The tiny village of Minstead is one of the least spoilt villages of the New Forest, complete with a fascinating church, the burial place of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, its own stocks, thatched cottages, a good pub and excellent walks nearby.
Minstead is a tiny village with a population of 600, about two miles north of Lyndhurst in the centre of the New Forest. Surrounded by woodland, heath, rivers and streams, it is a pretty place for a walk. Minstead is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 but there is evidence of occupation here from prehistoric times. Its greatest attraction is the Church of All Saints because its features are unique – and although it is only tiny both the exterior and interior are well worth a detailed look.
All Saints Church, Minstead
The chancel and nave, which are of stone, date from the 13th century but the rest of the building, in red brick, is of 18th-century or later date, including the tower. The exterior is unusual because, at first glance, the nave has windows which seem to be almost cottage-like – and this indicates immediately that you have a church with a wonderfully idiosyncratic architectural and furnishing history across the centuries.
Unlike many other churches, it wasn't cleaned up and 'improved' by the Victorians, so it remains an unusual, slightly ramshackle building, full of personality.
Crossing over the 800 year old stone step in the north porch your eye is immediately caught by the 17th century three-decker oak pulpit – a very rare remaining example of this design. The lowest deck was used by the Parish Clerk, responsible for saying the “Amens”. The middle level was used for the reading of the Scriptures and the top level for the Preaching of the Sermon.
L: The font and three-tier pulpit Photograph © Minstead Village
R: The interior Photograph © National Churches Trust
Below the pulpit lies the oldest stone in the building – the 12th century font. A lovely story here – in 1893 Henry James Abbott, the gardener, was digging in the Rector’s garden when his spade struck the buried font. He promptly wheeled it up to the church in his wheelbarrow where it has remained ever since.
Photograph © Cornish Churches
Behind you are two galleries, with interesting benefaction boards, added to by the current parishioners at the millennium. The main gallery built in the 16th century with a late 18th century addition, was for the church minstrels to play their instruments. The second, added above the first in 1818, was for the children of the parish.
Photograph © National Churches Trust
Keep exploring and you will find two private pews – one was for the occupants of Castle Malwood – complete with its own door and a fireplace for the lucky occupants – the other, now housing the organ, was for Minstead Lodge. The extra long hat pegs you see were for the tall stovepipe hats fashionable in the 17th century.
The churchyard also has compelling gravestones. Just off the main path is one to Mr. White – which includes a cut-out space where the word “faithful” was initially carved before “husband”. The story goes that Mrs. White later heard the village gossip about her husband – so she left the memorial intact but determinedly erased the apparently false adjective!
The most famous grave, beneath an oak tree on the south side of the churchyard, is that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whose family retreat was just outside the Minstead parish boundary.
Conan Doyle was born and bred in Edinburgh, but discovered the sleepy village of Minstead while researching his book The White Company where the hero, Alleyne Edricson, ends up as landlord of Minstead. Conan Doyle bought a holiday home near the village - Bignell Wood, where he held seances, due to his beliefs in spiritualism.
He died in 1930 and was buried, standing up, in the rose garden of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex. When the house was sold in 1955, he was reburied in Minstead, the then vicar agreeing that, despite Conan Doyle’s unChristian interest in spiritualism, he could be buried in sacred ground – but only at the far limits of the churchyard. The gravestone usually has Sherlock Holmes’ favourite pipe propped up against it, and when I visited had a magnifying glass too.
Steel True, Blade Straight, Arthur Conan Doyle, Knight, Patriot, Physician, and Man of Letters, 1859 to 1930.
From the church there is an easy walk of under 2 miles to Furzey Gardens – gardens which merge imperceptibly into the surrounding forest and woods. It is particularly spectacular in late spring when the azaleas and rhododendrons have stunning colours. The area is also popular with children who can look for “fairy doors” in the many tree trunks and also explore inside a 400 year old New Forest cottage. Beyond Furzey Gardens are many walks within the Forest itself. You could also walk from Minstead to the Rufus Stone, about one and half miles away.
The Village Green of Minstead
The remaining attractions of the village are clustered around the village green - a pub, community shop, war memorial and stocks. The village stocks are on the green in front of the pub. These were made in 2002 for the Queen's Jubilee, a replica of those which were there in 1804.
The inn sign shows the “trusty servant” – a pig with padlocked snout so that he cannot reveal his master’s secrets and stag’s feet so that he can run errands quickly. There is some unexplained connection here with Winchester College as this picture is copied from there and has the College motto “manners makyth man” in the corner.
There is a small community shop next to the pub which sells overpriced coffee and cake. Bear in mind that even months after the legal requirement for masks has ended and shops across the country no longer expect them, the staff will ask you to leave if you do not have a mask on you.
There are other shops in the area which will be grateful for your money, and the pub instead is very welcoming if you need refreshments.
There are buses from Lymington, Lyndhurst and Cadnam
Limited free parking in the pub carpark but usually spaces available around the village green.
Postcode of Trusty Servant SO43 7FY
Loos and refreshment at the Trusty Servant