St Peter’s Church is a Grade 1 listed building and its early history in what must have been a tiny church in a remote marshland settlement is sadly undocumented.
It is possible that there was a Christian Community at Charney Bassett as far back as the 7th Century when the church or chapel would have been made of wood, and that today the existing Norman Church was erected on the site of an earlier Saxon church.
The Norman church which forms the basis of the present building, dates from the early 12th century, maybe within 50 years of the Norman Conquest. The carvings and parts of the south wall of the nave are from that earlier building. The window in the south wall of the chancel dates from the late 13th century. The enigmatic tympanum carved in stone inside the church belongs to the first half of the 12th century. (More details about the tympanum below).
The beautiful house, known as Charney Manor, next to the church was originally built as a grange by Abingdon Abbey. Abingdon Abbey was one of the great Benedictine establishments of Europe until 1538 when it was dissolved by Henry VIII. The Abbey naturally owned the advowson of St Peter’s Church but whether a priest was appointed is unclear. It may have had special status as a private chapel to the Abbey’s bailiff due to its proximity to Charney grange.
In the year 1322 there was a Visitation from the reigning Abbot of Abingdon and possibly the church was improved at this time because the square-headed two-light window in the south wall of the nave is 14th century.
In the 15th century there was a major programme of rebuilding during a period of economic progress in southern England.
Little was done for the next few hundred years except that sometime during that period the little bellcote with its six stone finials was added.
After the Dissolution, the church lost whatever protection the overlordship of Abingdon Abbey gave it and became a chapelry attached to Longworth, and is thought to have suffered long periods of neglect.
The Vicar of Lyford recorded St Peter’s “re-opening” in 1878.
There is a plaque on the north wall of the nave which records the names of six men of Charney and seven of Lyford who lost their lives in the war of 1914-18. A second plaque records that of David Whiting who lost his life in World War II. The church was damaged by the explosion of a Lancaster Bomber (more details on world wars page).
The church and its bells were restored in the mid 1980s.
THE DESCRIPTION BELOW OF ST PETER’S CHURCH IS TAKEN FROM KELLY’S DIRECTORY OF BERKSHIRE 1899:
CHARNEY BASSET is a chapelry annexed to this parish, about 3 ½ miles south from Longworth village and 5 ½ north-west from Wantage Road station on the Great Western railway, on the river Ock. The chapel of St. Peter is an ancient edifice of stone of the Norman period, consisting of chancel, nave, north aisle, south porch and a Jacobean double bell-cot of stone containing 2 bells: the east window is Perpendicular; both doorways are Norman, that on the north side having a richly-carved tympanum, representing a robed figure between two grotesque animals, apparently griffins, within a border of addorsed [‘placed back to back’] scroll-work: the south doorway has a kind of cusped border, supporting rudely-carved heads, all within a cable moulding: the chancel arch is also Norman: the nave has a Perpendicular roof of low pitch and Transition Decorated windows: the font is plain Early English and there is a Perpendicular wooden pulpit: there are 100 sittings. The registers of this chapel have entries of baptisms and burials from 1700 to 1812; and of marriages from 1754 to 1811, previous to which entries were made in the Longworth registers. The area is 1,200 acres; rateable value is £999; the population in 1891 was 202.
There are various opinions by scholars about the typmanum:
- it belongs to the first half of the 12th century, based on the fact that the flanking beasts are dragons, which did not really become popular in church carving until that time
- it is almost certainly Saxon, that the dragons are Norse in style, and suggesting that dragon depictions, especially facing each other towards the centre of the tympanum, had almost completely died out before 1100
- the ‘dragons’ are winged beasts bearing Jesus up to heaven
- another points to a similar carving at Reading Abbey, dating to 1120-1140
- An article in The Daily Telegraph covered the suggestion that the central figure is Alexander The Great.
There is little stained glass in the building but here is a detail of some remaining 15th century glass.
Longworth Parish Magazine, June 1908. Charney:-
We are again indebted to the generosity of two parishioners: to Mr Kerridge for a taper-holder and candle-extinguisher, and to Miss Atkinson for the carved hymn-board now hanging in the church.
Charney Church Choir c1990
Picture – Left to Right: Helen Anderson, Joyce Ferguson, Valerie Cripps, Jim Venn, Barbara Johns, David Douglas.
Presentation of gift to George Mills on his retirement as Churchwarden, early Summer 2000
Andy Silver Heather Peske
David Douglas Jim Venn Doris Venn Rex Peske Charlie Dingwall
Julie Adams (Silver) Joyce Ferguson Phyllis Mills George Mills Nan Sharpus
Derek Pike Sue Wales Suzie Dingwall Sheila Pike
Lucy Gildersleeves Sandy Gildersleeves James Silver Helen Gildersleeves
Mass dials (scratch dials) are medieval (1100 – 1600) roughly cut dials found on the south walls of churches. The clearest one at St Peter’s is quite typical in that it is by the south door about four feet above the ground and within the porch which was added later, in the 1880s. A stick, or gnomon, would have been placed in the large hole (now filled with white filler) and would have stuck straight out, when its shadow fell on one of the smaller holes the next service was due to begin. The gnomons of these Mass dials are invariably missing as they were no longer needed.
Five more mass dials (six in all) have been identified and are still visible at St Peter’s. Two of these are inverted showing that the stones have been reused during rebuilding or restoration work. Many thanks to Tony Wood of the British Sundial Society for help in identifying these. We have since found a 7th dial, inside the Church again showing reuse of the stones during refurbishment; it is of oval design.
There is a lot of information on these historic dials, eg Medieval Mass Dials Decoded
Peter TJ Rumley.
The sundial high on the south wall, next to the bellcote, may have been used to tell the time for the ringing of the bell for church services.
The rectangular dial is canted out from the wall in order to face due south. No markings are visible and the gnomon is a thin triangular sheet of metal.
This sundial is on the register of the The British Sundial Society.
Chest tomb of John and Charles Whitehorn, died 1798. Limestone ashlar. Moulded plinth and cornices with hipped top. Fluted corner pilasters, simple moulded surround to inscription panel. Occupies a prominent position in front of the Church of St. Peter.
One of the ‘Stations’ of The Cross around Charney [Jackie Harrison].
The following are extracts from the Newbury and District Field Club [Founded in 1870 the Field Club is Newbury’s local history society with additional interests in all aspects of the Newbury district’s natural history, geology etc.]
Volume 9/2-4, between 48 and 49 [Pub : 1948-1950]
LIST OF CURATES SIGNING BISHOP’S TRANSCRIPT
1617 & 1619
Tim H/KATHERCOTT ?
1725 & 1726
1783 & 1784
1802 & 1803
Accounts from 1765 to 1945
Berkshire Records office Ref D/P83B/5/1. This is the account book of the church from 1765 until 1945 ‘no accounts for 1940,41,42,43,44 JW Cole‘. A memorandum on the final page reads: ‘Large window in south wall badly damaged and several panes of glass broken in other windows by the explosion of one of our Lancaster bombers which crashed with a full bomb load south of Lyford Church at 2.15AM April 8th (Sunday). Many windows blown out and ceilings brought down in the village‘. This is the last entry in the book and comes under a heading of 1945. On the same page, above, in payments is given ‘Repairs, renewing lintel of large window in south wall. 26 pounds‘, it is not clear whether or not this relates to the explosion damage.