Sitting on the edge of the town, at the top of Church Lane, you’ll find Tidworth Mortuary Chapel. It sounds a bit morbid at first thought but it’s a peaceful area with an interesting history. The old St Mary’s Church within the town was demolished in 1784 by permission of the Bishop of Winchester and material from that church was used to build this chapel. The chapel later fell into a state of disrepair until the Town Council took ownership of it in 2006 and refurbished it in 2008.
Old South Tedworth medieval church was first mentioned in 1086 and was originally on the site of the new St Mary’s church. As it had been left to deteriorate this church was removed in 1784 and completely reconstructed at the top of the present Church Lane. Records of 1850 refer to the Burial chapel as South Tedworth church but we know it now as the Mortuary chapel. The Mortuary Chapel contains many of the interesting and informative memorials from the pervious building. The Mortuary chapel also houses a crypt which holds two unidentified bodies.
These can be viewed through a secure grill and are still in place. They were uncovered during the initial refurbishment of the building by Tidworth Town Council in 2008.
THE MYSTERIOUS BODIES
After detailed research at Andover library, Tidworth historian and local councillor Ann Birch thinks she may have discovered the identity of the bodies buried in the Crypt.
The coffins were discovered during restoration work at the St Mary’s mortuary chapel in 2008.
The first body is quite possibly that of Ann Smith who was buried in 1727. She was the widow of John Smith the form Chancellor of the Exchequer and Speaker of the House of Commons in 1707. The child’s grave buried with her is possibly that of her grandson Thomas who died a year after her death.
The fact that the grave was made to measure in what would have been the sanctuary of the old church means this per person would have been somebody of significance. If research is correct the widow and grandchild would have been buried in the old medieval church. When the old church was demolished in l784 the bodies were placed in the Mortuary chapel.
The brickwork used in the crypt is of two different standards – suggesting the poorer quality covering over of the crypt had been carried out at a later date, perhaps after a large memorial stone had cracked. Of course, as there is no exact proof the identities of the bodies may always remain a bit of a mystery.
The coffins are now on view to visitors who wish to look into the crypt through a specially designed secure grill. Anyone wishing to visit the Mortuary Chapel and the surrounding churchyard are more than welcome at any time.
We have an open day at the chapel once a year, usually late September. Serving afternoon tea and with Cllr Ann Birch, Local historian, as your guide. You can see images below of our beautiful “Hidden Gem” in Tidworth’s crown below.
If you would like a detailed visit inside the chapel, with a guide, you can arrange this by contacting the Town Council office.
Phone: 01980 847390