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Avington Church
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Avington Church, lying on private land about a mile east of Hungerford, is a fine example of an unspoilt two cell Norman church. Access can usually be gained as described on local notices.

Simple in plan, Avington church still retains its almost completely Norman structure, the only additions being those of a 16th century porch and a 19th century vestry. It is thought to have been dedicated to St Mark and St James.

The brief notes below describe just a few of the interesting features of the church:

Porch: Built of brick and flint, the initials R C, those of Richard Choke, the Lord of the Manor in 1564, can be seen in the spandrels of the doorway. It has frequently been suggested that it was moved from its original site at the old Manor House, when it burned down in about 1769, but there seems no reason to believe that it was not originally sited where it now stands.

Notice also on the outside face of the porch the remains of a mass-dial in the top left hand corner. These were used to indicate to the often illiterate parishoners the times at which mass would be held, by engraving or painting a heavier line at that hour. Evidence of other dials can be seen at the south east outside corner of the church.

There may once have been a cell of the monastery at Amesbury here, to support the church, and the quatrefoil windows are possibly taken from the old monastic buildings, when they were demolished at the time of the Reformation.
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South Door: Decorated with characteristic Norman chevron decoration, an interesting feature is that of capitals of different styles on top of the door pillars. The door itself is of oak, and is probably about 400 years old.

West End: Originally possessing a plaster and lathe partition for the bell tower, this was finally removed in 1863 by the Revd John James. The spire had been removed earlier, during the restorations of 1848-52, after being previously damaged by lightning.

He also had the lower window and stained glass installed - all other windows in the church (except the 13th century ones in the vestry and the chancel) are of Norman origin.

Font: The font also dates from the 12th century, the cable pattern around the top being a typical decorative feature of that time. The lining and the lid, however are modern. Damage to the side of the font can be seen in the illustration in Lysons Magna Brittanica, published in 1806.

There are 13 figures in all, surrounding the entire body of the font. Some appear to be ecclesiastical personages, wearing copes, and one carries what could be a bishops staff. There may also be members of the legal profession. The character with the cloven feet is fairly obviously Satan, but further interpretation of the identity of these figures is always open to doubt, when one considers the wealth of medieval mythology and superstition depicted here, the details of which are now lost to modern man.
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In the early 1900s, there was also another font; this was a small bowl, again with a simple cable edging around the rim. It was not original to Avington however, being donated by the Rector & Churchwardens of Brimpton Church, as a 'sole relic' of their old parish church. This font is sadly no longer present.

Hatchment: The coat of arms hanging behind the font is in the form of a hatchment, a funeral decoration which was hung in front of the house of the deceased, then, perhaps a few months later, taken to the church where it was left as a permanent memorial. This one commemorates William James, who died in 1666. (See the ledger stone to his wife, Sarah, in the chancel). As William died before his wife, the left hand side of the background is coloured black. If she had died before him, this convention would have been reversed.

Ledger Stone:  This previously lay beneath the pews near the spot where the pulpit now stands. It was moved to its present position in 1867 at which time investigations were made 'to a depth of three feet', but nothing was found. There is no inscription on the stone, but it has been suggested that it may be a memorial to, or even actually mark the site of the grave of the Founder of the church.
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avington_01w

Avington Church, Jul 1980

Avington-002w 1938

Avington Church, 1938

Avington Church(w)

Avington Church, possibly in the 1950s

avington_02w

South door, Avington Church, Jul 1980
showing chevron decoration of stonework

avington_03w

Interior of Avington Church, Jul 1980
showing the "cracked" chancel arch

Avington Church - Chancel Arch(w)

Part of the chancel arch
(from Lysons Magna Brittanica, 1806)

Blocked Doorway: Now containing the cross stone, this doorway dates from the 13th century. Traces of paint can be seen over the archway, together with other places in the church.

This door would probably have been left open during a baptism service to 'let out the demons' or evil spirits, that were thought to be cast out of the soul when it was baptised. Notice that it is on the North side of the church - the Devils side, and that outside nobody is buried in the shadow of the church, again the area thought to belong to Satan.

Table: This is made from two sections of the altar rail - the missing sections were not replaced and the gaps can still be seen.

Pews, Pulpit and Altar Rails: These items were all installed during the restoration of the church carried out in 1848-53, by William Butterfield, although the original pulpit was installed in 1765.

Chancel Arch: A very interesting and attractive feature of the church. It is 'cracked', across its middle, probably due to the walls bowing out at some point, as can be clearly seen if one stands at the West end of the church. Various beasts are portrayed on one side of the arch, and birds beaks on the other - beaks from both sides meet in the midline. Stewkley church in Buckinghamshire is another that displays this type of decoration.

The capitals at the top of the arch pillars are the same as those at West Shefford church - could they possibly have been created by the same stonemason?

Again, colouring can be seen on the pillars of the arch, in a lozenge pattern, and also on the star-shaped motifs along the outer nave arch.

Vaulting: In the chancel, evidence of vaulting still remains. It may have been started and never finished - alternatively, it was finished, and then at some later time, collapsed (perhaps again as the result of the movement of the walls). Pieces of masonry are still present in the church which could have come from this vaulting, thus supporting the view that there were, at one time, vaulted arches in the chancel.

Stained Glass: Three of the stained glass windows were installed at the request of the Rev. John James, as memorials to his children. That in the West window, by Mayer of Munich, is to his missionary son, the Revd. Charles Anderson James. The one in the nave commemorates Arthur James, a naval cadet who died in Bermuda, and the one in the chancel, like that in the nave, by Powell, is to his daughter, Barbara Wilberforce James, who, the inscription tells us, was granddaughter of William Wilberforce, 'the Great Parliamentary Leader in the cause of the Abolition of the Slave Trade'.

James Ledger Stones: There were originally four stones in the chancel; that to William James, who died in 1666, is no longer present. Still remaining are those to Sarah James, his wife, Boulton James, and his wife, Francis 'the Best of Wives, the Best of Mothers and the Best of Widows'. (The James family lived at nearby Denford Park, and were apparently staunch supporters of Protestantism during the days of the Reformation).

Sedilia: Used for the seating of clergy during the performance of their daily offices, the sedilia at Avington is of a simple, round headed style.

Piscina: There are two piscinae in the church, one in the chancel and one in the nave (now partially hidden by the pulpit). This situation may have arisen due to the closing off of the church at the chancel arch at some time during its construction. The altar would then have been placed in front of the partition, and the nave piscina used for the washing of hands and vessels in Holy water. When the partition was removed, the one in the chancel would have then been used for the same purpose.

Aumbry: A simple square niche, this is where the church plate and sacramental implements would have been kept. The doors were installed in 1878, to match the style of Butterfields altar rails.

Corbels: Representing an ox and a lion, these may indicate that the patron saints of the church are Saint Luke & Saint Mark. However, there is also evidence that the church may have had another dedication - the parish clerk in the 1860's, John Poughley, said that he remembered his parents talking about going to church 'at St. Mary's at Avington' when he was a young child.

With thanks to the anonymous writer of these notes dating from 1980.

Roslyn Latham (of 5 Wellington Cottages, Ball Hill) wrote the following article about Avington Church, published in the NWN 24 Apr 1980:

When told by the Berkshire Archaeological Unit that Avington church had been made redundant, my first visit there in the summer of 1979 was organised to carry out hurried recording of the gravestones and their inscriptions before they were perhaps lost for ever, demolished, or simply 'tidied' into neat rows against a wall, making an easily maintained lawn, but destroying yet another small chunk of English rural history in the progress.

On that first visit, however, I heard of the intended purchase of the church by Lord Howard de Walden, and later he assured me that he was himself anxious to preserve both its character and fabric. I was free to record the church and gravestones at my leisure, and since then I have grown closely acquainted with both the buildings and the characters in the churchyard - the past inhabitants of the parish of Avington and Radley.

Set on the banks of the river Kennet and sheltering beneath a magnificent cedar tree, the exterior of Avington church is deceptive in its simplicity; a plain rectangular shape, dating from the 12th century, the only additions are those of a 19th century vestry (site of a 13th century chantry chapel) and the porch, an 18th century addition of 16th century masonry.

The porch has fortunately preserved the entrance to the church, a pleasing Norman archway with typical chevron decoration. The door itself is of heavy, 16th century oak, and as it swings open, one is confronted by a most extraordinary sight- a simple Norman tub font, but with 13 of the most unusual figures carved upon its outer surface.

Crude but lively, many suggestions have been made as to their nature - Satan, Boethius, bishops and judges, and any new interpretations would be welcomed with interest I Several wear lower garments resembling baggy bloomers, suggesting similar, but more sophisticated figures around the door of the church at Kilpeck, in Herefordshire.

Looking down the nave of the church, the most striking feature is that of the sagging chancel arch, spanning 15 feet, and cracked across its middle, probably as the result of the walls bowing outwards with resulting stress producing the fracture. Peering up at the arch, one can see faces of cats, crows and other animals peering back through the gloom - all with animated expressions and poking tongues. The Avington Bestiary is completed with carvings of a lion and an ox at the east end, symbols of the Evangelists Mark and Luke, to whom the church is thought to be dedicated.

Set into the walls are two piscinae, which" were used for the washing of hands and vessels in consecrated water. One is at the east end, on the south wall, while the other (also on the south wall) is in front of the chancel arch, and now hidden by the pulpit. The presence of this nave piscina suggests that, at one time, the church was closed off at the chancel arch, perhaps while building continued behind.

Within the deeply splayed Norman windows, the Victorian memorial glass may seem somewhat gaudy in such subdued surroundings, but the dedications are interesting. One is to Barbara Wilberforce, daughter of John James, who was Rector here in 1853, and "granddaughter of William Wilberforce, the great Parliamentary Leader in the cause otthe Abolition of the Slave Trade". There are also memorials to members of the James family, of nearby Denford Park, including one to Frances James, "the Best of Wives, the Best of mothers and the Best of Widows". Their family motto, "J'aime a Jamais" (a pun of their name), can be seen upon the hatchment which hangs behind the font at the west end of the church.

Inscriptions lead us back outside to the churchyard, and to others who once lived and worshipped here. To the left of the porch lies "Rob Coster, Watchmaker of Newbury", who died in 1749. Did he retire here, after a busy life in the market town, to live with "Mary Coster, spinster", perhaps his sister, or daughter?

Child mortality during the 19th century is also touchingly illustrated, for near to the great cedar stands the stone to "Charles, Lucretia and Robert, infant children of John & Harriet Bowsher". But Avington knew its aged as well - Thomas Lanfear, 88 years old when buried, lies here in a family grave, while on the other side of the church, Walter Lanfear, Rector for 8 years, was laid to rest at the noble age of 95!

Many facets of wealth & simplicity are mirrored here in the churchyard, from the grand chest tomb of Simon Rawlins, to the humble unmarked mound of earth. But at their focus, as for over 800 years, still stands the church of SS Mark & Luke, holding mystery, peace and tranquillity, now, as in the past, for all manner of folk.

Avington Church was made redundant in 1977 when the parishes of Avington and Kintbury were united.

In 1980 the church was bought by Lord Howard de Walden. (See "Lord Howard de Walden to buy unused church" - NWN 27 Mar 1980). Owneship remains in the de Walden family.

See also:
- Avington Church - Report by Council for Place of Worship, 26 Jul 1976 (a very full and
          detailed report following a visit by the Pastoral Measure Assistant, 27 May 1976)
- Avington Church, by F J Booker, c1977

Updated: 25.1.2013

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