Village History

St Peter's Church


Origin Of The Building

There is evidence that there was a church in the village as early as the 10th Century, although it is probable that nothing remains of the fabric of that building. Despite this there do not seem to be any records of a resident priest until 1312 when Ingram Berenger granted land to maintain a chaplain in the church. Furthermore, in 1324 Ingram Berenger also granted to the Prioress of the convent in Amesbury the advowson of the church of Alderton (in Wiltshire) providing that two priests were provided to celebrate mass daily in Shipton Bellinger church and Snoddington Chapel. It is possible that the first priests lived in Parsonage Farm over the road from the church.

The present St Peter's is built of stone and flint, with stone windows and a wooden bell turret and is probably 17th Century, as names and dates scratched on the stonework go back to 1636. Some parts, however, notably stonework around the East window and the South door arch, and material in the South East windows, are 14th Century, suggesting an earlier building about that period. Around 1775 to 1780 the Church roof, probably of thatch, was destroyed by fire and there was also considerable damage to the top of the walls and windows. The building probably remained in poor condition, with only minimal repairs, until 1879 when there was a major restoration at a cost of 1500. The account of this restoration emphasized that every effort was made to retain the original form of the building.

Some Features

The stained glass window to the East depicts incidents in the life of Christ and that to the West, scenes in the life of St Peter. The mural on the Reredos is reputed to be of Norman origin. It was rather poorly touched up in Victorian times.

The Chancel screen is constructed of stone, which is quite unique, and is in the 14th Century style, purporting to be a reproduction of an old stone screen, of which only the springers of the side arches remained.

The Bell-tower

The bell-tower contains three bells, which have probably been rung since at least the late 16th Century, although a report on their condition, carried out in 1980, says "These very early bells are archaeologically important and may be contemporary with the 14th Century alteration"! It is no surprise, then, that all three are listed for preservation by the Council for the Care of Churches. The treble bell has the inscription "Johannes Cristi care dignare pro nobis orare" (John, beloved of Christ, deign to pray for us), and may have been made by a London founder, perhaps William Dane or William Wodewarde. The second is inscribed "God be our Guyd - RB 1600" and would have been made by Robert Beconsall. The largest, the tenor bell, over 3 ft in diameter and weighing 9 cwt, is inscribed "Sancte Nicolae ora pro nobis" (Saint Nicholas pray for us), and may have originated from a Salisbury foundry. The bells are reached by a unique series of ladders and steps and are hung in massive wooden wheels of oak and elm nearly 6ft in diameter, set in a pine bell frame. The tower is constructed of timber, clad with shingles, and is supported, along with the bells, frame and spire, on just two beams spanning the nave walls!


Click on the thumbnail to see a photo of St Peters Church roundabout 1925
Click on the thumbnail to see a full photo of St Peters Church in the late 1920's or early 1930's

Church Records

The Church Registers date back to 1540. Among the often recurring family names is that of Gilbert, both as Vicars and of sponsors. The Gilbert of "Gilbert and Sullivan" fame descended from this family. The Churchyard contains numerous Gilbert graves and the family seems to have dominated the village for the best part of 300 years. A Gilbert was one of the Churchwardens at the time of the restoration. The executors of a later Gilbert, that is Joseph, sold 5/8th parts of the advowson of the vicarage of Shipton to Thomas Assheton Smith (along with the deeds of title to the parsonage house) in 1840.

In 1726 the Glebe Terrier of Shipton cited the moveable goods belonging to the church (in the County of Southampton) as being:

The hole bible, a Common Prayer book, a surplice, a pulpit cushion and cloth, the communion table-cloth made of lin[n]en, one pewter flagon, one silver cup, one pewter plate, and one napkin, and three bells.
[Signed] Edward Gilbert, Church Warden

In a visitation return of 1788, record by the curate "Blake", the parish consisted of 2300 acres of ground, contained around 250 "souls", had 7 christenings, 8 burials and 2 marriages "at a medium, one year with another" and defined the patron in the terms: "Dr Macham as having one turn and Mr Gilbert another". There were no chapels, schools, hospitals, lecturers or curates and "No Papists or dissentors of any kind."

The Old Vicarage (on the corner of Bulford Road and the High Street) was built on the late 19th century on glebe lands acquired under the Enclosure Acts of 1793.

An interesting style of entry in the earlier Marriage Registers is that couples were "married in this Church by banns with the consent of their friends"

In the Baptismal Registers those born out of wedlock were described as "base-born". In the early 1800’s the most common fathers' occupations were Labourer, Carpenter and Shoemaker. The first Blacksmith appeared in 1847, Innkeeper and Surgeon in 1848, Commercial Traveller in 1858 and Schoolmaster and Policeman in 1873.

The Burial Registers for the 1800's are notable for the high rate of infant mortality. The Churchyard was enlarged in 1892 following the gift of a plot of land by Sir John Kelk of Tedworth House and was enlarged again in 1984 as a result of a purchase by the Parish Council. Further clearance took place at the turn of the century and the churchyard was placed under the care of the Parish Council, Borough council and church.

Beneath the rugged elms, that yew trees shade
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap
Each in his narrow cell forever laid
The rude forefathers of our village sleep
Thomas Gray

For the first part of the 20th Century the village had its own undertaker, Arthur Hunt, and a hand propelled bier for the transport of coffins.

The Churchwarden's Account Book contains some interesting entries. In 1849, there was a penny in the pound levy on landowners, for church repairs. For the year 1850, the charge for washing surplices was 4 shillings. In 1867 the premium to insure the church building was 10 shillings and 6 pence. In 1898, it cost 10 shillings to keep the churchyard grass cut (a single cut in 1986 cost 170)! In 1905, 1. 14s. 6d. was paid out for church cleaning. The Vestry Book shows that in 1873, Rev. Edmund Fowle initiated a Church Restoration Fund with a gift of 15. An account was opened at the Wilts. and Dorset Bank, Salisbury. In April 1917, Mrs. Vesey Ross, the Vicar's wife, explained she had received an offer of a new church organ, price 135.

The Centenary of the 1879 restoration was marked by a Festival of Flowers from 28th to 30th June 1979. For the occasion the church was replastered and redecorated and much work had been done recently on the Chancel roof and Bell-cote. Bishop John Taylor was the preacher at the special centenary service.

Margaret Ferguson, with much experience in London, advised and directed the floral decoration of the church; Village folk arranged their exhibits, depicting every aspect of rural life, in a marquee erected in the churchyard. So valuable were these floral arrangements that a volunteer night guard was arranged. Unfortunately the first night watchman, Colonel P Herring, was bitten by the guard dog on loan from Alex Blackford!

In the days when Ingram Berenger was Lord of the Manor, he maintained Chaplains for both the Shipton Church and for the chapel at Snoddington and there were divine services daily.

Similarly, up to 1970, Shipton Bellinger Parish had been linked under one priest with the neighbouring Parish church of South Tidworth, but with the closing of the latter in December of that year, St Peters was privileged to be the sole responsibility of its incumbent.

In 2002 the Parish was merged into a single benefice with Appleshaw, Clanville, Fyfield, Kimpton, part of Shoddesden, Redenham and Thruxton. The village is lucky in continuing with a part-time vicar, Rev. Brian Tims. The Rector of the combined benefice is Rev. Ian Tomlinson, also assisted by Rev. Ann Mckenzie.

Baptist Chapel

There is a record of the erection of a Baptist Chapel in 1849 near to Hamble House, possibly opposite, at the top end of the High Street. The map of 1973 (OS first edition) is not clear to which building it refers. There is no other information about its use and the building has long since disappeared. Church Meadows is nearby, perhaps suggesting where it was.

Mission Hall

A Mission Hall of corrugated iron construction was erected in 1898, shown on the 1910 2nd Edition OS maps, for the purpose of non-denominational worship in Shipton Bellinger. It was built on land made available at a purchase price of 34 by a local shoemaker, Mr. Stephen King who became one of its first leaders. Its first pastor was paid an annual stipend of 50. It printed its own hymn book. Regular services and Sunday school have been maintained right up to the present. In 1911 it was used for about a year as a day school, while a new village school was being built. In 1919 Mrs. Studd, wife of the African Missionary C. T. Studd visited the hall to show slides of her husband's work. In 1963 the building was damaged by the impact of a beer wagon, and two extra rooms were added during subsequent repairs.

From around 2001 the hall was no longer in use, being too dilapidated and the Mission moved to the Village Centre. The old mission hut was destroyed and a new house to be built on the site, completed 2005.

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Page Last Updated: 21st September 2005