Rowner Parish Church- St. Mary the Virgin
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Titchfield Church


Alverstoke Church

A church has stood on this site for well over 1600 years and, with Titchfield church, shared the pastoral care of the people of the Gosport peninsular until the 12th century, when Alverstoke church was built.

The original dedication was probably to ‘The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ or ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary’, either which would have been removed at the Reformation, when the Church of England was formed. Early documents are unspecific, as they simply refer to it as ‘Rowner church’. The hamlet (of 1245 acres) was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (where we can read that King Henry held court at Rowner in 1114 before boarding his ship at Portsmouth for France). When preparation work for the 1968 Extension was being carried out, leather burial shrouds, dating back to Roman times, were found, indicating that worship had been occurring here for some time before the Christian period. Often a pagan site was taken over by Christians.

Accurate history is patchy, and it is not until the Manor of Rowner was granted by a grateful King Edward I to Sir William le Brun in 1277 that full records were kept; these survive in the Hampshire County Archives at Winchester with the family papers. Two Brune sons, Philip and Nicholas, were given the office of Rector between 1292 and 1306. Another, from a much later generation, became Rector in the nineteenth century. There is a list of Rectors on the slates in the old church. During many periods of office, it was customary, until the 19th century, for the Rectors to draw the income of the benefice, and employ assistant curates (at a much reduced stipend!). The Brune family also had a ‘domestic chaplain’.

Folklore surrounding the 12th-century church and its construction is legion. One tale is that Cistercian monks from Quarr Abbey (founded in 1132) on the Isle of Wight had a priory house roughly where the 16th century Church Cottages now stand at the end of the lime avenue. They would have been responsible for the running of the church and the parish. This could account for a bricked-up tunnel leading from the vaults, and rediscovered during the 1870s under Rector Richard Foster Carter and again in the 1960s restorations under Rector Peter Hawes.

Another story is that stone sent from the Island, destined for Winchester Cathedral, was ‘hijacked’ for rebuilding the church, which had fallen into disrepair. A stone church would have replaced a wooden one. A fact is that the stone for the arches in the Lady Chapel is of Binstead stone, and the stone used in the arches between that and the north chapel is from Bembridge.

Quarr Abbey held the rights of river navigation, and a tributary of the River Alver flowed behind the church to the north, so the monks could have diverted the stone! The stream was eventually laid in underground pipes in the 1960s as part of the creation of the Rowner Walk. This runs through Rowner Copse, across Rowner Road into Rectory Copse.
 
The earliest surviving part of the ‘old’ church is the 12th-century nave of what is now dedicated as the Lady Chapel (the monks’ priory church as well), which served as the tiny parish church until the 13th century. It was then that a narrow ‘lean-to’ aisle was added to the north. It is also possible that the chancel and sanctuary was added at that date; looking westward from the outside, there is a distinct arch shape high up, which could have been the place for an east lancet window.

The three lancet windows on the south side replaced a larger porch structure in the 1874 restoration. The porch was moved westward; this was demolished when the 1968 extension was built. The window in its place, designed by Francis Skeets, depicts John the Baptist, and is a memorial to Hugh Prideaux-Brune. The mediaeval stone font used to stand before it (this was destroyed in the 1990 fire).

The Lady Chapel’s East Window, an ‘Annunciation’ scene (Ecce ancilla Domini - behold the servant of the Lord) is a memorial to his brother Sir Humphrey, both sons of the Rector. The Chantry Chapel of the Brune family had been added as well to the north-east. Although the last of their Rowner estate was finally sold for housing in 1948, the family still holds the Lordship of the Manor of Rowner, and Richard Prideaux-Brune is patron of the benefice, thereby appointing the Rector, continuing 7 clear centuries of connection.

The Chapel was incorporated into the main church in 1874 (Rector Richard Foster Carter) as the chancel, without, it seems, the goodwill of the Lord of the Manor! The architect was Mr Frank Thicke of London. When in 1890 the Rector asked the Patron (his father) for financial assistance to repair the chancel roof, he was told, in no uncertain terms, that as permission for the alterations had never been granted by the owner of the Chantry Chapel, future liability for repairs was therefore denied. A motion in the parish meeting states that the Rector would be responsible for the Chantry’s maintenance, with the Churchwardens bearing the responsibility of the south chancel roof. Happily future generations have got on better with eachother.

The medieval manor house stood to the west of the church, and was destroyed in the 16th century. It would have been moated as it on a higher piece of land. The lawn to the south of the Church is shown on old surveys as ‘Manor House Field’. Some stone was used in the church, and a piece was incorporated into the sacristy extension in 1950. Archaeological digs for the 1997 car park revealed imported 13th-century pottery and porcelain, more likely destined for the manor house table, than for the farm cottages.

The northern section of the graveyard (the only one in Gosport still open for burials) lies where carp ponds once stood. These would have supplied the priory and the manor house. A covered well exists on Manor House Field on Rowner Lane, and is made safe by the tombstone to Henry Cunningham, the inventor of the Self-reefing Topsail, having been laid over it. The tree planting scheme was devised in 1973 by Mr G K Coombs, Garden Adviser to the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley Gardens, with further planting in 1977 and 1997.

The rare solid limestone sepulchre tomb in the Chantry is to Sir John Brune, one of the provincial chancellors of England, who died in 1559, and is one of two such structures in the country. Its escutcheons reveal the careful marrying that went on to secure the family’s mighty wealth, linking with de la Rokele, Bamfilde, Ticheborne and Knowles.The family scions owned vast swatches of land in Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.

Sir John had left money in his will for the tomb’s construction, and provided for his wife to live at The Grange as a dower house. That house still stands today, and is part of Gosport Borough Council’s Grange Farm complex. Their eldest son would have succeeded to the manor house. After Sir John’s death, and until 1683, the Crown appointed rectors to the living on several occasions.

During the rectorship of Edward Prideaux-Brune from 1884-1919, further restoration of the old church took place, supervised by the London firm of Blomfield, who were also rebuilding S.Mary’s Portsea at the time. An Antiquary with a parish of less than 150 souls, Mr Prideaux-Brune had much time to devote his energies to this work, as well as totally transcribing the parish registers, which date back to 1580. These are now deposited for safe keeping in the Diocesan Register Office at Portsmouth Library, where they are available for inspection.

He was greatly loved as a parish priest and a notable figure of the area of Gosport and he and his wife would be seen regularly around the parish in pony and trap and on bicycle. The 1931 lych-gate stands as a memorial to him, planted at the end of the lime avenue which he planted at the beginning of his ministry here in 1884. The lych-gate was restored in 1999. He extended the Jacobean and Queen Anne rectory, which until its sad demolition in the 1960s was set in 10 acres of grounds (where Green Crescent and Rectory Copse now are) for use by parishioners. Fortunately, the planning authorities would not allow such an act today, and would have ‘listed’ the house.

The old church contains beautiful Victorian stained-glass, and three modern windows by Hugh Easton (look for his distinctive and ingenious monogram on two of them), replacing those blasted out in the Second World War, when a plane from RAF Grange, where the Grange County Schools now stand, crashed. Some of the crew are buried in the churchyard. Other notable burials are of the Brunes, the Henvilles, the Fosters, and Martin Snape, the famous Gosport artist, and a great friend of Rector Prideaux-Brune. There is also the grave of Captain Sir Frederic Thesiger, RN, Lord Nelson’s ADC at the Battle of Copenhagen, who later became governor of the naval brigs of Portsmouth and Gosport, being responsible for many of the prisoners of war kept here at that time.

Many other naval and military tombs exist. Some important monuments and tombs have been listed by Hampshire County Council as of architectural importance. The church itself is allocated a Grade One listing, the only church to have that in the borough, and only one of two such listed buildings in Gosport. The royal arms (1705) above the Lady Chapel chancel arch are that of Queen Anne, and bear the name of John Stares, Churchwarden, and tenant of Grange Farm. It was a legal requirement to display the royal arms in churches and these reflect Queen Anne's Bounty, when the Queen returned much of the Church of England's wealth sequestered at the Dissolution of Monasteries by Henry VIII.

By the 1960s the parish’s population had exploded to 24,000; a daughter church had been built at Bridgemary, this later becoming a separate parish in the late 1970s. Our present population is 18,000. A huge extension, made of pre-cast concrete, was designed by Robert Potter, and consecrated in 1968 by Bishop John Phillips. The Rectory was brought on site, and the church hall (where Rowner Health Centre now stands) was sold. The church facilities were thus amalgamated on one site. Re-ordering had also taken place in the 1950s, again with financial backing from the Patron and his family.

The extension you see today replaced the old one destroyed by fire on 19th May 1990, when a stray flare landed on the wooden roof. Potter’s firm (by then The Sarum Partnership) was responsible, via Mr Chris Romain, for the project. The rebuilt church was consecrated in November 1992, on the Feast of Christ the King, by Bishop Timothy Bavin. Rector Roy George was inducted in October 1990 in the old church, which miraculously survived the fire, with the majority of the congregation in an army marquee! Rector John Draper was inducted in October 1996 by Bishop Kenneth Stevenson.

The new church contains many fine features, perpetuating the Church’s patronage of the Arts through architecture and art forms. The Lantern spire was lifted into place immediately above the Consecration Stone. The Belgian ‘Stations of the Cross’ were consecrated in 1997. The western end of the building comprises halls and offices, and when not being used by the church, is set aside for community use, being regularly used by groups and organisations.
 

The Font, replaced its mediaeval forebear destroyed in the fire. The new Font is made of 3 cwt of Bath stone, on a brick pillar and York stone platform, and was consecrated in February 1999. Originally in the north transept area, it was moved to the west end of the church in 2012, nearer the entrance to the church, reminding us of our own entry into the Church through baptism. The cast-iron ‘corona’ of the Crown of Thorns in the Unity Chapel (north transept) was given by Old Alresford Place, the Winchester Diocesan Retreat House.

The‘Christus’ on the east wall of the church - The Risen Christ of Easter Morn - was dedicated by the Bishop on Easter Eve 2000, celebrating the Millennium. It is 5 feet high, made of wood, overlaid with copper sheet and gold leaf, and was specially commissioned from the sculptor Peter Eugene Ball as a fine example of modern art, and symbolising the openness of Christ’s welcome to all who come to Him.

The church is at the centre of the Rowner Conservation Area, but is far from being a museum: it is the centre of a praying and worshipping community of Christians, who also seek to serve the whole community of Rowner. Please take time to stop and reflect before you leave this building, giving thanks to God for His creation and goodness.


 
 

 

 
 
 
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Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Rowner Lane, Gosport, Hampshire. PO13 9SU 
Telephone: 02392 581834 Email: rownerchurch@btinternet.com

St Mary the Virgin Parochial Church Council is a Charity registered in England No. 1134344