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The earliest firm evidence of Christianity on Hayling Island dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, although it is quite possible that the religion was practised on the island in the last century or two of Roman rule. There was a Saxon church dedicated to All Saints, which probably now lies underwater following the loss of a sizeable chunk of the island to the sea in 1324.
Queen Emma, wife first of Ethelred the Unready and then of Canute, gave the manor of Hayling to the monks of St Swithun's at Winchester Cathedral. After the Norman conquest, William the Conqueror granted most of Hayling to the Benedictine Abbey of Jumièges in Normandy, who received its agricultural income. There followed a long period of legal disputes between Jumièges Abbey and the Winchester Monks, who held on to a small part of northern Hayling. At various times over the next few centuries, during times of hostility with France, English monarchs took control of priories owned by French abbeys, including that of Hayling Island.
Building of the Priory Church of St Mary's started in about 1250, when it became clear that the Church of All Saints was severely threatened by sea flooding. At this time the Island was still largely in the possession of Jumièges, although in 1294 Edward I took control of the priory, which remained in royal possession for some 30 years. Carved on a panel in the choir stalls are the Arms of Jumièges. One of the first priors is probably buried under a memorial stone in the chancel of St Mary's.
Henry V deprived all French abbeys of their rights in relation to English priories, and in 1414 he granted the priory of Hayling to the Carthusians of Sheen. From then on it seems likely that the prior of Hayling leased most of Hayling Island from the Carthusians.
In 1539, following the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII granted the priory, along with the manor of Hayling, to Trinity College, Arundel. Subsequently the manor passed into the possession of the Dukes of Norfolk, who owned it until 1825.
The most famous person associated with the priory of St Mary's is Thomas Hoccleve, a royal official and a major poet of the school of Chaucer. In 1394 Richard I granted Hoccleve the right to bed and board at the priory. This sort of grant was a standard way to increase the emoluments of royal officials, and Hoccleve probably exchanged the right for money, possibly a regular income paid by the priory.
In 2010 St Mary's was refurbished. Victorian pews were removed and replaced with chairs, giving the church a much lighter and more flexible character. Repairs were made to the base of pillars damaged when the pews were put in, and other alterations were made.
Although St Peter's is over a century older than St Mary's, it was originally built in about 1140 by the monks of Jumièges Abbey not as a parish church but as a chapel of ease, Northwode Chapel, to serve the people of North Hayling for whom going to their parish church of All Saints in the south of the island was not convenient. The original building probably occupied most of what is now the nave, and was apparently built without foundations: the central pillars rested on large sarsen stones (boulders probably deposited by glaciers during the Ice Ages). Buttresses were added later to help support the walls. In the early 13th century the building was expanded to its present dimensions, with the porch being added later. It may have been at this time that the decorative carvings were placed at the top of the rounded pillars of the nave: it is thought that these carvings were prefabricated at Jumièges and then shipped across the Channel.
The graveyard is now one of the beautiful features of the church, but until 1485 the residents of North Hayling had to be buried at St Mary's. In that year, following representations about the difficulties caused by flooding and bad weather, the prior of Sheen agreed that burials could commence at St Peter's.
In 2000 the Ark - which serves as a church hall - was added against the west wall. It won the Borough of Havant Design Award in 2000 and the Royal Institute of British Architects South Conservation Award in 2002. The RIBA judges said, "The extension lifts the spirit and adds value to the building, fitting within the constraints of a mature churchyard and a very ancient yew tree."
During the second world war permission was granted for monthly services to be held in the community centre of Eastoke, the SE peninsula of Hayling Island. That led to a desire for a church to be built in this part of the island, where the amount of housing was expanding. In 1964 St Andrew's was dedicated as a daughter church of St Mary's, with services initially held in what is now the church hall. Funds were then raised to build the current church. In 1996 Eastoke became a separate parish, with St Andrew's as its church.
Arms of Jumièges
Tomb of early prior
of St Mary's
in St Mary's
Interior of St Peter's