Church History – Tudor Onwards

Earlier history of St Peters >>

The Survey of 1546 gives the first picture of a street system in Titchfield. Many streets developed around the area of the church, including the High Street, West Street, South Street and East, now Church, Street.

On 28 December 1537 the abbey was finally formally surrendered to the Crown. At this time it had in its possession 16 manors, various other areas of land and the churches of Titchfield, Lomer and Corhampton. The site of the abbey and the estates were granted to Thomas Wriothesley. The tenants came in such large numbers to renew their leases with the new landlord, that the parish church had to be used as the manor court. Wriothesley was a powerful man, but he was in some disgrace when he died in 1550. One of the reasons for this was that, in the developing divisions of those years, some of the family remained Catholics or Catholic sympathisers.

Thomas’ son Henry was involved in several plots against the queen and spent several years in the Tower. On his death he left money for the erection of a monument in the parish church. The massive Southampton Monument dominates the South Chapel and was built in 1594 by a famous sculptor of the period, Gerard Johnson, a Flemish refugee.

Henry’s son, another Henry, spent much time improving the interests of Titchfield, building the canal, ironworks and the Stony Bridge. He made a great map, built the market hall, and revived industries. The population of the village rose steadily from the late 1500s to the 1640s and again it was a time of prosperity for the village.

17th Century

The 15th Century division into compartments was anathema to the reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the screens were destroyed along with the rest of the medieval splendour that we have described. The church was adapted for worship in which the congregation were to be participants and not mere spectators, and as a result its internal appearance changed entirely. The Reformation brought about drastic changes to the church. All the medieval decoration was removed. The mural paintings were whitewashed over, the stained glass windows were destroyed and the statues and elaborate screens were removed. All the trappings of medieval finery were swept away. The church was to become a place for worship where the congregation were participants and not silent observers. The nave was filled with box pews and the focal point of the church became the font and a splendid three tier pulpit. The communion table was no longer the most important part of the church or its services.

Some idea of the effect can be obtained from a painting in the exhibition in the Southampton Chapel which shows the church before the further changes of the mid-nineteenth century. Colour is almost entirely lacking. The windows are plain and the walls whitewashed. The focal point of the church is now a splendid three-decker pulpit which, with the font, dominates the nave. The Communion Table at the far end of the chancel is in no way emphasised. Above the pulpit, in the position over the chancel-arch, where originally there was doubtless a medieval painting of the Last Judgment, hang the Ten Commandments (1728), “the appeal to morality taking the place of the threat of Hell Fire”. The various furnishings seen in the painting are nearly all of seventeenth and eighteenth century date. In the north aisle is a hatchment (i.e. a memorial coat of arms).

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1540) Henry VIII gave the Abbey to the Earl of Southampton who transformed it into a mansion. In 1611 the third Earl of Southampton, wishing to reclaim a large area of sea marsh, built a large wall across the mouth of the river Meon. This was not popular, and an effigy of the Third earl is still burnt at Titchfield bonfire carnival each year, although these memories may be fabrications and those which recall him as a man who revived the woollen trade and brought a generation of prosperity are more likely to be genuine.

Losing the access to the sea obviously had an enormous effect on Titchfield as a thriving town, and thus on the people’s prosperity. Titchfield had a strong farming community by this time and a new tannery was opened early in the seventeenth century, but after the beginning of the Civil War there was a sharp decline in population to a low of 1,000 in about 1720. From 1740 onwards there was a rapid increase in population and had reached 2,949 by the first census of 1801.


Accommodation was often a problem in the eighteenth century, not usually for reasons of size, but because so much of the seating was reserved for the upper and middle classes. One common solution was to build galleries, and at Titchfield the south aisle was filled with galleries between 1776 and 1801. There was also the customary ‘singers’ gallery at the west end of the nave.

In the eighteenth century class differences were much in evidence in town life, and this was reflected in the church where the box pews in the nave were designated for the upper and middle classes.

Population growth in the nineteenth century saw the break up of the ancient parish. In 1837 the parish of Sarisbury was formed including Swanwick, Burridge and Curbridge. By 1900 Titchfield had ceased to be referred to as a town and used the term village. In 1789 an independent chapel which was to become Titchfield Congregational Church was established and is still used today. At the same time people in the parish began to take an increasing interest in managing their own affairs. The lord’s “court baron” became a mere formality and their place was taken by the parishioners meeting in the church vestry.

A major problem for the parish was the growing number of poor people within the rising population. The parish raised very heavy poor rates throughout the century and in 1732 it was decided that it would be cheaper to put poor people into a workhouse than to give them payments to live outside. Poverty and disease continued to cause problems for the ratepayers which the parish could not put right, despite building an isolation ward and finally acquiring a pest-house. Finally the parish reluctantly agreed to surrender its responsibilities to the Poor Law Union with its workhouse in Fareham, in the 1830s.

Titchfield was a lively place in the 1740s and 1750s with various field and other sports. There were some unofficial sports kept well away from the church and the eye of the respectable members of the village, including horse-racing, bowling and cock fighting.


The following newspaper article appeared in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth England) on Saturday February 4th 1851


The old baptismal font in this Church has been consigned to the tomb, and more showy one obtained, preparatory to the introduction of the new custom of baptising infants during divine service. The burial of the old relic of Baptismal Regeneration within the Church has caused a sensation and it is now proposed to mark the spot which covers the sacred relic with a black marble slab, which shall exceed in splendour, and vie with sanctity with the one in the holy Muslim Kaba of Mecca.

The Victorians disapproved of the galleries on both liturgical and aesthetic grounds. When the church came to be restored in 1866-7, the galleries were destroyed along with the whole of the south aisle and arcade. The aisle and arcade were rebuilt in fourteenth century Gothic style. The seventeenth and eighteenth century furnishings were removed, the church re-seated and choir stalls provided for the singers formerly accommodated in the west gallery. The focus of the church once more became the chancel altar.

In Victorian times there was a swing back to the time when the altar was the focus of worship. The box pews and galleries were considered liturgically and aesthetically wrong and were removed. Major restoration took place in 1866-7. Plain pews, open to parishioners of every social class, were installed, as were choir stalls. The Norman south aisle was removed and replaced by a much larger decorated Gothic style.

Harvest Thanksgiving services were a popular annual event. In 1879 there was a full and somewhat amusing report of the service in the “Hampshire Telegraph” The alms were collected, it was said, in bags by gentlemen in long cassocks and very short surplices which had a queer appearance on bulky bearded men. There were four hymns, an anthem and other ‘choral effusions’ but the beautiful simplicity of the service was spoilt by the superabundance of the music. There was a ‘reverential rising up of some half a dozen females when the choir and clergy entered the church’ and ‘something irresistibly ludicrous in seeing the same parties make such a bend of genuflection when the Gloria was sung as almost to disappear from the vision of the congregation.’ A procession at the beginning and end of the service contained no sense at all. It began with a young chorister who carried a banner and something which was supposed to be a likeness of the Vicar! The boys broad grin showed that the bearer did not seem impressed by the dignity and solemnity of his office!

By this time the ancient ecclesiastical parish of Titchfield had become the civil parish of the early nineteenth century, the largest in Hampshire. At the bottom of church Street the large vicarage was built in 1851. The population had grown to 3,957, although it was not growing at the same rate as it had in the late eighteenth century. Titchfield had become something of a backwater, although still a fairly prosperous one.

The Plymouth Brethren opened a chapel in South Street in 1882, and in December held a public baptism in the canal. Some who witnessed it made comment that they considered it to be a mockery.

A number of fee paying schools had been set up by this time, but there was little education for the poor children and in 1830 the National School was built in West Street. National Schools were built with financial help from the Church of England and the local vicar and curate spent several hours at the school each week. A teaching system by monitors, (older boys and girls) operated as they could not afford more staff. In 1899 the school catered for 344 children which reflects the large families of the time. The charge was a penny a week and some poor families had to send children on a rota basis because they could not afford to send them all at the same time. Consequently truancy was common. One boy stole the dinners of another pupil and was sentenced to 24 hours confinement in the police station and 9 strokes of the birch rod.

Poverty bred desperation in some of the villagers. In 1891 a collar maker lost his job and tried to make a living from selling winkles from the beach. His wife sold flowers. Their three children, starving hungry, were sent out into the cold to beg on the charity of neighbours. One night screams were heard from the house and the mother had killed two of her children, wounded the other and attempted to commit suicide. She was sent to Knowle Hospital for the mentally ill. Who knows how many people suffered from such depression in those days of hardship.

Later in the century population growth saw the break up of the ancient parish, and eventually the very large parish became a long strip six miles long and one mile across, lying largely to the west of the River Meon. In 1871 Crofton became a separate ecclesiastical parish including Stubbington, Hill Head, Lee-on-solent and Peel Common. The next year saw the formation of Hook-with-Warsash, and in 1839 Locks Heath was formed from parts of Warsash, Sarisbury and Titchfield.

Towards the end of the 19th century Titchfield and the surrounding area was one of the biggest strawberry producing areas in the country. Gypsy pickers invaded the area in large numbers in the season and in 1888 a station was built at Swanwick to serve the trade. Titchfield Common was enclosed in 1866 when the land was parcelled into plots for the growing of fruit. A new mill was built in 1834 and milling continued there until the 1950s. It is known that smuggling was rife in the area in the 19th Century. In the mid-1800s, barges ceased using the canal which was constructed by the Third Earl of Southampton when he built the sea wall in 1611. The Parish Rooms were built in 1890 as a memorial to Henry Hill Hornby.

20th Century

A vestry was added in 1905 in the place of the Victorian south porch.

In September 1986 a proposal was made by Portsmouth Diocese that the early Victorian Vicarage should be sold and replaced by a new one in the Vicarage orchard, because the cost of upkeep of the old house was becoming prohibitive. Bitter arguments ensued over the next two years. The Reverend Tom Pemberton, Vicar of St Peter’s since 1973, felt that the old Vicarage was no longer suitable for the purpose, was too big and too expensive to run, but villagers were concerned about who would buy it and about parking and traffic problems. There were public meetings and appeals, but eventually the old vicarage was sold and the new one built along with 5 bungalows for the disabled and elderly in 1989.

The loss of the large old vicarage which had been used for meetings and the Sunday School meant that new provision had to be made for these. In 1989 the west end of the south aisle was enclosed to form the new Chapter Rooms. A meeting room and kitchen were provided on the ground floor and a choir room and priest’s vestry above.

The upkeep of such a large and ancient church is a continuous problem. Heroic efforts have been made since 1950 to make such repairs to tower and roofs as will ensure the safety of the structure. The work will continue so that many generations to come will be able to find beauty and peace in Titchfield Church and will be moved to offer here their praise to God.

Earlier history of St Peters >>