"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Friday, 13 September 2019

St Peter's Church Wootton Wawen

St Peter's is the oldest church in Warwickshire and features in Simon Jenkins' "England's Thousand Best Churches" book.

In the 7th century Christianity arrived in England. Mercia and the area around what is now known as Wootton Wawen were converted by Celtic missionaries. Missionary stations called minsters were created including one at Wootton. At some stage between 850 and 950 building of a timber and then stone minster church of St Mary began. After the Norman Conquest the church of St Mary was re-dedicated to St Peter-in-Chains and was given by the Lords of Stafford to their family Benedectine Abbey in Normandy. The church was made larger with a new nave, chancel, south aisle and transept.

In the Middle Ages funds were raised from Church Ale Festivals at feast-times to rebuild the south aisle and lady chapel.

Between 1550 and 1650 St Peter's now under the patronage of King's College, Cambridge, added the upper tower and spire, a castellated nave, clerestory and new south aisle.

During the Civil War the church fell into decay but by 1700 it had recovered under the Vicar Stanford Wolferstone and church warden Richard Fardon. There was a Victorian restoration in 1850 and 1881 by George Gilbert Scott Junior.

War Memorial with entrance to Wootton Hall in the background.

St Peters is known as The Saxon Sanctuary and there is an excellent exhibition inside the church tracing the history of Wootton Wawen.


Over 100 vicars have served here since the mission was founded in the 8th century. Not much is known about the early missional teams of monks, priests and possibly nuns. Recently details have been discovered abut the last priest with links to pre-Norman times. He was called Edwin and died around 1150. He lived in a house near the present day vicarage possibly on the site of the old Saxon monastery. After the Normans arrived the priests were usually French and later when Kings College became the church's patron the vicars were often "Cambridge" men.

Possible links with William Shakespeare

"The Life of Shakespeare" by James Walter published 1890 contains a story that Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway when courting used to visit their friend John Mascall who was Vicar at Wootton.

There are other links with Shakespeare too. Anne Hathaway's father was a tenant of the Smith-Caringtons who held the Manor of Wootton and were lords of the old Harewell manor of Shottery. This manor had a private chapel and James Walter thought the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway could have taken place here in 1582 - perhaps John Macall conducted the ceremony?

John Mascall ran a small village school at Wootton and some have suggested that Shakespeare may have been a school master there in the missing years before he popped up on the stage in London in the 1590's.

Supposition but interesting thoughts.


Scratched in the stone of the porch are many "pilgrims' crosses" - some have suggested pilgrims made these marks when visiting shrines or an alternative suggestion is that they were made by people in times when few could write as a way of confirming an oath they had made in the church porch.

The 14th century plain octagonal font is decorated with eight heads which may depict priory monks. The same sculptor seems to have worked at nearby Snitterfield and Lapworth churches.

The Coat of Arms of George I the first Hanoverian king 1714-1727. It includes a crest, lion and unicorn supporters, mottoes, rose and thistle.

After the Reformation in Henry VIII's reign it became the custom to display royal arms in churches and this was encouraged by Queen Elizabeth I and made compulsory by an Act of Parliament on the restoration of Charles II. This helped to establish the monarch as Head of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith.

A Y tracery window of around 1300 containing Victorian stained glass showing Jesus blessing the children and at the top St Peter.

Studded oak North door set within a 15th century "tudor" arch. On the left are the remains of an earlier round headed Norman doorway.

A surviving small Norman round-headed and splayed window. The stained glass which is Victorian depicts St Peter - Fisher of Men with his net and keys.

The "West" window or Te Deum window is in the Perpendicular style and contains modern stained glass given in 1905 by HH Smith-Carington whose family have historic links with the church.

Carved stone heads, possibly 14th century, which reputedly depict King Edward III and Queen Phillipa.

15th century oak pulpit with carved leaf tracery panels and a 18th century stair balustrade.

13th century early Decorated window with intersecting contains some of the original glass.

The exhibition is far more extensive than these few photos suggest and is very informative telling visitors much about the history of the area.

Old oak chest

Early 14th century wall painting remains. These were uncovered in 1918 and show scenes from the lives of Christ and the Saints, Seven Deadly Sins and parts of a passion scene.

There are a lot of tombs and memorials in the area by the exhibition but to be honest there was that much stuff there (stacked chairs, parts of the exhibition and old clock workings etc) that it was difficult to get photos of some of them.

A few angel photos and then the Canopied Italianate Altar Tomb of Francis Smith (1522-1605), Lord of the Manor of Wootton. He came from a staunch Catholic family but he went along with the new English services and asked in his will to be buried on the site of his pew.

A quick glimpse at this poster suggested initially that you could still do brass rubbings but on reading it again you can only take rubbings from replicas (sorry Caroline I got this wrong!!).

The Harewells of Shottery were in the late 14th century lesser gentry and one of their duties as sub tenants and managers of the two Wootton Manors was the upkeep of the chancel. The Harewells were sheriffs, coroners, commissioners and constables of Maxstoke Castle acquiring much land.

There are two Harewells commemorated in tombs.

This is the tomb of John Harewell the armoured knight who died in 1428 with his feet resting on a dog. There is a rebus, a heraldic pun (which I missed!!) on the name in the hare's heads and wavy lines in the shield at the end and the hare's head helmet crest.

Two 18th century prayer boards showing the Ten Commandments, Lord's Prayer and the Creed.

The East window contains 14th and 15th century stained glass including 4 demi angels.

The other Harewell tomb with memorial brasses on the top (sadly I am not tall enough to get a decent photo!) to John Harewell died 1505, who was great great grandson of the John mentioned above, his wife Anna and their children.

Early 15th century bat grotesque.


Finally, a few photos from the walk back to the car.

Dial House

Anvil on the old Smithy

An apple tree by the bus stop with bramble and blackberries scrambling all over it - apple and blackberry crumble anyone? :)


It is my second visit to the church and, although I saw a lot more than last time, I still missed several features:

The chained library (which I think I did see last time)
A tumlus in the churchyard
The Traherne window
A Squint
Medieval Scratch Dial

One day I will have to return - there are quite a few churches in the vicinity I would like to visit such as St Nicholas, Henley, churches at Aston Cantlow, Ullenhall, Snitterfield and there is a CCT church at Billesley which interestingly has a claim that William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway married there.

*D - Photos taken by my son with the Canon SX50HS bridge camera
Rest of photos taken by me with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330 bridge camera

Reference The Guide Book to St Peter's Church, Wootton Wawen - The Saxon Sanctuary


Rosie said...

Such a fascinating church with so much of interest. I was drawn to the memorial of Fanny Jane Calton who would have been a great great grandaughter of Richard Arkwight who founded the cotton factories in Cromford, Derbyshire. Willersley Hall was their home. It is now a hotel standing across the river from both Cromford and Masson Mills. I was fascinated with the Shakespeare links too. So much to see and learn about at this church no wonder you misssed a few things - a good excuse to go back and visit again:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rosie - Thanks so much and hope you have enjoyed your few days away :) That is SO interesting about Fanny Jane Calton - such a small world! :) Yes, I will go back (only about 35 minutes from here) and it is such a lovely area and there are a few other churches nearby I would also like to visit :)

Rustic Pumpkin said...

Such history and content. I think you need your fruit crumble to fortify you after this one. So much to see and explore.

Ragged Robin said...

Rustic Pumpkin - Thank you. Must admit a crumble would have gone down well after I had finished the rather lengthy post :)

CherryPie said...

I enjoyed my virtual tour of this lovely church.

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie - Thank you so much.