St Peters Church
Unfortunately, the outside now looks very plain but the original building was considered very different as we can tell from two books – in 1791 the Reverend John Collinson wrote the book “The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset” and explained that ‘the tower was surmounted by a wooden spire, cased with lead, and contained a clock and four bells’ and just over 80 years later the Kelly’s Directory Of Somerset book follows it up with “the church of St Peter, restored in 1860, is in the Early Decorated style, having a chancel and north chancel aisle, nave, north aisle, with south transept, the tower is on the south side, adjoining the transept and serves for an entrance: this arrangement renders the general outline of the building very striking and picturesque!!” A similar view can be seen in a photo of the church and vicarage taken in the early 1800’s, currently held at the records office.
The spire remained in place until 1883 when the lead encased spire was found to be in a very dangerous state and consequently removed – there is no record of what became of the clock. By 1900 the tower itself was found to have sinking foundations and an architect recommended that a new bell tower be built on the WEST end of the church – however, by then, appeals to the Wyndham estate and Ecclesiastical Commissioners provided only sympathy. In this relatively poor parish it was decided that the new build could not be financed and it took a further 24 years before the original foundations were strengthened and the top part of the tower rebuilt with brick in its present square shape.
Inside the church, there has been 2 major renovation works that we know of – one in 1860 by the Victorians and one in 1986. The Victorian restorers concentrated on the chancel but all of the walls are somewhat plain as they daubed the walls with plaster 3 inches thick. The most recent redecoration was carried out in 1986, to the nave and chancel. The stone slabs on the floor are original and it is very likely that, as in most churches, they cover the graves and tombs of our village ancestors who were buried on the site up to 1,000 years ago. The pews were only installed around 150 years ago, until then you would have been standing for all services and ceremonies, and, as it is, the pews rest on earth alone which is why some are beginning to subside, and indeed, some are already gone.
The revolving lectern, churchwardens oak chest and ham stone font all date from the early 1600’s and all are still used today. The revolving lecturn was given in memory of a Thomas Trevelion and still has it’s original chains – it was designed to carry two copies of the Scriptures with the Old Testament on one side and the New Testament on the other. The churchwardens chest used to have three separate locks and keys allowing it to be opened only when the vicar and his two churchwardens were present at the same time and, as with most fonts, ours was symbolically placed near the church entrance to signify that Baptisms are the doorway through which you enter into the church fellowship. Behind the font is a list of known vicars, drawn up in memory of a Mrs Billinghurst in 1968.
Our church does have 2 very special windows – both engraved by Laurence Whistler. One is in memory of Henry Cecil Graham and was commissioned by his wife and the other is a smaller, diamond-shape in memory of Henrys wife, commissioned by her relatives.
To the far left of the church is an aisle known firstly as the Wadhams aisle and then, later, as the farmers aisle – the latter so being called as it is probably where the ‘smelly’ farmers took their place in church so as not to offend the ‘ordinary folk!’
The Wadham family and their association with the village continues in the church. To the left of the church, as you walk through the West door is a row of pews known as either the Wadhams or Farmers aisle. At the top of this aisle there is an alabaster figure of a little lady who once rested upon a tomb and was visible from both sides.In 1895 the figure was lifted in orderto be
photographed and on careful examination at the time, Prebendary Poole found a few traces of colour remaining. The cushion under the head and supported by angels – now gone – was once red and had an edge with a gold line, and there were traces of gold on her collar. Near the left foot, where the corner of the mantle is lifted by a tiny dog about 4½ inches long with a collar once gilded, the border of the mantle was found to be “a Vandyke pattern in blue, white and gold, as fresh as when painted.” She wears a Wadham rose as a pendant to her collar and was undoubtedly a Wadham, but there is no evidence as to her exact identity. The mutilation of the eyes, mouth and nose together with thescarring of a star on her forehead, have spoilt what was doubtless a lovely face. The tomb on which she lies today was designed in 1901 by Sir Thomas Jackson, Fellow of Wadham College, at a cost of 8 pounds 5 shillings and was carried out by a Mr Glastonbury of Puckington.
There are also several glazed and coloured tiles behind glass on display which were uncovered by Robert Blake Poole, vicar of Ilton between 1879 and 1904. These tiles had been used to fill up holes in the 1860 restoration! They bear the arms – if you look closely enough – of the Wadhams and the Lytes families. It is thought that these tiles formed part of the flooring where the organ now stands. Some of these tiles were presented to the Ashmolean museum in Oxford in 1902 – the date of their origin being estimated at around 1540.
Other dedications to the Wadham family are 1) a brass with effigy in a chrisom shroud in memory of Nicholas Wadham who died as a baby on 8th December 1508, 2) a small shield that has the Arms of Wadham impaling Seymour – the 1st Sir Nicholas Wadhams second wife was Margaret Seymour, the aunt of Queen Jane Seymour – and 3) a small memorial plaque to Lady Joan Wadham who died at Merryfield Castle in 1557.
Moving on and into the tower, four out of our six bells are original and are inscribed and dated. The first two are dated 1603, the third 1613 and the last one 1639. It is now just over 400 years since the NO 3 bell was first hoisted into the tower and whenever she is heard today one might perhaps think back to the occasions, local and national, grave and joyful, for which she has rung – her sound today being exactly as heard by our predecessors in 1603. However, in 1923 the bells fell silent. The original oak frame was found to be decayed and unsafe to carry the burden any longer. The bells were lowered to the tower floor, except for the treble which was placed in a non-ringing position with a rope attached to the old clapper and was used for signifying church services. The bells remained on the tower floor for the next forty years.
Then, it was to the credit of the Reverend Jackson, and the Parochial Church Council that, in 1962 the decision was made to launch an appeal for funds to enable the rehanging to be carried out. The parishioners, and many from outside the parish, responded generously with the result that on Whitsunday, 2nd June 1963 the four bells were rededicated by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The original four bells, which had been found in excellent condition, were rehung with modern fittings and provision was made to add two additional bells later. In fact, the two additional bells to complete the peal of six were added almost exactly one year later, on 8th June 1964. The total weight of the peal is 2 tons 11cwts.
The part of the church that houses the organ could have been the original church but a lot more research would have to be done to verify this. The first organ for this church was bought at a local sale in July 1879 at a cost of £11, the money being raised by public subscription. The organ that stands there today is almost 100 years old and was installed in 1913/14 for just under £200. It is now known as the organ room but it is thought to have once been another small chapel – on the back wall there is a piscina bearing out that fact. By the way, there are three piscinas in our church, the other two are in the South transcept and next to the altar in the sanctuary. The one next to the altar has a carved face which some believe is the face of St Peter.
There are lots of other facts and figures on our quaint little church which I will cover as the weeks go by, but for now I’ll leave you with a quote supposedly written by Daniel Defoe about our vicar and his people: “Ancient Church, Wooden Steeple, Drunken Parson, Silly People!!”