A Brief History of St. Nicholas
The Church, dedicated to St. Nicholas, is a very striking example of a church built upon a large mound almost circular in construction. This particular mound had probably been sacred ground for centuries so what could have been more fitting than the building of a first Christian church upon the place hallowed by the people for untold generations? In all probability St. Wilfrid dedicated a church here before 670AD.
The present building therefore probably has an ancestry that was ancient when the Norman builders came in 1120 leaving behind them the now re-used west doorway, with its zigzag on the arch. Later changes were wrought in the thirteenth century through the church’s association with the Manor of Wickham and the Uvedale family so that by the mid 19th century it looked as shown in the illustration below.
The Victorian era then saw a fifteen year period of ‘makeover’. The Norman doorway was moved about ten feet to the west and fitted into the new tower, the north transept was rebuilt and the exterior walls clad in flints. The interior did not escape attention, or ‘spoilation’ as it underwent considerable alteration, including the introduction of an organ in the South Chapel and uniform seating.
More recent internal changes took place in the 1950s with alterations to the chancel and creation of the priest’s vestry. The organ was removed to its current position in 1957 from the South Chapel enabling its re-dedication as a Lady Chapel in 1961. This chapel has received further attention with the installation of engraved glass panels and doors and a lighting corona in 2004.
The most significant features of the church as it is today are listed in brief below.
The aisleless nave, chancel and North Transept and South Chapel (now the Lady Chapel) are Early English style and significant 13th Century features are the North doorway in the chancel and the archway to the South Chapel.
The church has a Victorian interior with several wall monuments of 18th and 19th Century. The Chancel has remains of a 15th Century table tomb.
The pews are square ended, panelled with solid backs, all of Victorian design.
The pulpit is oak panelled and dates from the 1960s. Carved heads are worked into the terminations of the arch between the nave and the chancel, immediately behind and above the pulpit and lectern.
Hanging in the Nave (north wall) is a painting of the Holy Family by Guercino from 17th Century Italian School. This was restored in 1994. ‘A Rest during Flight into Egypt” after Luca Giordano (1632-1705), which hangs on the south wall, was restored between 2001 and 2003 and was hung here in 2004.
Inner West Doors: panelled wood with 4 carvings depicting from left to right:
1) St. Nicholas, patron saint of sailors and children, 2) the Uvedale Arms, 3) William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, and 4) the William of Wykeham Coat of Arms with the motto “Manners Makyth Man”.
On the West Wall, to the right of these inner doors, is a 20th Century oak ‘shrine’ to those who lost their lives in the First World War. On the other side of the door there is a memorial plaque to those who died in the Second World War.
The South Transept dates from 17th Century and contains the notable alabaster tomb of 1615 (Sir William Uvedale) with classical details, arched canopy, male and female effigies and nine kneeling figures of their four sons and five daughters. The octagonal Font, has a fine painted wooden canopy and a wooden figurine of the Virgin Mary, the latter only being displayed on special occasions. Also in the South Transept is a chest, and a display relating to William of Wykeham. In 2003 the church was given the J.L. Duysen upright piano which now stands here.
The oak screen to the vestry was given by a local family in thanksgiving for the safe return of four sons from the Second World War.
South Chapel/Lady Chapel: The moving of the organ (see overleaf) made room for the creation of the Lady Chapel, which was dedicated in 1961 and the East Window depicts the Annunciation and was designed by Christopher Webb. To the right of this window is an ancient piscine in use in the 13th Century. The south wall has a fine wall monument of 1569 (William Uvedale) with strap work and also a stone coffin lid, probably 13th century and from the grave of a child. In 2004 the re-ordering of the Lady Chapel was completed with the installation a lighting corona and engraved glass panels and doors. These latter were designed and engraved by Tracey Sheppard depicting references in Psalms 46, 27, 148 and 36.
Windows: With the exception of those in the Lady Chapel, the cusped 2 and 3-light windows date largely from the Victorian period, the finest examples of Victorian Stained Glass work being the East Window, which depicts the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and the North Window depicting in symbolic form the ascended Christ in glory with four panels below: The Epiphany; the Healing of blind Bartamaeus; the Blessing of the Children and the Last Supper.
The Floors: the chancel and sanctuary are in stone flags, apparently dating from the 1940s, though the Chancel floor was restored and levelled with Portland stone in 1950. The South Chapel floor appears to be of recent origin, and incorporates a number of ledger stones. The South Transept has also been re-paved using ledger stones. The nave is paved with clay tiles, some of which have worn slightly.
The Organ, built in 1874 in the South (Lady) Chapel, was moved to its current position in the Gallery at the West end of the Church in 1957. It was re-built by Martin Renshaw in 1978 incorporating much pipework, casework, console and soundboards from three redundant organs, [two of which were built by William Hill] from St. Faith’s, Wandsworth, Christchurch, Dover and St. Stephen’s, South Lambeth.
Carved heads are worked into the terminations of the glazed archway between the organ loft and bell tower.
The Bells: the original peal of five bells were cast by R. Wells of Aldbourne, Wiltshire, between 1767 and 1772. They were re-hung and restored in 1890 by John Taylor and Co of Loughborough and augmented with a 6th bell, a new treble bell. They were restored and re-hung again in 1973 by John Taylor & Co. The bells are inscribed.
The Clock: Mechanism by Gillett & Co of Croydon, dated 1888 drives clock faces on south and west faces of the Tower.
The West Door and round-headed arch with chevron frieze was re-set from the earlier building and dates back to Norman times, and a sculptured badge (Sagittarius) of King Stephen is on the left capitol.
The Walls of Hampshire flint and Bath stone dressings are a major characteristic of the outside of the church today, along with the tower and broached shingle spire, all of which were added in the period of virtual re-building in 1862 by F & H Francis. There are stepped buttresses, lancets and Decorated tracery to the gables of the chancel and transepts. In the 17th Century the South Transept was added and still consists of the old mellow bricks of that period.
Carved heads are worked into the terminations of the hood-moulds of the following windows: the Chancel, the South Transept, one of the Nave’s south facing windows, the Tower’s window to the organ loft, and the North Transept. On other windows there are carved foliated motifs.
The Roof is of clay peg tiles, except for the South Chapel which is of natural slate.
The Church Room: built by Jno Croad in 1974. It was designed by Brandt, Potter & Hare to blend into the ancient church and the octagonal roof matches the Victorian shingle spire.
The Churchyard is still in use and contains a number of old tombs, several of them box tombs. Eight tombs are listed.
The Churchyard also contains a Garden of Remembrance created in 1993, and the Wickham War Memorial.
M.C. Retallack: Wickham (S. Hampshire) and its Church. Home Words, London. 1959
R.A.A. Hirst (Ed): The Parish Church of St. Nicholas, Wickham, 1990