St Mary Magdalene

The history within St Mary Magdalene Parish Church.

There has been a chapel or church recorded in our town of Milton since some time in the 1260’s when the Calcombe or Chaucombe family are known to have been linked to its building.  The first reference to our church is in a note, listing moneys owed to the Bishop of Winchester in 1270. It was recorded that the chapel at Milton owed 15d. In 1288 it was noted that Milton chapel owed Christchurch Priory a wax candle and three shillings.  By 1403 There was a field in Milton called ‘Church Furlong’ indicating that Milton had progressed from having a chapel to being a village with a church.

The church was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. In the 14th century there was an annual fair held in Milton on St Magdalene’s day, July 22nd.

 In 1832 the original church was pulled down apart from the tower. The church was rebuilt with a brick nave and chancel.

This engraving of the church in Milton is taken from Mudie’s “Hampshire” which was published in 1838. The entrance to the church was via the south west part of the nave. This was later changed to incorporate a new doorway on the west side of the tower, where it remains to this day.

The entrance to the church was via the south west part of the nave. This was later changed to incorporate a new doorway on the west side of the tower, where it remains to this day. The inside of the church showing the layout before restoration is shown in this postcard dated 1905. 

On the outside of St Mary Magdalene on the lower right corner of the tower can be found this symbol ↑ carved into the stone at ground level. This mark is also replicated on a bronze plaque nearby with the letters O↑S either side. This is clearly a marked left by the Ordnance Survey map makers.

Above and to the left of the entrance to the church is carved the initials R.B. This is on the stone of the tower. Also, on the tower both on the outside and the inside are the marks XIII. They can also be found in a better-preserved state inside the bell tower. It is possible that these might be mason’s marks identifying the work of a specific stone mason.

The tower of our church is believed to be early 17th century although it might be even earlier, possibly Tudor.  Clues to suggest an earlier date for the tower exist in the form of this plaque to be found on the wall of the tower which can be seen when visiting upstairs in the gallery.

The records for church wardens begin in 1712 as listed in Miltonia, which was published in 1910 by Reverend John Edward Kellsall. However, that same publication mentions that the Parish Church records begin in 1654. The name on the plaque is not shown in Miltonia. Could the 95 depicted here be 1595?

Another clue as to the age of the tower is that the bell was examined in 1970 by an expert who thought that it may have been cast in the late 14th century. There had been a second bell hanging in the tower which was believed to have been cast in 1593. This bell was given to St Peters Church in Ashley in 1957. 

Inside the porch is this magnificent monument. It is of a soldier in armour holding a sword. This man is Thomas White. The marble plaque below his effigy informs us that he Served three Kings and Queen Anne as a Commander in ye Guard and was much wounded he was in the Warrs [Sic] of Ireland and Flanders.

The sword that Thomas White holds in marble, is displayed in a case to the left of the church doorway. It was made by the Andrea Ferrara workshop who specialised in making high quality swords from layers of steel and iron. Thomas White is buried in the porch way in front of his monument. Also buried with him is Elizabeth who died on 2nd of December 1712, again offering another clue as to the age of the tower.

Step inside the church and look above the doorway. There you will see this plaque which records that the church was rebuilt and enlarged in 1832 and that it contains sittings for 600 persons.

It is interesting to note that J Bursey is one of the churchwardens. The Bursey family have a long history in our parish and were at one stage owners or tenants on large areas of land within the parish. There are memorials to the Burseys in the nave of the church.

On entering the church, you will immediately see a large stone font which dates from 1887.  Many Miltonians have been baptised here.

The font was a gift from the descendants of Captain Marryat (1792 -1848). He was the author of the story Children of the New Forest.  His brother George Marryat owned Chewton Glen house and it was whilst staying there that the Captain wrote his most famous story.

Nearby is an oak chest with two locks. It is possibly an alms chest dating from the 15th century. Sadly, little more is known about it.

The nave of the church dates from 1831 and was built by William Hiscock. It is of mottled brick construction with Y tracery windows.  Originally there were three rows of pews as seen below in this 1905 dated image.

Later the middle row was sawn in half and added onto those on the left and right to create more seating. With the exposed roof tie bars and green distemper on the walls this was not a church of great beauty. In addition, after 1886 and the arrival of the railway the population of Milton and the adjoining New Milton increased in size beyond the seating capacity of the church.

 In 1928 there was a move to create a brand-new church capable of catering to the needs of so many parishioners. Eventually it was decided to retain the existing building with its original tower and bells but extend eastwards and improve the appearance of the existing nave. This would increase the seating capacity to about 500. The architect was Sir Howard Robinson. The builders were H.H. Drew and Son who had been in business in New Milton from 1910 until recently. The result was widely agreed to be a vast improvement. 

The reconfigured concave ceiling of the nave gave it a new elegance. The rector in 1928 the Reverend William Maxwell Hutchinson wrote in the parish magazine that ‘a surprisingly beautiful ‘silk purse’ had been constructed out of the traditional ‘sow’s ear’.

As you walk out from under the gallery into the main body of the nave look to the right. You will see a large brass memorial plaque which lists the names of the Miltonians who lost their lives in the First World War. What is of great use to local historians is that the plaque tells us not just the serviceman’s name and initials but also his date of death and what regiment or ships he served with. In the local newspaper of October 1920, it was reported that the memorial had been made by ex-servicemen and had cost under £85.

There is a similar plaque on the opposite wall to commemorate the Miltonians who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Further along there are other memorial plaques. These are to the Bursey family. John Bursey was for a long time a church warden. In the 1841 Tithe allocations it can be seen that Mr Bursey owned considerable amounts of land and property in Milton. Further along is a memorial to General Sir Henry Clinton.

Sir Henry served in the army during the Napoleonic wars. He was a contemporary of the duke of Wellington and fought in the Peninsular campaigns and at the Battle of Waterloo. He retired to the Ashley Clinton Estate located to the east of Milton on the road to Lymington.

If you look under the pulpit you will see a fragment of stone from the original church that was pulled down in 1832.  This piece of carved stone was found in the churchyard in 1964. Sadly, no other pieces of the old church have been recovered.

Another stone treasure was uncovered in the garden beside the church hall in 1932 when the caretaker was digging the garden and discovered a Neolithic circular stone hammer.

Near to the pulpit, under the archway leading to the chancel, is a flagstone with an inscription that has been worn away with decades of footsteps. It is just possible to make out the words ‘The Vault of John Beames Esq of Bashley Lodge in this Parish. John Beames is shown on the 1851 census as living in Bashley Lodge along with five servants.  He died in 1853. There is a possible family link to another memorial tablet in the church. This is to 16-year-old Midshipman William Carnarvon Beames who died in Port Royal, Jamaica whilst serving on H.M.S. Arrogant.

In the 1st reincarnation of the church after 1832 there was a stained-glass window behind the altar. This was removed during the 1928 renovations. Fortunately, it was not disposed of and is on display on the south wall beside the altar. The scene depicted is of the resurrection and is made of Victorian glass. 

In conclusion it can be seen that with some research various aspects of our local heritage come to light through close examination of our Parish Church. The building may be a ‘silk purse’ made out of the traditional ‘sow’s ear’ but the history it holds is priceless.

Nick Saunders
Milton Heritage Society.

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