Visit to East Meon

Thursday 30 May 2019

For  those who do not yet know it, East Meon is aptly described in the 2010 revised Pevsner as ‘A rewarding village, beautifully sited on the upper reaches of the River Meon in a bowl of the South Downs.’ Thanks to Janet Hurrell’s efficient forward planning, 28 members and guests assembled there on a rare day of sunshine in an otherwise very wet month, at The Court House, the historic home of George and Caroline Bartlett. Approached past a flourishing vineyard planted by our hosts, we were generously welcomed on arrival with coffee in its medieval hall. Mr Bartlett then treated us to a fascinating talk about the hall and its adjoining chamber block and garderobe. The latter pair are now attractively converted into a comfortable library room and study. In 1927 the property was bought by P. Morley Horder, an architect who united the medieval block with a later half-timbered cottage and its out-buildings all of which became his home. He also added the beautifully planned garden.

East Meon manor was held in trust from before 1066 by the bishops of Winchester for the monks of the cathedral. Its first Norman bishop, Wakelin built himself a palace there, pulled down and replaced in 1395-97 by William of Wykeham as his own favoured country retreat. The hall is remarkable for appearing today much as it did when first built and, thanks to the unequalled Winchester Pipe Rolls now kept at HRO, Mr Bartlett has been able to place a plaque on an interior wall with the names  of Wykeham’s master builder William Wynford and his team of craftsmen who constructed and embellished it. For centuries East Meon’s manor courts, both baron and leet, were held there and the space continues to serve the community for many events, also offering fine long Tudor tables, all but the tops of which were salvaged from the Middle Temple’s hall in London.

After lunch at a choice of two atmospheric pubs, we reassembled at the village church, All Saints. Lauded again by Pevsner as ‘one of the most thrilling in Hampshire’ its setting, size and quality, the major part of which was completed c.1150, prove its importance. It is indeed rare in Hampshire to find a village church with a Grade 1 listing. Here we were treated to a talk by local historian, Michael Blakstad. Highlights of the church are its striking Norman tower, fine Norman arches and outstanding Tournai black marble font. Village pride claims the latter to be superior even to that in Winchester cathedral. Its faces, showing the story of Adam and Eve and others with a flat earth resting on pillars with mythical beasts, fish, birds and reptiles are certainly stiff competition for the cathedral’s St. Nicholas.

Our visit ended with a leisurely guided walk, led by Mr Blakstad, to admire the many listed cottages and houses in the village. Of particular interest is The Tudor House, dendro. dated by Edward Roberts as originating from 1333: an early survival for a timber framed hall house with daub and wattle. By 1892, with additions, it had become a grocer’s and draper’s shop. We also admired Glenthorne House,1697, with its then newly fashionable symmetrical frontage to the High Street with fine red and blue brickwork. There is much else to admire which is described and illustrated in Guided Walks around the historic buildings of East Meon published by the East Meon History Group with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Now there lies a challenge for others to do the same in their villages !