the history of Swallowcliffe village... from the year 900 to present day.
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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.

Today 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 church1, 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.

The 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 architect1 who tried to oblige the villagers.

The 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 village.
1 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 of Swallowcliffe"

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 non-denominational, 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.

See the diary.©2001
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