St Peter’s church is today maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust but has had many friends over the years who have been integral in keeping the church alive and maintained, for all to visit.
The CCT is a national charity which protects historic churches at risk – with the help and support of the public these historic churches are kept open, in use and free to all. Visit the Churches Conservation Trust for more information, and to donate in order to support the upkeep of St Peters.
Friends of the Church
National Heritage Listing Building
St Peters was listed as a grade II historic building in 1960. See Historic England for details. Several tombstones are also listed, as is the porch and chest tomb.
The Friends of Wolfhampcote Church
In 1970 The Friends of Wolfhampcote Church were formed under the chairmanship of Sir John Betjeman, C.B.E., the Poet Laureate, to stimulate interest in this medieval church. The minutes of the inaugural meeting show that 60 persons attended who ‘had expressed their desire to see a society formed for the preservation of Wolfhamcote church intact’. The constitution, shown below was then drawn up. The annual subscription for the society was fixed at £5.00.
Other friends of the church included John Piper – read John Betjeman’s article of their visit to the church shortly after the end of WWII, which confirms Sir John Betjeman’s long standing interest in the church.
But for the action of the ‘Friends’ this important church would not have survived long enough to allow it to be formally declared redundant under the procedures of the Pastoral Measure of 1968.
The ‘Friends’ also arranged occasional services, one of these being held each year on, or near June 29, which is St Peter’s Day.
More than any other person Ivor Bulmer-Thomas has been responsible for saving the church from demolition. Bulmer-Thomas was the Hon. Director of the Friends of Friendless Churches since its formation and was chairman of the Redundant Churches Fund during the period when the modern repairs were carried out.
The Redundant Churches Fund
On 3 March, 1972, the future of St Peter’s became secure when it was vested in the Redundant Churches Fund which took over where the ‘Friends’ left off and started a program of repairs which lasted about three years.
The Churches Conservation Trust
The Redundant Churches Fund was renamed as the Churches Conservation Trust in 1994 and continues to look after St Peters.
Today, more than 345 churches are in the Trust’s care and they continue to take on more churches each year. To donate to this good cause, and to help with the upkeep of Wolfhampcote church, please visit the Trust’s website.
Church Restoration and Repairs
A Church That Won’t Die
The story of St Peter’s is really about a church which, although from time to time neglected, primarily because of the small population living in the parish, just ‘would not die’. There were only 399 persons in 1871 and by 1901 the number was down to 261, while at the time of the 1971 census there were 196 persons in the civil parish living in 60 households.
A Restoration Fund
At the end of the 19th century the parish started a restoration fund to enable essential repairs to be done. These started in 1903 and were the last restoration until the present time.
A sum of £425 was spent, the builder being Mr Brown, of Wollaston, near Wellingborough, working under the supervision of the architect, Mr Williams, of Daventry. The nave, and south aisle, were reroofed with sheet iron laid on boarding and one of the 15th century clerestory windows had to be renewed, the other being repaired. The floor was also cemented over concealing many of the old inscribed stones, while at the same time a cement dado was provided at the base of the walls, a practice not recommended today as this tends to drive the dampness still higher up the stonework, as was the case here. The walls were then distempered in a terra cotta colour much of which still remained on the walls up to the time of the present restoration, darkening the interior of the church in contrast to the white walls now seen by visitors.
Closed and Reopened
In 1910 St Peter’s was again closed but two years later reopened at the request of local residents and during the following 40 years was used for occasional services, as well as for burials, until just after the last war when the church was finally closed, the christening of James Thompson being one of the last ceremonies. Rumour had it at that time that the church was too cold and damp for the incumbent and his rheumatism was playing up!
The village and church were featured in an early BBC production called ‘Stranger than Fiction’, this was a documentary and dwelt on the erroneous premise that the village had been wiped out by the Black Death. This in turn brought the church to the attention of ‘undesirable elements’ and, being isolated, it at once became the victim of much vandalism which carried on, until in the late 1950s the diocese took a decision to demolish it, leaving the walls as a ‘picturesque ruin’.
After this plan was objected to by The Friends of Friendless Churches, under its founder Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, the idea was eventually abandoned and `Friends’ were given permission to carry out essential repairs to keep the fabric intact.
The iron roof, which was leaking after more than 70 years in use, was taken off and a lead roof installed.
This did not long remain in place as the lead was stolen in three successive raids. Consequently the lead was replaced with copper sheets, but it did not come as much of a shock when the copper sheets also disappeared overnight.
Vandalism, which had long been rife, continued and almost all the modern woodwork was destroyed which was, however, little loss. One of the bells was also stolen, but was fortunately recovered before being melted down for scrap. As a precaution ‘Friends’ bricked up the lower window openings and the main doorway and vandals were denied access.
The first step of the new restoration project was once again to repair the roof. It was obviously useless to re-cover the roof in copper or lead, and, despite the shorter life, it was covered with bitumous felt. The brickwork was removed from the windows which were ‘reglazed’ with a new plastic material reinforced with a strong diamond shaped metal mesh which allows the interior once again to be seen to its best advantage.
The east window was originally filled with stained glass, which included the coats of arms of the Beauchamp, Peto, Loges and Langley families, but this was removed during the reconstruction of the east end of the church early in the last century. What remained in the other windows was smashed beyond repair before the windows were bricked up to prevent access to the building.
A chemical damp proof course was then injected into the walls, the earth outside also being cut back to allow a drainage channel to be laid around the building and other repairs were done to the walls to prevent further decay to parts of the stonework.
This was followed by the stripping of the old plaster, a victim of damp penetration which allowed structural repairs to be carried out to the stonework exposed for the first time for 50 or more years, and in some cases for the first time ever. After the walls had dried out the surfaces were replastered and decorated. The only walls not replastered were some parts of the chancel where the modern covering of cement mortar was almost impossible to remove without damaging the stonework underneath.
A new floor, using old stones from elsewhere, has been laid in the north chapel and general repairs carried out to the floor in the rest of the church, although no efforts were made to uncover stones already covered by cement screed.
In the chancel are some stones on which can faintly be seen the armorial devices of the Raynesford family and a small brass tablet, dated 1687, which is a memorial to the wife of Thomas Benyon, once a vicar of the parish. On the walls near this are some 19th century memorials to the Tibbits family, including one to Samuel Tibbits Hood, Viscount Hood, who died in 1846.
The information stated above is taken from an original article written by Lyndon F Cave, the architect and overseer of all the modern work done in and on St. Peter’s. He in turn acknowledged the help and advice of Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, the Hon. Director of the Friends of Friendless Churches.