St Peter’s Church

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Winchcombe is a pleasant small market town of timber frame and stone buildings, with a good range of shops.

The church is on the main road through the town and set in a big graveyard. There had been an abbey on this site since the C8th, which was one of the richest in the area. The church was built in the C15th and is a typical example of a Perpendicular church. The chancel was built by the Abbot of Winchcombe Abbey for use by the abbey. The townsfolk built the nave for their use. Nothing is now left of the Abbey, apart from a few relics inside the church.

It is a big church with square tower at the west end and wide nave with clerestory windows. All the tops are battlemented and decorated with crocketed pinnacles. The gargoyles are a mix of demonic creatures and local bigwigs. To the left of the porch is Sir Ralph Boteler of Sudeley Castle who gave money for building the church. To the west is a grimacing figure in a squat hat, said to be the inspiration for the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.

Entry is through the south porch with a vaulted ceiling. Old wooden doors lead into the church. Above the doorway is the Royal Coat of Arms.

Inside it feels a large church. Octagonal pillars and low pointed arches separate nave and side aisles. The wood panelled ceiling is supported in the chancel by carved stone corbels of angels playing musical instruments. There is no chancel arch. Instead across the top of the church is an open carved wooden screen supported by two stone angels.

The stone reredos behind the altar has a carving of Christ preaching in the centre. The C19th east window is a representation of Christ stilling the storm in a fishing boat with his disciples. On the south wall is a beautifully carved three seater sedillia and piscina. On the north wall is a monument to Thomas Williams d1636 with dark marble pillars supporting a portico with red roses and coats of arms at the top. He is kneeling in full armour, picked out in gold. The space opposite him was for his wife, but she survived him, married again and wanted to be with her second husband.

There are wooden parclose screens around the chapels on either side of the chancel. The north now contains the organ. The south has a small altar on the north wall.

At the back of the north aisle protected by a cloth is the former altar cloth, in use until 1872. It was made from the embroidered panels of saints and benefactors from C15th priest’s copes. The figures were laid on their side to make sure they wouldn’t be revered and upset Protestant feelings. Near it hanging on the wall is the C15th carved wooden door from Winchcombe Abbey. On the floor are examples of medieval floor tiles from the abbey.

Across the back of the west end is the medieval rood screen. The base of the tower is blocked by a stone screen. In front of it are stone figures of King Keluph who built the original monastery and also of Henry VI. Kenulf’s sarcophagus is at the back of the south aisle.

In many ways this is a large and rather soulless church. The former altar cloth is worth seeing.

The church is open everyday. The road is very busy and the best place to park is a short walk down the road in the market place.

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