Orcheston and the Tale of Two Churches

Since I’m too old to be thinking about another mortgage I’ve been limiting my use of the car as much as possible of late, and doing more walks from home. It gives me time to ponder how it is that whilst the price of crude oil is coming down the price of petrol remains at eye watering levels. And how did we get to a place where we think we’ve found a bargain when we come across diesel at £1.80 a litre?

As readers of the Hidden Wiltshire blog will have noticed I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with churches and a fascination for the graffiti that so many of them hide. I’m afraid this is yet another (this time short) blog about not one but two churches. The little village of Orcheston is a pleasant half day’s round trip walk from where I live, either across the Plain or a by using a more direct route. The heart of the village lies at the end of a no through road so it is thankfully bypassed by most motor traffic. In the last week I’ve walked there twice – once with the long-suffering current Mrs Timlett, and the second time alone.

The 2011 census puts Orcheston’s population at 339 but despite this it has two fine and ancient churches – St Mary and St George. The modern day Orcheston combines the two former parishes of Orcheston St George and Orcheston St Mary as well as the hamlet of Elston on the lane to Shrewton. Despite its size Orcheston contains several beautiful country houses (26 of its c. 65 houses are listed), and a campsite. It once had a terrific pub, the perfect place for a Sunday lunchtime pint on a walk from Shrewton, but this sadly went the way of so many pubs and is now a private house. Orcheston is also the birthplace of Mick Channon, the former Southampton and England footballer (in the days before they rolled around the pitch crying if someone messed up their hair) and who is now a racehorse trainer. There are many horses to be found in the fields around the village. And it is also where you will find Orcheston Long Grass about which I wrote in my blog about the River Till.

Anyway, back to the churches. Both date from the 13th century so it’s curious to know why two churches were built in the same period in such close proximity to each other in such a small village.

My first walk was to visit Orcheston St George which can be found on the road that passes the village between Elston and the A360. It is tucked away off the hill that leads up to The Gibbet, also on the A360. Although this church is now redundant and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, it is in many ways the better maintained of the two. As I mentioned in relation to Old Dilton and Maddington churches you will find a QR code inside which links to a useful aural guide to the church. It is a bright, tranquil little place. A perfect haven to sit in contemplation.

Orcheston St George - tower

Orcheston St George - nave and chancel

My Girl! She hates having her photo taken. I told her not to stand there, but...

Orcheston St George - chancel

Much of what you see of the existing building reflects various phases of medieval, Tudor and Victorian expansion and restoration. Only the north doorway covered by the vestry survives from its Norman origins. Above the main door in the tower, the west window sports a sculptured griffin and a grinning dwarf, whilst inside on the north wall of the nave can be found a mysterious oval human face, its identity unknown. Like many churches the fondness for plaster and whitewash in the Victorian period has covered any graffiti inside but I did find the carefully carved name of Mary Carter on the exterior of the east wall.

Orcheston St George - the face

Orcheston St George - graffiti

My second walk to Orcheston in recent days was via a footpath from Shrewton that follows the gallops north east out to the Plain, then onto the military road between Rollestone Camp and Westdown Camp. Unfortunately the red flags were flying in the training area so I had to curtail my walk and head straight into Orcheston. A few days ago my Aunt Dorothy passed away. I hadn’t seen her for several years but I still felt her passing, so having time to think was welcome. The path from the military road back into the village takes you right past Orcheston St Mary which is tucked away at the end of a short path through the gate. I sat drinking coffee in the sun on a bench in the churchyard. As I did so what I first thought was a dog crashed through the bushes from a neighbouring house. I then realised it was a muntjac deer. I’m not sure who was more startled but having weighed me up it bolted back through into the bushes from where it began barking out its alarm call.

Orcheston St Mary - Tower and Clock

The squat little tower with its vivid indigo clock, stopped at 5:38, are what first holds the attention. The tower has survived since the mid 13th century. As with St George’s the church was extended and restored in Tudor and Victorian times. The churchyard contains one or two interesting headstones, including one marking the rest place of Anna Cay! I wonder? She died in 1824 which is a little before the anarchist movement flourished.

Orcheston St Mary - headstone

Orcheston St Mary - Anna Cay in the UK!

Orcheston St Mary - monument

Orcheston St Mary - IG 1750

Inside, the church is quite dark so I focused my camera more on some of the little details. Once again render and whitewash has concealed any graffiti that existed as far as I could tell but on the outside of the east wall I found the initials IG and the date 1750.

Orcheston St Mary - Alter

Orcheston St Mary - organ stops

Orcheston St Mary - toy shop?

Orcheston St Mary - the little details

On leaving the church after a peaceful hour or so, I ambled along the lane that ends at the church as far as the campsite where the weary traveller will find a little shop selling much welcome refreshments. From here using a series of paths I wended my way back to Shrewton, but not before photographing two houses in the lane just outside the church.