A Visitor's Guide to St Peter's Church, Brimpton
St Peter’s Church before 1868
There is no record of when the first church was built on this site. The Doomsday Books record that there was a church in the Manor of Brimpton in 1086, but does not indicate where this Saxon church stood. It may well have been on the site of the present St. Peter’s Church.
The church which stood on the present site until 1868 appears to have been of Norman origins and to have had many extensions and alterations over time. It is also said that Roman bricks and hypercaust tiles were incorporated into the external walls . We have at least two descriptions of it as well as a sketch of 1822 showing the exterior appearance. The only surviving features however, are the inner brick tower which carries some old memorials to the Wollascott and Fingal families and the bells, three of which date from the 17th century. The perimeter wall of the churchyard was repaired in the 18th century and the initials J.S. and the date 1789 are carved into two of the bricks under the yew tree to the south of the main porch. Until the nineteenth century there were thatched stables in the churchyard and a skittle ground on one side of the church gates and the Horseshoes Inn on the other, both very close to the church.
At the time of the 1822 sketch, the church consisted of a chancel, nave with cross aisle and chapel. The chancel arch and window were described in 1849 as ‘modern’. The western end of the church had been rebuilt in brick and we know that a three-stage brick tower was built in 1750–51. Under the singer’s gallery at the west end was a plain font, probably Transition Norman. The aisle was separated from the nave by Transition Norman arches on round pillars. In the south wall was a perpendicular piscina (A piscina or sacrarium is a shallow basin placed near the altar of a church used for washing the communion vessels) with a recess having a pointed arch with Norman mouldings and the north wall had a blocked up Norman doorway.
The Present Church
By the 1860s the Norman church had fallen into disrepair and was considered to be too small and ‘in a ruinous condition’ but efforts to raise the necessary money for a new church were unsuccessful, until Mr James Blyth, the Lord of the Manor, agree to fund the works. The building of the current church began at his expense in 1868 and was completed the following year. The total cost of building, excluding the cost of timber which came from the Woolhampton estate and the heating system was £3,700 – a considerable sum at that time. The inn and skittle ground were removed from their close proximity to the church and Mr Blyth gave the money to build a new public house.The Church was designed by the architect John Johnson (1807 – 1878) and is built in 14th century decorated style. Johnson was well-known and respected in mid-Victorian times and was responsible for some 21 churches and 19 other major projects including Alexandra Palace in London. Locally, his work includes Woolhampton Church (1861), Midgham Church, Woolhampton School and alterations to Woolhampton and Midgham Houses.
The present church consists of a nave of three bays, a chancel, two aisles, two shallow transepts – one serving as a lady chapel with memorials to the Hadden family who lived at Stonehouse – a south porch and west tower. It is built of knapped flint and internally the walls are of Bath stone. All the internal fittings – pulpit, chancel arch and wall – are carved from Caen stone as one unit.
The columns are made of pink Mull granite and are topped with capitals decorated with some fine carvings by the firm of Farmer and Grindley. Among the primroses, passion-flowers, ears of corn, grapes, hawthorn, and chestnut leaves, a single swallow is carved on one of the capitals. Traditionally this represents a swallow’s nest discovered during the demolition of the old church.
The wooden fittings are made from wood grown on Mr Blyth’s Woolhampton estate. The stalls in the chancel are oak, the vicar’s desk is walnut and the other fittings are all oak, chestnut or walnut. The hammer beam roof is constructed from varnished Baltic timber.
The spire of Brimpton Church is a well known landmark visible from four miles around. The church is built at the highest point in the village and the spire rises 40.2m (132 feet) above ground level. This remarkable height was made possible because the builders of 1869 retained and reinforced the 1750 tower before adding the spire. Outside the church, one sees a timber framed splayfooted spire covered in oak shingle; inside the choir vestry one stands in the brick–built eighteenth century tower.
In the tower, there are now four bells which hang on an oak frame and are fitted with elm headstocks, strap gudgeons or bearings, brass bearings and traditional wheels and fittings. All bells have inscriptions. The treble has only the date – 1642 – but the second bells reads, ‘ Thomas Mears founder London Rev George B Caffin Vicar / Joseph Arundell, James Rivers, Church Wardens. 1842.’ The third is inscribed ‘Love God 1642’, and the tenor ‘Prayers Ye The Lord 1624 / Recast by Mears and Stainbank London 1876.’ The Treble, the Third and the original Tenor were cast by Ellis Knight of Reading whilst the second and present Tenor are from the Whitechapel Foundry. The bells fell into disrepair but were restored ion the 1970’s are rededicated in April 1978.
The church clock was supplied and installed by Cook and Sons of York in 1899. It was paid for by public subscription, but it appears that the local inhabitants had great trouble in raising the necessary funds, because a large balance was eventually paid off by the Blyth Estate. The south face of the clock was repaired and refaced in 2007.
Most of the windows contained stained glass; the most important being the one in the north transept, or lady chapel. The glass, which was previously the east window of the old church is by Thomas Willament in memory of the Earl of Falmouth who died in 1852.
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