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PRIVETT AND THE NICHOLSONS
  Six hundred feet up, high above the road from Petersfield to Winchester, stands a tall spire that is a landmark for miles around. It is the outward sign of a virtually new village created by a rich benefactor in mid-Victorian times. Until then, Privett was merely a collection of scattered farms and cottages forming part of the manor of East Meon, and a small chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity in a fine situation overlooking the Meon valley.

A new centre was created in the 1870s when William Nicholson, who lived at Basing Park, a large estate just to the north but now demolished, endowed the village with a new church, a vicarage, a school and several cottages. Nicholson bought the estate, consisting of 8,446 acres, in 1863, and the magnificent park surrounding the estate covered 400 hundred acres, including a fine cricket pitch. His son, W.G. Nicholson, was for many years MP for Petersfield.

The Nicholsons were a famous family of distillers, and there are many jokes about the great church being funded by gin and sin! There is a memorial in the south aisle to one of the family who died drying to rescue a workman who was overcome by foul air at the distillery.

 

No expense was spared in the building of the new Holy Trinity Church. A celebrated London architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield, was engaged, and the church was completed in two years between 1876 and 1878. It was built of flint with Doulting Stone dressings, while the interior is as stately as any great Victorian town church. Subtle colour is introduced with a variety of stone: white from Bath, golden yellow from Ham Hill and a single band of red from Corsehill. The crowning glory was the spire, 180 feet high and the tallest in Hampshire, containing eight bells.

The internal fittings, designed by some of the finest craftsmen of the day, are fully worthy of the architecture, and the Italian marble mosaic floors are a notable feature. The reredos, stretching across the whole of the east wall, was carved by the firm of Farmer and Brindley, and cost 22,000.

Under the benevolent influence of the Basing Park Estate, the church and the village flourished. The church boasted a choir of 18 boys and 12 men, who were trained by one of the Nicholson daughters, Gertrude, and the children enjoyed the charabanc outings and Christmas parties that were a feature of village life in those days. But after a hundred years, and with the departure of the Nicholsons, the church was considered to be too big for the parish, and many of the fittings were sold. It was declared redundant and since 1980 has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, a unique example of high Victorian splendour set deep in the Hampshire countryside. Privett now forms part of the parish of Froxfield with Privett.

Though seldom used today, it remains consecrated, and every Christmas a carol service is held, sung by the Froxfield Choir, which attracts a huge congregation, always wrapped in woollen rugs to keep out the cold, and wondering at the cathedral-like splendour of the architecture. The church is also used regularly for concerts.

W.G. Nicholson died in 1942, and with his death began the demise of the Basing Park Estate. The house fell into disrepair and was pulled down in the 1960s, and the land was sold off. It is a further sign of the times that, with the Hall gone, the school has closed to become a residential centre, and the vicarage, the pub, the village shop and the blacksmith are now private houses.

The railway, which came to Privett in 1903, was closed in the 1950s, when the Meon Valley line from Alton to Fareham ceased to operate. Only Blomfield’s great church remains, a proud reminder of earlier times.


Tom Muckley. May 2003


This article was originally published by the Petersfield Post

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