History of St Peter’s

The history of the church

There has been a church on or near this site for hundreds of years, West Molesey being mentioned in the Domesday Book. The present church was completed in 1820, replacing a previous building, one of a series on the site. The tower is the most historic part of the building, having been built in about 1440, probably starting life as a watchtower. It is the oldest building in Molesey, being in place during the Wars of the Roses. Henry VIII would have known it well, as it stood in the middle of his deer park to Hampton Court Palace. The tower went through a restoration programme inn 2006 / 2007, supported by English Heritage.

As a church, the Parish is thought to have originally been part of the foundation of St Peter’s Priory in Chertsey, and later became a Chapel of Ease to the Parish of Walton. It is thought to have been originally dedicated to St Margaret, but this seems to have lapsed by the 20th century, the present dedication to St Peter dating to the time of Revd. A. Sydenham (1927-1942).

The Clock

The church clock was given to the people of West Molesey by Mrs Joseph Palmer in 1815, and built by Thwaites & Co of Clerkenwell in 1813, with a birdcage movement. It is 40 years older than Big Ben in London. It was repaired and restored in 2000.

The Belfry

The belfry originally contained three bells, though only two remain. The louvers are to be seen on the third storey of the tower in two uncusped lights under the clock.

The Interior

On entering the church by the main door, you will find yourself in the nave, which was built in 1843. It has been refurbished several times, the latest in 2002, when it was repaired, painted, and re-carpeted. New lighting was installed at the same time.

The Chancel

If, on entering, you turn right, you will see the Chancel and High Altar at the east end of the church. Originally there was a lancet window behind the high altar, consisting of three lights filled with plain glass, with a simple reredos in the shape of a cross in front of it. This was replaced some time during   Fr Sydenham’s incumbency by a smaller one carved by the vicar himself. The window was bricked up when the glass started to deteriorate, and replaced by the present picture of Christ. At this time, the reredos was transferred to the Lady Chapel, where it stands today. The marble steps were added in 1959, the flooring prior to that being at one level. The altar was moved to its present west-facing position in 2003.

The Lady (side) Chapel

The hand-carved reredos to the Lady Chapel altar was carved by a previous vicar, Fr. Sydenham. It originally stood behind the high altar, but was moved when the window was bricked up. It was originally much taller than it is now, blocking out the stained glass window behind. It was reduced to its present height in 1996, when the chapel was re-ordered and dedicated to Margaret Yeend, wife of Revd. John Yeend, vicar from 1945-1997. The carved altar table is late Tudor. The casket for the paintings was constructed by Mr Peter Pownal of Mottram St Andrew in Cheshire. The painted panels are the work of local artist Iain McKillop, who also repainted the carved reredos when the church was refurbished in 2002.

The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle on the altar. We hope you will find time to use this visit as an opportunity for prayer.

The Pulpit

The pulpit, which stands between the Chancel and the Lady Chapel, was built in the time of James I. It is a panelled and carved structure in oak with a fine hexagonal canopy. It originally stood in the south corner where the present statue of St. Peter now stands.

The North Aisle

This was added in 1859 at a cost of £44. This addition meant the church could accommodate 274 people (though this must have been a rather tight fit)

The East Window

The east window behind the Lady Chapel altar is in memory of the Rt. Hon. J W Croker, whose bust is at the back of the church, the two lights representing the Nativity and the Ascension.

The West Window

The West window is situated in the tower, and, sadly, not easily visible from the nave. It consists of three lights, each commemorating a patron of the church. The first light contains the arms of Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester and founder of Corpus Christi College Oxford (1509). His arms, which consist of a pelican feeding her young, which are depicted in the window, can also be seen above the outside of the west (tower) door of the church, though this carving has badly deteriorated with the years. The second light bears the arms of the Dowager Queen Adelaide, consort to King William IV. The third commemorates Charles Richard Sumner, Bishop of Winchester 1828-1869.

The Font

The font sited at the back of the church is of perpendicular style and dates from the 15th century. It is octagonal, the panels on the sides of the bowl displaying a quatrefoil enclosing a rose. It is supported by an octagonal stem, the sides of which are panelled with pointed arches. It was moved to its present position from beneath the tower, where the original entrance to the church was before the restoration work of 1843.

The Gallery

The original gallery was erected in the early 19th century at the expense of Joseph Palmer. It contained two pews, which were rented at an annual rent of £2, which was spent on the purchase of coal to be distributed to poor parishioner annually. The present gallery was erected in the late 1930s by choir men Herbert Fennemore and Fred Burchett.

The Organ

The present organ is a two manual instrument built in 1840 by Hunter and Webb, organ builders. It replaced an older instrument which had been situated on the west wall of the north aisle. At one time it stood where the statue of St Peter now stands on the south wall. During the last three years it has undergone major refurbishment, which has included an extension to the pedal board and extra pipe work, which gives better bass capabilities and a fuller sound.

The Monuments and Windows

The windows in the north and south walls contain the shields of arms of local families. On the walls are several brasses and other monuments, some preserved from the old church. They include monuments to: Thomas Brende, Sir Walter Carden Lord Mayor of London from 1857-8, Thomas Guilford of The Grove, and a more recent marble bust of the Rt Hon. John Wilson Croker. Under this is a plaque inscribed to his memory and that of his son Spencer Perceval. The family vault is to be seen in the churchyard. The most unusual is a black marble grave stone set into the south wall of the chancel dedicated to Thomas Thorowgood. It bears no year, but the date can be found by adding together all the letters which represent Roman numerals, i.e., CCIIIVLIICLIDVVDIVIC = 1634. The churchyard also contains the graves of the Walpole family and John Cranfield Berkeley, 4th Earl of Berkeley.