Ancient Sites

St. Mary Magdalene Church (site of)

Created 05-05-2002    Last update 20-01-2021

    Along Widley Walk, which is to the east of Fort Widley, is the original and now deserted mediaeval site of the village of Widley. The village consisted of a church, a manor house and quite a number of small cottages. All that remains of the village is the graveyard of the church, the rest of the village now being farm or woodland.
    The church was first mentioned in 1154 AD, although it is understood to have been a place of worship since the 900s. The original church was extended in 1709, 1813 and 1824. Unfortunately the later extensions not only removed most of the oldest part of the structure and its architectural features, but also important structural elements of it, which resulted in its partial collapse in 1847. The church was partially demolished in 1849, and a new church built from the rubble which opened in 1850.
    The second churches life was short however. The building of new churches in the area, and the land taken from the parish to create the new parishes of Waterlooville, Purbrook, Portsdown and Cosham left Widley with very few parishioners. It has also been stated that the old Widley Village was forcibly moved east to its present location during the 1860s so as to "deny the enemy any cover" during the construction of the Palmerston Forts.  

    After 1907, the church was locked up. It suffered much vandalism after 1945 which resulted in the roof being removed in 1950. In January 1953 the church was bulldozed and the graveyard cleared. The area remained neglected until 1976 when local history enthusiasts tided the site and recorded some of the remaining gravestones.
    Once more the site was neglected until 1989 since when endeavours have been made to keep it rubbish and weed free. The original foundations have been exposed and marked by a dry rubble wall.


Aerial photo site location    Grid Ref SU659074

location map of Widley Church

The arrow points to the location of the church site and shows its relationship with Fort Widley half a mile to the south.

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

site of the old church

Behind the wall lies the site of the old church and graveyard. In the background is Mill Farm.

site of old church - dry wall

The site of the church is now marked out by a dry rubble wall, which appears to contain some interesting pieces. There are supposed to be some underground features (crypt?) somewhere here. I took a lot of the information presented above from the white notice behind the wall.


At the back of the graveyard are some of the surviving tombstones. 

Charles Dickens infant brother Alfred was buried here in 1814.

Widley Church

St Mary Magdalene Church: built 1850 demolished 1953. This site has had a church on it since 1154.

Old Widley Church

NEW - 21-05-2004

A 1910 photo of the Church with its parishioners in their Sunday best. 

inside the church

NEW - 06-02-2005

The church had a seating capacity of 214 with its traditional box pews. There were possibly thousands of burials over the 700 of years of church's lifetime including those of titled and wealthy landowners.

Source: Peter Rogers




NEW - 13-01-2011


My family, the Rays, were resident in Widley in the 18th and 19th century and probably centuries before. They farmed at Pigeon House Farm in the 1790s and there is a tantalisingly named Ray’s Farm on a map of 1791 north of the site of Old Widley village.

The graveyard at St. Mary's is full of Rays! I discovered the church site through your website several years ago and me and my father visited and discovered on the surface a set of grave stones (head and foot) for an ancestor called Benjamin Ray d. 1838, buried with his 2 (consecutive!) wives and 3 of his children.

We returned this weekend and all the stones have gone. Do you know why and when this was done? [Does anyone know the answer to this?] The trees look nice but we were disappointed the stones had gone. Thanks for a great site.

Stuart Ray - January 2011



NEW - 02-11-2006


I went to Wymering church yesterday to see the church where one of my ancestors, Thomas Palmer, was vicar in 1737. He was vicar of Wymering and Widley at that time. I asked the person who allowed me to look around the church, where Widley church was and he told me that Widley church was no longer there. That is why I was looking on the web to see if I could find some information or pictures of it when I came across your website.

I was born in Meonstoke, near Droxford but we moved to Shedfield was I was about 6. My father worked for Cases Bakery in Wickham and was a bakers roundsman. He used to deliver around Denmead, Lovedean, Horndean, Hambledon and HMS Dryad and many other places near.

If it wasn't for you, the history of this area would be lost forever.

Keep up the good work!! Very well done!!

Helen Boyes - October 2006



St Mary Magdalene Church Painting

NEW - 22-07-2019

This painting was found while clearing out an old barn when we bought our farm in Tadley. The family who owned it before us was the Grants.
It has been suggested by relatives of this family that are still in the Purbrook area that it could be St Mary Magdalene Church at Purbrook. From an email: “We feel sure that the painting is a painting done by our Father (Victor Grant) and is that of St Mary Magdalene Church at Widley Walk, Purbrook.”
I enjoyed the page on your site about this church. It does look the same!

Jo Watson - January 2019


  NEW - 20-01-2021  

As an insomniac I often think of something to research on the internet in the early hours of the mornings. Today, at 5am, I came across your piece about the ancient site of the church in Widley Walk. It was like a blast from the past and so interesting.

In 1951 and living in post war Portsmouth, my father, wanting a better life for his family, took a job as chauffeur and gardener to a doctor living in Potwell House, Mill Lane, which lies to the west of Fort Widley. With the job came the use of a cottage, number 1 Potwell Cottages, and my first 10 years were spent running free in the woods and countryside around our house. Sadly now nothing remains of our cottage or any of the other dwellings in the hamlet of Potwell apart from Potwell House.

In 1959 we moved, following a change of job for my Dad, to one of the council houses in Widley Walk. I believe the land these 8 houses stand on was originally donated to Winchester City council by the owner of Southwick estate, to build accommodation for farm workers.

Following the death of my father in 1967 and the sudden death of my mother in 1971, just three weeks after my wedding, my husband and I became tenants in Widley Walk where we raised our family and still live today.

Now in our 70s we still enjoy the countryside around us and have a love of nature that our children have inherited. I remember as a child ,as you did, climbing to the top of Portsdown Hill and looking down on the city and thinking that there is nowhere else on earth I would rather live.

Now to the point of my story. The Coronavirus pandemic has seen us confined to home apart from occasional forays for shopping and exercise. Yesterday we ended our daily walk by coming down Widley Walk from the top of Portsdown Hill past the site of the church of St Mary Magdalene. It is in a very sorry state now. The boundary wall has collapsed in places, the information sign has rotted away and fallen over and the whole site is overgrown and muddy. I don't know if there is anyone or any organisation that would take responsibility for maintaining this part of history that could sadly be lost forever.

Thank you for your website, where at least a record will remain for locals like us to read about and enjoy our history.
Kind regards.

Angela and Mike Davies - January 2021