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 (in February 1538, Abingdon Abbey was the first of the larger monasteries to be dissolved), 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.
27 March 1621 – Westminster. Confirmation of Sam Fell, King’s Chaplain, of the rectory of Longworth, with the chapel of Charney, co. Berks. Latin. [Ibid., No. 62.]
Kentish Gazette – Saturday 09 September 1769
Thursday a dispensation passed the seals empower the Rev. James Williams, D. D. formerly of Jesus College, Oxford, to hold the rectory of Longworth, with the chapel of Charney annexed, in the county of Berks and diocese of Salisbury; together with the vicarage of South Newington, in the county and diocese of Oxford, worth near 200l. [£200] per ann.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 14 September 1769
The Rev. James Williams, D. D. to the rectory of Longworth, with the Chapel of Charney annexed, in the county of Berks; together with the vicarage of South Newington, in Oxfordshire.
Oxford Journal – Saturday 18 August 1877
TENDERS for the Restoration of CHARNEY CHURCH, Wantage, will be received by the Rev. J. Whitehurst, on or before September 8. Plans and Specifications can be seen on applying at his house, Charney. The lowest or any Tender will not necessarily be accepted.
T. E. Colcutt, Architect, 36 Bloomsbury-Square WC.
This Tender was won by ‘the contractor Mr. Aldworth, of East Hanney, Wantage’, see below.
The Vicar of Lyford recorded St Peter’s “re-opening” in 1878 a short summary is given here in the column on the right.
THE RE-OPENING OF CHARNEY CHURCH. To the long list of churches in this diocese which have of late been restored may now be added that of Charney. When the Rev. J. Whitehurst was appointed to the curacy some fifteen months ago he found the building in the most dilapidated state, and the congregations small. With the greatest earnestness he at once set about the work of restoration. … and until the restoration was begun there was nothing to indicate the existence of the “squint.” …some of the walling was knocked away, and the “squint” was then discovered. … The restoration included taking off part the roof of the nave and aisle, re-paving and adding new timbers, and entirely re-leading the roof. The chancel roof, which is entirely new, is of oak, and covered with stone slating. The new seats in the nave are of yellow pine and will be stained, whilst those in the chancel and the reading desk are of oak, all new. The nave and chancel are paved with tiles, the latter being encaustic. … A new warming apparatus has also been supplied, and works very satisfactorily. Mr. T. E. Collcutt, …was the architect, and his plans and intentions have been faithfully carried out by the contractor Mr. Aldworth, of East Hanney, Wantage. …..
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.
Reading Standard – Friday 10 August 1934
A BERKSHIRE RECTOR RESIGNS.
The Rev. R. E. Jones, Rector of Longworth, has been obliged to resign his living owing to increasing age. Charney, which up till the present time has been connected with Longworth, will now be united to Lyford. The Rev. R. E. Jones. who was ordained 48 years ago, has been at Longworth since 1915.
There are two Romanesque Sculptures in the church; one above the porch and one in the chancel above the squint passage.
Pictures of these are given below.
The most recent interpretations are from The Corpus of Romanesque Sculptures in Britain and Ireland.
There are various opinions by scholars about the tympanum:
- 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
- This reference suggests ‘it seems more probably designed to illustrate the passage in Psalm xliv., verses 18-20’ ref A list of Norman tympana and lintels : with figure or symbolical sculpture still or till recently existing in the churches of Great Britain; by
Keyser, Charles E. (Charles Edward), 1847-1929
Publication date 1904 the Charney extract can be read here
- 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.
There is a black and white watercolour picture  of St Peter’s which shows a double bell-cot.
There is a description in the book Quiet Roads and Sleepy Villages by Allan Fea (published in 1913 ‘The church of Charney Basset is a building of entirely different character [to Stanford in the Vale’s church]: the oddest little structure with strangely flattened tower, embattled roof, and double bell-cot.
The same book continues:
An old man who provided the key of the church described how things used to be when the Dewes were in possession. On Sundays then, the little private entrance to the church was not as now, blocked up; and the high-backed pew could be reached in privacy. The squint on the left-hand side of the chancel is rather an extraordinary one, for, like that at Stanford, it forms a narrow passage, through which one can pass into the north aisle. Above it is a spirited figure struggling with two dragons, and thus going one better than St. George. Other formidable griffins appear upon the richly sculptured tympanum of the north entrance doorway. This and the south door, and the chancel-arch as well, are all good examples of Norman work. A headless early sixteenth-century brass is that of Alicia, the daughter of John and Agnes Estbury.
This latter reference to a headless brass of Alicia Estbury is v curious.
British History Online attributes this brass, or a v similar one, to being in St Andrew Letcombe Regis as follows:
In the vestry is a small brass of a lady, the head gone, bearing the inscription, ‘Hic jacet Alicia Estbury filia Johis Estbury et Agnetis . . .,’ and there are also mural tablets to Anne Grove (d. 1669) and Martha (d. 1694) and Margaret (d. 1698), daughters of the Rev. John Hunsdon, vicar. In the nave is a mural monument erected in 1731 to Alexander Fettiplace (d. 1712), his wife, two sons and a daughter, with the arms of Fettiplace impaling Head, and another to Francis Pigott (d. 1756) and other members of the Pigott family. There are also a number of early 19th-century tablets, one exhibiting a pedigree of the Goodlake family.
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
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.
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
Curate from 1882
Accounts from 1765 to 1945: Lancaster Bomber Damage
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.
North Wilts Herald – Saturday 25 March 1882
CHOIR AND PRESENTATION.—The members of Charney church choir were entertained on Friday last, by the Rev. J. & Mrs. Whitehurst, who are leaving this parish for Farnborough Rectory, Wantage. This occasion was thought a suitable opportunity for presenting to them a gift from the parishioners as a token of their esteem and a slight recognition of the services which they have rendered during their five years residence in the parish. The present consisted of a massive antique brass inkstand in repousse work and a pair of candlesticks to match. The Rev. J. Whitehurst, on receiving the testimonial, said:—On behalf of my wile and myself I give you my sincere thanks for the present which has unexpectedly been presented to me. I admire it for its usefulness and tastefulness, but still more do I value it for the pleasant recollections it will ever bring to my mind when I see it, and that during the five years of my ministry amongst you I have made so many friends. I understand there is scarcely a house unrepresented in the list of subscribers. I know that to many even a small contribution entails some sacrifice, while none of you are overburdened with this world’s goods. Many are the associations happy, but alas of late sad, which will ever be connected with my sojourn among you. But I trust that the work which I have endeavoured to carry on as the clergyman of the parish will not prove fruitless, and that especially you, the choir boys, will strive to attain by practice and attention such efficiency as will enable you to hold your own at any choral festival you may have to attend. I thank you and the subscribers generally, who I may not be able to see personally, for their kindness.
Rev John Bowles 1728
|Source Info||Subscribed to A vindication of the Church of England, and of the lawful ministry thereof … translated from the … Latin … Whereunto is added, A new edition of a Sermon … concerning the authority of the church, a copy of the first reformed ordinal; and a translation of some fragments of letters … in an Appendix … To all which is prefixed A … series of the succession of our Bishops … An … account of … this … controversy, and of the … writers on both sides … in a … preface, 1728, MASON, Francis. London; Subject: history, religion|
Ancestry.com. U.K. and U.S. Directories, 1680-1830 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003.
Original data: Avero Publications. Biography Database, 1680-1830. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England: Avero Publications, 1998.