Hampshire churches 1 – Farley Chamberlayne

St John, Farley Chamberlayne

This morning I made my first foray in a new hobby – photographing country churches. I chose a tiny, remote rural church, St John’s, Farley Chamberlayne, in Hampshire. The church is at the end of a narrow lane in agricultural country, a lane that leads nowhere else except an adjoining farm and a house, perhaps once the vicarage.

The church is quite small. It can seat just 70 people, but then according to information in the church, there are only 60 parishioners.

Dating from the 12th Century, almost everything within looks old except a striking modern font commissioned to celebrate the Millennium. Funds for the font were raised by a sponsored walk from Farley Chamberlayne to Canterbury

I bought the only remaining copy of a flimsy little history, priced at £1. Visitors are urged to give as generously as possible. A notice says that it costs £7,500 per annum just to keep the church in its present condition, without leaving anything for future maintenance needs. The repository for donations is a little cardboard box with a slit cut into the lid. No security whatsoever, though it says it is emptied daily.

To my untrained eye there didn’t seem to be much that gave clues about the evolution of the church. I was puzzled by the date on a black memorial tablet on the east wall: MVCXXII. I don’t understand the placement of the V, which seems to be at odds with the subsequent XXII. It seems I need to brush up on my Roman numerals.

One feature that my untrained eye missed until the little history prompted me to take another look, was a mass dial incised into the wall beside the south door. It worked like a sundial (or would have done, before the porch was added): you put your finger into the hole above the radiating lines, and the shadow cast by your finger shows the time of the next mass. Barely credible in an age of smart phones.

I spent over an hour exploring the church and taking photographs. Outside the sun was shining on one of our best summer days yet. So when I’d finished exploring, I decided to sit on the bench in the churchyard to read the history pamphlet. You can hear no traffic other than the occasional distant tractor. No one else had appeared since my arrival.

Soon after I sat down, a little hatchback drew up and all its doors were opened. But to my surprise, only one of the occupants, a woman, got out and went into the church. A good while later, a second woman also got out and went into the church. The third occupant never left the car. None of them were the sort of people you’d expect to find visiting a country church, which did trigger some instinctive alerts. Eventually first one, and then later the other of the two women came out, and in due course they drove away.

Hating myself for my suspicious mind, I went back into the church and examined the donation box in which I had left a two-pound coin and two 50p pieces. Only the 50p pieces remained.

It was such a dispiriting conclusion to what should have been an uplifting outing. There is no explanation that stands up to scrutiny other than that it was an act of impulse. Certainly no one would drive that far just to take £2 (and then leave a further pound in the box). It’s been suggested that they may have been the offical box emptiers, but as they signed the visitors’ book (with the comment ‘Best Church Ever. Feels Real Peacefull X’), I think they can only have been unofficial collectors.

You can view an album of Farley Chamberlayne church photographs here.

8 thoughts on “Hampshire churches 1 – Farley Chamberlayne”

  1. Steve

    I wonder if the ‘V’ should have been a ‘D’. That would give MDCXXII – 1622. Pure supposition here, but would the mason have been educated enough to construct the Roman numerals for a year? Would someone have had to tell him? ‘D’ and ‘V’ sound similar. Did he confuse them?


  2. What a lovely little church. Studying your photograph of the plaque the Roman lettering appears to me as MVCXXVIIJ. Rather puzzling and I think that Steve’s reply suggesting that the phonetic D and V have been confused sounds like a good possibility. But did no-one think to check it out? After all V= either 5 or 5000 and neither would fit the equation.


  3. A lovely start to your new hobby,Stephen. Shame about the thieves but maybe they’ll get their comeuppance in another place. A despicable act but sadly not an unusual occurrence.

  4. We visited the church 23-04-15. A beautiful church, so peaceful and restful, took video and pictures, as well as sitting in meditation. Was bitterly disappointed virtually no literature, postcards or anything relating to history [hence on your site] however it didn’t stop me leaving £5 in the tatty box, let’s hope it did go towards upkeep!

  5. The church dates from 1130-1160 and is a Grade One listed building. It is a sole survivor of a lost or abandoned mediaeval village. When I last visited, there were two framed glass panels with the history of the church. This is not a postcards and booklets kind of place, sadly, but its very survival is a miracle for which we must be grateful. The mysterious dates are solved, courtesy of ‘British History Online’, being 1627 and 1628 respectively. John St John died in 1627, aged only 24, and sadly his wife Susan and their infant son John both died in the following year. Make what you will of the Roman numerals! There is a local tradition that in earlier times an important battle between Saxons and Danes was fought nearby.

    1. Hello. I’m very interested in this little Church and gratified to read of its history. I note your comment that it is “the sole survivor of a lost or abandoned mediaeval village”. Also that when you last visited, there were two framed glass panels with the history of the church.Do you happen to know the name or any other details of the abandoned medieval village? The reason I ask is that I had some ancestors living in the environs in the 1860s and before, and conclude there must have been some kind of social situation back then- whether a village or just working persons huts, or whatever. I would really like to find out more about the old area from that era and/ or whether anyone has actually or is currently engaged on studying the history of the area? Thank you

  6. I have today received several questions on this blog post that are not directly related to either the photographs or the church itself, but to the history of families that may have some association. I do not have answers to any of these questions, so I am posting them below and inviting anyone who wishes to answer any of them to communicate directly with Dawn rather than here.

    Dawn writes:

    I am researching the Missenden Family Line of Great Missenden Bucks I am a descendent.. They were a Noble Family originating from Buckinghamshire.. 14th Century onward..
    They owned the Manor House in this Village.. Kesteral I believe it was named.. can you tell me if there is any data on it..?

    Landed Gentry owned by the Missenden Family Thomas Missenden 1392.. not sure if there was Property? Although they owned a lot across the Bucks, Kelstern, Farley Chamberlayne, Lincolnshire.

    Thomas Missenden invested in land at home, and in 1354 obtained a grant as ‘King’s yeomen’ of free warren on his demesne lands at Great Missenden and Quainton, Buckinghamshire, Farley Chamberlayne, Hampshire, and Kelstern and Brackenborough, Lincolnshire. His integration into Buckinghamshire society then proceeded rapidly, helped no doubt by links he had made with Missenden abbey, and in 1363 and 1365 he represented the shire in Parliament.


    if you can help, please reply directly to dawnregina@outlook.com.


  7. This is a wonderful structure. My ancestors, Agricultural Labourers by the name of Marsh lived in the area and struck out to emigrate here to New Zealand in 1860. I also discovered the namesake of my great great grandfather, one George Daniel Marsh had died as an infant (likely buried in the churchyard at All Saints?). I think there were Marsh’s in the area for a long time and if there is anyone there doing any genealogical or family history in the area, I would welcome being able to talk with them. Likewise if there is a vicar for All Saints, although I assume the church itself is little used these days? Again, a wonderful little church and I will add this account to my online family History archives. Thank you. John Beadle, Auckland, New Zealand (my mother was a “Marsh”).

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