If you don’t have any other plans to mark the centenary year of WWI, I would urge you to go and spend a quiet hour or so at Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere, just on the outskirts of Newbury. It’s a pretty special place.
I had been meaning to go for ... well, years actually; but having heard that it reopened in August after some preservation work was carried out, I decided to take myself off there.
It is a National Trust property and because it is quite tiny you need to pre-book a timed ticket. (If you Google the National Trust website and plug in Sandham it is easy enough to do. Gift-aided entry is £10 if you aren’t an NT member.)
So... what’s special about this place? First of all is the utter sense of peace when you step through the gateway into the grounds of the chapel, which is dedicated to a man who died in 1920, probably from a disease he contracted while serving in the war. The man in question was Lieutenant Henry (Hal) Willoughby Sandham, and the chapel was built by his sister and her husband in his memory. But the particularly special thing about it, and the main reason for visiting, is the paintings housed in the chapel, which are the work of artist Stanley Spencer, who was commissioned by Hal Sandham’s family. I won’t tell you too much about them as you really need to go and see them for yourself to appreciate them. But what I will tell you is that Spencer – who was a medical orderly during the war – captured both the carnage of war and the human, everyday side of things in a spectacular way.
Before you enter the chapel itself there is an interactive display and a 3 minute film to set the scene, plus displays of drawings and letters. The paintings themselves, though, are extraordinary – you could spend an hour there, if, like me, that is all the time you have to spare. Or you could spend several hours pondering the detail in the paintings.
There is a small garden here, too, a quiet place to sit and reflect. They have plants for sale that they grow here, and a small area with postcards and the like.
If you want to go this autumn, make it before the end of October as the paintings will be off on tour then. Sandham Memorial Chapel is open to visitors Wednesday through to Sunday. Be warned, there is no parking on site (unless you get a spot in the small lay-by opposite) so unless you go by public transport you will need to park a little way up the road and walk – but it is a pleasant walk.
Do go. It’s a piece of local history.