A few days ago we looked at the Georgian Rectory where Madame Lefroy, Jane Austen’s most beloved friend, lived in the small village of Ashe in Hampshire. Today, let’s discover a little about the church where her husband, Isaac Peter George Lefroy was Rector, the parish church of Holy Trinity and St Andrew, Ashe.
I have to say, from the very outset, that appearance of the church is not quite as it would have been in the late 18th century. The original church building dated from the mid 12th century, and was then a single cell building. It was described in The Reverend William Bingley’s History of Hamsphire, Volume 2 ( 1807-13 ) as a
very small but neat building … single aisle and the chancel with a mural monument to Rev. Richard Russell, rector 1729-83, who died 27 Jan 1783 in his 80th year, and an elegant mural monument of marble, commemorates the Rev Isaac Peter George Lefroy, the late rector here and of Compton in Surrey and Ann his wife who died at the Parsonage house on Sunday, Dec 16 1804, in consequence of a fall from her horse the preceding day.
When I visited the interior of the church I was able to take photograph of a drawing of the church as it was prior to its rebuild, in order to give you some idea of how it looked when the Lefroys were resident in the village:
I hope you can discern some of the detail: I do apologise for its quality (or lack thereof) for I have had to manipulate the photograph a lot to try and make it at all useful. Hopefully you can see , by comparison with the photographs, that the rebuild,while it made the church larger, tried, in my very humble opinion, to keep to the style and character of the original, simply-designed church
The rebuild of the church was effected in the late 19th century, because, frankly, it was falling down around the ears of the Rector, Francis Walter and his congregation. In 1873 Walter discovered, on an inspection of the fabric of the building, that his church was in a very dangerous state of repair. The North and East walls were leaning and were subject to settling, or subsidence, and, despite having been repaired in 1866, the West wall had further subsided and was considered to be in a very dangerous state; also, the roof was considered to be beyond any practical repair.
Accordingly, it was decided that a new church had to be commissioned, to be built on virtually the same site, only slightly enlarged. The great Victorian architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (who, you may care to know, was commission to design a parish church by my family in 1854) was employed to create it, and it was consecrated for use as the parish church by the Bishop of Winchester in 1878.
Not only was the building different in the Lefroy’s time but the name of the church was different then too. During the Reverend Lefroy’s era the church was known only as the Church of Holy Trinity. The appellation St Andrew was added in 1899. It had always been assumed that the church had always been dedicated in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, but Mortimer George Thoyts, who was the father of the then rector, Francis walter, whom we have met above, and who was also the owner of the advowson, thought that the dedication to the Holy Trinity was something that had only been applied to the church after the reforms of the Reformation, when the old Catholic reverence to individual saints was discouraged by the newly formed Protestant Anglican church. And he was proved to be correct : he discovered that in 1503 the church had received a bequest,
Ecclesiae Sancti Andrea de Asshe
and as you can see, it seems clear from the wording of the bequest that the church was then, prior to the Reformation, dedicated to Saint Andrew. So the additional dedication was duly approved and made.
The church, as you can see below, is set on a sloping site, the ground running downhill from the road that runs at right angles to the Andover Road, now the B3400.
The wooden Lytch Gate stands at the junction of this road and the lane that leads to the church. This is but a few minutes walk from the Lefroy’s elegant rectory.
The Lytch Gate has, as I understand it,been moved from its original position near to the entrance to the church to its present position on higher ground.
The churchyard, (which in the winter seems to be covered with snow, which is, in reality, large drifts of pure white snowdrops) has some very old gravestones. I did find the directions to the Lefroy graves a little confusing, but I think this photograph shows them ( if anyone knows otherwise, please do let me know):
In addition to the connection with Jane Austen’s beloved friend, Madame Lefroy, this church eventually became associated with Jane’s niece, Anna. She is buried there and there is a memorial dedicated to her memory inside the church( more on this in my next post). Anna Austen, the daughter of Jane’s eldest brother, James and his first wife, Anne Matthews, married Anne and George Lefroy’s son, Benjamin in 1814. Eventually he became rector of Ashe, like his father. He was ordained in 1817. His brother, John Henry George Lefroy, was appointed as Rector of Ashe after their father’s death in 1806. Sadly, John died aged only 41 in 1823. Benjamin was then appointed as Rector of Ashe and he and Anna came to live at the Rectory and remained there until Ben’s untimely death in 1829. After Benjamin’s death, Anna moved from the Rectory with her seven children and lived in various houses, first at a home owned by her brother-in-law, Edward Lefroy at West Ham, near Basingstoke. Subsequently, she lived at Oakley,Winchester and Monk Sherbourne before spending the last ten years of her life at Southern Hill near Reading. Reading was, of course, where Anna’s aunts, Jane and Cassandra Austen, had attended the Reading Ladies Boarding School, situated in the former Abbey Gateway, from 1785-1786.
And that ends the first part of our visit to Ashe parish church. Next in this series we shall look at its interior and, in detail, at the Lefroy memorials.