Walk in Spencer's footsteps around Burghclere
Sandham Memorial Chapel, Harts Lane, Burghclere RG20 9JTRoute details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Follow in the diminutive footsteps of the little man with big ideas. This gentle walk takes in the places that Stanley Spencer lived, loved, and was inspired by during the years he lived in Burghclere, creating his epic First World War themed masterpiece – Sandham Memorial Chapel.
- Bus stop
Start: Sandham Memorial Chapel, grid reference: SU463608
Start at the Sandham Memorial Chapel. Parking is available in the layby opposite the chapel, or alternatively in the Burghclere Village Car Park.
A rare example of a building specifically created to showcase a single work of art. Its unassuming exterior conceals a jaw-dropping interior adorned with Stanley Spencers First World War murals, with the world famous Resurrection of the Soldiers at its heart. The chapel was conceived as a memorial to Lieutenant Harry Sandham, who died from malaria after sustained fighting in Salonika, but having succumbed after being demobbed, had not been included on any of the official war memorials. Outraged by this perceived heartless bureaucracy, his sister and her husband, the Behrends of Burghclere, commissioned Spencer to create the chapel in his memory.
Turn left out of the Chapel and commence along the brick-bordered road that is in fact the bridge over the old Winchester to Newbury railway line. After the bridge take an immediate left down 'Pound Lane'. 'Ash Cottage' is the second house on the right along this road.
Spencers first wife Hilda designed this house, where they lived whilst he worked on the chapel. Upon first visiting the site Spencer discovered the remains of a gypsy encampment, which made him feel like 'a whole life had been lived on it', and where he and Hilda could in turn devote themselves to their life together. It would be the setting for a few brief years of happy marriage, before Spencers obsession with the artist Patricia Preece ended in his divorce. In later life Spencer yearned to recapture the happy times spent here, in his 'Domestic Scenes' series of paintings (Direction 2).
Continue to the end of this road and follow it round to the right. You are now on the Ox Drove.
Continuing the theme of life and companionship that was so appealing to Stanley, he had, whilst wandering along this stretch of road one evening, noticed the nightjars living in the trees, and was much taken with what he perceived as their strong sense of community. He included them in his painting 'The Builders', which also drew inspiration from watching workmen from local building firm 'William Head and Co' constructing the Chapel, and whose workshop was situated at Tot Hill, which is across the field on your left (Direction 3).
Continue along this road onto the dirt track for approximately 100yd (91m) until you reach a kissing gate on your right hand side. Take this footpath across the field and along a tree bordered path, until you emerge opposite the Church of the Ascension, where the famous glass artisan Lawrence Whistler undertook his final commission, which was inspired in part by Spencer.
Stanley would have attended the Church of Ascension whilst living in the village, but his presence also had a less obvious influence in the form of the millennium window in the north wall of the nave. This window was the last one to be designed by the famous poet and glass engraver Laurence Whistler (brother of Rex) a commission he was extremely keen to win as the village held many happy childhood associations for him, of time spent with his brother watching Spencer at work on the chapel (Direction 4).
For a shorter version of the walk, leave the churchyard by the main gateway, onto Harts Lane, turn left, and follow the road back towards the chapel. This route is recommended for anyone with pushchairs or those who wish to avoid uneven terrain. Otherwise: leave the churchyard by the side gate, nearest the war memorial, and turn right. Follow the pavement for 27yd (25m) to the farm gate and signed footpath entrance. This will take you to the field behind the church. Walk through the first field, go through the small gateway to the second field, and follow the footpath along the edge of the crops. Go through the next two gates, walk down 'Jacobs Ladder' through the spinney of trees. To reach the main road, cross over the stream using the footbridge made of railway sleepers, and then cross the final field to meet with Spring Lane. Now you can either turn left for a closer look at 'Wellside' of 'Cottages at Burghclere' fame, or to skip this, turn right and go straight to 'Old Station House'.
In 1930 Stanley, despite being on the aforementioned retainer by the Behrends to work exclusively on the chapel, and also despite claiming to hate painting landscapes, was so determined to paint these cottages that he sat in the middle of the road and refused to move until he was finished sketching, causing what was by all accounts quite a traffic jam (even if the traffic in question was more of the horse and cart rather than the motor variety). Horse and carts also feature at our next destination, Highclere Station (Direction 5).
Retracing your steps back up Spring lane, and then continue uphill, where you will see the Old Station House on your left. Formerly the stop on the Winchester to Newbury railway line known as 'Highclere Station', it was from here that Stanleys supplies would arrive by train and be transported by horse and cart to the chapel.
This house was once the stop on the Winchester to Newbury line known as 'Highclere Station', and it was from here that all Stanleys supplies would arrive by train and be transported by horse and cart to the chapel. It was also here that a mysterious package bearing the Spencers' Chapel View address and containing a cauliflower was found. Enquires made to the couple revealed it to have been a home-grown gift to a visiting house guest, wrapped in old parcel paper and presented to the ungrateful recipient, who upon leaving them had immediately thrown it out of the train window (Direction 6).
At the end of the lane turn left, cross the old railway bridge and on your right you will once again see the chapel.
End: Sandham Memorial Chapel, grid reference: SU463608
In partnership with
- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Easy
- Distance: 2.5 miles (4km)
- Time: 45 minutes
- OS Map: 158 Newbury and Hungerford; 144 Basingstoke
Some unmade paths, can be muddy in wet weather. Grassy slope and footbridge make extended route unsuitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs. Keep dogs on leads.
- How to get here:
By bike: View local cycle routes on the National Cycle Network website
By bus: A bus service to Burghclere is available from Newbury Bus Station. Services 21 and 22 both pass through the village, and will stop on request outside the chapel
By train:Newbury approximately 4 miles (6.4km)
By road: 4 miles (6.4km) south of Newbury, 0.5 miles (0.8km) east of A34. From M4, follow A34, then brown signs. From A339 (Basingstoke to Newbury) follow brown signs and white National Trust signs. Exit A34 at Tothill services
- Telephone: 01635 278394
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sandham-memorial-chapel/