There’s probably been a church on the St Peter’s site for some 1000 years. The present church, which can seat about 200 people, was substantially rebuilt in 1860. However, it has retained much of its earlier character with a Saxon font and the Perpendicular square tower which houses a set of six bells and has an unusual sun-dial on two of its faces. Inside the church there is a window by John Piper and a notable 17th century tomb, the Walter Tomb.
A 2015 24pp colour history of the church, written by Ann Spokes-Symonds is on sale inside the church price £2.00 or on application from email@example.com.
The following text is adapted from The Church and Parish of St Peter Wolvercote written by Cedric Venables (privately printed at the University Press, Oxford in 1976).
The present church building dates from 1860. It replaced an earlier smaller church which was built in the Perpendicular period (1377-1485). Records held at Merton College, the patron of St Peter’s, indicate that the church chancel was built in 1482. It is possible that the nave was built then as well, but of that 15th century church, only the tower now remains. The rest was pulled down to build the church as we know it today. The total cost of rebuilding the church in stone in 1860 was £1,997.3s.1d.
The church consists of a chancel, nave, north aisle, south porch and the tower. The tower has interesting relics of the past in two sundials. Between the two is the inscription ‘Redeem the Time‘. The stroke marking the hour of nine is more deeply cut, perhaps to remind parishioners that High Mass – as it was before the Reformation – was celebrated at that hour. When the Oxford Movement began to influence the Church of England in the mid-19th century, it soon affected Wolvercote which became one of the first churches in Oxford to use eucharistic vestments. Quite early after the opening of the present church Choral Eucharist was celebrated at 9:00am each Sunday for nearly 50 years. On Easter Day in 1910, the vicar – Rev. E. A. Sydenham – noted in church records that Choral Eucharist was celebrated for the first time in church history, at 11:00.
The choir and clergy vestries are new additions to the church. They were built in 1935 and dedicated by the Bishop of Oxford.
The font stands in the tower, surrounded by the six bell ropes. The font probably dates from the 12th century although it’s Saxon in style and is carved out of a single block of stone with a diamond patterned rim. Providing a continuous thread between the different church buildings on this site, it’s remarkable to think of the number of children who have been baptised in it.
The high chancel arch gives an impression of space, as does the fine arch at the west end of the nave. The latter arch may be all that’s left intact of the Norman church, although it’s also possible that the tower was built of stone from that original church.
An interesting remnant of the old church is the Tomb of Sir John Walter (d.1630) in the north-east corner of the church. Read more here.
The East window is Gothic in style and reaches nearly to the roof. Dating from 1882, it consists of five lights and portrays the great events of Christianity. In the north light is the Nativity; the three centre lights depict the Crucifixion; in the south light is the Resurrection. At the apex of the window is the Ascended Christ throned in Glory.
In the upper portion of the south window of the chancel are some remnants of valuable old glass dating from the latter half of the thirteenth century. This glass, however, has no connection with any early Wolvercote church and came from Merton College.
There are two complete stained glass windows, both Victorian, on the south side of the nave. One is inscribed ‘To the Glory of God and in memory of the rebuilding of this church A.D.MDCCCLXI‘. The second is ‘In loving remembrance of John Bull M.R.C.S., of the City of Oxford, and Martha, his Wife, by their grateful children. Glory to God’.
John Piper’s Palm Sunday Window is a special treasure of St Peter’s. It is the third window on the south side of the nave, to the left of the door as you enter. Read more here.
It’s difficult to know exactly when an organ was first played in St Peter’s although church records mention one being dedicated on 19 November 1904. Photographs taken in 1905 show a fairly large instrument which filled the easternmost bay on the north side of the nave. The instrument cost £202. Some time during the next twenty years the organ was removed to the west end of the church. In 1923 it was rebuilt and enlarged, then again in 1957 this time at a cost of £1,873 to include electrical power and controls. This organ was removed in 2009 so the church could be connected to the new St Peter’s Parish Room. A fundraising appeal opened in 2014 raised around £210,000 to replace the now worn-out organ with one designed and built by Jennings Organs, Blandform Forum. The Jennings organ was dedicated in November 2016. Read more here.
The church has had five bells for more than 200 years. In 1889 the framework was found to be unsafe. An appeal raised £120, sufficient to repair the frame and to complete the set with a sixth bell. Little more than fifty years later, the running gear was worn out and one bell cracked. The congregation raised £2721, £848 to repair the bells and the remainder to rebuild the organ. All the bells were removed and recast to a mellower tone. In the recasting the tenor bell was named St. Peter.