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
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.
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
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"
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.