A Brief History of St Peter’s | St Peter's Great Berkhamsted

The Church of St Peter Great Berkhamsted


st Peter's Church exterior

St Peter’s was built in 1222 just a few short years after the Magna Carta was signed and has been here for the people of Berkhamsted through the centuries, witnessing a siege at Berkhamsted Castle, the Crusades, two World Wars including soldiers arriving at Kitchener’s field to train at the trenches, the growth of a bustling market town and so many life events – baptisms, marriages and funerals – for past residents of our popular town.

Read on for a potted history of our church…

Thirteenth Century

Before 1222: Until St Peter’s was built, the parish church of the parish of Berkhamsted was almost certainly what we now know as St Mary’s Northchurch

1200: At about this date the work of building St Peter’s began

1215: The siege of Berkhamsted Castle by Prince Louis of France interrupted the building of the church

Animation of the growth of St Peter's Church 1200-1356

1222: Consecration

The new building was consecrated and the first Rector was installed by the Bishop of Lincoln. By 1250 the building was completed, consisting of the aisled nave, the central tower, the chancel, the transepts and the Lady Chapel.

Fourteenth Century

St John’s Chantry, St Catherine’s Chapel, the clerestory and the great west window were added to the church and new and larger windows were put into the transepts and the Lady Chapel

Fifteenth & Sixteenth Centuries

Fifteenth Century: New windows were put into the north and south aisles

Sixteenth century: The upper stage of the tower was added – the gift of John and Alice Phyllyp..

Roundhead Sir Thomas Fairfax (1612–1671

Civil War

During the Civil War, Royalist soldiers captured at the siege of Colchester were imprisoned in St Peter’s

Berkhamsted poet and hymnodist William Cowper (1731–1800)

Eighteenth Century

Mainly a time of neglect. In the 1720s the roof of St John’s Chantry collapsed.
John Cowper, father of the poet William Cowper was Rector 1722-56

Nineteenth Century

cannon firing

1809: Cannon hoisted onto the roof of St Peter’s and a salvo fired to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of King George III. This must have been quite an occasion!

Architect Sir Jeffry Wyatt (or Wyatville, 1766–1840)

1820: Restoration work begins

Restoration of St Peter’s directed by Jeffrey Wyatt. At the same time he was also directing the building of Ashridge House.


The familiar St Peter's Clock

New clock (the present one) introduced and bells recast to celebrate the accession of Queen Victoria

1842: A new Cemetery

A new churchyard – now Rectory Lane Cemetery, was created.

Architect William Butterfield (1814–1900)

1868-88: Victorian restoration

Restoration of St Peter’s directed by William Butterfield. All the flintwork and stonework of the exterior as we see it today dates from this restoration. To mark the completion of the work, the Archbishop of Canterbury preached at St Peter’s in January 1888.

The marble War Memorial inside St Peter's

Twentieth Century

1920: War memorial unveiled in the north aisle

1940: Iron railings around the churchyard sacrificed to the war effort


1922: the 700th Anniversary

The Town Celebrates the 700th Anniversary of St Peter’s Church with a historical Pageant Play in Berkhamsted Castle

1958-60: Raising the roof!

Restoration and re-ordering of St Peter’s at a cost of £24,000 (£480,000 in today’s money). A new roof, the one we see today, replaced one of late medieval age – decayed beyond repair.


Restoration and re-ordering of St Peter’s at a cost of £225,000 (£618,750 in today’s money). New heating, new lighting, new organ, redecoration, cleaning and repair of external stonework.


The Parish of St Peter’s Berkhamsted celebrates 800 years at the heart of Berkhamsted, and looks forward to the future with hope.

Find out more

Read more about the rich history of St Peter’s Great Berkhamsted: 

A Short History of St Peter’s 

800th Celebrations

Find out how you can take part in the town’s 2022 celebrations fort the 800th anniversary of St Peter’s Berkhamsted

800 Years of Celebration


St Peter’s Great Berkhamsted 1222-2022


Celebrate 800 years of St Peter's Berkhamsted - 1222-2022