The clock is ticking and there are now less than 3 weeks left before I set off from St Peter’s Winterbourne Stoke to St Peter’s Rome on a 1,600 mile journey into the unknown to help raise funds to repair the leaking roof at St Peter’s Church, of which I am the Treasurer. The walk will take me via Salisbury to Winchester along the Clarendon Way, thence to Canterbury along the Pilgrims’ Way and across Europe to Rome along the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrim route that has been in use by English pilgrims to Rome since the Dark Ages. It is an exciting prospect, but also, if I’m to be totally honest, a rather daunting one!
So why am I embarking on this slightly bonkers venture? I am 57, have never walked more than 300 miles in one go in my life, and my training over the last 6 months for the journey ahead has comprised nothing more strenuous than a bit of light gardening and a couple of daily dog walks! It is hardly the sort of training regime that would set Bear Grylls’ pulse racing!
The simple answer to that question is that St Peter’s Church needs some urgent repairs to its roof and we currently don’t have sufficient funds in the kitty to afford them! Parts of the roof leak, and although it is probably not in danger of imminent collapse, without urgent attention, the condition of the roof is only likely to deteriorate further. Hence the decision to set up the Raise the Roof Appeal and embark on a 1,600 mile charity walk.
So why go to all the effort of raising funds for St Peter’s? Well, apart from having been married in the church to Olivia in 2015 and living adjacent to the church, there is the little matter of history, a subject dear to my heart. So let’s delve a little deeper into the history of St Peter’s Church and help explain why I am going to the extreme lengths of trying to raise the funds necessary to keep it open as a place for regular worship, weddings, christenings and funerals and as a communal hub for a range of village activities for young and old.
St Peter’s is a Norman church whose origins predate the Norman Conquest in 1066. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, when it was held by King William, in 1066 St Peter’s was held by Queen Edith. She was the wife of King Edward the Confessor and sister to the last Anglo Saxon monarch – King Harold., who famously died at the Battle of Hastings with an arrow through his eye. Some historians believe may that it was Queen Edith who may have created the Bayeux Tapestry. So St Peter’s has royal connections!
According to the Domesday Book, in 1086 the population of Winterbourne Stoke (or Wintreburn as it is called) totalled 50 individuals comprising 15 villagers, 15 small holders, 11 slaves and 5 freedmen.
Although little survives of the original Norman structure of the church, St Peter’s can boast an impressive and distinctive 12th century Norman doorway which gives some idea of the importance of the church during that period.
In 1825 the church featured in William Cobbett’s ‘Rural Rides‘ when it was described as ‘ a church sufficient to contain two or three thousand people’ . This was probably a printer’s error with two to three hundred people being a more accurate figure for the congregation at that time! In 1851 two services were usually held each Sunday in summer, one each Sunday for the rest of the year: in summer the morning congregation totalled around 110 adults, the afternoon one around 150 and around 70 children attended Sunday school.
Sadly, like many small rural churches, congregation numbers at St Peter’s have dwindled steadily over the last 200 years since William Cobbett’s day and nowadays services are limited to once a month. But the church is still used regularly for ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’ and plans are afoot to develop it into a communal hub so the village can use it for a range of communal activities. Hopefully my walk to Rome will provide the spark of ignite fund raising activities and ensure that St Peter’s can remain open for regular worship for many more years to come. As an old Chinese proverb goes, ‘the journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step’.