2 January 2016
Surpisingly, while I was standing in front of the Red Lion, the rain stopped. Maybe I could continue my tour a little longer and go from the village pubs to the churches, or at least one church. There may have been a lot of pubs in Bitterne Village but there were also a lot of churches, most of which are still standing at least in some form. Obviously the people of Bitterne are more fond of their churches than their watering holes.
Conveniently, right opposite the Red Lion, within walking distance for a pre or post church drink, is Bitterne’s parish Church, known locally simply as Bitterne Church but properly called The Holy Saviour. The church was built in 1853 by George Guillaume, who had designed the north aisle of Peartree Church a few years before. In 1885 a south aisle was added. The tall spire is a landmark in the village. At the base of this one hundred and twenty foot spire is a clock, donated in 1868 by Steuart McNaughton who lived in Bitterne Manor.
This was the church where I was christened but I am not a churchgoer and I haven’t been inside since Alex’s wedding when I was three. Perhaps the trauma of a large dark church and lots of people back then put me off. One of these days I will go inside to slay those ghosts and have a proper look at the stained glass. Today was not that day though because the church door was shut. Instead I walked around the side of the building and, with a longing look at those windows and the odd little side door, set off across the graveyard. For once I wasn’t wandering aimlessly looking at random graves and trying to read weathered inscriptions. Every graveyard has a wealth of stories and I love seeking them out but this particular churchyard has a story I know all too well. This is where Pappy and Little Nannie are buried.
When we moved back to Bitterne I had a secret yearning to find Pappy’s grave. I knew it was there somewhere but I didn’t know where. Unbeknown to me, Commando went to visit the vicar and, after a search of the church records, found it. One damp afternoon he took me for a walk. When he led me into the churchyard I had no idea what he was up to but, to my delight, he led me right to the grave. I’ve been visiting it ever since.
Today I had no flowers to lay but I stood for a moment and silently said a happy new year to Thomas John Haley and to his wife Mary who died before I was born. Of course,they aren’t really there but I makes me feel better. The leaves of primroses and daffodils were forcing their way through the earth at the end of the grave, confused no doubt by the warm winter and they made me smile.
When I was young there was a Methodist chapel not far from the church, more or less where the Iceland supermarket is today I think. The first Methodist meetings were in a house in Pound Street in 1806 and by 1823 a chapel was built in Dean Road. This chapel is still there today but it’s now just a house. By 1906 the chapel was too small so a larger one was built in the High Street. This was closed in 1968 and demolished in the 1970’s. Now the Methodists worship in Bitterne Church.
The eastern most church standing next to the library on the left arm of the fork of the two roads on what is now Bitterne Road East is Christ The King and St Coleman Roman Catholic Church. This is a very long name for what is, in my opinion, a very ugly, square modern building. It was built in 1960, the year I was born, but it won’t win any prizes for beauty so I didn’t walk all the way up the road to take a picture of it. The landmark tall bell tower was pulled down in 2008 due to structural instability, which gives cause to wonder about building techniques in 1960. To be honest, I didn’t even notice it was gone until today, although I drive past fairly regularly. Maybe this says more about how unattractive it was than my powers of observation,
Then there’s Bitterne United Reformed Church. As far as I can tell it was built on the site of the old Methodist church and the foundation stone was incorporated into the new church. Built in 1986, it is another modern building and there are actually shops underneath but I think it’s marginally less hideous than the older Catholic Church. Then again, what do I know?
It was beginning to rain again as I walked through the precinct with a four pint carton of milk in my bag, although there was a hint of blue sky above the row of shops with their brightly coloured frontages below the old black and white upper floors. Skirting the raised, red brick flower beds that stand in what was once the road, I made for the top of the hill.
When I was young a stone cattle trough stood on the corner outside what was then a bike shop called Sports. It’s still there, although it was moved to a more central position and planted with flowers when the road was pedestrianised. The inscription on the side is so worn away as to be more or less illegible but a little research told me more about it. It was originally provided by the The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, an association set up in London to provide free drinking water in the capital and other parts of the country. I’m not sure when it was erected but I imagine it dates back to the days when this was farm land or at least to a time when the road was filled with horses and carts rather than cars. It must have been a welcome sight for the poor horses when they reached the top of Lances Hill.
With an anxious look at the sky I turned the corner and crossed the road. Now I was at the top of the hill and on my way home but there was still one more church to pass. If you didn’t know it was there you could easily miss the Bitterne Spiritualist Church. In fact, all you can see of it is a purple sign outside the first house at the top of the hill. Hidden behind the houses though, almost directly behind the Bitterne Local History Society shop in Peartree Avenue, is a brick built church, although it can’t be seen from the road.
Now there was nothing left for me to do but go down the hill. On a clear day there are wonderful views across the city from the top. Sadly, this was not a clear day, although there were encouraging patches of blue amongst the black clouds. The rain had stopped again and, just before I came to the spot where the new bypass road meets the old road I spotted some bedraggled and wet looking roses close to where the entrance to Hum Hole had once been. I knew just how those roses felt.
This little walk was not a definitive tour of my village. There is much more to see and I may well have missed a pub or two or even a church. The boundarys of the village are rather hazy and today I just wandered around the heart of it. Maybe another day I’ll come back and show you some more.