St Mary’s, Fordingbridge – History
Listed in the Doomsday Book in 1086 this is one of three ancient churches in our team, all dedicated to St Mary. The Church was updated by the Normans around 1150 and would then have been an open space internally. The North Chapel and north and south aisles were added around 1230. Within another 100 years the clerestory had been added, the tower raised (in modern times housing 8 bells plus a Sanctus bell) and the North Chapel extended. The Chapel has a fine straight tie beam truss roof of chestnut that masquerades as a hammer beam roof.
Externally the Church has changed little since the 16th Century although originally the exterior flint work would have been plastered like one of its neighbours, St Mary, Breamore.
Internally the Church looks much as it did after the 1840 renovation except for the addition of the organ in 1887 and the reredos in 1820. The Church once boasted a fine “three-decker” pulpit but this has since been replaced with a much more modest piece of furniture. In very recent years the Victorian pews have been replaced with chairs to facilitate using the space much more flexibly. Indeed should the visitor visit the Church at the annual Patronal Festival (1st weekend in July) they will usually experience an open space similar to that from many centuries ago.
In 2000 a new window was commissioned in the South aisle to commemorate the millennium, and it is at its best with the sun pouring through it. Also two of the bells were sent to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to be recast and retuned.
There are two surviving vicarages in Fordingbridge, the imposing residence opposite the West Front built in 1817 and now converted to apartments and the current, more modern building opposite the South side. It is said that, once, Fordingbridge was amongst the finest livings in the land.
The Churchyard is also worth a visit where a monument to the safe building family “Chubb” can be seen, and also the memorial to the last man to be killed in a duel in England, John Alexander Seton. Along with all the town burial sites (except the new Catholic burial ground) St Mary’s Churchyard was closed in 1896 and replaced by the new cemetery at Stuckton Road. In modern times the Churchyard has been cleared to allow easier maintenance and many of the anonymous gravestones now form the path from the lichgate to the North Porch.
St Mary’s has a fine musical heritage. It’s choirs and instrumental groups can be heard each Sunday supporting services such as the Family Communion, Matins and traditional Evensong.