The Parish Church of St Thomas the Apostle in Lymington

The Parish Church of St Thomas the Apostle 

Mark and Hugh's local history column this week takes us on a thought provoking journey on several levels. If you can make time, do read it all...

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Ed Note: Mark and Hugh's contributions get better and better in delving more deeply than most mortals have time to do, to explore the stories and indeed other thoughts, behind our local history. We are ever more indebted! Also to David Bridges, churchwarden at St Thomas Church Lymington.

Light up a Life

A timely reminder to LIght Up a Life on Mon 7 December with Oakhaven Hospice's annual service online this year instead of within the splendid interior of St Thomas Church Lymington  - the significance of this will become clear as you read this article.

Read on below! But before you do so, just in case you don't already receive our Weekly What's On e-newsletter do sign up to receive it on Friday mornings! 


The Parish Church of St Thomas the Apostle

I tend not to visit churches for reasons other than death or marriage, sheer laziness I suppose. By contrast, when I lived in France and found myself in another town, I would almost always make time to visit the cathedral. Some towns have more than one and they are almost always enormous buildings. France is of course a secular society; religion is not taught in schools and weddings are carried out in the local mayor’s offices. The wedding can be blessed in a church, should the couple wish, but the legal stuff is done in the Mairie. As a consequence, the cathedrals are almost always deserted with just a few inquisitive tourists taking photos with their cursed smartphones.

I find that I draw a great deal of solace from these buildings of prayer and meditation. There are those of spiritual leaning who believe that old buildings can absorb and emit some sort of spiritual energy. They may be right. Certainly, I feel a different person when I find myself inside places of worship. Last year there were four of us, me, my wife and two close friends. As we entered the cathedral in Nevers in central France, we went our separate ways, our feet taking us to the places that appealed the most. Our mouths were open and our eyes goggled at the sheer majesty of the place. The practical me wondered how it was possible to build something so huge. The artistic me melted at the beauty of the design. In common with most cathedrals you could buy a votive candle. These were arranged on an old wooden stand with a slot for the money which fell into a box hidden below and racks for the different types of candle. A scruffy hand written piece of cardboard advertised the price; one Euro. The wood was polished by the many hands that had put money in over the decades. Each of us paid our respective visits, the coin making a hollow noise as it hit the bottom of the cache; we carefully lit the candles and placed them in a vacant holder, then found a place to sit for a little while. Nothing was said, yet we all did the same thing at the same time. Turned out we each had a little grieving to do. In the dead still silence punctuated only by the occasional echoing scuff of a shoe or a soft murmur, we each realised that we were all crying. There was no audible sobbing just the odd sniff. None of us said a thing. We simply sat there in peace. By some unknown agreement and in complete silence we wiped our eyes, shook ourselves and made our way back into the bright sunshine. Then there was the laughter as often follows an awkward moment.

“Where did that come from?”

“Search me!”

We were, in a very English way, reluctant to discuss what had happened in those tranquil and rather heartrending moments, but we all knew, deep down, that we had been touched by something powerful.

The fabric of a building.

Dear reader I shall not go into fine detail of the handsome building which is the Parish Church of St Thomas the Apostle. I doubt that many of us are architects or civil surveyors and for those that are there are other far more interesting publications they can turn to. No, I won’t be revealing the oldest bits of stone or the most recent windows. You see, old churches are like old anything. If you have a classic car you will know full well that maintenance is ongoing. There’s not a thousand miles passes without something falling off, rattling, overheating or generally being a huge nuisance. Classic car owners have big toolchests and for good reason. Old buildings are no different. You may remember that we wrote an article on Salisbury Cathedral and how a certain Christopher Wren was asked to carry out remedial structural repairs. This church is no different and if you look back through history, there are hundreds of repairs that have been carried out through sheer necessity. When you look at an old church you really shouldn’t see it as it was when it was first built. Rather you should look at it as something that has evolved. Old friable stone has been replaced with new stone. Windows that were rotten or wobbly have been replaced. The overall structure is similar, although churches have almost always increased with size as the population has grown. Like a classic car which has had over half of its chassis replaced, the church is still the church. Not quite the same as when it was constructed in the thirteenth century, but still the same church.

Memories that can’t be erased.

You will have guessed I am sure that the reason that the four of us became so emotional in that cathedral was because of bereavement. These emotions always come out in the end. We lead such busy lives that we often don’t have time to think properly. Even when we do get the chance there’s someone shouting at us from a screen in the corner just a few feet away. Do yourselves a favour, switch the thing off from time to time. Let a little peace into your lives.

Buried in this church is Captain Josias Rogers 1755 to 1824. His naval history was an incredible adventure. His father was a senior figure in the salt making industry and as such Captain Rogers must have been a man of independent means. He fought in the American Revolutionary War, being taken captive and after suffering rough treatment, imprisoned in the interior. He escaped and managed to get back to his ship where he caused utter chaos. In sixteen months, he took sixty enemy ships and was truly a thorn in the enemy’s side. Later he was put on anti-smuggling patrols in the North Sea and after that returned to the Caribbean to fight at Guadeloupe. He was taken by yellow fever and his wife commissioned the plaque that you can see today on the church wall.

Thoughts of the church by David Bridges

I was unable to spend any time at the church and so I turned to David, one of the churchwardens, who has very kindly shared his thoughts on the church and what it means to him.

‘The church for me is a place of warmth and spiritual continuity, this despite the fact that since its origins in the thirteenth century the church has been altered radically. The traditional arches were removed and replaced with galleries in order to accommodate the ever-increasing population of Lymington. It now has the appearance, at least internally, of a non-conformist chapel rather than a classic Anglican parish church. I see the church as a place of prayer and contemplation which is open every day for people to come and sit in peace. I do in fact know someone who is not religious yet is a regular visitor. She simply yearns for the tranquility of the building. I think that there is a little of the spiritual in all of us. We no longer have pews, instead we use chairs. These have enabled us to use the church for a number of other purposes including concerts, but as an added bonus during these awful times we have been able to simply set the chairs two metres apart allowing services to continue. On the analogy to the classic car, the church is no different. We have a problem with damp and repointing and new guttering will need to be carried out at a huge cost. This old building is no different from others.’

There’s more than meets the eye.

I used to sail and kept my boat at the Netley Cliff Sailing Club which is on the east side of Southampton Water. When we say ‘cliff’, we’re not talking Beachy Head here, more like a hillock. But in any case, I was working on the boat one evening and I heard a kerfuffle from the direction of the Royal Victoria Country Park. It was the Sea Scouts and they were out in the water, in winter, in wet suits, playing on windsurf boards. There were adults in attendance of course, there has to be. But from what I could see the children were having a blast. No computer games, pasty complexions, spots or pipe cleaner legs for this lot. No, they would sleep well and wake up with ruddy cheeks and a cheery demeanor. But why, how was this all made possible? Simple; volunteers. The church is instrumental in this and should be applauded for its efforts. Lymington church helps to support the local Air Training Corps and many other voluntary organisations. Words fail me at the goodness flowing from this organisation and its members.

Food for thought, time for thought?

I’ll bet that if someone tried to stop you in the street and ask your opinion on something you might say that you hadn’t the time. But of course, you do. Our most precious commodity is time. Time spent wisely is time saved. Would you rather hurry away, shopping bags crashing painfully against your legs in order to claim the victory of another ‘bargain’? Or perhaps you could stop a while and answer a question or two with a smile. Or even perhaps, step off that hamster wheel for a moment and veer gently into that mystical silence and serenity that is Lymington church. Go on, try it, I dare you.

Our sincere thanks to David Bridges, a churchwarden at Lymington church, for his invaluable help.

The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer


Acknowledgement; The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer c.1660 , displayed by The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Erg bedankt!

More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, click the links embedded in the titles:

Richard St Barbe Baker
Our star, our sun, our salt!
To Lymington or Cuba
The Auld Mug

Seeds of success

Moonlit meeting with cetaceans 

Trees and what they tell us
Cartography and trig pillars

Pony drifts and pannage in the New Forest
A journey from the New Forest via Lymington
The brilliance - and persistence - of Marconi

Equality in the skies
Bees pollinators par excellence 
Cordless home entertainment

The joy of sheds

When the Isle of Wight was just Wight
Bucklers Hard

Salisbury Cathedral 
Pond Life in our Forests 
Bombs Away 
Baileys Hard 
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Heath fires
Lymington Lido
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising
Calshot Spit, a curse for mariners...



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