Updated: Aug 21
Today my plans for a long walk along the Dorset coast were thwarted by the weather. It was a close shave as I watched the flash floods at Lulworth Cove on TV from the safety of my living room 50 miles away! So I decided on a little exploration right on my doorstep. In fact so close to home that I can see my destination from my bedroom window.
Since I first visited Calstone Church near Calne I’ve been fascinated by church graffiti. When I went to see Old Dilton Church a little while ago there were some pages in there from the Wiltshire Medieval Graffiti Survey which, apart from information about Old Dilton, also mentioned my local church - St Mary’s, Maddington in Shrewton. A couple of friends in the village were telling me about the graffiti in St Mary’s so I decided to go and see for myself, and to have a closer look at the church. It is managed by the The Churches Conservation Trust and I have been in there countless times, but I have never really looked closely at what lies within.
In some CCT managed churches you will find a QR code that links to an audio guide to the church. If you have read my blog about Old Dilton Church you will have seen that a good internet connection is necessary to listen to the guide, and fortunately there is a good connection in Shrewton. These guides are a fantastic resource and as well as the audio description the website contains a written description with photographs.
St. Mary’s Maddington is Norman in origin but only a little of its original architecture survives, having been heavily restored over the centuries. As you approach along the path by the flint wall next to the Old Vicarage you are greeted first by two ancient yew trees, as ever their eccentric contorted shapes a photographer’s dream.
You are then confronted by the distinctive flint and sandstone chequer work of the nave and chancel of the church, together with its squat square tower.
The building retains its basic 13th century shape but with many additions and alterations. Substantial alterations were funded by the MP Giles Tooker in the 17th century. He has the dubious honour of having made no recorded speeches in Parliament during his career! Further significant restoration was made by Thomas Henry Wyatt in the 19th century, when sadly much of the historic graffiti was covered over.
Much of the interior and exterior of the church is adorned with graffiti, but there are three to note as you enter the church. Two are to be found over and around the door, the third is to be found inside.
Firstly, look above your head as you pass over the threshold of the doorway. You will see two “W”s. At first I thought these were someone’s initials but I have also seen them at Calstone. In fact they are apotropaic symbols intended to turn away harm or evil influences. The overlapping “V”s to form a “W” are known as Marian marks and are an invocation to the Virgin Mary that she may protect the location. Calstone Church is also dedicated to St. Mary.
Carved into the stone door frame on the left as you enter can just be seen what appears to be a pair of shears or scissors. The symbol could refer to local industry of textiles or agriculture, and could even have been created with the tool depicted. A comparable mark was discovered at All Saints', Liddington.
Once in the church there are several symbols carved into the stone pillars. One of these is a compass-drawn hexafoil, or daisy-wheel. Some believe this was intended to trap a malevolent spirit, which would be doomed to forever follow the circular lines of the inscription. You will also find another which consists of a circle and an overlapping semi-circle apparently scratched with a compass. However Laurie Smith, on his website Historic Building Geometry, says it is more likely these symbols are simplified geometrical codes for the plan, section and elevation of the specific buildings on which they are found. My thanks to Hidden Wiltshire follower Nigel Challis for this information.
Also to be found on several pillars are what I believe are mason’s marks to show which stonemason worked on which piece of stone. This was done to ensure the quality of the work and to ensure proper payment for each craftsman.
There is much else to see inside the church. Just visible behind and to the right of the font in one of the photographs is an oak Bier, a wheeled frame on which coffins were moved from the church into the graveyard. You may notice that the stained glass window framed by the chancel arch in the same photograph is offset to the left, the sort of thing that leaps out to my OCD brain! This was due to the north wall being re-built 18 inches out in 1603.
Apart from the usual monuments to wealthy local families, one of the arches in the chancel has two beautifully painted biblical inscriptions, one on each side, that look down over the congregation. Similar inscriptions can be found at All Saints and St. Mary Church in nearby Chitterne. Moving to the sanctuary, and more monuments, the most striking thing is the oak reredos, the ornamental screen displaying the Ten Commandments in gilt lettering.
There is much else to discover but before you leave St Mary’s it is worth taking a look at the churchyard, which is divided into two by a path that crosses it.
The main and oldest part of the churchyard by the church itself has like many in recent years been rewilded in parts. Nature has been allowed to reclaim it. In the Spring it is a sea of wild flowers but in these drought conditions in August 2022 it is looking very sorry for itself.
Across the earth path that bisects the churchyard, and through the wooden gate, is the more modern part. There are two Commonwealth War graves, one of which commemorates Herbert Vaughan Hartley, the first Canadian Army soldier to die in the First World War. He died at the age of 38 on 19 October 1914 not at the front, from which he was spared, but supposedly from exposure in Shrewton where he was camped having collapsed after having an epileptic fit. His body was found face down in a field in the village, and he left five children all under the age of seven. Finally, in this part of the churchyard is the grave of Russian scientist Vladimir Artemovich Pasechnik, about whom I previously wrote a blog for Hidden Wiltshire.