fairford: from the Garden of Eden, through the Prophets and other Old Testament characters, the life of Christ, the Apostles and Saints to the Judgement Window. These windows will be looked at in detail in subsequent issues of the Parish Magazine.

Although the Fairford windows receive almost universal acclaim and astonishment at their longevity, the windows at Hursley arouse mixed opinions. Some consider that the Hursley windows “are an excellent example of early Victorian stained glass”, whereas others regard them “as lurid as a row of jars in a candy shop”. Charlotte Yonge’s view was that” … though the colours are deeper, and what is now called more crude, than suits the taste of the present day, they must be looked upon with reverence as the outcome of [Keble’s] meditations and his great delight”.

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