We are moving again in three weeks so my weekend has consisted of sorting my wardrobe and taking stuff to the charity shop, cleaning the bathroom, gardening, going to the dump and this morning I sat in and waited for the plumber and amused myself by cleaning the cooker.
So I was ready for something to entertain me … and I certainly found it :)
Now readers are probably used to me going off on random tangents and making several leaps of faith. This one is going to demand more of your tolerance than usual.
I didn’t have time to go far today but it was a lovely day and gorgeous daughter number 2 said I could borrow her Nikon, so I thought I would explore what is right on my doorstep.
This is St Peter’s Church in Yateley, the village in north Hampshire where I have lived for many years.
Armed with a little knowledge (yes, I know that’s a dangerous thing) from pre-reading my Church Explorer’s Handbook, I went to have a look and see what I could discover. Sadly the church was closed and there was no indication as to where I could track down a key to the door, so I contented myself with having a look at the fabric of the building and the graveyard.
I was looking for things like this. You see the windows, they are all different shapes. I decided that the tiny one, second on the left of the porch was possibly Saxon. “Very narrow, tall thin windows with curved heads and a deep splay” the book said. That fitted the bill.
I was interested in the tower. It has a wooden frame. How had I not noticed this before? The church website says the wooden bell tower was constructed around 1500 and is one of the finest in this part of the country. The brick infill at the bottom was added in an 1878 restoration.
After a short visit to the church in the neighbouring town of Sandhurst, I returned home and started Googling St Peter’s Church. The church has an extremely good website with a lot of information about its history (which can be found here).
I discovered that the church has burned down twice. Once in 750 and again in 1979 (this time the work of an arsonist).The website has plans of which parts of the building are from which era (I was correct about the Saxon window – yay) and a really interesting diary of the rebuilding of the church after the 1979 fire by the vicar of the time.
It said the timbers in the tower were saved from too much devastation from the fire (even though the church was much damaged and took three years to repair) because they charred rather than burnt.
But the website said something even more interesting.
The church is built on sarsen stones. Sarsen stones are sandstone blocks found predominantly on Salisbury Plain. Their most famous use is at Stonehenge.
One of these stones is visible and forms part of the foundation of the church to the left of the porch. I went back with my camera to have a look.
There it is. But there’s more. Literally. In an archaeological excavation under the floor of the church after the 1979 fire, more were found. They show evidence of habitation in Yateley 5,000 years ago. Yateley may well have had it’s own standing stone circle, its own Stonehenge, contemporary with Stonehenge.
I looked on google maps. Stonehenge and Yateley are almost exactly 50 miles apart.
The name Yateley is thought to have derived from the word Yat or Yet, which means gate, and Ley, which is a clearing in the forest where cattle grazed.
Let’s ignore the Ley bit and concentrate on the Yat. (Do you see where I’m going here?)
We have a gate and a very obvious route of exactly 50 miles that takes us from Yateley to Stonehenge and we have a Christian church built on a much earlier pagan site of worship, built, in fact, on foundations of sarsen stones which are highly likely to have come from Salisbury plain at around the same time as Britain’s most iconic ancient monument was being built.
Yateley could actually have been the centre of the known universe 5,000 years ago.
Now this one obviously merits further investigation :)