Welcome to this church of St Peter’s
It is believed that the first church on this site was built before the establishment of Petersfield as a town. It was possibly founded by Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, who owned the Manor of Mapledurham (Mapledresham) for some years but died shortly before the Domesday survey of 1086. Petersfield was part of this manor, although not mentioned in the Domesday Book. The church has also been associated with Bishop Walkelyn of Winchester, a cousin of William. At this time part of the manor was isolated from the parish church at Mapledurham by swamps and marshes so a church, a chapel of ease, was built and called St Peter’s in – the – veld (veld – meaning an open and clear place) situated on a gravel ridge between two streams in the north of the manor.
The Causeway, the road to Portsmouth until the opening of the bypass, led across the boggy ground to the parish church at Mapledurham, now called Buriton. In an ancient charter of William, Earl of Gloucester and Lord of the Manor, patronage of the Church of Mapledurham together with the Chapel of Petersfield was granted to the Nuns of Eaton (Nuneaton). Pope Alexander III (1159-84) in his confirmation of this gift, calls them the “Church of Petersford with the Chapel of Mapledresham”, an interesting (but erroneous) reversal which suggests that the growth of the town and church must by then already have outstripped the mother church at Buriton.
However, St Peter’s remained a chapelry to Buriton until 1886, when it became a separate parish. Since 1984 the two parishes have been held in plurality, so the Vicar of Petersfield is now also Rector of Buriton.
The original plan of St Peter’s Church is believed to have been cruciform with a central lantern tower, and the present chancel arch would have formed the east wall of this tower.
Towards the end of the twelfth century a second period of building added the north and south aisles, taking the walls out to the north and south ends of the transepts and building a west tower to replace the central one. It is enclosed by the north and south aisles. The original walls were replaced by arcades of four bays. As can be seen from the shape of the pillar capitals, the two aisles were probably built at different times and it is possible that the roof heights were also different. The north and south doorways are original. The west doorway has been largely reconstructed but some original stones have been left in place. These show that the style and ornament were similar to the great chancel arch within.
It is not known whether the central tower was ever completed or if it fell down or was taken down when the church was enlarged at the end of the twelfth century. It is not likely that the church ever had two towers. The original masonry and the transept walls can be seen outside on the north and south wall, where the earlier courses of herringbone masonry distinguish it from the later stone courses of the aisles.
The tower was raised to its present height during the 14th century and a parapet added. The present parapet replaced the first which had become unsafe from weathering.
During the 15th century, windows with perpendicular tracery were inserted in the wall of the north aisle, in the east wall of the chancel and in the south aisle.
A major restoration occurred in 1873 under the architect Sir Arthur Blomfield. There are very few records of this rebuilding but it is interesting to note that Blomfield appears completely to have dismantled and rebuilt most of the nave and the south aisle wall, as five of the pillars and much of the south wall are built on Victorian brick bases. Most of the chancel was also rebuilt so it seems likely that only the Norman arch and some of the tower and north wall were left standing during this restoration. The large 15th century east window and another at the east end of the south aisle were restored to their original Norman form with the insertion of small round-headed windows.
The interior of the building was made much lighter and more spacious in aspect by adding a clerestory to the nave, raising the roof and giving it the splendid timber trusses it now has. The apex of the old roof gable can still be seen over the west arch above the font. The side aisles were roofed in the manner of the 15th century.
Many memorials which were on the walls in spaces above the nave arcades were moved to the west end of the building. At the same time a sacristy and organ chamber were added on the north side of the chancel, replacing the Jolliffe family gallery (see above) which had its own private entrance to the church. In 1887 the north porch was added as a memorial. The stained glass in the church was installed during the 19th and 20th centuries. The fifteenth century font was removed from its position at the east end of the nave (see above) and replaced by a modern one at the west end. In 1946, the fifteenth century font was rescued from the churchyard, where it had been left for seventy years, and replaced at the east end. The timber ceiling of the south aisle was restored after fire damage in 1962.
In October 1998, the Church was closed for a year while a major project, the St Peter’s 2000 Project, was carried out to restore and re-order the building. This project was the largest since the Blomfield re-building of 1873.
The re-ordering of St Peter’s had been under discussion for twenty years or more. However, the scheme was very much the brainchild of the then Vicar, Chris Lowson. His thoughts were crystallised by the parish architect, Paul Velluet, during the latter part of 1993.
The scheme eventually adopted included the following:
- Replacing the existing floor with Portland stone paving
- Upgrading the heating system
- Screening off the three areas at the west end of the Church
- Installing a servery and lavatories at ground floor level in the south west corner with a storage area on a mezzanine floor above
- Converting the area below the tower to a permanent chapel and moving the font forward
- Screening off the area behind the organ from the chancel and forming a new choir vestry
- Replacing the existing podium with a new and smaller stone one and commissioning a new altar and other furniture
- Removing all pews and replacing with chairs. The chairs were designed and made by Tim Wade from Welsh Oak. Tim can be contacted through his website wkartisan.com
- Installing a new sound reinforcement and lighting installation
- Re-decorating and re-wiring the whole building
Peter Harrison, of the Harrison Young Partnership in Emsworth, who had the added advantage of living in Petersfield, was appointed Project Architect and the building contract was awarded to F W German and Sons of Alton on the 5th February 1999.
The contractors started work in the church on the 8th February 1999.
It soon became evident that there were a considerable number of tombs in all parts of the church but that these were about two feet below the pre-1873 restoration floor level.
The remains of a few coffins were found in the nave, under the tower and in the chancel. Two in the nave were identified, one being that of Thomas Chitty (1838) and the other that of Ann Blunt (1841), mentioned on plaques in the north west corner. It is probable that Ann Blunt was the last person to be buried inside the Church.
There was evidence of some vaults beneath the chancel and choir vestry and it appeared that these were pre-Blomfield, as the tops had been taken off when the Victorian floor was laid.
No evidence was found to confirm whether the original design of the church had included a central lantern tower.
A considerable quantity of loose bones had been left by the Victorians in the rubble they created when breaking up the old floor. These bones were collected and re-buried in empty vaults found in the north east and north west corners.
The church was re-dedicated by the Bishop of Portsmouth on Friday 1st October 1999 in the presence of a large congregation which included many of those who had worked on the project, together with representatives of the major donors and civic leaders.
The floodlighting installation was funded by a major grant from the Churches Floodlighting Trust, with other grants from Hampshire County Council, East Hampshire District Council and Petersfield Town Council. Generous donations were also made by local businesses and other local organisations. The scheme was designed by David Prothero of Electrical Supplies and Projects Ltd and the installation was inaugurated after the rededication of St Peter’s on the 1st October by Michael Mates MP.
During the early years of the 21st century, the ability of the Tower roof drainage to cope with an increasing number of particularly heavy downpours became a cause for concern. The sand cast lead covering was nearing the end of its useful life. The design of the system for removing water from the front and rear gullies was unusual as the outlet pipes entered the tower above the bells before discharging to a hopper lower down. This resulted in two instances of water damage to the Bell Ringing Chamber and Lady Chapel below.
The Parish Architect, Simon Goddard, designed a more practical solution and the work was carried out in conjunction with the lead replacement by Chichester Stoneworks Limited during 2014. A substantial part of the cost was met by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The fund recommended removing the inappropriate Ringing Chamber wall covering and this exposed ancient timbers which had lain hidden for many years.