600 Years in 60 Minutes

Reporter: Heather Coltman

everything you’ve always wanted to know about St. Peter’s

And who better to tell the packed meeting on Friday 28th September 2012 than Roger Green (Chairman of the Friends of St. Peter’s) making a welcome return to the Sudbury Society.

For ‘the hour’ Roger entertained and amused the audience with little known interesting facts and anecdotes on the history and foundation of St. Peter’s, some of which are given below.

He began with the earliest reference which was in the Will of the Earl of Gloucester who bequeathed the church to an order of nuns in Warwickshire!

The early church is thought to have been at the bottom of Market Hill where HSBC now stands. This building was probably demolished in the late 15th century and the new one started in its present position a few years later. The oldest bell is from 1470. The new building was probably started at the East end but there were various constraints on the site and the alignment is not true. The building may have been interrupted by an outbreak of Plague which could have affected the various craftsmen. However, nothing stopped them leaving their marks in various places on the building there being many ‘Green men’, including one under the sundial on the South side and an unique angel with a forked beard over the priest’s door.

There are other marks possibly scratched by pilgrims and some to ward off witches including ‘W’ (double V) for Virgin of Virgins and ‘M’ for Maria. A later one scratched on to the roof leads reads: ‘Peter Upcher esq. repaired this Chancel 1776’.
In the 17th century St. Peter’s didn’t escape the attentions of William Dowsing. In his Journal he recorded that 100 pictures of Christ, 20 angels on the roof, two crosses and a picture of God were destroyed. How richly decorated the church must have been before that time.

Roger told us of many other interesting features and facts about St. Peter’s too numerous to list here.

In old 18th Century prints St. Peter’s is shown with a spire or Fleche, this was replaced in 1810 and finally taken down (at great expense) in 1968.
The life of St. Peter’s has been full of incident over its long history not least the near riot in 1859 when the High Church vicar, Canon John Molyneux, sold the pews for firewood…there was a fight outside the church with pieces of pew.

By the 1960s the church was in need of extensive (and expensive) repairs. In line with other acts of municipal vandalism at the time, there was even a proposal to demolish it! Of 325 people who responded to a poll, 112 said pull it down, 188 said keep it – 25 had no opinion. It was finally closed in 1971 but revived by the Friends, notably Tony Moore, and is now the second most used ‘redundant’ church in the country and with a full peal of bells.

These are just a few of ‘the things we always wanted to know about St. Peter’s’. Roger kept to his ‘sixty minutes’ on the riveting 600 hundred-year history of just one of Sudbury’s three medieval churches. There was a brisk asking of questions at the end after Diana Clifford gave the vote of thanks for yet another entertaining and educational evening.

Heather Coltman