Brockenhurst is a good example of a village that has migrated over the years leaving its parish church stranded outside the village.
Run your mouse over the small maps or tap on them to watch Brockenhurst move.
The original village clusters around and below St Nicholasʼ Church at the top of the hill.
With the coming of the turnpike the village slowly migrates down the hill to the new road, and starts to spread along Brookley Road to the west.
In 1847 the railway cuts the village in half, reroutes the Beaulieu Road and makes the old Church Road redundant. Pressure from sucessive Lords of the Manor ensures that all new development take place north of the railway line.
St Nicholas' Church, Brockenhurst
St Nicholas may be stuck on a hill all by itself but what a little gem it is. It claims to be the oldest church in the forest. The church certainly existed by 1086 as it is recorded in the Domesday Book and, going further back, there is some evidence of Saxon stonework by the South Door.
Some people have speculated that the mound the church sits on may be partly artificial, and certainly the word 'henge' immediately sprang to my mind when I saw the bank behind the parking area.
Given the early Christians habit of building churches on old pagan sites of worship, it is quite possible that this has been a religious site since Bronze Age times.
However, thatʼs enough speculation, what of the church today.
Like most old New Forest churches, St Nicholas is a glorious mixture of different periods. The original Nave dates from around 1130 and contains some fine late Norman stonework, particularly the South Doorway. The addition of the neo-classical North Aisle and the Gallery in 1832 more than doubled the capacity of the church
The windows on the north side contain some lovely stained glass from the 1930s. It is often said that glass from this period lacks the vibrancy of both earlier and more recent glass, but I rather like the subtlety and fine detail it often presents.
The Chancel dates from around 1260 (as does the Porch) with a fine 17th century barrel vaulted roof. Its chief glory however is the stained glass in the four side windows depicting grapes, sunflowers, lilies and passion flowers. They are believed to date from about 1877.
Outside, the Tower was completed in 1763, the earlier one having been in danger of falling down. It is a fine example of Georgian brickwork surmounted by a short octagonal spire covered in Mathematical Tiles.
The Great Yew tree has been carbon dated to be more than 1000 years old and there is every reason to believe that it is at least as old as the church. It has a trunk over 6 meters (20 feet) in diameter at its widest. Like most yews of its age, the trunk is hollow and the width is in part due to splitting.
The churchyard was full of bluebells when I visited in early May. Bluebells are a rarity in the forest due to the pressure of browsing animals, and it is only in enclosed areas, such as churchyards that they are to be found in abundance,
At the time of my visit (2002) St. Nicholas was open daily from 2:30pm to 5:00pm from Maundy Thursday until the end of the school half term in October, and had regular Sunday Services at 11:15am and 6:30pm.
Anzac War Cemetery
You could spend all day in the churchyard trying to decipher the inscriptions on the old gravestones, including that of 'Brusher Mills', a local snake-catcher. However, perhaps the most surprising sight is the Anzac War Cemetery.
Finding the graves of almost 100 New Zealanders and being reminded of the horrors of the Great War in such a stark way, in the peace and quiet of the English countryside is quite a shock to the system.
Why are they here? Well between 1916 and 1918 the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital was based at three sites around Brockenhurst. At its height this had a staff of over 300 and admitted, on average, around 26 patients a day.
As explained above, the modern village of Brockenhurst post-dates the arrival of the railway. This includes St Saviours Church, originally built as a private chapel for Rhinefield House, but given to the town in 1890.
The best that can be said for the rest of the village is that it is blessedly free of the 'gifty' shops that swamp so many villages in tourist areas. It is a real village with shops for local people.
For much of the information on this page I am indebted to the excellent leaflets, listed below, that are for sale in both churches.