Today I visited the church of St Michael and All Angels in the village of Cheriton in Hampshire. It was originally dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, but the name seems to have been corrupted at some point.
Not only was the church unlocked, something that can no longer be taken for granted, but the door was wedged open to make it especially welcoming. All credit to those who administer this church.
The south porch, dated early 13C, is probably the oldest part of the church – though it has been reset. On either side of the porch are two curve-sided triangles embodying trefoils and tracery, which have puzzled experts for years. There is also a Norman mass dial etched into the wall of the porch.
The chancel, which is the same width as the nave, was lengthened in about 1500. It has a 13C piscina (reset) and a priest’s door in the south wall.
In May 1744 the church was almost completely destroyed by fire, after four years of terrible drought, said to be the worst in English history. The Rector had the chancel repaired and the Bishop of Winchester gave the timber needed for other repairs, but the remainder of the work cost over £360. It was raised and the church restored within two years.
In 1879 the church ‘suffered’ (as the church booklet puts it, and who would disagree?) a Victorian restoration, with the removal of many older fittings. An earlier font was replaced with one of Caen stone, and then in 1892 a pulpit of Caen stone was installed. The earlier wooden pulpit was moved to nearby Tichborne church, which it still graces.
Inside the church there are noticeably few memorials or monuments. Some were destroyed in the fire, others removed in the Victorian restoration, some of them to be reset in the tower floor. As a result, the chancel and the sanctuary feel rather bare.
For me, this church lacked appeal. I presume it is the victim of a typically Victorian restoration. I did not find it atmospheric. It does not feel as old as, fundamentally, it is. Perhaps that is the result of having been rebuilt after the fire of 1744 and then restored yet again only 150 years later. St Michael’s is not a church where you feel the words of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going:
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence, brewed God knows how long.
Cheriton is famous as the site of one of the decisive battles in the English Civil War. In 1644, the Parliamentarian army led by Sir William Waller inflicted a severe defeat on the Royalists led by the Earl of Forth and Lord Hopton. It was a turning point in the war.
My visit to this church could be considered overdue. I have been visiting Cheriton’s village pub, the Flower Pots, for over ten years!With grateful acknowledgment to the church booklet for much of the above information.