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Church of St. George, Fovant

The earliest record of the existence of a church in Fovant is a grant of land that was made to a local priest in 901 A.D. It is likely that a Saxon wooden church existed on or near the site of the present church, but no evidence remains. By the time of Domesday, Fovant was owned by the Convent at Wilton. The church at this time was a Norman building; the only remaining part of this is the framework of the priest’s door in the exterior of the south wall.

By the 15th century the church was in need of rebuilding. It was built in the Perpendicular style, and it was at this time that the tower and south aisle were built. On the north wall of the chancel is a small monumental brass which records that George Rede, Rector of Fovant, was responsible for the building of the tower in 1492. The decorative open work frieze at the top of the tower is a fine example of late Perpendicular stonework and has retained its original design despite repairs.

When Henry VIII began to close the monasteries in 1539, the last Abbess at Wilton, Cicely Bodenham, was allowed to live in the manor house next to the church, along with 31 of her nuns. Most of the convent’s estates, including those at Fovant, passed into the ownership of the Earls of Pembroke, who built Wilton House on the site of the convent. The south aisle in the church was rebuilt in the 16th century by the Abbess.

When Sir Richard Colt Hoare visited the church in the 1820s he described it as having a nave with two side aisles, a chancel, chantry chapel, porch and tower. The church also housed the village school room in the chapel. The church was (and still is) 71’ 6” long and the nave is 27’ 9” wide. At this time it was big enough to seat 210 people.

By 1863 the church was in a general state of decay and in need of rebuilding. T.H. Wyatt, the consultant architect for churches in the Salisbury diocese, was given the task of carrying out the alterations, which were mainly in the interior. One of the problems with the old church was that it was too small. The 1861 census figure for Fovant was 600; by rearranging the interior layout, Wyatt increased the seating in the church from 210 to 348 people.

The chancel was completely rebuilt by Wyatt. He replaced the chancel arch and pulled down the musicians’ gallery; the gallery doorway opening on the south side of the arch can still be seen. The wall separating the chapel from the south aisle was removed and this part of the east end became the vestry. The roofs of the nave and chancel are wagon-headed and were originally painted blue. The north aisle is separated from the nave by an arcade of four pointed arches resting on Norman piers remaining from the earlier church fabric.

The tracery of the west window in the tower, which depicts the four Evangelists, is typical of late Perpendicular style. The stonework of the other windows has mostly been renewed, but the two in the south aisle, with their flat tops, may be early 16th century. The wooden screen between the nave and the tower is a good example of Early English work.

Although there are now six bells in the tower, there were only three in 1553, of which one remains. Two bells were added in 1674. The fifth, originally cast in 1627, was recast in 1863. Bells one to three were recast in 1874. The sixth was a gift given in 1980 by Miss Hanham, a former headmistress of the school. All the bells were retuned and rehung at the same time. The one remaining original bell is the fourth which was cast at a foundry in Salisbury in 1400.

Outside in the churchyard are a number of war graves. Many date from the First World War when there was a large training camp and military hospital at Fovant. These soldiers either died from their wounds or were victims of the post-war flu epidemic. Some of them came from Australia. The eagle lectern and litany desk in the church were placed there in 1923 in memory of the 63 British and Australian soldiers who died in the Fovant camp hospital and were buried in the churchyard.

Today Fovant parish is part of the Nadder Valley Team Ministry. The Rector at Fovant also looks after the churches in Sutton Mandeville, Teffont Evias, Teffont Magna and Compton Chamberlayne. The parish registers for Fovant dating from 1541 (apart from those currently in use) can be viewed at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.
(Wiltshire Community History)

Owner/SourceWiltshire Community History
File nameChurch of St. George, Fovant.JPG
File Size172.34k
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Copyright Notice
Linked toWilliam Goodfellow

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