Bishopstoke Parish History
The story down the centuries of an English parish and its church is so often fascinating in its richness and variety of character and incident.
Bishopstoke is such a parish. Here we have much social history, glimpses of great national events like the Battle of Trafalgar, and accounts of distinctive personalities such as John 'Bilious' Bale of Tudor times and Thomas Garnier, Rector from 1807 to 1869 and Dean of Winchester.
Bishopstoke Church History
The parish of Bishopstoke has a recorded history going back to the tenth century.
The name ‘Stoke’ or ‘Stoches’ is interpreted as meaning a place situated on or near the river, containing a mill or a church. In the case of Bishopstoke this would seem accurate, with the River Itchen running through Bishopstoke and links with the Bishop of Winchester dating back to 964 AD
Through history there have been a number of parish churches in Bishopstoke. The present church was opened in 1891 on a ‘new’ site in Church Road. The previous church built in 1825 and others before this stood on a site near the river. Records exist listing the names of all the Rectors of Bishopstoke from around 1334.
No records exist for the old Saxon church. It is thought that it was destroyed when the Danes invaded Southampton (Hamtun) in 1001.
This drawing shows a church which stood on the site near the river prior to 1825. It appears to have had a wooden tower, dormer windows in the roof, and steps leading up to an entrance above ground floor. This church fell into disrepair and was demolished to make room for a new one in 1825.
St Mary's Church Skectch from 1825
The church built in 1825 was constructed of brick and flint with a slate roof. It had Gothic windows and a tower with four pinnacles. Inside it had stained glass and seated 270.
A combination of Bishopstoke’s growing population and the need for a more extensive burial ground prompted the construction of the present church. The current St Mary’s was built during 1890/91 by Wheeler Bros. of Reading at a cost of £4,200 and was consecrated on 12 November 1891 by the Bishop of Guildford.
In 1962 St Paul’s Church was opened to serve the needs of Bishopstoke’s growing population which now stands at about 12,000
St Mary’s Bells History
There have been 3 bells in Bishopstoke since the end of the 16th century although nothing is known about any ringing before the 20th century. These bells rang from three different churches on the former site of St Mary's.
In 1910 the bells, dated 1589, 1598 and 1600, were transferred from the 1825 church to the newly built tower of the present church. At the same time two more bells were added to make a ring of 5. In their previous home the bells were probably just swing-chimed. Now they were hung for full-circle ringing. There has been an active team of ringers at St Mary's since this time.
In 1920 a sixth bell was added. Finally, in 1921, two more bells were installed as war memorials. This completed the octave which rang from the tower until 1995.
By the early 1990s the bells were becoming hard to ring and needed a good overhaul. At that time the team of ringers was probably about as strong as it had ever been. The ringers decided to continue the augmentation process but completely replace the tonally poor bells with a brand new, modern tuned ring of ten. Consequently, most of the old bells were sold off individually to various churches around the world, the frame was strengthened and the Whitechapel bell-foundry supplied the current superb ring of ten bells.
As an interesting aside, by 1995, the Whitechapel foundry had only cast three complete rings of ten bells since the Second World War and the one prior to Bishopstoke's was for Westminster Abbey!
Although the current team of ringers at St Mary's consists of about 20 people with an age range from pre-teens to retirees, quite a few no longer live locally and are not seen regularly. New recruits are always welcome.
The ringers form a skilled team and regularly win trophies in ringing competitions in Hampshire.
As well as ringing at St Mary's, the ringers also have regular trips to ring at other churches. They also arrange other non-ringing social events like their annual dinner.
If anybody would like to have a go at bell-ringing and join in with an enthusiastic and sociable group then there is little to stop them beyond the 26 steps up to the ringing room. The ringers welcome visitors on Sunday mornings and on Thursday evenings from 19:30 till 21:00.
If you would like further information please contact us. Alternatively a detailed booklet is available on request or from St Mary’s Church, priced £2.50