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The Charters & Churches of Swallowcliffe
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Views from the spire...
St. Peters Church
The Churches of St Peter in Swallowcliffe
A resident of the village, the late Stephen Jenkins, published
an excellent, comprehensive history of the churches in 1976. It
is available in the present St Peter's Church. Information from
it has been used in these notes, which also cover more recent research
The earliest record of the first Church of St Peter was in 1150,
by which year it had been built, as a gift of around 26 acres of
land was then made to provide an income for its financial support.
No doubt alterations were made over the centuries, and it is thought
that towards in the late 14th century a transept chapel was added
on the north side; later the tower may have been amended or rebuilt.
The Hospital of St John at Wilton held land in the village from
1335 as an endowment (a chantry licence) supporting the church.
Chantries were suppressed by a 1547 act of parliament, but the Hospital
still held land (also 26 acres) in Swallowcliffe in 1843, perhaps
because it was a charity. In recent times, there was still one "Hospital
field", finally sold by the hospital in 1952.
the first church seems to have been built on almost the lowest building
site in the village (except for the mill, which is 600 metres downstream).
However, the site would have been chosen as ideal, being next to
a stream and a spring (both still there), in a quiet valley with
good outlook and in the centre of the village. Probably the site
was satisfactory until, in the late 18th and early 19th century,
economic developments in land use around the church site caused
substantial flooding of the church, up to two feet deep inside the
building, with mud over the seats. Although the flooding might have
been controlled by local drainage, the church was demolished, because,
by about 1840, the building was declared unsafe for use and it was
feared that any substantial repairs might cause the whole structure
to fall. Even in 1804 a painting (by Buckler) showed very substantial
buttressing of one corner. A new Church of St Peter was built in
1843 on a plot some ten metres higher.
Of the new church, the Rural Dean wrote that it was planned to
"adhere as nearly as possible to the old form of the church,
to which the poor villagers were greatly attached", and the
new church was sufficiently similar in size, capacity, orientation
and design to be have achieved the villagers objectives, although
it was reversed in plan mirror-fashion.
Of the style of the present church, the accepted authority on English
architecture, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, (between 1951 and 1974 he produced
the 50 volumes of The Buildings of England), wrote that the architect
(he named Scott) used a style that was "unashamedly Norman,
and at the same time equally unashamedly mixing up his Norman with
non-Norman motifs". However, about 1840, the architectural
firm designing the new church wrote that the old church was "a
very curious specimen of Norman architecture". Perhaps the
new church was also a copy in style.
architects for the new church were Scott and Moffatt. Sir Gilbert
Scott (he was knighted in 1872) was architecturally involved in
nearly five hundred churches and thirty-nine cathedrals and minsters;
and produced the Albert Memorial for Queen Victoria, after the death
of her husband.
Moffatt was far from famous, and, after Scott terminated the partnership
in 1845, was perhaps not quite respectable, especially in Victorian
terms. Scott might be seen as an obvious choice, even to Pevsner,
but it is most probable that Moffatt was the architect who tried
to oblige the villagers.
cost of the new church was estimated at £1260, which equates,
according to one authority, to £55,188 in 1998. Although that
does not seem expensive, it must be remembered that such equivalents
are very rough and ready. In addition, so many of the costs of building
today would not be applicable: no drains, no water supply, no electricity,
no W.Cs, no insulation, no regulations, no taxation, no insurance
and so on - all substantial expenses in modern building; and workmen
worked long hours, and were not paid much. Nearly all of the stone
must have come from the nearby old building.
The present church stands proudly in the centre of the village on
a raised site, and is in regular use by residents of this small
The causes of flooding; the apparent similarities of the old and
new churches; and the case of Moffatt v Scott are all covered in
more detail in "The Charters and Churches
A FLORAL SECRET – St PETER’S CHURCH SWALLOWCLIFFE
Every year St Peter’s Church Swallowcliffe comes alive with flowers on St Peter’s Day to mark the patronal anniversary – and yet this remains a floral secret for many. I was prompted to publicise this event after visitors to our Church had asked whether this floral tribute was just a one-off since they had been struck by the beauty of the occasion on a previous visit. Therefore, on behalf of St Peter’s Church, we would like to welcome you to our Church to share with us the beauty of these flowers from Sunday 28 June until Thursday 2 July 2009 inclusive from 9 am to 6 pm. Just drop into St Peter’s and enjoy the peace of the surroundings enlivened by these wonderful flowers.
Other churches in Swallowcliffe
Two other churches could have been found in the village in the not
too distant past. There was an small Irvingite church around the
1830s to 1850s, near the junction of High Street and Loders Lane.
Irvingism was based on teachings of a Church of Scotland minister,
working mainly in London, and was later called the Catholic Apostolic
Church, but it was more High Anglican than Roman Catholic.
A Mission Hall, a corrugated iron
building, was built about 1888, opposite
the original St Peter's site. It was
described officially as nondenominational,
or as Band of Hope by a resident.
It was moved soon after the first
world war, but no later record of
it has yet been found
Ralph Husband May 2001