111. All Saints Minstead
This lovely unspoilt New Forest church is well worth a detour. Simon Jenkins in his book England’s Thousand Best Churches accurately describes the interior as “like a rambling country cottage”. Certainly with its 17th century pews, two west galleries, one above the other, and the marvellous 17th century three decker pulpit it has the feeling of being unchanged for centuries.
The chancel arch is pointed and shaped like an ‘A’, whilst the font below the pulpit is particularly interesting. Dug up in the Old Rectory grounds in 1893 it is almost certainly Saxon. There are four primitive carvings around the top of the bowl. These depict our Lord’s baptism, the Lamb of God, a lion with two bodies and one head and two eagles with a tree between.
Three Georgian parlour pews were installed in the 18th century. The Minstead Lodge pew, entered from the porch, has oak panelling and now houses the organ console. The Castle Malwood pew on the north side of the chancel contains its own fireplace. South of the nave is the Minstead Manor pew for the squire. It has red plush bench seats and was once furnished with a table and chairs.
The south transept window depicts a dismounted knight in armour (probably St George) and was placed there to commemorate the Squire’s son Lt Henry Richard Compton of the Coldstream Guards who died in 1923. On the walls of the transept can be seen a list of former Rectors, the village War Memorial as well as a memorial to Henry Francis Compton who died in 1947 having been squire for 66 years and Verderer of the Forest for 45 years.
Another interesting memorial in the chancel commemorates a hero of the Napoleonic Wars, General Thomas William Robbins of the 80th Foot. He fought at the battles of Orthes, Toulouse, Quatre Bas and Waterloo where he was severely wounded. In the Minstead Chapel another memorial commemorates 19 year old Lt George Preston of the 97 Regiment ‘shot at the siege of Sebastopol on August 30 1855.’
The Lower gallery was built for the church musicians in the late 18th century and the upper tier added in 1818 for the children from the Poor School. On the front of the gallery lists of church benefactors can be seen, one dating from 1667. Recently a Millenium Bequest has been added pledging church members ‘to carry out 1000 Acts for the benefit of others’.
The present tower of red and blue bricks was built in 1774. It is topped by a cupola and a wooden spire and contains a peal of five bells. The north porch has the date 1687 and the initials R.E.W. and S.C.W. inscribed on it. The ancient wooden door leading into the church is much older.
There is a large churchyard and under the oak tree on the south side the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, can be seen. The inscription reads “Steel True, Blade Straight” and below “Patriot Physician, Man of Letters 1859-1920.”
On leaving through the Lych Gate, built in 1928 read the plaque which states that it was built in memory of three generations of the Compton family who served 90 years as Rectors - John Compton 1849-98, Charles Henry Compton 1898-1928 and John Compton 1928-32. A wonderful example of one family’s dedication and service to the church.
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