The Church of St John the Baptist, 
Upper Eldon,King's Somborne,

 

Hampshire (National Grid reference SU 364278) is a small single-cell 12th century structure, built in flint with stone facings and a tiled roof, and is plastered internally and externally. It lies in a remote rural area in what has been described as a decayed parish. The church now stands within the well kept lawns of Upper Eldon Farm, but being so small it might well be thought to be a little barn. It is certainly one of the smallest churches in Hampshire.

Eldon was a rural manor given by Queen Emma to the Cathedral of St Swithun after her trial and acquittal there. It was originally administered from King's Somborne, sometimes from Mottisfont, but in more recent years from Michelmersh. Now it is in the care of the Redundant Churches Fund.



The interior of St John the Baptist, Eldon

The church is 16ft wide and 32ft long and is about 2ft shorter than the original structure, as the east wall has been rebuilt within the bounds of the old church. On the north wall there are two original windows and part of an easternmost one which was cut in half when the east wall was rebuilt in brick in 1729. There are also signs of a fourth window at the west end but this does not show externally. The original windows are single narrow lights some 15 inches wide and 3 feet tall. Externally there is a roll moulding to the facings and the arch is almost rounded; internally there are very wide splays finished with a similar roll moulding but the interior arches are slightly pointed.

On the south wall one window remains with traces of a second at the east end, similarly cut in half as its opposite on the north wall. There is a matching single window to the west. The east window is wider, built in brick, and a poor copy of the original fenestration.

The south door is an oddity. From the remains of the interior arch which may just be discerned it would seem that the door had a plain rounded arch but at the 1729 restoration this was in such a bad state that the doorway was widened and the east jamb rebuilt in brick, the opening was spanned with a wood lintel and a plain square headed door provided. In the 1975 repairs this wooden lintel which had rotted was taken away and a new stone arch substituted but the original stone jamb on one side and the brick on the other were purposely left to show the various changes.

Among the unusual features there is, firstly, a rolled moulding string course running all round the original part of the church under the window sills. This string course was repeated internally but was completely bolstered off at some time when the church was replastered. A small fragment of this internal moulding in the bolstered off state may be seen just inside the door on the east side.



Stone thought to be for a metal consecration cross

Secondly, there are nine consecration cross stones, each stone having a small sunk circle with a moulded rim about 7.5in across. Within the circle there are five small holes for fixing a metal cross, all of which have been lost, and just outside the circle there is a further hole about 1/2in in diameter whose purpose is unknown. One externally on the north side is matched internally by one in the same position. Internally there is another in its original position on the north wall, while one on the east wall to the left of the window was found during recent repairs and was placed in that position for safe keeping. Careful examination of this stone shows traces of pigmentation suggesting that it was once painted. There is a further stone to the right of the east window and this was probably placed there when the wall was rebuilt in 1729. No trace of further stones could be found on the south wall except one which was discovered on the right of the door at a much higher level. This was left in the position in which it was found. The seventh stone is just left or to the south of the west window and would seem to be in its original position. The eighth stone may be seen externally built into the south-west corner of the church on its west face.

The ninth stone may be found by closely examining on the outside the third unusual feature, a small hole about six inches square just under the west window, possibly a hagioscope. Here the consecration cross stone has been re-used to face the right hand side of the opening; the sunk circle for the cross may be seen by looking into this hole. See also the neatly cut chamfers to the stonework. The hole is not positioned exactly on the centre line of the window, but, may be, passing pilgrims could have had a peep of a shrine to St John the Baptist over the altar. Possibly even Henry the Fifth's archers in 1415 marching to assemble at nearby Michelmersh, on their way to victory at Agincourt, vied with each other for a quick glance through the peep hole.

The advowson was included in the grant of William Briwere to the Prior and Convent of Mottisfont Abbey, which lies some three miles to the west. At the dissolution the rectory was granted to the Sandys family and the church goods that were confiscated by the Commissioners of Edward VI in 1552 for the use of the Crown were -

One vestment of white dornix with the awlbs;
Two awlter cloths of lynnen;
One bell hanging in the church;
One challes of Sylver and parcell gylt;

(Signed) Edmunde Curkus. Parson.
John Blake. Churchman.

Although there are records of rectors since 1346, the use of the church since the Reformation appears to have been very spasmodic.

It would seem that by the beginning of the 18th century the church was completely dilapidated, requiring the rebuilding of the east wall. The date, 1729, may be traced by the slightly darker coloured bricks together with the letters WH.

A little over 100 years later, in 1864, the church was again dilapidated and it was described at that time in the Gentlemen's Magazine which said - 'To this day the shamefully desecrated but little known parish church of Eldon, Hampshire, has its regularly appointed rectors, though it is used as a cowshed. The late rector compounded with his chief parishioner by making him a present of a volume of sermons'.

By 1973, after the lapse of another hundred years, the church was again in a dilapidated state and was thus described: 'The windows are broken, the floor is covered with filth and has every appearance of a farm building. Its sole occupant is a beautiful white owl'.

By an Order of the Church Commissioners under Section 54 of the Pastoral Measure 1968 the church was declared redundant on 21st December 1971, and by a Redundancy Scheme under the same Measure it was vested in the Redundant Churches Fund on 31st May 1973. In 1975 the Fund carried out extensive repairs to the roof, including retiling, together with other repairs to the windows and stonework. Inside the church was replastered and the floor repaired. The work was executed by Moreton & Sons Ltd. as main contractors with Messrs. Blackwell & Moody as the stonemasons under the supervision of The Sawyer Partnership, of Winchester. In keeping with this severely simple and yet fascinating little church, the repairs are austere but the building retains its dignity as a church and is open at all times to pilgrims and for private prayer. Further repairs were carried out in 1984 by Reg Smith of Whitchurch under the supervision of Penelope Adamson.

To get the feeling and value of this little church in its rural setting, visitors should look back at the outstanding view of the hill a third of a mile to the south.



As you will have read in the text, this church is now in the care of the Fund. This body was set up by Parliament in 1969 to preserve churches of the Church of England no longer needed for regular worship but which are of historic or architectural interest. The Fund's main income is provided by Church and State, but the constantly increasing number of churches entrusted to it (220 in March 1987) means that its resources are severely stretched. Contributions from members of the public are therefore gratefully received, and if there is no money box in the church or the keyholder is not available, please send any contributions you feel able to make to the Fund at the address shown.

Published by the Redundant Churches Fund
St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe
Queen Victoria Street
LONDON EC4V 5DE

March 1987
Black and White Photographs by Christopher Dalton
Colour photographs by Christopher Hayles (webmaster)