All Saints Church, Thorney Hill

The church at Thorney Hill was built by the present owner’s great grandfather, The third Lord Manners. It was built in 1906 in memory of one of his daughters, Christine, who died aged seventeen in India.  The church is a baroque style church and was designed by the architect Detmar Blow.  The inside features a spectacular mural by Phoebe Traquair completed in 1922 as well as lettering by Eric Gill and a bronze effigy of The Hon. John Manners, killed in 1914 on the retreat from Mons, by Sir Bertram McKennal.

Link to the Parish of Bransgore

HISTORY

This beautiful small church was built in 1906 by the Manners family in memory of Mary Christine, daughter of Lord and Lady Manners, who died in of choera in India 1904 – she was seventeen.  Her father, John, Lord Manners, was known as ‘Hoppy’ because of his characteristic walk.  He was a skilful horseman and rode his own horse, Seaman, to win the 1882 Grand National; it is said that the family seat, Avon Tyrrell, was built on the proceeds.  
 
The site of the church was provided by John’s wife, Lady Constance Manners, whose family had owned the Estate.  Although built in memory of her daughter, the building was intended as a church for local people including Romany families from the Forest.  These families had been brought in by a local brick-maker to tend his kilns at night and settled in the area.  Many living today in Thorney Hill regard the church as their ‘family’ church and return to it for special occasions.

All Saints was designed by the architect Detmar Blow in 1904-06 when he was about thirty seven years old.  It was, as far as we know, the only church he designed.  It was John Ruskin who encouraged Blow to work with the materials he would use when designing buildings and, as a young man he was also closely associated with William Morris and the celebrated Arts and Crafts Movement.  All Saints is (unusually for a church) a North-South orientated building rather than East-West.  It is designed with Arts & Crafts principles in mind – to be lit with candles only and with the smoke from the heating system directed out through the tower – a method no longer used!

The church contains work by the sculptor Eric Gill whose lettering method is skilfully displayed in the Mary Christine Memorial inscription by the font.  Gill revived Roman lettering from Trajan’s Column in Rome and his name is used in connection to this font to this day.  Gill’s distraught angels can also be seen over the bronze effigy of the Hon. John Manners by Sir Bertram MacKennal (see below).  These angels indicate the total grief of the family in the loss of their daughter in 1904 and ten years later of the heir to the Barony, John, a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards on 1 September 1914 in the retreat from Mons.  An entry from the Diaries of Lady Cynthia Asquith (daughter-in-law of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith) tell us, “Avon (Tyrrell) was a frame for John which was now empty and meaningless”.  All the lettering on the tomb is by Gill and has been checked with his order books and notes at the Museum at Ditchling, the village where he worked for a while.  
 
Sir Bertram MacKennal was from Australia and was responsible for monumental ‘Phoebus driving the horse of the Sun’ at the apex of Australia House in London. Other notable works by him include the tomb of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.  He also designed the coinage for the reign of King George V including the British War Medal 1914-1918 featuring the head of George V.  He was commissioned by the Manners family to sculpt the effigy of John for this church.

The coats of arms on the tomb show the blue and gold bars of the Manners family, (distantly related to the Dukes of Rutland), and the Lions of England and Fleur de Lis of France showing the English claim to France in the Hundred Years War (and not officially dropped from the Royal coat of arms until the Peace of Amiens with Napoleon in 1802).  The latter motiff indicates the Manners family’s descent from Edward III.

The church’s altar is black Italian marble placed on two lions - again from the motiff in the family coat of arms.  It was said that Edward Ryle, Bishop of Winchester, who dedicated the chapel on 18th October 1906 tactfully overlooked the fact that Church of England communion tables are supposed to be made of wood, not stone – the former implying that the Communion is a meal only to remember Jesus at the Last Supper, the latter implying the more Catholic doctrine of sacrifice.  The altar is said to be modelled on that in King’s College, Cambridge.  The cherubs on the inside of the doors are said to be likenesses of Mary Christine in whose memory the whole chapel was raised.

THE TRAQUAIR MURAL

The mural at the west end of the church is by Phoebe Traquair – famous as the first woman artist to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1920 – the year in which she started this, her last major work, aged 68 years.

The subdued colours and restrained nature of the mural – compared with earlier richer, more triumphant and confident work – fits in well with the theme of sorrow and regret and the ‘pity of war’ at the same time affirming “Te Deum – We praise thee, O God”.  

The painting is in memory of Lady Constance Manners, who died in 1920, and was completed in 1922.  The original windows, designed by Blow, had to be removed and blocked off for the painting to be done – but this was no hardship since the orientation of the church meant that the sun shone in the faces of the congregation at Morning Prayer!  The blocking of the windows was a source of much anxiety since rain penetrated the walls causing damp and damage continually endangering the picture.  In 2006 this problem was cured and in 2008 the water damage was rectified and the mural restored.  Like Michaelangelo, Phoebe Traquair painted on scaffolding and, unsurprising, she wrote that during the work that she was often very uncomfortable and weary.  
 
The mural is composed of both an earthly and a heavenly host of figures and, from correspondence, we do have some clue as to the identity of some of the main characters.  The artist liked to paint from life and it is thought that many of the human and angelic faces are taken from both famous and from local people.

The mural depicts a domed roof containing Christ in Glory.  The motif is reminiscent of the great Byzantine Basilica of the Eastern Roman Empire where Chistos Pantocrator (a Greek word used to translate the Hebrew ‘Lord of Hosts’ or ‘Ruler of the Universe’) is portrayed amidst the saints.  Here a very youthful Jesus is surrounded by children and young people – a very Scriptural theme.  The gold colouring reflects all the light gathered like a concave mirror – even on a dark day (at night too) this light glows in the church. The faces around the dome are of the children of Thorney Hill.

The main central panel portrays the New Forest – landscape, trees, birds and flowers.  The roof-line of Avon Tyrrell House is to be seen peeping above the trees on the horizon.

The grouping of characters is more complex than it looks and it can be difficult to understand Phoebe Traquair’s thought process.  The theme is obviously “Te Deum” – the hymn of praise said or sung at every morning service - meaning the whole of God’s creation offering him praise.

Generally the presence of many uniformed young men give the immediate impression of a tribute to those who were slaughtered in the Great War .  “Our Boys at the Front” is a somewhat overworked phrase but has a literal meaning – so many were so young and until 1916 the British Forces were all volunteers.  A careful scan of the soldier figures shows only two officers, both First Lieutenants.  Their rank is shown by two ‘pips’ on the shoulder and both carry swords.  A study of their faces, gestures, and attitudes in this mural are both fascinating and enigmatic.  Research suggests that they may have been two brothers of Lady Mary Manners (nee Cecil, see below) who were also killed in the Great War.

The method of portrayal in the central panel seems to be partly realistic and partly symbolic. The impact of the whole central grouping (front row) conveys a Nativity scene of Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus.  However, the “Joseph” figure is wearing a priestly vestment and is thought to be in fact Lord William Cecil, Bishop of Exeter, second son of the third Marquis of Salisbury (Queen Victoria’s last Prime Minister). William was the father of Mary (Molly) who later married Francis Lord Manners (see commemorative plaques over the effigy of the Hon John Manners). Many interesting stories are told of Lord William Cecil – he was great and caring Bishop but it is his eccentricities for which he is often remembered!  He was affectionately known in his diocese as "Love in a Mist”.  There is a legend retold by Kenneth Rose in his book, “The Later Cecils”, of William’s appointment in the midst of Prime Minister Asquith’s alleged mismanagement of the war effort in 1916.  It is said that the Marquess of Salisbury, William’s brother, sitting at breakfast in Hatfield House, reading ‘The Times’ suddenly exploded – “Asquith’s gone too far this time!!”. An expectant audience awaited the reason – some new war muddle, perhaps?  “He has sent William to Exeter! …”.  But at the end of William’s life his friends asserted that he genuinely hated being a Bishop – preferring the pastoral work of a country parish, despite his high birth and title.  His concern for these less fortunate that him, and especially Romanies, was passed on to his daughter as evidenced by her interest in the settled travellers in the village of Thorney Hill in later years.

The baby Jesus is said to be Francis, Fourth Baron Manners – see plaque over the effigy of his elder brother the Hon John whose death in the Great War meant that Francis succeeded to the title.

The Virgin Mary is thought to be Lady Laura Lovat (nee Lister).  There is a reference in the Life and Letters of Raymond Asquith (see below) to her having changed her religion to Roman Catholicism in order to marry her husband, Lord Lovat, a Catholic Scottish peer.  This is where we must introduce the Asquith family.

The soldier looking at the baby is Raymond Asquith (not, as some thought – the Hon John Manners).  Raymond was the eldest son of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith by his first marriage.  After his mother Helen Melland’s death 1891 Asquith married Margot Tennant.  Margot’s elder sister, Charlotte, married the fourth Lord Ribblesdale -  Liberal peer said to be the most elegant aristocrat in the land.  Later the American historian Barbara Tuchman chose his portrait by John Singer Sargent to put on the front of her famous book of this period ‘The Proud Tower’).  Ribblesdale’s family name was Lister.  One of Charlotte’s children was the Laura Lovat referred to above.  In the great debate of 1911-12 over the reform of the House of Lords – Asquith’s great cause – Lord Lovat was one peer who wished to hold out to the end in resisting change.

Lady Constance Manners is looking out of the picture (left).

The lady just above Raymond may be his wife, Katherine Horner – Lady Cynthia Asquith’s Diary recounts how devastating it was to contemplate Raymond’s death and the effect it was likely to have on Katherine.  “She revolved round him – life was unbearable for her before she met him, and now?”  In the event Katherine was inconsolable.  The story of the news being told her by the Prime Minister personally and the effect of bereavement as told by Cynthia and independently by Lady Diana Manners (wife of Duff Cooper) is almost beyond anything one might imagine in tragedy.

One of the front row figures looks very like a photo of Bron Lucas, another close friend of the Manners family who had been killed in the war.  He was Bron Herbert, later Lord Lucas, who country home was nearby in the New Forest (now called New House).  He was also a close friend of John Buchan and Bron Herbert’s cousin, Auberon Herbert, is said to be the model for a Buchan hero, Sandy Arbuthnot, who features in ‘Greenmantle’ and ‘Island of Sheep’ adventure stories.  Lucas was a theosophist and by nature a ‘gypsy’ wanderer.  He was recruited into the Government because the new Liberal administration of 1906 having been out of the office for so many years was short of ministers in the House of Lords.  He did not really like the work feeling that his speeches were artificial – in the Oxford Union debates it was not unknown for him to stop in the middle of a sentence and sit down because he was bored by the whole thing or felt there was no point in it.  He did his work well and conscientiously but left government office, and being already disabled from the Boer War, joined the Royal Flying Corps.  His experiences as a pilot finally removed the look of surprise he always had at life – and he was really in his element.  His death – shot down over enemy lines – seemed merely to be a small step into the world most people thought he was most at home in.  (see John Buchan’s “ emory Hold the Door" taken from his earlier monograph – "These for Remembrance”.)

William Blake, the poet, much admired by Phoebe Traquair and included in other works by her.

Bishop Charles Gore of Oxford – one of the founders of Christian Socialism – often compared for his intellect and saintliness to St Bernard of Clairvaux.  He influenced hundreds of contemporary clergy and it was these who were to lead the Church to reform.

Lord Tennyson, the poet.

Lois Pasteur – a man who made many medical advances, especially bacteriology, a new science a hundred years ago.  Next to him may be Lord Joseph Lister - very famous at the time, not least as he co-operated with Pasteur in similar research in this country.  Both men are wearing the same robes and badges – so there is at least circumstantial evidence that both were medical men.
 
The dado is very florid and also contains the Manners coat of arms and their peacock crest.

(This text is adapted from a monograph written by Brigadier Arthur Fortescue who, with other members of his family, is buried in the churchyard at All Saints.)
 
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