St Denys Church marks 200th anniversary

The Rev Peter Gilks at St Denys Church

The Rev Peter Gilks at St Denys Church

First published in News

IT HAS survived everything from wartime bombing to a leaking roof and is still standing.

This weekend the congregation of St Denys Church in Chilworth came together to mark its 200th birthday with a special service.

The Rev Peter Gilks, who has been vicar of Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley parishes for the last six years, said: “It’s a very special occasion.

“It’s very much today as it was when it was built because nothing much has changed. It’s really quite a period piece.”

The church was built in 1812 by local landowner Peter Searle for worshippers in the village.

However, it replaced an earlier building, thought to date from Saxon times, that had virtually fallen down – by 1801 it was described as “an ivy-clad ruin”, said Rev Gilks.

Only the two bells and Norman font survive from the earlier building and are still in use today.

Priory gift A church and manor on the site is mentioned in the Domesday Book.

It is understood that the name St Denys comes from the fact that the church and lands were gifted to St Denys Priory in Southampton in 1200 and as part of this they had to provide a chaplain to conduct services.

This arrangement continued until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.

Not much is known about the site after that other than at one point a farmer was also acting as a parson.

Internally, the layout is very traditional and largely unchanged from 1812, except for the addition of a chamber organ which replaced a minstrel’s gallery near the west door in 1895.

However, the original building had a spire but the effects of weathering made it twist and it was taken down due to safety concerns in 1894.

On June 6, 1941 a bombing raid saw a mine dropped in a field close by, the resulting explosion blasting out the stained glass window – it was eventually replaced in 1950.

Then the village had to come together again in 1992 to fund repairs to a leaking roof, raising more than £10,000.

The congregation today numbers around 20.

Worship is also very traditional with all regular services being taken from the Book of Common Prayer.

Rev Gilks said: “These type of services are valued by a steady number of people, and draw worshippers from several miles around”.

The Mayor of Test Valley, Dorothy Baverstock, will be joined worshippers at a service today..

On Saturday, October 13, the church will be open all day and a historical exhibition will be staged in the community centre, in Fowlers Walk, directly opposite the church.

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