A new era began in both Hursley and Otterbourne with the accession of Sir William Heathcote, the fifth baronet, and with the marriage of William Yonge.
Sir William was born on the 17th of May 1801, the son of the Rev. William Heathcote, Rector of Worting, Hants, and Prebendary of the Cathedral of Winchester, second son of Sir William, third baronet. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Lovelace Bigg Wither of Manydown Park in the same county. She was early left a widow, and she bred up her only son with the most anxious care. She lived chiefly at Winchester, and it may be interesting to note that her son remembered being at a Twelfth-day party where Jane Austen drew the character of Mrs. Candour, and assumed the part with great spirit.
He was sent first to the private school of considerable reputation at Ramsbury in Wiltshire, kept by the Rev. Edward Meyrick, and, after four years there, became a commoner at Winchester College, where it is said that he and Dr. William Sewell were the only boys who jointly retarded the breaking out of the rebellion against Dr. Gabell, which took place after their departure. However, in April 1818 he left Winchester, and became a commoner of Oriel College, Oxford, where his tutor was the Rev. John Keble, only eight years older than himself, and not yet known to fame, but with an influence that all who came in contact with him could not fail to feel.
In 1821 Mr. Heathcote gained a First-class in his B.A. examination, and was elected Fellow of All Souls in November 1822. He began to read at the Temple, but in April 1825 he came into the property of his uncle, and in the November of the same year he married the Hon. Caroline Frances Perceval, the youngest daughter of Charles George Lord Arden. Both he and his wife were deeply religious persons, with a strong sense of the duties of their station. Education and influence had done their best work on a character of great rectitude and uprightness, even tending to severity, such as softened with advancing years. Remarkably handsome, and with a high-bred tone of manners, he was almost an ideal country gentleman, with, however, something of stiffness and shyness in early youth, which wore off in later years. In 1826 he became member for the county on the Tory interest.
As a landlord, he is remembered as excellent. His mother took up her abode at Southend House in Hursley parish, and under the auspices of the Heathcote family, and of the Misses Marsh, daughters of the former curate, Sunday and weekday schools were set on foot, the latter under Mrs. Ranger and her daughter, whose rule continued almost to the days of national education. One of his first proceedings was to offer the living of Hursley to the Rev. John Keble, who had spent a short time there as curate in 1826. It was actually accepted, when the death of a sister made his presence necessary to his aged father at Fairford in Gloucestershire; and for two years, during which the publication of the Christian Year took place, he remained in charge of a small parish adjacent to his home.
About 1824 Mrs. Yonge began to keep the first Sunday school at Otterbourne in a hired room, teaching the children, all girls, chiefly herself, and reading part of the Church Service to them at the times when it was not held at church. The only week-day school was on the hill, kept by a picturesque old dame, whose powers amounted to hindering the children from getting into mischief, but who--with the instinct Mrs. Charles describes--never forgave the advances that disturbed her monopoly.
In 1826, as Mrs. Yonge was looking at the empty space of a roadway that had led into the paddock before it became a lawn, she said, "How I should like to build a school here!"
"Well," said her mother, Mrs. Bargus, "you shall have what I can give."
Mrs. Yonge contrived the room built of cement, with two tiny ones behind for kitchen and bedroom for the mistress, and a brick floor; and the first mistress, Mrs. Creswick, was a former servant of Archdeacon Heathcote's.
She was a gentle woman, with dark eyes and a lame leg, so that she could not walk to church with the children, who sat on low benches along the nave, under no discipline but the long stick Master Oxford, the clerk, brandished over them. Nor could she keep the boys in any order, and the big ones actually kicked a hole nearly through the cement wall behind them. At last, under the sanction of the Rev. Gilbert Wall Heathcote, who had succeeded his father as Vicar of Hursley, a rough cast room was erected in the churchyard, where Master Oxford kept school, with more upright goodness than learning; and Mr. Shuckburgh, the curate, and Mr. Yonge had a Sunday school there.
The riots at the time of the Reform Bill did not greatly affect the two parishes, though a few villagers joined the bands who went about asking for money at the larger houses. George, Sir William's second son, told me that he remembered being locked into the strong room on some alarm, but whether it came actually to the point of an attack is a question. It was also said that one man at Otterbourne hid himself in a bog, that the rioters might not call upon him; and one other man, James Collins, went about his work as usual, and heard nothing of any rising.
One consequence of the riotous state of the country was the raising of troops of volunteer yeomanry cavalry. Charles Shaw Lefevre, Esq. (afterwards Speaker and Lord Eversley), was colonel, Sir William was major and captain of such a troop, Mr. Yonge a captain; but at one of the drills in Hursley Park a serious accident befell Sir William. His horse threw back its head, and gave him a violent blow on the forehead, which produced concussion of the brain. He was long in recovering, and a slight deafness in one ear always remained.
In 1835 a far greater trouble fell on him in the death of the gentle Lady Heathcote, leaving him three sons and a daughter. In the midst of his grief, he was able to bring his old friend and tutor nearer to him. Mr. Keble at the funeral gave him the poem, as yet unpublished,
I thought to meet no more,
which had been written after the funeral of his own sister, Mary Anne Keble. The elder Mr. Keble died in the course of the same year, and Mr. Gilbert Wall Heathcote, resigning the living to become a fellow of Winchester, it was again given to the Rev. John Keble. Mr. Heathcote had brought to Otterbourne a young Fellow of New College, a deacon just twenty-three, the Reverend William Bigg Wither, who came for six weeks and remained thirty-five years. He found only twelve Communicants in the parish, and left seventy!
Mr. Keble was already known and revered as the author of the Christian Year, and was Professor of Poetry at Oxford, when he came to Hursley; having married, on the 10th of October 1835, Charlotte Clarke, the most perfect of helpmeets to pastor or to poet, save only in the frailness of her health.
He had two years previously preached at Oxford the assize sermon on National Apostasy, which Newman marks as the beginning of the awakening of the country to church doctrine and practice. He and his brother were known as contributors to the Tracts for the Times, which were rousing the clergy in the same direction, but which were so much misunderstood, and excited so much obloquy, that Mr. Norris of Hackney, himself a staunch old-fashioned churchman, who had held up the light in evil times, said to his young friend, the Rev. Robert Francis Wilson, a first-class Oriel man, to whom the curacy of Hursley had been offered, "Now remember if you become Keble's curate, you will lose all chance of preferment for life."
Mr. Wilson, though a man of much talent, was willing to accept the probability, which proved a correct augury.
The new state of things was soon felt. Daily Services and monthly Eucharists, began; and the school teaching and cottage visiting were full of new life. Otterbourne had, even before Mr. Keble's coming, begun to feel the need of a new church. The population was 700, greatly overflowing the old church, so that the children really had to be excluded when the men were there. It was also at an inconvenient distance from the main body of the inhabitants, who chiefly lived along the high road. Moreover, the South Western Railway was being made, and passed so near, that to those whose ears were unaccustomed to the sound of trains, it seemed as if the noise would be a serious interruption to the service.
Mr. Yonge had begun to take measures for improving and enlarging the old church, but was recommended to wait for the appointment of the new incumbent. Mr. Keble threw himself heartily into the scheme, and it was decided that it would be far better to change the site of the church at once. The venerable Dr. Routh, who was then President of St. Mary Magdalen College, and used yearly to come on progress to the old manor house, the Moat House, to hold his court, took great interest in the project, and the college gave an excellent site on the western slope of the hill, with the common crossed by the high road in front, and backed by the woods of Cranbury Park. Also a subscription of large amount was given. Sir William Heathcote as patron, as well as Mr. Keble, contributed largely, and Mr. Bigg Wither gave up his horse, and presented 25 pounds out of each payment he received as Fellow of New College. Other friends also gave, and, first and last, about 3000 pounds was raised.
Church building was much more difficult in those days than in these. Ecclesiastical architecture had scarcely begun to revive, and experts were few, if any indeed deserved the title. An architect at Winchester, Mr. Owen Carter, was employed, but almost all the ideas, and many of the drawings of the details came from Mr. Yonge, who started with merely the power of military drawing (acquired before he was sixteen years old) and a great admiration for York Cathedral.
The cruciform plan was at once decided on (traced out at first with a stick on Cranbury grand drive), but the slope of the ground hindered it from being built duly east and west; the material is brick, so burnt as to be glazed grey on one side. Hearing of a church (Corstan, Wiltshire) with a bell-turret likely to suit the means and the two bells, Mr. Yonge and Mr. Wither rode to see it, and it was imitated in the design. The chancel was, as in most of the new churches built at this time, only deep enough for the sanctuary, as surpliced choirs had not been thought possible in villages, and so many old chancels had been invaded by the laity that it was an object to keep them out.
Mr. Yonge sought diligently for old patterns and for ancient carving in oak, and in Wardour Street he succeeded in obtaining five panels, representing the Blessed Virgin and the four Latin Fathers, which are worked into the pulpit; also an exceedingly handsome piece of carving, which was then adapted as altar-rail--evidently Flemish-- with scrolls containing corn and grapes, presided over by angels, and with two groups of kneeling figures; on one side, apparently an Emperor with his crown laid down, and the collar of the Golden Fleece around his neck, followed by a group of male figures, one with a beautiful face. On the other side kneels a lady, not an empress, with a following of others bringing flowers. At the divisions stand Religious of the four Orders, one a man. The idea is that it probably represents either the coronation of Maximilian or the abdication of Charles V. In either case there was no wife, but the crown is not imperial, and that is in favour of Maximilian. On the other hand the four monastic Orders are in favour of Charles V.'s embracing the religious life.
For the stone-work, Mr. Yonge discovered that the material chiefly used in the cathedral was Caen stone, though the importation had long ceased. He entered into communication with the quarrymen there, sent out a stone mason (Newman) from Winchester, and procured stone for the windows, reredos, and font, thus opening a traffic that has gone on ever since.
Mistakes were made from ignorance and lack of authoritative precedent, before ecclesiology had become a study; but whatever could be done by toil, intelligence, and self-devotion was done by Mr. Yonge in those two years; and the sixty years that have since elapsed have seen many rectifications of the various errors. Even as the church stood when completed, it was regarded as an effort in the right direction, and a good example to church builders. The first stone was laid in Whitsun-week 1837 by Julian Bargus, Mr. Yonge's five-year-old son. A school for the boys was built on a corner of the ground intended as churchyard, and a larger room added to the girls', the expense being partly defrayed by a bazaar held at Winchester, and in part by Charlotte Yonge's first book, The Chateau de Melville, which people were good enough to buy, though it only consisted of French exercises and translations. The consecration took place on the 30th of July 1838, and immediately after daily matins were commenced. So that the Church of St. Matthew has never in sixty years been devoid of the voice of praise, except during casual absences. Most of the trees in the churchyard were planted by Mr. Bigg Wither, especially the great Sequoia, and the holly hedge around was grown by him from the berries of the first Christmas decoration, which he sowed in a row under the wall of the boys' school, and transplanted when large enough.
It was in 1839 that Mr. Keble published his Oxford Psalter, a work he had been engaged on for years, paying strict and reverent attention to the Hebrew original, and not thinking it right to interweave expressions of his own as guidance to meaning. His belief was that Holy Scripture is so many-sided, and so fathomless in signification, that to dwell on one point more than another might be a wrong to the full impression, and an irreverence in the translation. Thus, as a poet, he sacrificed a good deal to the duty of being literal, but his translation is a real assistance to students, and it is on the whole often somewhat like to Sternhold's, whom he held in much respect for his adherence to the originals.
Perhaps it may be mentioned here that the parishes of Hursley and Otterbourne were in such good order under the management of Sir William Heathcote and Mr. Yonge, that under the new Poor Law they were permitted to form a small Union of four, afterwards five, and now six parishes.
Ampfield was a hamlet lying on the western side of Hursley Park and wood, a very beautiful wood in parts, of oak and beech trees, which formed lovely vaulted arcades, one of which Mr. Keble used to call Hursley Cathedral. The place was increasing in population, and nearly two miles of woodland and park lay between it and the parish church.
Sir William Heathcote, therefore, resolved to build a church for the people, and Mr. Yonge was again the architect and clerk of the works, profiting by the experience gained at Otterbourne, so as to aim at Early English rather than Decorated style. A bell turret, discovered later at Leigh Delamere in Wiltshire, was a more graceful model than that of Corston. The situation was very beautiful, cut out, as it were, of the pine plantation on a rising ground above the road to Romsey, so that when the first stone was laid by Gilbert Vyvyan, Sir William's third son, the Psalm, "Lo, we heard of the same at Ephrata, and found it in the wood," sounded most applicable. St. Mark was the saint of the dedication, which fell opportunely on 21st April 1841, very near Mr. Keble's birthday, St. Mark's day, and to many it was a specially memorable day, as the Rev. J. H. Newman was present with his sister, Mrs. Thomas Mozley, and her husband, then vicar of Cholderton; and the Rev. Isaac Williams, a sacred poet, whose writings ought to be better known than they are, was also present. The endowment was provided by the chapter of Winchester giving up the great tithes, and a subscription of which T. White, Esq. of Ampfield gave 500 pounds.
The Rev. Robert Francis Wilson was the first curate, being succeeded in the curacy of Hursley by the Rev. Peter Young, then a deacon, who inhabited the old vicarage. The present one, which had been built by Sir Thomas Freeman Heathcote, was made over to the living by Sir William some years later.
Immediately after the consecration, Sir William was married to Selina, daughter of Evelyn John Shirley, Esq., of Eatington, Warwickshire, a marriage occasioning great happiness and benefit to all the parish and neighbourhood.