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Church of St. Peter, Britford

Church of St. Peter, Britford Date Photo Taken 2012
Uploaded 23/10/2013 12:12:54
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

The church at Britford is dedicated to St. Peter and is a Grade I listed building. Several memorials in the churchyard are listed as Grade II. At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, the church was in the hands of Osbern, a priest. A charter of Henry I, in around 1134, lists the church as part of the gifts received by the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury since 1091.

The church itself is thought to be Anglo-Saxon, potentially with elements from as early as the 8th century. The nave probably dates from around 800 A.D. and has two side chapels. The arches of the nave are made mainly of Roman bricks. As with the Saxon church at Bradford on Avon there were two side chapels and the openings to these chapels were discovered during the Victorian restoration of the church in 1873.
The south door of the church is also Saxon; before the restoration of 1873 the doorway was blocked, meaning people had to enter through a porch in the west wall.
The church was changed in the 14th century when transepts and a chancel were built and an apse was pulled down. This work began in 1280 and went on until 1330.

The south transept holds pews which belonged to the earl of Radnor. The window here was a gift from Helen, Countess of Radnor in the early 20th century.

The pulpit is imitation Jacobean, with panels showing a dove with an olive branch and angels and the other shows the Tree of Life.

The tower was rebuilt in 1764. There are also remains of a medieval tower below it.

There was an extensive Victorian renovation of the church in 1873 which was overseen by the Reverend A. P. Morres. The west window was built in 1882. The roof is thought to have been renovated around this time. The chancel roof itself was opened up when a plaster ceiling was broken through and the original was revealed. The font was put in the church in 1873 and is made out of Chilmark stone. The altar is another 1873 addition; made out of oak, the old altar of broken Purbeck stone is embedded underneath it.

Within the chancel is a tomb; found pressed against the north wall, it was once thought to be dedicated to Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who was executed at Salisbury in 1483 by King Richard III. Henry Stafford was one of the main suspects in the probable murder of the Princes in the tower, Edward V and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury. One of the shields is that of the Stafford family, but not everyone agrees that the tomb is in fact Henry Stafford's as it could have been brought from another site in the 18th century. Perhaps one reason for the continued belief that the tomb was that of Stafford is that the lord of the manor was once George, earl of Huntingdon, whose wife Anne was the daughter of Stafford.

On the sill of one of the north windows in the chancel is a small effigy or figure; it is thought to represent a butler and is around two and a half feet long. In one hand the figure holds a cup and in the others a scroll and it is made from Purbeck marble. The windows in the chancel show the resurrection of Jesus.

To the east of the church is a Portland stone cross which marks the grave of John Wordsworth, Bishop of Salisbury between 1885 and 1911. There are six bells in the belfry; the latest was added in 1904 and the rest date from the 1700s. The churchyard has tombstones from the 17th and 18th centuries. The lych gate was built in 1895. The west wall of the churchyard was built in 1899 and it cost £77.

There is a tombstone in the churchyard, on which is a very interesting inscription.
It reads: "Two years and more, great pains I bore,
"Lost one leg, and part of a thigh,
"Death in the end has proved my friend,
"And free from pain in peace I lie."

The parish registers from 1572, (burials), 1573 (marriages) and 1587 (baptisms), other than those in current use are held in the Wiltshire & Swindon Record Office at Chippenham.

When writing about the church in 1961, Sydney James said: "In whatever other respects it may be slightly disappointing, Britford is notable on two accounts; its remarkable examples of Saxon architecture and its delightful situation. The latter makes it a little difficult of access to those who have no means of private transport, but are not many of the places most worth visiting those which are the most difficult to visit?"

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