18 Jauary 2015
Botley began life as a Saxon village and the name means Botta’s leah, or a clearing in a forest belonging to a man named Botta. When the Romans built a road between Chichester and Clausentum, where my village now is, it passed Botley and a settlement grew up around the small Saxon one. Although I’ve visited it once or twice, mostly I’ve just driven through on the way to somewhere else and I’ve never really explored it properly. This turns out to be a terrible omission on my part because it has a lot to offer.
Not long after I’d passed the welcome to Botley sign and the first scattered buildings, I came to the church. It’s a little set back from the road and half hidden by trees so I confess I’ve hardly given it a passing glance before. When I did look I wondered how I’d missed it in the past. It’s a pretty little church with a welcoming bright red door and an impressive tower topped with two tiny pointed spires.
The original church in Botley, St Bartholomews, dated back more than nine hundred years but, sadly, it was more or less destroyed when a large poplar tree fell onto it. Understandably, parishioners got fed up with traipsing across fields to what was left of the old one, which was a little way outside the village. Eventually, after much petitioning to the Bishop of Winchester and a considerable amount of fundraising, work began on the present church, All Saints’, in 1835. A year later the first service was held with a congregation of seven hundred.
When I went for a closer look it was obvious this was a church of many incarnations. The neat creamy bricks of the tower, with its black and gold clock, looked far newer than the rosy coloured rough stone of the body of the church and, at either end, there were obviously very modern additions. Apparently, due to a growth of the population of Botley and, therefore, the congregation, the original north wall was replaced with a new stone wall and parapet in 1892. It would seem the older looking part of the church is actually newer. The really new parts were added in the late 1960’s.
Not being of a religious persuasion, I rarely go inside a church and I’m not sure what the protocol is, or whether, as an unbeliever, I’m allowed to just wander in off the street. Obviously, if, like Cologne Cathedral, they’re open for visitors, I’m happy to visit but opening a closed church door feels a little too scary although I’m fascinated by the beautiful stained glass. The windows of this church were particularly lovely even if they aren’t actually stained glass. Instead they’re leaded in a pattern of diamonds and fish scales and filled with ancient glass, beautifully uneven, filled with bubbles and in varying shades of green.
The inside of churches may feel out of bounds, but I’m quite at home wandering around church yards. The graves in this one are old and lichen covered, as you’d expect, but the plot at the front of the church was small and sparsely populated. My search for interesting graves took me around the back of the church where I found quite a large graveyard.
Here there was a sickly sweet smell that I couldn’t identify at first. Then I noticed the ground was coved in rotten apples fallen from a tree between the graves. Maybe the vicar doesn’t like apples but it seems a bit of a waste to me. My search for unusual graves wasn’t in vain. One small column near the church caught my attention. It was narrow but tall and topped by a weathered triangular stone. There was a crest and lots of writing but age had made most of it illegible although I could make out the name Baker. Rev Richard Baker was the first rector of the church and I wonder if it’s his family grave.
Much as I’d have liked to stay and explore further there was much more I wanted to see in Botley so, reluctantly, I left the graves behind. Before I left, I stopped for a moment to read the names on the war memorial in front of the church, dedicated to the men of the parish who gave their lives in both World Wars. The names were, thankfully, few in number but, for such a small village, they represent a great loss.