The Parish Church of St. Nicholas, Brockenhurst
A Brief History of the oldest Church in the New Forest
The Roman conquest of Britain in A.D. 43 spread its influence to the Kingdom of Wessex of which this parish was a part. The fall of Rome in A.D. 410 left Britain defenceless against Saxon or Dane, but Roman influence was to return.
Urged by appeals from England, Gregory the Great directed Augustine to Kent where he pursued his mission in A.D. 597. Forty years later the West Saxons (from which the name of Wessex derives) were converted by Birinus who came from Rome.
There followed a company of secular Canons, later Augustinians, who built a Church and dwelling for themselves at Twinham (Christchurch). As priests, physicians, school-teachers, assistance officers and husbandmen they won to the Faith the people of the area; all the Forest, and much more, became their Parish but it was at Brockenhurst that they probably founded their first mission. The Forest was to become the King’s New Forest after the Norman Conquest.
Our next record is the Charter of Baldwin de Redvers c. 1160 preserved in Christchurch Priory. Brockenhurst had become part of the great de Redvers fief, for we read that its “chapelry” was confirmed by Baldwin to the Canons of Holy Trinity, Twinham, – “for the service of God and my soul’s salvation.”
The Lord of the Manor was obliged to accommodate the King when he came hunting – “Litter for the King’s bed and fodder for his horse”. The Manor, being adjacent to the Church, it is certain that the Norman and Angevin Kings, and their entourages, must have worshipped in St. Nicholas. Brockenhurst was the centre of the Kings’ hunting and its chief importance in those times.
Next we have the “Speculum Prioris” (Cotton M.S. Brit.: Mus: A.D. 1362) a stocktaking of all the Christchurch possessions. It affirms that this Church “To the Church of Christ belongs as to a mother” (tanguam ad mater).
In 1539, the Priory was dissolved and the community of 58 Canons dispersed. No longer were they to serve this Church. The manor and advowson (the right of presentation to the benefice) fell to John Fitzgerald, Earl of Arundel, and eventually in 1709, was acquired by Edward Morant Esq:, whose successor, Edward Morant Esq:, seventh of his line, holds them today.
The Church is beautifully situated at the top of a hill, a quarter of a mile south-east of the railway crossing on the Lyndhurst – Lymington road. The mound may be partly artificial, it having been suggested that there may have been a pagan temple on the site; or a Romano-British church. There can be no doubt that there was a Saxon church here, built for and endowed by the local land-owner, to provide a place of worship for himself and the people on his estate.
The existence of a church at Broceste (which is how the compilers spelled the name of the village) is recorded in Domesday Book. All through the centuries, between then and now, the parishioners have cared for their church, repairing it, adding to it, and altering it, according to the changing taste and needs of the passing years.
On the east side of the central level of the cemetery are the graves of more than a hundred New Zealand, Indian and other soldiers who died in the field hospitals at Brockenhurst during and after the first World War. By order of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission the original white wooden crosses were replaced in 1924 by engraved head-stones, and the impressive memorial cross was erected in 1927. An annual ANZAC memorial service is held here on the fourth Sunday in April, attended by a representative of the New Zealand High Commission and of the New Zealand Forces.
There is a new display in St Nicholas’ Church about the “Tin Town” Hospital which was in Tile Barn Lane, the display also commemorates the Brockenhurst born soldiers of both World War 1 and World War 2. St Nicholas’ Church is open to visitors from mid April until the end of October.