Month: February 2015

Messing around in Bramley looking for graves

With my time running short in Basingstoke I was hoping to grab as many of the outstanding CWGC graves in some of the churchyards between Basingstoke and Reading. The problem is that they are not easy walks, being out in the countryside and far from the stations. I had intended to grab two separate churches on this day, with a possible third depending on time and energy.
I started my excursion from Bramley Station, which is the first station on the local line between Basingstoke and Reading.  The train that arrived was not the usual one that I had been catching lately, instead it was a different DMU, and I must admit it was also a noisy bugger.

 
 My walk would take me to the village of Sherfield-Upon-Loddon, which was about 3,5 km away and then down the A33 to the church of St Leonards which was a further 1.6 km away, ironically in the direction of Basingstoke. My initial planning had erred somewhat as I had placed the church in the village whereas it was really quite far from the village.  

Navigating through the country lanes is always risky and at one point there were roadworks that really messed me around. There is a lot of water in this area too, and I kept on coming across streams and bridges, as well as the village pond. Eventually though I came to the village and had to backtrack a portion to find the church.

 
The one good thing about my detour was the discovery of the village War Memorial, and that in itself made the detour worthwhile. I don’t mind detours if I can discover something on  them, and this memorial was a unexpected bonus.
  
Eventually I reach the A33, which was really like a mad racetrack in parts. And I walked and walked and walked until I started to question where I was going. My mapping app was not helping too much because it kept on trying to take me to the United States! But, I saw a sign ahead, and my destination was listed on it. Finally!
  
The church is called St Leonards and it has four CWGC graves in it’s churchyard. 
 
Like so many of these old churches it is difficult to really date the building, although according to their website the church was extensively restored in the 19th century. Unfortunately as I arrived so did somebody with the keys, but by the time I had found my graves they had left so I was unable to access the building. It is quite a pretty building, with a nicely proportioned spire and quite a large churchyard that has some new burials in it as well as a lot of older ones.  I also discovered that I was going to have a mud problem on this trip. I had noticed large pools of water on my walk to here, and parts of the churchyard were also wet.  
 
There was also a new addition to the church which blended in quite well, although I was not too keen on the front doors of the church, and the sign that informed that all valuables were removed from the church overnight. It is sad that things have come to this. 
 
The dominant grave site was of the Piggot Stainsby Conant Family
 
My CWGC graves were all grouped together which made my life so much easier, and there were no private memorials that I could see in the churchyard.
 

One last look around and I was on my way again. It had been a satisfactory visit, and the goal was achieved. In fact the day was still young and I was ready for number 2 on my list!

Hartley Westpall St Mary was next on my list, it had one solitary CWGC grave in its churchyard.  Distancewise I had to return to Sherfield upon Loddon via the A33, carry on for a distance and then at the  Hartley Westpall sign turn turn right and continue until I found the turning to the church. It was roughly 2,5 km from the Sherfield roundabout. I had considered that I would probably be able to make one more visit after this one depending on how I felt, it really depended a lot on what I found at the end of this stretch. 
  
It was a bit of a dicey walk though because there was quite a lot of traffic, and oddly enough it was always groups of vehicles that came hurtling up behind me. The signs on the road are a bit misleading though because that really is the boundary of the village, and not the village itself. In fact I was not too sure how big this village actually was because there was so little in front of me I even had to check the satellite image to see if there were any likely targets. 
 
Eventually I reached the church, and it was a quite a small one, constructed of flint and wood, it was almost unassuming. 
  
And my war grave was easily spotted amongst the snowdrops. 
  
The church is called St Mary The Virgin and it was being cleaned so I went inside, and the woodwork nearly knocked me over.  The exterior walls may be newish (although that could mean anything), but the heavy wooden beams that hold the roof up could be original and could date from 1330. 
  
Make no mistake about it, those roof beams are of the same standard as I saw on board HMS Victory.  It is a solid structure, rough in its finishing, but amazing to see. You do not get woodwork like this very often.
 
hartley_westpall21The church also has a really nice collection of stained glass windows as well as an outstanding wall memorial which would not seem out of place in a cathedral. Unfortunately the legibility of it is poor, but the artwork is museum quality.
 
There were also a number of wall memorials to past rectors as well as soldiers, and I was very happy to see an original article about the funeral of the soldier who’s grave I had just photographed. It was really a unique memorial and the inclusion of his “Dead Man’s Penny” was an even more poignant touch. 
 
I like finding small memorials like that because they do bring a personal touch to many of the graves that I photograph. Often there is no real history to a grave, it is a name and a number with no real story behind it.  Private Thomas Elliott was an individual, he served his country and he is buried in this really quiet part of Hampshire, and he is remembered in this small ancient church with the wonderful roof.
  
I have to admit I enjoyed this church a lot, it was a really surprising building.  Doing more reading about it, I discovered that there are registers dating from 1558, and considering that in 1558 South Africa had not even been discovered. 
 
It was time to leave this wonderful old place, with its beautiful woodwork and friendly atmosphere.  I had a decision to make soon and had about a 1.5 km to make it in. I had decided to walk back to A33 and either go left for home, or right for Stratfield Saye St Marys. It was still quite early and while I was a bit pooped I felt like it may be worth my while to try for this church which was about 4,5 km from the turning off to Hartley Westpall. The problem was that I was unlikely to make a standalone trip out here again, and I was technically “in the area” so I decided to head in that direction. 
  
At some point I encountered that map above, and I wish I had encountered it much earlier, and had been able to take it with me to where I was going. It really laid out the area much more logically than the small screen image I was using on my phone, and if ever I do return to this area I am going to print this map out. 
  
My biggest problem came when I reached The Wellington Arms. At this intersection the A33 goes off to the right, while another road heads off to the left. Inbetween the two was a path that I was hoping to take to reach my destination. 
 
Unfortunately the path was gated off and was marked “Private Park” which meant I had to make quite a detour to get to the church which was technically on the path that I could not access. It was either go on or go home, and I had come this far already so the road to the left I did take.
It was a long road. It did not have a pavement, but it was not too busy so I did not have to hop into a handy bush each time a car came. 
 
I crossed the River Loddon again, I was getting there. I reached the end of the road and was faced with more road. Where was the church? I changed to satellite view and headed towards what I thought was a cluster of buildings, but before that I saw a sign which said “to the Church”, but I could not see the church, instead I was facing a set of gates which were closed. A small sign read “No entry, access to the church only”. Aha! I was getting somewhere. 
 
Inside was all quiet, there was a largeish house on the right of the road that I was following, but still no church. I kept walking and then saw the lychgate. I had arrived!
  
The church is called Stratfieldsaye St Mary and it has one CWGC grave in its churchyard. 
 
It was not a good looking church, if anything it looked like a modern version of a temple. However, according to what I read it is quite old “1758 possibly designed by John Pitt (Calvin p 639), restoration 1965. Replacing a medieval church in a new site, the building has a Greek Cross plan, with an octagonal tower above the crossing. There is a copper dome (with a finial) and copper roofing of low pitch to the arms” (http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-139116-church-of-st-mary-the-virgin-stratfield-)
 
The church has a very large churchyard, although there were not too many graves that caught my eye. I was more interested in why was this church in this park in the first place. 
 
The churchyard was still in use too, so there must be a congregation here, it is just a pity the building was not open because there were a lot of interesting memorials inside of it.
  
But, it was realistically time to to head off home. I had a very long walk ahead of me and frankly was not looking too forward to it. I had two choices. I could hoof it to Bramley which was 4.3 km away as the crow flies, or I could cut across to Mortimer Station which was 3,5 kms distant. In both cases the crow could cheat and take a short cut, I had no such choice. I checked my phone and Bramley was as much as 2 hours walk away whereas Mortimer was 53 minutes. I decided on the latter and set off on my epic trek across the countryside. It went quite well initially,  I passed Strafield Saye House in the distance and it may be worth looking into how it ties into the church and park I had just come from.
  
But then things began to go pear shaped as the lady in the GPS directed me to turn left onto a footpath that was only 50 metres long and which ended in a muddy field. I eventually took her advise and headed across the field, aiming for a gate in the distance (Why didn’t I take pics of this?), then I waded through a path of mud until I hit a road and that road said “Mortimer Station.—>” and 29 minutes later I was at Mortimer Station. I had stood here for ages after my visit to Strafield St Mary not too long ago, although I was not as tired on that day as I was now. Surprisingly I only waited 6 minutes for a train.
 
And I was home just after 3.15.  
 
Did I mention I was bushed? It had been quite a long journey, all for 6 graves. There are still more graves in that area, but I probably will not get to photograph them, which is a pity because I put a lot of mileage into getting these graves photographed. I had seen three very different churches, and seen one remnant of workmanship that left me amazed. The countryside is very pretty, although it can be wild in parts. Weather had been favourable, and for once I had not run out of battery life on my phone. There are a few lessons here that I need to learn. Preparation, navigation, information and of course proper maps and  more information. Having completed this I could probably redo it in half the time, and walking much less. But that is the old hindsight thing. 
 
Basingstoke is pretty much wound up when it comes to CWGC graves now, although I still have 2 weeks before I leave here, so just maybe I shall try for those last few graves, although I really want to return to Reading Cemetery. 
 
Who knows, maybe next month you may see one more post about this area.
 
© DRW 2015-2018. Created 27/02/2015, images migrated 27/04/206

Heading to Reading

This fine morning I grabbed my gear and headed out to Reading. My recent trips to that city en-route to elsewhere made me curious about what I could see, and to be honest I was pleasantly surprised.  On my list of possible targets was Reading Abbey, the old cemetery, St Giles and St Marys Churches, any war memorials, and of course anything else that caught my eye (or lens).
 
The cemetery has 205 Commonwealth burials of the 1914-1918 war and 41 of the 1939-1945 war. in it, so I could have quite a lot of ground to cover. Weatherwise it was sunny when I left Basingstoke, but it got cloudy once I was in Reading, so much so that at one point I thought I was going to be caught in a rain shower.  
My first goal was St Laurence Churchyard, the church is situated next to the Town Hall, and is not too far from the station. I had a rough plan of my route so knew more or less what I was going, and of course I had my phone with in case I got lost. 
The Town Hall

The Town Hall

I have to admit St Laurence was a great exploration. It has a fantastic churchyard with a lot of very interesting graves. Unfortunately though, they were building a road in the middle of the street so some of my access was cut off from the park next door. There is a plaque commemorating the people who died in this area when a single bomber dropped 4 bombs on the city on 10 February 1943 
The park interested me because it bounded on the ruins of Reading Abbey,  and I was hoping that I could pass through the ruins and go around the prison to get to the route I needed to follow to find the cemetery. 
After a slight detour, and an attempt to buy some food at a local supermarket I found myself faced with the Cenotaph (which stands at the entrance to Forbury Park), which was great news because I had not really done much research as to where the main war memorial was in the city.
  
The park, Forbury Gardens,  is a pretty one, with a bandstand and lots of trimmed grass and pathways. It is also home to a very special memorial:
 
“This monument records the names and commemorates the valour and devotion of XI (11) officers and CCCXVIII (318) non-commissioned officers and men of the LXVI (66th) Berkshire Regiment who gave their lives for their country at Girishk Maiwand and Kandahar and during the Afghan Campaign MDCCCLXXIX (1879) – MDCCCLXXX (1880).”

“History does not afford any grander or finer instance of gallantry and devotion to Queen and country than that displayed by the LXVI Regiment at the   Battle of Maiwand on the XXVII (27th) July MDCCCLXXX (1880).” (Despatch of General Primrose.) 

Known as the Maiwand Lion, it is a very big memorial, and definitely the largest lion I have ever seen. Unfortunately the sun was behind it so pics just did not work out the way they could have. In fact the sun was to prove problematic for most of the morning as it kept on dancing between the clouds. I returned to Reading on 3 March and was able to obtain a better image of the lion as seen below.

Seeing the Abbey seemed to be problematic as the site was closed on safety grounds, and given that the building dates from around AD1121, I can see that there may be a problem, however, it is very frustrating to be so close to history like that and not being able to access it.

The one part of the Abbey complex that still survives is the Abbey Gate, and it is a very nice structure, but again it faced in an awkward direction.
It was looking to be somewhat of a frustrating morning. I decided to head for the cemetery, passing the very pretty St James Church which is between the park and the prison.

The church opened in 1840 and it now serves as a Catholic Church for the multicultural community in Reading. Surprisingly a small corner of the graveyard still exists, although it has been “rationalised” and there is no real way for knowing how big it was before. Unfortunately HMP Reading was not accessible, and the high walls meant the only pic I would get would be of high walls.

The route I was now walking took me along the very busy Kings Road which merged into an intersection with London Road  where the cemetery was located. 

The cemetery was first opened in 1834 and there are 18327 grave spaces covering 4,7 Hectares.  There were originally two chapels but both have been demolished, and at first glance the cemetery seemed like a bit of a hodge-podge mess. However, as I penetrated deeper into it the layout began to make a bit more sense.

Like many of these older cemeteries it does support a wide range of fauna and flora, and I believe there is even a species of deer that lives in it, and I actually saw one on my next visit, but was unable to get a pic. I also saw raptors flying overhead, so there must be food for them in the cemetery.  To maintain the status quo of conservation, the grass is cut 6 times a year. The gatehouse/office is a very pretty building, although it must have been somewhat of a squeeze when it came to navigating through here with a horse drawn hearse.

 

And while my pics show sunlight, that only happened after I had completed photographing most of the graves I was after! The cemetery is actually quite a nice one, with lots of pre 1900 headstones in it. Parts are as wild as some of the wilder ones that I have seen, but generally it was a pleasant place to gravehunt in. I managed to get most of the graves I was after except for 43. I also found some private memorials that I have submitted, and these are equally important as they often contain the only physical grave that there is if a body was not recovered from the battlefield. (I have since been able to add an additional 24 graves from the list to my tally, as well as 8 more private memorials.)

Then it was time to head off to my next destination which was back in the direction I had come from but via London Road.

The "Swimming Bath"

The “Swimming Bath”

 
I had arbitrarily selected suitable places as I saw them mentioned as being worthy of seeing, and naturally everything along the way was a bonus. My first target was St Giles-in-Reading Church, and the second was St Mary-the-Virgin.
St Giles-in-Reading

St Giles-in-Reading

St Mary-the-Virgin

St Mary-the-Virgin

Both were really beautiful buildings with wonderful graveyards that I explored. However, on my way to these buildings I also spotted this beaut which is used by the Polish community.

 
Overall though the area I was walking through had really reverted from a residential area to more of a business area, the grand old houses now occupied by dentists and accountants. The shortage of student accommodation also meant that many properties had been subdivided and now had a new lease on life. 

The Hospital building was magnificent, more reminiscent of a town hall than a hospital.  Like many other buildings from that age it was now probably overwhelmed by the role it had, and it must have been very interesting to see on the inside (although preferably not as a patient).

My meanderings would eventually lead me to the Kennet and Avon Canal which I had first encountered when I visited Bath in 2014, I will admit that the inner workings of the canal did interest me, but I was really lacking the expertise to comment on where I was in the system at the point where I now stood.

Theoretically though, had I followed this portion of the Kennet River I would have come out at the River Thames, and had I followed the Thames would have ended up in London.

The area I was now moving into was where St Mary-the-Virgin was situated, and it was really the last area I wanted to explore before heading home. The church itself was very nice, with a graveyard that seems to be ignored by the public at large who use the path as a thoroughfare, and it is nice to see how these small green spaces have become a part of the community.

The area though is quite busy, with lots of buses and taxis hithering and thithering their collective ways. I paused for lunch and a potty break before taking some last pics and heading for the station (assuming I could find it).

The monument was erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 50th year on the throne, and there is a nice statue of her close to the Town Hall.

 

This area of Reading was really nice, the buildings are oldies with a new face, and generally it has much more of a personal feel than the mall close by. Unfortunately for them most malls lack character, and I like character in an area instead of glitz and glamour. Unfortunately though it also means that many older areas become seedy as the inevitable cellphone cover, overpriced fake trainers and junk jewelry businesses move in. But, sometimes I am wrong.

Realistically though, you need to view a lot of these areas as they may have been 100 years ago to fully appreciate a city like Reading, although it would have been tainted by the smog and smoke of industrial progress and transportation. Times have changed, and we are now in a different world and in a different era, but it is nice to see these old survivors of progress still standing next to the chrome and glass of “progress”.

The station awaited, and by 14H40 I was on my way home. 

It had been an interesting morning, I have a better feel for Reading now, and while it is unlikely that I will pass this way again it was nice to be able to look around here. Many years ago when I wanted to move to the UK this town had been the centre where many in IT headed when they arrived here, I don’t know if that is still true, but given its location it is a handy midway point between East and West, and of course access to London. Personally I don’t think I could live here, but I would not mind exploring more of the river system, but somehow that is unlikely to happen.

DRW ©  2015-2020. Created  24/02/2015, images migrated 26/04/2016 


Newnham and Rotherwick churchyards

Following on with my quest to complete as many of the CWGC graves in churchyards close by, I decided to head to Hook, and from there to visit the churchyards of Newnham St Nicholas as well as Rotherwick Parish Church.
Hook is the next stop from Basingstoke on the line to London Waterloo and I was there by 10H30. I had some sort of plan in mind, and it really depended on my energy levels. The first part of my plan included photographing the Hook War Memorial.
  
And from there starting the long walk to my destination which was roughly 2,3 km away. I am not too keen on walking these country lanes because they are narrow and often have blind bends. There is no real pavement either so it can be risky, but the job has to be done.
 
Eventually I came to the junction that I needed and turned left to the church. It was a very pretty spot, and with Spring not too far away and a luke warm sun it really made for a nice day.  There are 4 CWGC graves in Newnham St Nicholas churchyard, of which two are private memorials. 
 
The lychgate is magnificent (as these lychgates tend to be), and is dated 1910. The church itself is very much older.
 
Like so many of the churches I have come across in my meanderings it is really difficult to date its origin because of all the changes that were made during the history of the church, at any rate it seems to show up in history round about 1130. The chancel arch has been dated to about 1135, with major restoration being completed in 1848. A more complete history of the church may be found at its website.
 
And like so many of these small parish churches it is not easy to get an image of the complete building, but there is at least one spot where you can make a good attempt.
 
My first grave was an easy one, it was amongst the first graves in the churchyard by the gate. And the churchyard was quite a nice one too, well shaded, lots of very old graves, and the occasional gem that makes you gasp. There were a number of cast iron markers in the one area, and I had seen quite a few of these in Southampton, but not too many in Basingstoke, I had also not seen this style of cast iron marker before either. They were really nice, but sadly a definite target for scrap metal thieves.
 
In the one corner I found two of the other graves I was looking for, as well as a really pretty collection of moss encrusted graves. These seemed to be of previous ministers of the church, and possibly a few important locals. 
I still had one more private memorial to find and there was no description of what it looked like. I explored further, working my way around the church.

 

My soldier was a World War 2 casualty and the area was now looking much more promising, although the graves immediately next to the church all dated to the 1800’s.

 

I started at the top and started checking each grave, hoping that I was not looking at a toppled headstone or an illegible inscription. Then I hit paydirt and I was able to tick him off the list too. The rent was paid, now I could explore. I headed back to the rear of the church where the entrance was (the entrance does not face the lychgate), and found that the church was open. Inside I met the vicar, and he told me a bit about the church and the various war memorials in the church (of which there were 4). It is not a very ornate building though, it’s much smaller than it looks from the outside, but has a humble feel about it, and a friendly atmosphere. 

Interestingly enough the oldest identifiable grave in the churchyard is that of Mary, daughter of Peter Justice, who died 14 August 1728, aged four months.

 

The vicar also showed me a safer route to Rotherwick which clinched my decision to head there next. All in all though this was a pleasant visit, and getting into the church was a bonus, because some of these churches have wonderful wall monuments in them, as well as war memorials to the local parishioners which seldom see the light.

 Rotherwick Parish Church

  
My next destination was roughly 2,8 km away and a short detour would take me through Tylney Park Golf Club and past Tylney Hall Hotel. The hotel is quite an interesting one, and I was hoping to get a chance to have a good look at it. Unfortunately as I arrived at the hotel my phone range and I had to speak to a personnel agent so ended up taking pics on the fly, and missing out on a lot of what there was to explore.
 
What is interesting is that in 1919 both the Hall and much of the original estate was acquired by Major Cayzer, later created Lord Rotherwick, owner of Clan Line Steamers Ltd, and the Hall became the headquarters for the shipping line. 
 
A previous owner had been Sir Lionel Philips, but whether this is the famous Baronet from Johannesburg history I cannot say. 
 
Irrespective though, from what I saw it was magnificent, I just wish I had been able to see more of it. Unfortunately though, my distraction did take me away from the buildings and I was not in the mood to turn back. Besides, I still had some graves to find. And that was still a long walk away.
    
Finally I arrived at Rotherwick, and the church was easy to find. It is not a big church, but again it is an old one, or  should I rather say, there has been a church at this spot for a long time.  More information about the church may be found at it’s website
 
I had two CWGC graves to find, and I started my round of the church.
  
There was not a lot of space in front of the church, the major part of the churchyard was behind the church and that was where my two graves were. 
  
The churchyard was evidently still being used, and it was quite a large space, slightly separated from the original churchyard.  Sadly though, at some point a lot of the old headstones had been uplifted and used as a wall at the bottom of the church. It was nicely done though, not a haphazard leaning of headstones as I had seen in so many other places.
 
Getting a pic of the church was difficult because of the sun, and because there was no real spot far away enough to fit it all in. I would have to go outside the churchyard to do that.
 
 
 
And then it was time to head off back to the station. I had two possible routes I could take. The first was to retrace my steps, and the other was to carry on with the road where the church was until I found Hook Road and turn into that one. It would take me to the one side of Hook and close to the Hook Village Garden and Cemetery.  It was also the difference between a 5 km and a 3.7 km walk. I chose the the latter. (Did I mention I discovered the ruler function on Google Earth? )

 

The walk was uninteresting, dodging from side to side of the road to avoid blind bends and impassable pavements. I was starting to tire too, and the sun was starting to hide behind clouds that were forming. I was ready to give up for the day. I had one more church to see, and it proved to be one of those modern featureless churches, with the cemetery next to it.

 
The cemetery was a modern one, but there was nothing really to see, so I took a quick walk around and then headed off to the station.

 

It had been a productive morning. Two more sets of graves had been added to the record, and 220 images had been taken. I had seen some really nice headstones, as well as a really pretty church. I enjoy these rural settings because every now and then I see something that literally takes my breath away. Maybe it is the countryside, or the history all around me, or just maybe I feel an affinity with here, it is the type of place I have had in my mind since I was a child, and the sort of places I read about in books, and what I was seeing did not disappoint.

© DRW 2015-2018. Created 18/02/2015, images migrated 26/04/2016