St Peter's Church, Limpsfield
St Peter’s Church, Limpsfield

TThe first record of a church in Limpsfield is in the Domesday Survey in 1086. Although no part of the original church survives today, the oldest part of the present church building is the tower which is thought to have been built around 1180, near the end of a century of tremendous religious activity.

The church is set above the road to the north of Limpsfield village and would have been a focal point when it was originally built.

The twelth century church constructed of ironstone and sandstone rubble consisted of a nave, chancel and a tower unusually placed to the south of the chancel. The nave has never been completely rebuilt but all four walls are pierced by later work and nothing of the original character remains. During the thirteenth century the chancel was extended to its present length and a north chapel – now the Gresham Chapel – was built towards the middle of the century. Also from this century is the narrow south aisle, with its arcade of arches to complement those beteen the chancel and the Gresham Chapel. Seen on the wall of the tower within the south aisle is the steep thirteenth century roof line. The roof was raised in the fifteenth century to its present height to accommodate the higher window. After the completion of the south aisle, an arch was cut through into the tower and the ground floor made into a chapel to St Catherine.

The roofs of the chancel and Gresham Chapel are trussed rafter roofs and the nave roof of a lower pitch is a good example of a cradle form of roof. The roof on the south aisle is a plain fifteenth century lean-to roof. Outside the chancel and Gresham Chapel roofs are tiled, the nave and south aisle continuously roofed in Horsham slate and the tower has a pyramidal wooden shingled spire.

Very little structural alteration took place over the next 300 years. The south door and porch, also roofed in Horsham slate, are both sixteenth century. It was probably at the time of the reformaion that the rood screen was removed and the doors leading to it filled in.

The minutes of the Vestry meetings record that in August 1823 it was agreed to build a vestry room to the east side of the tower. This was built by John Brasier (carpenter) and William Loveland (builder). The window in the east wall of the tower was moved to the east of the vestry. The entrance door was in the chacel wall. Then in 1845 further alterations and improvements were made. The pews were removed from the gallery, which was refitted. A brass plaque recording these changes was placed in the church although it is not clear what they entailed.

In 1851 the Rector James Haldane Stewart had the church enlarged after complaints from parishioners that they could not find seats. Plans were drawn up by James Lockyer and the alterations were completed in less than nine months at a cost of £840. An entire new aisle was added to the north side of the nave, with an arcade of arches designed to match those between the nave and the south aisle. A new window was also installed at the west end of the nave by Henry Cox of Trevereux, one of the Church wardens.The south aisle was opened in October 1851, “when a sermon was preached by the Lord Bishop of Winchester”.

In the 1870s the Victorian restoration under the aegis of the squire Mr Leveson Gower and supervised by Mr J L Pearson FSM resulted in significant reconstruction to both the interior and exterior of the church. This included the removal of the gallery at the west end of the nave and the Jacobite pews were replaced by the present oak benches. The pulpit was cut downto its present heightand placed on a stone base and the sounding board and the clerk’s seat removed. The font was also moved to its present location and placed on a new stone base with supporting shafts. The two lancet windows on the south side of the chancel were opened, the 1823 vestry was taken down and the doorway filled in. The north and west arches under the tower were formed and the plaster covering the whole of the external walls of the tower was removed and the stonework repointed.

In the same restoration the chancel arch was raised and the perpendicular east window changed to the present copy of the original medieval triple lancet. The stained glass in these windows is by the well known Victorian glass-makers Clayton & Bell and was a gift of Mr Charles Morris Wilde of Hookwood.

Changes in the twentieth century include two stained glass windows set in the south wall of the chancel in 1900 in memory of the late Rector, Canon E. Rhys Jones and the construction of the present vestry in 1901, long needed after the removal of the old one in 1870. The 1872 organ, made by Messrs Hill of London, was enlarged and lifted some eight feet to allow space for the new vestry. In 1963 this was replaced by a new organ mounted on a raised platform formed by a concrete-encased steel portal frame sited at the entrance to the Gresham Chapel. This in turn was replaced in 2002 by another organ from St Mark’s Garrison Church at Shorncliffe purchased from the Ministry of Defence. This was placed in front of the Gresham Chapel east window and the now defunct portal was demolished.

The newest part of the church is the Millennium Room which was built in 2000 on the north side of the church to provide much needed toilet facilities and room for the choir to robe, church meetings and the children’s creche.

The Bells

In 1946 George Elphick surveyed the bells and tower fixings. He confirmed that the third bell was made by Thomas Harris prior to 1478. He carried out detailed measurements of the frames from which he estimated that the old B frame in the spire was from the thirteenth century – based on the south pit which formerly contained the “great bell” or tenor, which probably measured 3 feet at its mouth and just under 3 feet tall. This indicated that it was a long waisted bell which dated it to the early thirteenth century. On the north side of the spire the south beam was probably the housing of the sanctus bell, about 13 inches high. From the locations of other mountings he thought that there would have at one time been another four bells in the spire, which were probably chimed by levers.

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St Peter's Limpsfield is an anglican church in the village of Limpsfield in Surrey.

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