Exbury Parish Church is dedicated to St. Katharine of Alexandria, patron saintof the medieval wheelwrights guild. She was martyred on a spiked wheel, in about AD 300: festival day, November 25th.
This Church is a successor to a small medieval stone chapel, situated at Lower Exbury near the Beaulieu River's mouth. Probably of thirteenth century origin, it was demolished in 1827. Some of its stone is incorporated into todays church: see the west end ground level course of Bembridge Stone, in the outer wall.
Services at the early chapel were taken by Cistercian monks who crossed the river from St. Leonard's or came from Beaulieu Abbey. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries (at Beaulieu, in 1538) services were taken by clergy from
By the early nineteenth century Mr William Mitford, Lord of the Manor of Exbury and Lepe, decided to build a new model village at Upper Exbury, the present village. A site was designated for a new church, and burials took place on this site from about 1810.
In 1827 a rectangular chapel was first built as a plain, Exbury made brick chapel, with a grey slate roof. In 1863 Exbury was made a full ecclesiastical parish. The Revd J P Bartlett, who had until then been Exbury's Curate, became the first Rector.
The church was completely rebuilt to the designs of architect CM Oldrid Scott between 1907 and 1908. The East End was extended, a cruciform shape created, walls and ceiling raised, Ventnor limestone walls added outside, and a tiled roof laid. The vaulted barrel roof provided a much lighter, spacious interior, and the windows were given Gothic heads. Oldrid Scott was inspired by earlier decorated and perpendicular architectural styles.
Between 1927 and 1928 the Town and Memorial Chapel was added as a memorial to those parishioners of Exbury Parish who gave their lives during the First World War (1914-1918). These included John and Alfred, sons of Lord Forster.
The bell hung in the Tower's bell chamber (not possible to see from ground level) is believed to be Salisbury cast, dated 1509 and so pre-Reformation. It came from the original chapel at Lower Exbury and still calls people to worship.
What to look for?
The Font is seen on entry to the Church. Its position symbolises entry into the Christian faith through baptism. The Font has a thirteenth century octagonal Purbeck stone bowl, originally in use at Lower Exbury Chapel. Notice the stonemason's chisel marks inside the bowl.
The Drum Type Pulpit was given as a memorial by the family of Dr. J C Ryle, the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, who was Exbury's Curate from 1841 till 1843. He became one of the church's leading Evangelicals. At Exbury he conducted two services on Sundays and led group meetings in nearby cottages on weekdays. Peat smoke gave a distinctive smell in the rooms used! J C Ryle lived at nearby Langley and enquiries are still made about him by visitors.
The Lectern was carved from Exbury grown Oak by local woodcarver Mr Ivor Fountain. It shows a superb representation of an eagle and bears six carved panels on its central stem. These depict the Cross (as on the pulpit), St. Katharine, a Hampshire rose, oak leaves and acorns, a cross-cut saw with the letter E (for Exbury Sawmills) and a barn owl. The present lectern replaces a metal one stolen in January 1994, which was made from the brass turbine blades of HM Australian Ship 'Sydney'.
The Pendant Lamps: look above you! These were installed about 1892, using paraffin fuel, and were converted to use electricity after 1945.
The East End Window depicts the Nativity Scene: notice the kneeling boy St Christopher. the glass was made by Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, London. It was given in memory of Lord Forster's parents. The West End Window shows the Ascension, and complements the East window. It was given by Countess de la Warr in memory of her son, Lionel Charles Cranfield, who was drowned at sea (see the brass plate below).
There are various Wall Memorials, mainly to members of the Mitford family who owned Exbury Estate between 1718 and 1879. Notice the North wall tablet to William Mitford, the Church's founder, with its boar's head representation, and
the family motto 'God caryth for us'.
The Memorial Chapel Bronze shows the superb recumbent warrior figure of Alfred Forster, younger son of Lord and Lady Forster of Lepe. This was designed in 1918 by Cecil Thomas, who served with Alfred Forster.
The Chapel's Hanging Lamp, presented by Miss Amy Fergusson, was also designed by Cecil Thomas. Look up too at the Chapel's lovely oak wood ceiling with its stone bosses above the bronze.
The Kneelers (Hassocks) in the main body of the Church (the Nave) were made recently by ladies of the Church. Each has a different design worked on a blue ground.
The Organ and Screen were installed in 2011. The organ is described as a two manual and pedal organ with a comprehensive specification incorporating sampled digital technology by Phoenix Organs. It is capable of accompanying a full congregation and a convincing performance of much of the organ repertoire. The cost of the installation of both organ and screen was met by a very generous donation from the de Rothschild family of Exbury.
The Christian faith has been upheld in Exbury Parish for over 700 years. The Church's Holy communion chalice has nearly 400 years of use. There is a service every second Sunday at 11.15am. When there is a 5th Sunday in the month there is a 10.00am Combined Benefice Service which rotates around the three churches. [Click 'Services' to be transferred to the Church Services part of the Benefice Calendar, where details of services and other activities may be found]
Heritage at Risk
Exbury’s beautiful Grade II Listed St Katharine’s Church has been a place of worship for over the past 200 years, and continues to reach out to the local community providing a church for marriage, baptism, funeral and memorial services in addition to regular Sunday worship.
The church building now has fundamental structural problems. The stonework has been badly eroded and unless action is taken urgently, the building will continue to crumble and become unusable. Indeed it is now on the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ Register, which is an indication of how serious the problems are. In response to this situation, an Appeal Fund was launched in May 2016, with an ongoing programme of events and activities planned. If you can help with the appeal, help with fundraising events or if you have any practical skills you would be happy to offer towards the actual restoration, then contact 023 80 4608.
Action is needed now in order to preserve what is part of local heritage so that future generations, regardless of their beliefs, can still enjoy this place in whose building and grounds an oasis of peace and tranquillity can be found.