A brief history of St Nicholas Church, Wickham
Dedicated to St Nicholas, the church is built upon a large mound almost circular in construction. This particular mound had probably been sacred ground for centuries, so what could have been more fitting than the building of a first Christian church upon the place hallowed by the people for untold generations? In all probability St Wilfrid dedicated a church here before 670.
The present building therefore probably has an ancestry that was ancient when the Norman builders came in 1120 leaving behind them the now re-used west doorway, with its zigzag on the arch. Later changes were wrought in the 13th century through the church’s association with the Manor of Wickham and the Uvedale family. so that by the mid 19th century it looked as shown in the illustration below.
The Victorian era then saw a fifteen-year period of ‘makeover’. The Norman doorway was moved about ten feet to the west and fitted into the new tower, the north transept was rebuilt and the exterior walls clad in flints. The interior did not escape attention, or ‘spoilation’ as it underwent considerable alteration, including the introduction of an organ in the South Chapel and uniform seating.
More recent internal changes took place in the 1950s with alterations to the Chancel and creation of the priest’s Vestry. The organ was removed to its current position in 1957 from the South Chapel enabling its re-dedication as a Lady Chapel in 1961. This chapel has received further attention with the installation of engraved glass panels and doors by Tracey Sheppard and a lighting corona in 2004.
The most significant features of the church as it is today are listed in brief below.
The aisleless Nave, Chancel and North Transept and the Lady Chapel (formerly the South Chapel) are Early English style and significant 13th century features are the North doorway in the Chancel and the archway to the Lady Chapel.
The church has a Victorian interior with several 18th and 19th century wall monuments. The Chancel has remains of a 15th century table tomb.
The pews are square ended, panelled with solid backs, all of Victorian design.
The pulpit is oak panelled and dates from the 1960s. Carved heads are worked into the terminations of the arch between the Nave and the Chancel, immediately behind and above the pulpit and lectern.
Hanging in the Nave (north wall) is a painting of the Holy Family by Guercino of the 17th century Italian School. This was restored in 1994. ‘A Rest during the Flight into Egypt’ after Luca Giordano (1632–1705), which hangs on the south wall, was restored between 2001–2003 and was hung here in 2004.
Inner West Doors: Note the panelled wood with 4 carvings depicting from left to right:
1) St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors and children, 2) the Uvedale coat of arms, 3) William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, and 4) the William of Wykeham coat of arms with the motto ‘Manners Makyth Man’.
On the West Wall, to the right of these inner doors, is a 20th century oak memorial to those who lost their lives in the First World War. On the other side of the door there is a memorial plaque to those who died in the Second World War.
The South Transept dates from the 17th century and contains the notable alabaster tomb of 1615 (Sir William Uvedale) with classical details, arched canopy, male and female effigies and nine kneeling figures of their four sons and five daughters. The octagonal Font, has a fine painted wooden canopy and a wooden figurine of the Virgin Mary, the latter only being displayed on special occasions.
The oak screen to the Vestry was given by a local family in thanksgiving for the safe return of four sons from the Second World War.
Lady Chapel (formerly South Chapel): The moving of the organ enabled the creation of the Lady Chapel, which was dedicated in 1961. The East Window depicts the Annunciation and was designed by Christopher Webb. To the right of this window is an ancient piscina, in use in the 13th century. The south wall has a fine wall monument of 1569 (William Uvedale) with strap work and also a stone coffin lid, probably 13th century and from the grave of a child. In 2004 the re-ordering of the Lady Chapel was completed with the installation of a lighting corona and engraved glass panels and doors. The glass was designed and engraved by Tracey Sheppard and depicts references in Psalms 46, 27, 148 and 36.
Windows: With the exception of those in the Lady Chapel, the cusped 2- and 3-light windows date largely from the Victorian period. The finest examples of Victorian stained glass work are the East Window, which depicts the parable of the sheep and the goats, and the North Window depicting in symbolic form the ascended Christ in glory. The four panels below depict the Epiphany; the Healing of blind Bartimaeus; the Blessing of the Children and the Last Supper.
The Floors: The Chancel and Sanctuary are in stone flags, apparently dating from the 1940s, though the Chancel floor was restored and levelled with Portland stone in 1950. The Lady Chapel floor incorporates a number of ledger stones. The South Transept has also been re-paved using ledger stones. The Nave is paved with clay tiles.
The Organ: Built in 1874 in the Lady (South) Chapel, the organ was moved to its current position in the Gallery at the West end of the Church in 1957. It was re-built by Martin Renshaw in 1978, incorporating pipework, casework, console and soundboards from three redundant organs (two of which were built by William Hill) from St Faith’s, Wandsworth; Christchurch, Dover and St Stephen’s, South Lambeth.
Carved heads are worked into the terminations of the glazed archway between the organ loft and Tower.
The Bells: The original peal of 5 bells were cast by R. Wells of Aldbourne, Wiltshire, between 1767–1772. They were re-hung and restored in 1890 by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough and augmented with a 6th bell, a new treble. They were restored and re-hung again in 1973 by John Taylor & Co. The bells are inscribed.
The Clock: The mechanism by Gillett & Co of Croydon, dated 1888, drives clock faces on the south and west faces of the Tower.
The West Door and round-headed arch with chevron frieze was re-set from the earlier building and dates back to Norman times, and a sculptured badge (Sagittarius) of King Stephen is on the left capitol.
The walls of Hampshire flint and Bath stone dressings are a major characteristic of the outside of the church today, along with the Tower and broached shingle Spire, all of which were added in the period of virtual re-building in 1862 by F. & H. Francis. There are stepped buttresses, lancets and decorated tracery to the gables of the Chancel and transepts. In the 17th century the South Transept was added and still consists of the old mellow bricks of that period.
Carved heads are worked into the terminations of the hood-moulds of the following windows: the Chancel, the South Transept; one of the Nave’s south facing windows; the Tower’s window to the organ loft; and the North Transept. On other windows there are carved foliated motifs.
The Roof is of clay peg tiles, except for the Lady Chapel roof, which is of natural slate.
The Church Room: Built by J. Croad in 1974. it was designed by Brandt, Potter & Hare to blend into the ancient church. The octagonal roof matches the Victorian shingle spire.
The Churchyard is still in use and contains a number of old tombs, several of them box tombs. Eight tombs are listed.
The Churchyard also contains a Garden of Remembrance created in 1993, and the Wickham War Memorial.
M. C. Retallack, Wickham (S. Hampshire) and its Church (Home Words, London: 1959)
R. A. A. Hirst (ed), The Parish Church of St. Nicholas, Wickham (St Nicholas Wickham, 1990)