The locality and community
[A fuller printed History of St Francis’ Church and the Parish of Valley Park may be obtained from St Francis’ Church, priced at £2.50]
Valley Park forms a westward extension to Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh in southern Hampshire. The neighbourhood lies in gently undulating valleys and among semi-ancient woodlands from which it gains its name. The neighbourhood has several streams which feed into Monk’s Brook, a tributary of the River Itchen, and which now forms a natural north-eastern boundary to the parish. The close proximity of open agricultural land ensures the area retains a rural air.
Much of the land is low-lying with heavy clay soils which tend to be waterlogged in winter months. This clay was used for many years to supply the Chandler’s Ford brickworks, which occupied part of what is now the extensive industrial estate on Valley Park’s eastern boundary. Local bricks may be widely found in the Eastleigh area.
Prior to development for housing from 1981 the majority of Valley Park was within the Cranbury Estate, centred on Cranbury Park, Otterbourne, to the north of Chandler’s Ford. From 1767 the estate was owned by Thomas Dummer from whom it passed down to the Chamberlayne family. They also hold the patronage of a number of local Anglican parishes. A smaller area to the east formed part of the extensive estates of the Flemings of Stoneham Park and Chilworth Manor. During this time the area was farmed from three main holdings — Velmore Farm, to the south, Knightwood Farm in the north and Zionshill Farm in the west. Of these only Velmore (which actually lies outside the development area) remains as a working farm. Of the latter, Knightwood Farm was demolished during the development, while the farmhouse at Zionshill was incorporated within the housing estate.
Both Knight Wood and Zions Hill derive their names from the site, less than a mile away to the north-west, of a major Preceptory of the Knights Hospitaller – The Knights of St. John. Founded as early as the 11th Century, the Preceptory eventually held a large estate including all of the current part of Valley Park lying within the former manor of North Baddesley. The Preceptory site is now occupied by a later manor house which has been rebuilt several times.
North Baddesley was originally a small scattered settlement along the ridge now followed by the Flexford Road. Apart from the Manor House, the parish church of St. John the Baptist (mainly 17th Century but with early medieval traces); a small number of dwellings and the recently converted Manor Farm site indicate the original village location. The large nucleated settlement that is now North Baddesley grew up predominantly in the 20th Century, about half a mile to the south, on open semi-heathland crossed by the main A27 road from Salisbury and Romsey towards Portsmouth.
Zionshill Copse contains evidence of iron age earthworks, and with the location of Chilworth Ring, (another pre-Roman fortified site) only about one and a half miles away to the south, it is probable that Valley Park has seen some form of human occupation for over two millennia. Crossing the south eastern corner of the neighbourhood is the line of the Roman Road from Venta Belgarum (Roman Winchester) to the river crossing at Nursling and then on towards Dorchester. The line of the road may be detected as an elongated shallow depression in the open farm-land south of the Templars Way/School Lane junction.
Eastleigh grew up following the arrival of the London and South Western Railway in the 19th Century, when it was chosen as the location of the Company’s main works. Further developments came in the 20th century as ribbon development along the main road from Southampton to Winchester and London increased. Housing expanded further after the Second World War when the scattered localities of Hiltingbury, Hocombe, Fryern and Chandler’s Ford village gradually grew into the conurbation and dormitory town we have today.
The pressures for further housing in the last quarter of the twentieth century meant that by the late 1970s, most available land with development potential within the existing areas of Chandler’s Ford, Eastleigh and Bishopstoke had already been developed or were earmarked for housing. It was decided to designate an area of land to the south and west of Chandler’s Ford as a major strategic development area. Building began along the existing Castle Lane in 1982, and with the construction of Templars Way, (opened in 1983 by Sir Basil de Ferranti MEP), access was opened to more land within what became the first (southern) phase of Valley Park. In late 1985, Knightwood Road was constructed to provide a north—south spine opening access to the next three phases for development, all to the west of the Industrial Estate and Monk’s Brook. At that time Knightwood Road formed a natural western boundary to the new neighbourhood.
An early innovation was the provision by the developers, of a temporary Community facility made available under various planning agreements with the local authorities. Situated at the junction of School Lane and Castle Lane, in the midst of the first phase of development, “Mulberry Corner” was formed from the shell of a pair of semi-detached bungalows and was built circa 1984. This facility was widely used in the early years of Valley Park by a multitude of local organisations. It was also the base for an innovative project in local community development. Under the auspices of various statutory agencies, Hampshire Council of Community Service funded a local neighbourhood worker, Wendy Tuppenney, whose remit was to be a catalyst for locally-generated organisations to form and become established as the “community infrastructure”. Mulberry Corner became home to a Pre-School Playgroup, Women’s Institute, Evening Classes and the embryo Valley Park Community Association, as well as being available for private hire. The Community Association became the focus for management of the acquisition and provision of the present Valley Park Community Centre, which was constructed in 1992.
Mulberry Corner had a chequered early history, being struck by a light aircraft in the autumn of 1986. This had been deliberately crashed into it by an emotionally disturbed pilot who was killed in the crash. The structural damage and resulting fire meant that the bungalows needed to be largely rebuilt.
As development progressed, a ‘local centre’ was created with a group of local shops opening in 1986; a Public House, (The Cleveland Bay – named after a favourite horse of Mrs Chamberlayne-MacDonald) and a courtyard development of sheltered housing (Marlborough Court) following shortly afterwards.
The local woodlands within these phases of Valley Park were vested in The Woodland Trust during this period. The local centre was subsequently extended by the provision of St. Francis’ Church and School, the Community Centre and by a Chemist’s and Doctors’ Surgery. However contemporary plans for a further precinct of shops, proposed in the early 1990s did not materialise. On completion of the purpose-built community centre, Mulberry Corner became a Pre-school nursery, and has since been extended.
During 1994 a new phase of housing development commenced that would virtually double the size of Valley Park. Planning for this second “strategic housing” area to the west of Knightwood Road had resulted in protracted and contentious public debate for several years before building actually began adjacent to Castle Lane. Part of Knightwood Road was diverted to the west to avoid a major road junction close to the Cleveland Bay. This further housing construction took over seven years to complete, meaning that Valley Park was “under construction” for some twenty years!
These later developments also brought additional amenities including Playing Fields and a Sports Centre complex, a much enlarged Medical and Dental Centre, the conversion of the former doctors’ surgery to a Veterinary Practice, together with a second doctors’ practice and a Pre-school Nursery. A second school at the northern end of Knightwood Road was also opened in 1998, initially in temporary classrooms. Of striking appearance, Knightwood County Primary School was designed and provided by Hampshire County Council.
However the natural environment has also benefited to a degree. Woodland in the newer, western part of Valley Park is managed by Test Valley Borough Council, while the construction of several ‘balancing ponds’ to accommodate excess run-off during times of persistent heavy rainfall have enabled a wider range of natural habitats to develop.
Valley Park now has a size and population similar to a modest market town – over 4,000 homes and over 9,000 inhabitants – predominantly professional people and their families. Administratively the neighbourhood lies in two Local Government areas – the Boroughs of Eastleigh and of Test Valley (which takes the larger part). The Test Valley portion was originally divided between two Civil Parishes, Chilworth and North Baddesley, (the larger portion). However in 2007 a new Civil Parish of Valley Park was created and residents had an opportunity to vote for their own parish council for the first time in May 2007. [See: http://www.valleyparkparish.org/ for details of the work of Valley Park [Civil Parish] Council.
The Ecclesiastical (Church of England) Parish
Apart from an open-air Ecumenical Service at Pentecost 1986, held by Churches Together in Chandler’s Ford on land earmarked for a possible church development, the church congregation of Valley Park was effectively inaugurated on Trinity Eve – Saturday 13th June 1987.
At 4.30 pm on that afternoon, The Bishop of the Southampton, Rt. Rev. David Cartwright, supported by the Archdeacon of Winchester, Ven. Alan Clarkson, licensed Revd. Timothy Daykin BSc. MA as the Church of England’s first local resident minister and Priest in Charge of the “Conventional District of Valley Park”.
The Service of Licensing took place in the garden of Mulberry Corner: the party of clerics and officials from the Diocese of Winchester being accompanied by about twenty local residents and representatives of the three parishes from which the new District had been created. The singing of several well known hymns was accompanied by a brass ensemble from King Alfred’s College, Winchester, where Mr. Daykin had served as Chaplain until his appointment to Valley Park.
The congregation was established as a Conventional District (embryo Parish) by drawing on outlying parts of the Anglican Parishes of Chandler’s Ford, North Baddesley and North Stoneham & Bassett. It covered both early phases of Valley Park already built, and also areas designated for development in the succeeding five years. The District was bounded on the west by the (then new) Knightwood Road, to the south by Templars Way, to the north by Flexford Road, and to the east by Monk’s Brook, the Romsey – Eastleigh railway and Chandler’s Ford Industrial Estate.
Mulberry Corner was also licensed as a Place of Worship for the congregation, and the first Sunday Service took place at 10.00 a.m. on the following morning – Trinity Sunday 1987. As the congregation grew, the church community developed as a Local Ecumenical Project. The Church of England shared in worship and ministry with local Methodist and United Reformed Churches, in line with a collective agreement regarding new church “plants” entered into some years previously under the auspices of Churches Together in Hampshire.
Both the housing development, local population and worshipping community grew quickly, encouraging the Diocese of Winchester to take early steps towards the provision of a permanent Centre of Worship for the community.
Land had been earmarked for such an eventuality in the initial planning, and provision for a Church had been encouraged by the former landowners, the Chamberlayne-MacDonald family. However the planned location (now occupied by the much more recent St. Francis’ Place Medical and Dental Centre) was not, on more detailed reflection, the optimum site for a Church. However the Diocese of Winchester was also simultaneously sponsoring the provision of a new Church Aided Primary School for Valley Park. The concept of a campus development, embracing both Church and School, with scope for some sharing of facilities, quickly evolved as a satisfactory solution.
St. Francis’ Church was designed during 1989, and work on it, and on the adjacent St. Francis’ Church of England (Aided) Primary School commenced in the summer of 1990. An oak casket of soil from Assisi and Valley Park was placed in a small vault in the foundations of the Sanctuary during a St. Francis-tide Service on-site on Saturday 6th September 1990, in lieu of the laying a foundation stone. The ceremony was conducted by Rev Tim Daykin.
The Church was completed in the summer of 1991 at a cost of around £450,000 including land, and a ceremonial procession took place during a morning service in July of that year, beginning at Mulberry Corner and concluding in the new Church. It had the theme of “Travelling from the old to the new in the company of God”.
Formal naming and dedication took place on St Francis Day (4th October) 1991 at a service led by the Bishop of Winchester. Coincident with this event were the legal formation of the Church of England Parish of Valley Park, and the formal establishment of a Local Ecumenical Partnership for Valley Park, embracing Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed Churches in shared worship, ministry and church life. Tim Daykin was inducted as Valley Park’s first Vicar during the service. Ministry was shared with Revd Bryan Coates, Minister of Chandler’s Ford Methodist Church, and Revd Mark Westerman of Kings Road United Reformed Church in Chandler’s Ford.
Mr. Daykin resigned the living in the summer of 1992, on moving to Fordingbridge, and he was succeeded as Vicar, at the end of Lent 1993, by Rev’d. Peter Hutchinson. Subsequently three other Methodist ministers have served the LEP—Robert McBain (1996 to 2001), Dr. Andrew Wood, (2001—2006) and Peter Cornick (2006 on). Following Mark Westerman’s departure in 1995 and after a long interregnum Revd ‘Maz’ Allen had ministerial responsibility on behalf of the United Reformed Church from 1997 until 2007, following which there was a further interregnum until Revd Tim Searle took up the post in 2008.
With the confirmation in 1994 of the intention to extend Valley Park to the west, a review of ecclesiastical parish boundaries resulted in this further area of the parish of North Baddesley being transferred to Valley Park, so that the ecclesiastical parish of Valley Park embraces all of the housing developed since 1981-82.
St Francis’ Church now forms a key focus for the community. In addition to regular Sunday worship and main “rights of passage” services, the Church has an active Junior Section, Youth Club and fellowship and study groups for older teenagers and adults. The annual Christmas Eve Crib Services see the church regularly packed with over 500 attendees across two services, while a number of outreach activities have been run – Alpha, Emmaus and Confirmation courses, together with Stewardship meals, social events and a very successful annual summer Holiday Club for under 12’s.
In 2008 St Francis’ church family celebrated their 21st anniversary with a month-long programme of worship, witness, fellowship, praise and outreach.
St Francis’ C of E (Aided) School was also opened in 1991, and was extended in the late 1990s. With over 400 pupils it enjoys close ties with St Francis’ Church – the Church Council nominating Foundation Governors to the School Governing body – and with many milestone services, displays and School events held in the church.