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A brief history of our ancient parish church

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St Peter’s Church has been at the centre of village life for over a thousand years.

Burnham was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and forms part of the Chiltern Hundreds, which comprise Burnham, Desborough and Stoke.

The present church was built between 1154 and 1202 although there was an older Anglo-Saxon wooden church here before that, and probably an even older Romano-British building which, it is believed, dated from about 500.

 

Various additions and improvements have been made to the church over the years, including two major restorations during the 19th century. In the second of these the church tower was extended, a spire was added, and in 1897 two extra bells were added to the existing six to make a full peal in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

In 1986 the old Victorian vestry was demolished to make way for Cornerstone.

As you enter the church from Cornerstone through the old vestry door you will be in the Chancel. On your left is the Sanctuary which contains the High Altar, and behind it the Reredos, carved with scenes of Christ’s healing ministry. Above it, the East Window portrays important scenes from our Lord’s Nativity to His Ascension. Two monuments in the sanctuary commemorate Vicar John Wright (1561-94) in the Elizabethan ruff and George Evelyn, who was a cousin of 17th century diarist John Evelyn.

The Altar Rails are dated 1663 and originally formed part of a staircase balustrade at Eton College. The blocked recess on the south wall probably originated as the Vicar’s Door.

The long chest was used to hold frontals for the high altar, it was made from the remains of the medieval rood screen. Traces of the original paint can still be seen on it, as can the peepholes through which members of the congregation could glimpse the priest at the altar celebrating mass.

 

Opposite the chest, on the north wall the outline of a 14th century window is visible.

The Victorian architect G.F. Bodley designed the present rood screen which was given in 1899 by a Miss Tollemache as a memorial to her father Revd Clement R Tollemache.

As you leave the Chancel you will cross the dais which was installed in 1989 when the Nave Altar was installed. The brass Lectern was donated by Samuel Christie-Miller in 1878.

Turning left, you come to the wood and wrought iron screen which closes off the Vestry, and this was made locally by Mark Chown as a memorial to Thomas Jones, Registrar of Burnham in the early 1900s and the father of Thomas Luke Jones. The arms on the screen are those of Burnham Abbey, the Diocese of Oxford, and the County of Buckinghamshire.

As you move into the Nave you may notice that the pillars on the south side are hexagonal, while those on the north side are round, this shows the north side was built at an earlier time, you may also notice that the pillars are not opposite each other.

At the bottom of the first pillar on the south aisle look for the work of a 16th century graffiti artist who scratched the words “THE POPE IS A KNAVE”. More examples of ancient graffiti can be seen on the other pillars on the south side.

Along the south wall there are three stained glass windows. The first, a small lancet window, was donated by the same Miss Tollemache who gave the rood screen and depicts St Clement.

 

The middle window was given in memory of Evelyn Helen Arden and shows St George and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven.

 

The last window before the south door is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Luke Jones who died of the wounds he received during the First World War and shows St Thomas and St Luke.

Along the south wall there are several monuments notably those dedicated to the Lidgold Family, Jonathan Rogers, Judge Willes, and the Hon. Cassandra Graves.

The west window is a memorial to Samuel Christie-Miller who, as well as being Churchwarden here for many years was also a generous local benefactor.

To the left of the west door are brasses of the Eyre family displayed on a marble slab which had previously been used as a tomb stone on the reverse side. On the other side of the door are more brasses which were removed from the floor of the north aisle in 1986.

The stained-glass window on the north wall is our newest window and was dedicated to the memory of Barry Bugden by his wife Stephanie. It depicts the industry of Slough on the left and the rural tranquillity of the local countryside on the right.

The North Transept was once a private pew reserved for members of the Dropmore family with a private door which is now the ramped entrance to Cornerstone. This beautiful window was installed as a memorial to Lord William Grenville by his wife, Lady Anne Grenville. He was Prime Minister to King George III in 1806-7, during his ministry the Slave Trade Act 1807, which outlawed slavery within the British Empire, was passed. This was the first step towards the ending of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. He and his family are buried in a vault under the floor.

The recess below the window was rediscovered in 1939 and it is thought that it once held an effigy of the founder of the church who may have been a crusader.

On the left side of the window is the “Hastings Hatchment,” a memorial to John Hastings, great grandson to the 4th Earl of Huntingdon, who was married to Elizabeth Cage of Britwell Court and died in 1656; it contains more than 100 quarterings.

The east wall of the transept is filled with  carved panels brought from Europe in the 19th century by a Mr Fortesque. Above the panelling are three 16th/17th century helmets. These were not made to be worn but were carried at funerals of knights and gentlemen.

 

The parish Tithe Map of 1837 hangs below the helmets.

To the right is our last stained-glass window which depicts St Peter, our patron saint, and St John the Baptist. Below this window are two presentation boards which list all the vicars of Burnham since this church was consecrated in 1202.

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