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St George, Damerham, Hampshire

(50°56′29″N, 1°50′56″W)
SU 107 158
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Hampshire
now Hampshire
medieval Salisbury
now Salisbury
  • Ron Baxter
  • Ron Baxter
02 July 2014

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Damerham is a village in W Hampshire, on the NW edge of the New Forest, 8 miles S of Salisbury and 3 miles NW of Fordingbridge. It has been a part of Hampshire only since 1895, when 8 parishes on the SE edge of Wiltshire (South Damerham, Martin, Melchet Park, Plaitford, West Wellow, Toyd Farm with Allenford, Whitsbury and East Bramshaw) were transferred. The village straggles along a network of roads following the line of a stream called Ashford Water. It has centres at its N and S ends, suggesting an assart from the woodland which still surrounds it, but the church, in the centre, is in an otherwise uninhabitated part.

St George’s has an aisled nave (a 3 bay aisle to the N and a 2 bay aisle to the S), with a doorway in the S aisle under a long 15thc porch, and a blocked N dooway. The tower is on the S side of the nave at the E end, and has a weatherboarded upper storey and a leaded pyramid roof. The chancel was originally 12thc , and has the remains of blocked arcades visible inside and out on the N and S sides. These do not match – the N arcade is of 2 pointed bays and the S of 2 round-headed wider bays extending further E. 12thc work is found on the N arch of the tower, on the N nave arcade, which has been clumsily reworked in the later Middle Ages, and on the N, and possibly also the S chancel arcade. More interesting than any of these is a tympanum depicting a horseman riding down a fallen enemy, reset over the S nave doorway. There is also a Christ in Majesty relief, possibly c.1200, reset in the gable of the S porch, and a large loose chevron voussoir.


South Damerham was royal demesne of the Saxon kings as early as the 9thc, and in 940-46 King Edmund granted land at Damerham, Martin and Pentridge to his queen Aethelflaeda on condition that she should bequeath it to the church of Glastonbury when she died. This she did, and the entire manor was thus held by the abbey in 1066 and 1086.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches



Loose Sculpture


The tympanum has been identified as St George appearing in a vision at the battle of Antioch to add his strength to the Crusader amies against the Turkish forces of Kerbogha in 1098. This interpretation has appeared in successive church guides and was repeated in Alford (1984), 4-5 where the scene is related to that at Fordington (Dorset). Alford notes, however, that the two examples are neither stylistically nor compositionally related. The VCH description does not mention the tympanum, as it had not been discovered in 1911, the EH list description identifies the figure as St George without mentioning the battle of Antioch. Pevsner and Lloyd play safe and refer to a slayer on horseback and his adversary on the ground.

There are major problems with the identification of the figure as St George at Antioch which, as Alford notes, is based in large part on the dedication of the church. To be fair, the church was indeed dedicated to St George long before the tympanum was found in 1916, although the earliest record of this dedication I have come across is in mid-19thc gazetteers. If the rider is St George he should have a halo, and if he is St George at Antioch, then the imagery is nothing like any of the written sources describing the vision that inspired the Crusaders to their victory over the Turks. Perhaps the best of the sources is the Gesta Francorum, which refers to countless armies coming down from the mountains with white standards, led by St George, St Mercurius and St Demetrius. There are problems too with identifying the fallen knight as a Saracen. His features and armour appear western, and although his bossed shield differs from the rider’s it is not an eastern type. I am grateful to Alan Borg for comments about the armour, and about the date of the tympanum, which he is inclined to place at the beginning of the 13thc on the basis of the fallen warrior’s weapon and the apparent use of rowelled spurs. While on this subject it should be noted that Alford dated the tympanum c.1120, Poole (1976) the second half of the 12thc, English Heritage 12thc and Pevsner Norman. A curious feature is the detail in the lower R corner of the tympanum, which Alford described as a face turned upwards with open mouth, which could therefore be a Hell-mouth ready to receive the infidel. The present author offers the suggestion that it might represent a carrion bird pecking at a decapitated head in a helmet. This could simply represent the perversity of his imagination.

Ultimately the iconography derives from antique models, widely dispersed through their appearance on coinage from the 4thc BC onwards. Such imagery entered the continental Romanesque repertoire, e.g. at Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux Sèvres) where it is normally described as a Constantine figure, showing that Emperor vanquishing paganism in the form of a fallen enemy. In England the best known examples are those of the Herefordshire School tympana at Brinsop (Herefordshire) and Ruardean (Gloucestershire), probably dateable to the 1150s. Both churches are dedicated to St George, and both show the mounted saint riding down a dragon and stabbing it with a spear. Stylistically Damerham appears much later, and although this author would not go as late as Alan Borg has suggested, he would favour a date in the last quarter of the 12thc.

The Christ in Majesty is likely to date from 1200 or later (although Poole makes the surprising assertion that all such images may be dated to the 2nd half of the 12thc).


S. Alford, ‘Romanesque architectural sculpture in Dorset: a selective catalogue and commentary,’ Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Proceedings 106 (1984), 1-22, especially 4-5, 19.

A. Borg, private communication.

English Heritage Listed Building 143909.

N. Pevsner and D. Lloyd, The Buildings of England. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Harmondsworth 1967, 188-89.

Victoria County History: Hampshire. IV (1911), 590-91.