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St Mary's Church

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St Mary's Church, Hale

Hale Park, Hale Lane, Hale, Nr Fordingbridge, Hants, SP6 2RF

(The postcode will get you nearly there - drive down the lime avenue towards Hale Park House, and then turn right to go round behind the house (as it were) and you'll find the Church.  Or park in Moot Lane, opposite the noticeboard for the Church, and walk the 100 yards up the fairly steep footpath.)

About Hale Church

Hale Church stands in a lovely spot behind Hale Park House, and the peace and beauty of the church and its surroundings provide a perfect place for rest and contemplation. It is on the Avon Valley Footpath. The church is always open, and you are invited to come. We hope your visit is meaningful, whether it gives you joy, comfort or simply a place to eat your sandwiches!

Services are held alternately at Hale Church or its sister Church of St Boniface, Woodgreen (SP6 2AJ) every Sunday at 10.00. Check the Avon Valley Partnership website for details: www.avp-benefice.org.uk

The Church Office is available each morning to answer queries, or messages may be left. 01425 653163 or church.office@fordingbridge.com

A Brief History of the Church

St Mary's Church, Hale stands within the New Forest National Park and its setting is stunning: it overlooks the River Avon and the Charford Valley, with the Avon Valley Footpath running alongside the Church. Artefacts from the vicinity of the Church and local geographical features show that the area was inhabited in the Bronze Age and Iron Age, and a substantial Roman villa has been excavated at nearby Rockbourne.

St Mary's Church overlooks the site of the Saxon battle of Cerdicsford which took place in the Charford Valley in A.D. 519. According to the early legends of Wessex, the Saxon invaders slaughtered 5,000 Britons including their king, Natan-Leod.  Tradition states that he is buried in the Long Barrow on Breamore Down, opposite the Church at Hale.

The parish makes an appearance in the Domesday Book of 1086, and historians believe that a Church of some kind existed at Hale at the time of the Conquest. In 1130 an Augustinian Priory was founded at Breamore on the west side of the Charford Valley, and served the local communities including Hale. In the early 14th Century, the priory built a thatched Church of St Mary the Virgin at Hale itself. The font and parts of the nave survive from this earliest building. At that time the village of Hale was settled beside the River Avon, then the main route between the sea at Christchurch and the city of Salisbury. A farmhouse close to Hale Church has recently been identified as the priory's bakery.  Records show that the village of Hale was devastated by the Black Death of 1348-9 and many of the dwellings around the Church disappeared. In time, two further blows to the local economy resulted in villagers moving away from the ancient site of the village around the Church. Firstly, the River Avon silted up and was no longer the highway to and from the sea it once was. Secondly, in 1536 Breamore Priory was suppressed under Henry VIII's scheme of dissolution. The village of Hale became divided. Part was subsumed into the growing estate of Hale Manor and part moved beyond Hatchet Green, a mile and a half to the east of the Church, through the system of 'encroachments' and foresters' rights to graze their animals in the New Forest.

The original medieval font was ornamented in Tudor times. The memorial brass of Sir John Penruddock who died in 1600 is the oldest in the Church and is placed on the chancel floor. In 1631 Sir Thomas Penruddock employed the famous architect, Inigo Jones, who relaid and raised the Church walls and laid a new roof. A year later he added the chancel. In 1717, Thomas Archer, Master Architect and Groom Porter at the Courts of Queen Anne and George I and II, radically rebuilt the Manor House and turned his attention to St Mary's Church. He built the transepts and refaced the building, giving it much of the appearance it has today. He also designed the monument to himself and his wives that fills the south wall of the south transept and he commissioned the leading sculptor of his day to carry it out, Sir Henry Cheere.  After the death of Thomas Archer in 1743, his nephew, Henry Archer, inherited the estate. He too worked on the Church, tiling the nave in 1766-9 and the chancel and transepts in 1777. His monument, also in the south transept, was sculpted by Joseph Wilton. The Archer family vault is under the north transept, and was closed in 1788. 

In 1783 the freehold was bought by a dynasty of English wine merchants in Portugal, the Mays. On the walls of the south transept, alongside Thomas Archer's memorial, are memorials to several members of the May family, including one by Sir Richard Westmacott, sculptor of works at Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral. The May family vault is under the south transept and was closed in 1856. This vault was excavated a few years ago in the investigation to determine the cause of the subsidence.

The Goff family bought the manor in 1837, and over the following 60 years they modernised the Church's interior in several respects: replacing pews with chairs; providing kneelers, a harmonium, the lectern and the windows in the south transept; and installing the underfloor heating system which still warms the congregation today! There are two windows in the chancel in memory of Lt-Col Gerald Goff who was killed leading his regiment in South Africa in 1899. The acoustics in the church are excellent thanks to the barrel roof of 1895 that was built from wood grown on the estate.

In 1920, in the aftermath of the Great War, Hale village underwent further social change: almost all of Hale Estate was sold off, mostly to sitting tenants. Since then, gifts have continued to adorn the Church building. These include oak choir stalls and a chair and desk for the clergy that were given by local people in memory of the men from the parish killed in the two World Wars, memorial windows in the north transept, the Church's current organ, a set of altar frontals, and oak chairs for the congregation in 2001, and in 2003 a Book of Remembrance detailing the lives of the men of the parish named on the Roll of Honour.

In his recent publication, "England's 1000 Best Churches", Simon Jenkins describes St Mary's Hale and speaks very highly of the amazingly rich architectural and artistic heritage to be found in this quiet corner of the New Forest.