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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Odds and Sods March 2023

There are four different ancient churches this month, as well as beach huts, Romans and steam trains. This first picture is a sort of lie. It's a beautiful day. March was anything but, and most of the time there were thin pickings to be had with a camera. My answer to that problem is to snap away like a maniac whenever the rain stops. So this is March 2023.

The first church is at Aveton Gifford, not far from here and this visit was made for two reasons, nearby Loddiswell church is usually locked, and the vicar was away in March so no joy there. Photographing Loddiswell church would have filled a gap in my river series as I have now reached Loddiswell on my meanderings down the smallest River Avon in England.

Aveton Gifford will be next and I had already photographed the rest of the village and the bridge there but I was missing the church, the sun was out and I had a spare hour, so here I was. It's in a beautiful spot high above the village and even higher above the river, with a commanding view down river towards the sea from where danger would come. This is an old church with a dark recent past, which I will cover in my river series at a later date. For now we have some stunning lichen on the grave stones in the grounds. It is a veritable miniature jungle, denoting fresh clean westerly winds straight off the Atlantic.

Inside is the ancient font, as nearly always the case, the oldest part of the church. The font is carved from granite and the bowl octagonal in form. It is of indeterminate date being perpendicular in style, about 14th century, with earlier styles used for the grotesque faces on the panels. There are two faces with tongues sticking out, considered to be symbols to warn off evil and exorcise the devil, very appropriate if you are Christening small children. The font was toppled in 1943 but not damaged, something I will cover later in the river series. While I was at Aveton Gifford church I met a man quite by chance, and that was how I got inside Loddiswell church only a few days later.

Records on display show the names of the rectors through the ages starting in 1259.

This is the car ferry to The Isle of Wight. Out of season, this deck was unused.

The beach at St. Helens, Isle of Wight.

This is church number two, below, or at least, what is left of it. This is St Helen's Church. A priory at St Helens was founded after the Norman Conquest by French Benedictine monks. The previous Saxon church was rebuilt in Norman style to serve both the local parish and the new priory. The church was dedicated to St Helena, and the nearby village in due course was known by this name. The tower was added in the 13th century during the reign of Henry III. By the 18th century it had become so ruinous that a new church was built and the old church allowed to go to ruin. The tower, a 13th-century structure, was the only part left standing, and can still be seen today.

The part of the tower facing the sea has been brick faced and painted white to serve as a sea mark to shipping. Out there on the horizon is a sea fort. St Helens Fort is a sea fort in the Solent close to the Isle of Wight, one of the Palmerston Forts near Portsmouth. It was built as a result of the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom of 1859, in order to protect the St Helens anchorage.

Periodically (often in August), on one of the lowest tides of the year, there is a mass walk from St Helens beach out to the fort and back. On this day the causeway appears from the sea upon which the original materials were carried out from the shore at St Helen's Old Church, where there was formerly a quarry.

Bembridge RNLI Lifeboat station

The station is situated at the east end of the IOW overlooking two of the busiest ports in the UK. There are more than 50 yacht clubs, 32 Solent marinas, the largest UK oil refinery, the largest cruise-liner port, 2nd largest UK container port, 2nd busiest UK ferry port! Founded in 1867 it is made up of two lifeboats and is operational 24/7 365 days a year by more than 40+ volunteers.

The Solent is the stretch of water between the Isle of Wight and the English mainland.

The third church is St Michael the Archangel, situated in the small village of Shalfleet, four miles east of the beautiful harbour town of Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. We were driving past and saw a sign saying 12th century church so of course we had to stop.

The origins of the church are not precisely known and its original dedication has been lost. It may indeed have been dedicated to a Saxon saint. It had always been assumed that a Saxon church, probably a timbered building, existed on this site. Excavations by County archaeologists in 2003 and 2005 revealed the remains of Christian burials, some in the existing churchyard and some in the Old Vicarage garden across Church lane, which are of proven Saxon origin; one of the skeletons was carbon dated to belong to the late 7th or early 8th century. These remains were re-buried in a new grave by the path to the north porch in July 2008. The finds confirmed the existence of a Saxon churchyard, larger than today’s.

The existing Norman Church was founded sometime in the years between 1070 and 1086. Percy Stone was of the opinion that it was built after the death of William FitzOsbern (1071), who gave six other Island churches to his Abbey of Lyre, and it was thus probably built by his son, Roger de Breteuil, who was banished for rebellion in 1075.

The font is a made-up affair with a late sixteenth century bowl placed upon a Doric cap, and is similar to one at nearby Carisbrooke.

The box pews with their H-hinges are of the eighteenth century.

Over the north door is the quaintly carved 12th century tympanum, whose subject of a bearded man apparently resting his hands on the heads of two affronted lions has exercised many scholarly minds: Adam naming the animals beneath the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden; Daniel in the Lions’ Den; St Mark with lions; or David overcoming the lion and the bear?

In 1270 a great remodeling, and therefore enlargement, of the church took place when the present south aisle with its fine arcade of slender Purbeck piers was added as a vicarial church – probably to accommodate the manorial tenants, whereas the original nave would have been for the exclusive use of the lord of the manor and his family.

These are the beach huts at St Helens.

The dunes behind the beach huts used to be a golf course. One of England’s very first golf clubs, the Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club, opened at St Helens Duver in the 1880s, using the existing sand dunes and gorse bushes for the hazards. Now a nature reserve and no longer in use, it was once one of the country’s most prestigious courses, receiving royal patronage and attracting celebrity visitors, as well as laying the precedent for golfing rules that still apply today.

Celebrity members of the club included Horace Rawlins, who won the first US Open golf championship in 1895, Arthur Balfour, the British Prime Minister from 1902-1905, the UK’s first pilot Lord Brabazon, members of the Guinness family, and Admiral Beatty, First Sea Lord in the 1920s. Some would sail into Bembridge Harbour at high tide and play golf at low tide.

In the 1930s, the actor and novelist David Niven was a keen golfer and an active member of the club. He didn’t care much for the retired colonels and stuffed shirts among the membership, and on one occasion stuffed cushions down the clubhouse chimney to smoke the older gentlemen out.

This former clubhouse is now a quirky holiday cottage with a verandah great for wildlife watching. This was our home for four days.

On the wettest day of our trip we visited the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.

Earlier in the month I photographed an elderly bridge at Gara Bridge. The message is clear in feet and metres. After all the bridge was originally meant for horses.

These are the famous "Needles" at the Isle of Wight. The Needles is a row of three stacks of chalk that rise about 30 metres (98 ft) out of the sea off the western extremity of the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, United Kingdom. The Needles Lighthouse stands at the outer, western end of the formation. Built in 1859, it has been automated since 1994.The waters and adjoining seabed form part of the Needles Marine Conservation Zone and the Needles along with the shore and heath above are part of the Headon Warren and West High Down Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The formation takes its name from a fourth needle-shaped pillar called Lot's wife, which collapsed in a storm in 1764.The remaining rocks are not at all needle-like, but the name has stuck. During Storm Eunice on 18 February 2022, the highest recorded wind gust in England was provisionally recorded at The Needles, at 122 miles per hour (196 km/h).

Thanks to the man I met in Aveton Gifford church, here I was in Loddiswell church, the final church this month,and I was only given ten minutes to take my photos. The rest of the photos will be included in the river series soon.

Now that I regularly visit ancient churches in Devon I am becoming a bit of an expert in the terminology and architectural design etc. This strikes me as one of the most beautiful and perfect chancels I have yet seen.

Due to the great age and later "modernisations" particularly in late Victorian times plus other factors, like leaky roofs and bad taste, chancels are often a mish mash of ugly stuff added over the ages, with the original features long eroded or even deliberately vandalised, "improved" or redecorated, with added ugly furniture and even on one occasion, a plastic tablecloth over an ancient stone altar.

This picture as far as I am concerned is a perfect balance of style and design. They are not necessarily my own idea of style but the whole thing really works.

The church of "St Michael and all Saints" of Loddiswell is a Grade 2 * listed building. The building spans the 13th 14th and 15th centuries in construction. The red sandstone font is Norman in date and so probably predates the church.

While in the Isle of Wight we visited Brading Roman Villa.

These are boatyard huts in Bembridge, Isle of Wight. The dunes around the estuary used to form the golf course.

These strange objects were a mystery but I am guessing they are some sort of mooring anchors, that probably lay on the seabed when originally used.

A flying visit to Ventnor in the south of the island just to see what was there. What I did think was unusual was the white cliffs of chalk in the distance and the vivid red sand on the beach. The Isle of Wight is famous for its geology, having a history of holiday souvenirs that were various styles of bottles made of clear glass containing layers of different coloured sands. Ventnor is a famous and genteel Victorian holiday resort squeezed in between cliffs and the sea. Queen Victoria, famously had her own holiday home in the north of the island, Osborne House.

Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901, aged 81. Following her death, King Edward VII, who had never liked Osborne, presented the house to the state on the day of his coronation, with the royal pavilion being retained as a private museum to Victoria.

We visited the island at the end of March before the tourist season had started. This means that much of the infrastructure was still closed for winter.

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4 comentários

Membro desconhecido
04 de abr. de 2023

A real mixture of shots, true definition of odds and sods. I'd be in those two shops buying junk and then complaining about how cluttered with junk my house has become. I really like the perspective you took "looking into the pews" and the photo of the inside of Loddiswell church....definitely well balanced.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
05 de abr. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thanks. Some of these places will be coming up in the rivers series soon.


John Durham
John Durham
02 de abr. de 2023

Loved the font in the light and shadows. I really enjoy all of the interior shots of the churches - the pier and ceiling detail and the chancel especially. The close ups of the seashore make me nostalgic for the coastal areas of the Carolinas, so thanks for those, as well.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
02 de abr. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thanks John.🙂

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