- West door & Font
- The Nave
- Queen Elizabeth I
- Boer War memorials
- The Millennium Window
- The Cooper Window
- World War I Memorial
- The Light of the World window
- Sir John Cornwallis
- Tower pier
- North Transept & Lady Chapel
- North Transept window
- Catherine Donne tomb
- Lady chapel windows
- John Sayer’s tomb
- Henry of Berkhamsted’s tomb
- Salve Regina inscription
- Old Chancel
- Old High Altar
- East Window
- The Crossing
- The Altar
- List of Rectors
- View of the West Window
- St Catherine’s Chapel
- Farqharson memorial
- St Catherine’s Chapel
- South Transept
- South Transept window
- Fleur-de-lys tile
- St John’s Chantry
- St John’s Chantry windows
- John Raven memorial
- Smith-Dorrien Monument
- The South Aisle
- The South Aisle window
- Richard & Margaret Torrington
- Thomas Baldwin monument
- Captain Hardwick-Terry memorial
- Katherine & Robert Incent
800 years of Christian witness
St Peter's church is the oldest surviving building in Berkhamsted town centre and architecturally the most important. The original cruciform building dates from the early thirteenth century and like many churches, has been added to and re-ordered over the centuries. In this constantly evolving church many interesting and historically significant memorials and features which connect us with our forebears, enrich our present and inspire us for the future. This sacred space resonates with the legacy of 800 years of craftsmanship and Christian witness.
These stones that have echoed their praises are holy,
and dear is the ground where their feet have once trod;
yet here they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims,
and still they were seeking the city of God.
We warmly welcome visitors to our church and hope you will enjoying exploring its beautiful architecture with the help of this guide.
Click/tap the dots on the plan of the church to view each point of interest.
This guide also works on a smartphone such as an iPhone. Load this page on your phone when you come to visit to view points of interest around the building.
West door & Font
Just inside the west door is the font, made of marble and newly introduced when the church was restored in 1870 by William Butterfield. Its position at the entrance to the church reflects its use in Holy Baptism, the rite that admits individuals to the Christian Church.
The nave is unusually long for a parish church, the full length of the church measuring 168 ft (51.2m) from the east end to the west door. The nave dates from the early 13th century, and was built soon after the chancel was completed. The aisles were added later in the 13th century, and in the second half of the 14th century the roof was raised and a clerestory added. The roof you see today dates from 1956-60 and replaced the medieval tie-beam roof. It is decorated with the arms of the Incent and Torrington families.
You may notice that the pillars are not straight but lean outward. This is not caused by a structural problem – it appears that they were built like this. Nobody knows for sure, but it may have been a deliberate design by the medieval builders to strengthen the building.
Most of the pillars are circular in cross-section, but for some unknown reason, three nearest the altar are of a quatrefoil shape (four circles). The pillars were once decorated with paintings of the Apostles and St George and the Dragon which had been covered with whitewash; they were rediscovered in 1728 but finally completely removed during Butterfield’s renovations in the 1870s.
Another oddity of the church can be observed from the nave: if you look straight ahead towards the altar, you will see that the east window is off-centre. In fact, the plan of the church is not straight - the chancel is angled slightly to the south-east. It is sometimes argued that this feature, which can be seen in many medieval churches, was deliberately introduced to signify human imperfection.
Queen Elizabeth I
On the wall of the north aisle is a painted board bearing the Royal Coat-of-Arms of Queen Elizabeth I. From the time of Henry VIII it was common for churches to display the coat of arms of the reigning monarch. It may seem surprising that this example survived the iconoclasm of Cromwell’s day, but in fact it is an 18th century re-painting. Elizabeth's coat of arms differs from that of our present Queen Elizabeth – being supported not by the lion and the unicorn, but by the lion guardant of England and the red dragon of Wales. An attached panel bears the text:
This mighty Queene is dead and lives,
And leaves the world to wonder,
How she a maiden Queen did rule,
Few Kings have gone beyond her.
Below this we find a Berkhamsted connection with Scottish nobility marked with a modest Neoclassical marble tablet, which commemorates Mark Lord Somerville, one of the Somervilles of Drum House, Gilmerton, near Edinburgh, who died in Berkhamsted in 1842.
Boer War memorials
Here are two memorials to Berkhamsted townsmen of the Berkhamsted Company 2nd (Herts) V.B. Bedfordshire Regiment who fell in the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902).
The lower panel features a touching relief image of war wounded being taken into a covered wagon and is signed by Gilbert Bayes, a notable Art Deco sculptor who designed the Selfridges clock and reliefs on BBC Broadcasting House in London.
The Millennium Window
This new window is engraved glass by David Peace and Sally Scott which was installed in the Millennium year, the first new window in over 100 years. It celebrates the work of the Berkhamsted poet William Cowper who was born in Berkhamsted and who saw God’s presence in the beauty of nature. The window depicts St Peter’s Church, Victoria School and the Bridgewater Monument in Ashridge surrounded by trees and wildlife. In the lower panel panes, Cowper’s pet hares are seen frolicking. Three hares are also an ancient mystical symbol used in medieval churches and synagogues.
The inscriptions are taken from Cowper’s writings:
“Return, O holy Dove, return! Sweet the messenger of rest!”
(top light, from Olney Hymn, Oh! for a closer walk with God)
“So shall our walk be close to God”
“Let everlasting thanks be Thine
For such a bright display
As makes a world of darkness shine.”
(right pane, from ‘The Task’)
This window replaced faded Victorian glass which had been installed in 1872 in memory of a Revd Bullock, curate of Folkestone Parish Church, who drowned in Lake Neuchâtel.
The Cooper Window
This fine example of Victorian stained glass is the work of Nathaniel Westlake, a leading designer of the Gothic Revival movement, although the Perpendicular stone tracery is probably 15th century. The window was installed in memory of William Cooper (1813-1885) — the manufacturer of the world-famous Cooper’s Sheep Dip in Berkhamsted in the 1850s, and not the 18th-century poet William Cowper (for memorials to the poet, see points 5, 15 and 22).
In the window lights, images of angels and saints are shown surrounding Christ. The saints’ names written faintly in their haloes. Several bear mottoes on scrolls of paper (a sort of medieval equivalent of cartoon speech bubbles) containing Latin quotes from the ancient Christian hymn, the Te Deum:
|1 Top section||The small lights at the top contain figures of humans and angels bearing the mottoes:
"Tibi omnes Angeli (proclemant)" - "To thee all Angels cry aloud" and
"Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus" - "The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee".
|2 Left light upper||Two kneeling figures:
St John the Evangelist
Motto: "Te gloriósus Apostolorum chorus" - "The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee"
The Virgin Mary
Motto: "Te per orbem terrárum sancta confitetur Ecclesia" - "The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee"
|3 Central light middle||Central figure: Christ Enthroned in Majesty, a traditional depiction of Jesus that dates back to the Early Church. Jesus is shown sitting on a throne in heaven after the Resurrection, his right hand raised in blessing. Christ's hands and feet bear the scars of the Crucifixion, and above his head is the hand of God the Father pointing down in blessing.|
|4 Right light upper||Two kneeling figures:
St Joseph, holding a wooden staff with liles blooming from the top. This symbol comes from a medieval story called The Golden Legend.
Motto: "Te ergo quæsumus, tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemísti" - "We therefore pray thee, help thy servants whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood."
St John the Baptist
Motto: "Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus" - The noble army of Martyrs praise thee.
|5 Left light lower||Two English Saints:
King Edward the Confessor, one of the last Saxon Kings of England before the Norman Conquest; note Edward’s three-dimensional exquisitely jewelled robes in this window.
St Hugh of Lincoln, 12th-century Bishop of Lincoln, who installed the first Rector of St Peter's in 1222. Hugh (or Hugo) had a lasting friendship with a swan, which followed him everywhere.
|6 Central light lower||Two Saints:
St Clement (Pope Clement I), 1st-century pope, said to have been consecrated by Saint Peter himself. He is shown wearing the papal tiara and vestments and holding a papal cross.
St Catherine of Alexandria, with the wheel of her martyrdom, the Catherine wheel, and carrying a palm branch, a symbol of martyrdom. There is also a chapel in St Peter's Church dedicated to St Catherine.
|7 Right light upper||Two Saints:
St Leonard, who according to legend, freed prisoners from their chains, and he is traditionally depicted holding broken manacles. There are many churches dedicated to Leonard in Sussex and the Midlands
St Thomas Beckett, England’s most famous saint who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral; he is shown with a sword piercing his bishop’s mitre. In the mid-12th century, Thomas was in charge of Berkhamsted Castle.
Try to find two hidden "NHW" signatures, the initials of Nathaniel Hubert Westlake, etched into the stained glass by the artist.
World War I Memorial
This marble memorial commemorates the men of Berkhamsted who lost their lives in World War One (1914-18), It is embellished with a crucifix and the arms of the town, a shield displaying a castle on a golden background. A total of 141 names are inscribed here, an arresting reminder of the enormity of the loss felt by this and many other towns across Britain during the conflict. Many of these names are also written on the town war memorial which stands outside the west door of this church.
The Light of the World window
The window close to the pulpit is another example of Perpendicular-style stone tracery, possibly of 15th century origin. The glass is Victorian, designed by Heaton & Butler. The left panel shows Christ as the Good Shepherd, a typical 19th Century illustration of Christ.
The right panel is based on the famous 1854 painting The Light of the World by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. Three versions of this painting exist – in Keble College, Oxford, Manchester Art Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral – and it has been widely copied in stained glass in churches all over the world. This enduring image of Christ is an illustration of the words from Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Jesus stands in a dark forest holding a lantern and knocking at a door, asking us to let Him into our hearts. It is significant that the door has no handle on the outside. Christ cannot enter unless we admit him.
The window was installed in memory of William Longman who died in 1877; he was a member of the family that founded Longmans publishers,. William authored books on mountaineering, History of the Life and Times of Edward III and A History of the Three Cathedrals dedicated to St. Paul in London. The choice of the Holman Hunt painting was undoubtedly inspired by his love of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Sir John Cornwallis
This is the tomb of Sir John Cornwallis (c.1491–1544), a member of the Council of Prince Edward (later King Edward VI). The remains of an elaborate coat of arms are preserved in the top.
Next to this is the Parish Chest. Originally used to hold valuable parish documents, it has three locks so that it could only be opened by three keyholders – the Rector and the two Churchwardens. It is in fact a domestic chest and bears the initials JL, possibly indicating that it was given to the church by John Lane, Rector from1568 to 1574.
Above this, a square memorial plaque commemorates one of the most affecting stories of loss in the First World War, in which three brothers of the same Bekhamsted family were all killed in action:
Alexander Dalzell Sprunt (aged 24)
Edward Lawrence Sprunt (aged 22)
Gerald Harper Sprunt (aged 21)
The inscription includes a personal expression of sympathy from King George V. A copy of this plaque is also in Berkhamsted School chapel. A plate was added later in memory of their parents.
The angels on the oak pulpit are fine examples of the work of the West-country craftsman Harry Hems and date from 1910. Their wistful features seem to reflect a Pre-Raphaelite influence. An inscription within the pulpit records that they were added to it in memory of Mrs Mary Ann Smith-Dorrien by her fourteen children.
A small plaque mounted on the tower pier behind the pulpit makes a mysterious reference to the decoration of the wall. Sophia Jane Hutchinson’s husband mentioned here was in fact James Hutchinson, Rector of St Peter’s 1851-1871. The decoration in question was not the white paint you see today but a huge wall painting, which adorned the whole crossing wall, reviving the medieval tradition of wall decoration in English parish churches. Designed in an Arts & Crafts style, it depicted the Ascension of Christ. Over the years, the condition of the wall plaster deteriorated and eventually the painting was lost. Similar works can still be seen today in the parish churches of neighbouring Little Gaddesden (Burnet), Northchurch and Tring (J Powell & Sons).
Curious carvings have been discovered on this pillar, which appear not to be mason’s marks but musical notes. They are of uncertain origin but may have been etched several hundred years ago by a clergyman to help him to remember an intonation such as a Gloria.
North Transept & Lady Chapel
The bright and spacious north transept is separated by an octagonal column from the lovely vaulted Lady Chapel which today provides a tranquil area for smaller services of worship. These areas were undoubtedly part of the original early 13th century building but the present windows were evidently inserted in the 14th century. The timber roof dates from Butterfield’s 1870 restoration.
The set of four diamond-shaped panels on the wall are 19th-century funerary hatchments.
During the Middle Ages, when a member of the nobility died, his “achievements” (armour, sword and shield displaying his coat of arms) were carried in the funeral procession and laid up in the church in or near the grave. Over the centuries, as battle armour fell out of use, black-framed heraldic paintings were used instead. A custom very common in England from the 17th to the 19th century was to display this board on the house front to give notice of the death to the neighbourhood and to act as a sign of mourning; they would later be moved to the parish church. The word “hatchment” is a corruption of “achievements”.
All these hatchments date from the 1840s; soon afterwards, as modern communications developed, the fashion for displaying them ended.
These hatchments commemorate local people:
The motto Resurgam appears on three hatchments – Latin for “I shall rise again”.
North Transept window
The windows of the North Transept display good examples of curvilinear tracery, typical of the 14th century.
The glass in the north window of the North Transept is Victorian, introduced in 1852 as a memorial to members of the Dorrien family. It was designed by the Whitefriars Glass Company, which was owned by the Powell family and was noted for the production of pressed glass with part of the decorative effect being achieved by a pattern moulded in the glass.
The North Transept window is flanked by two fine neoclassical memorials; to the left, Elizabeth Parker and to the right, several members of the Dorrien-Smith family are commemorated.
Catherine Donne tomb
In the floor of the north transept (hidden under a panel of carpet) is a memorial slab recording the death of of Catherine Donne and her daughter Anne Cowper. Catherine was related to the 16th-century poet and divine John Donne and was the grandmother of the 18th-century poet William Cowper. Her daughter, Ann, gave birth to William in 1731, but died only six years later in 1737. She was the wife of the Revd John Cowper, Rector of St Peter's from 1722 to 1756. Sadly, six of their other children died in infancy and were also buried here, along with their mother.
This rather poignant tombstone connects us to Berkhamsted's literary heritage, as we discover links not only with Cowper, but with a long English tradition of divine poetry writing.
Lady chapel windows
The Lady Chapel windows are set in 14th century stone tracery which displays features of both the Decorated and the Perpendicular styles. The carving around one of the windows includes the distinctive 'ball-flower' motif, fashionable in the early 14th century. However, these are not the original windows and traces of the older Early English window arches are still visible.
The Victorian stained glass in the right-hand window on the east side of the Lady Chapel is also by the Whitefriars Glass Company. This glass was originally in the east window in the chancel; it was moved to the Lady Chapel in 1872 to make way for a new east window by Clayton & Bell which was installed as a memorial to the poet Cowper.
John Sayer’s tomb
The large black and white marble chest tomb is that of John Sayer. He was a loyal adherent of Charles II during his exile and became his chief cook after the Restoration. Sayer lived at Berkhamsted Place and he is mentioned in the Diary of Samuel Pepys. In 1661, Pepys wrote,
"...I went with Captain Morrice at his desire into the King’s Privy Kitchen to Mr. Sayres, the Master Cook, and there we had a good slice of beef or two to our breakfast, and from thence he took us into the wine cellar where, by my troth, we were very merry, and I drank too much wine, and all along had great and particular kindness from Mr. Sayres, but I drank so much wine that I was not fit for business.”
On his death, Sayer left £1000 to build the widows’ Almshouses which stand on Berkhamsted High Street to this day.
The Latin inscription on Sayer’s tomb translates:
John Sayer, Esquire, to his most serene highness King Charles II chief cook, contantly attached to him in the most difficult times both at home and abroad in his kingdoms of England and Scotland. Towards God singularly pious, towards needy neighbours especially he always exercised charity, and he left £1,000 to the poor of this town of Berkhamsted, deferring its disposal to the prudence of his most beloved wife Mary by whom he left behind three sons of excellent character, John, Edward and Joseph. He died the 11th day of February 1682. Aged 63
Henry of Berkhamsted’s tomb
The Totternhoe Stone tomb supporting the recumbent figures of a knight and his lady is thought to be that of Henry of Berkhamsted and his wife. Henry was Constable of Berkhamsted Castle in the mid-14th century and served with Edward the Black Prince in France at the Battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356).
The tomb originally stood on the north side of the nave and has suffered some damage from being moved several times. The knight is represented in armour, his hands held in prayer, his head resting on a helmet and his feet supported by a lion. He wears a hood, a chain-mail gorget (collar) and a sash, upon which lies a rose; a dove symbol is on his breastplate. The lady wears an elegant dress, a hairnet and a rose on each shoulder.
This was once thought to be the tomb of Richard and Margaret Torrington. The heraldic shields around the base include the crests of the Incent and Torrington families, suggesting that Henry may have been a member of the Torrington family, perhaps married to an Incent, or an Incent married to a Torrington. The heraldry also features the fork-tailed (queue fourchée) lion of the Burghersh family at the lady’s head. This may indicate a family link with Geoffrey Chaucer, clerk of works at Berkhamsted Castle in the 1380s, whose son married into the Burghersh family.
Despite damage, this is a fine example of a medieval knight’s tomb. The historical scholar John Weever noted in his book Ancient Funerall Monuments(1631) that this tomb was painted in bright colours, and traces of red paint can still be seen inside Henry’s helmet even today.
Edward the Black Prince is not buried in Berkhamsted but in Canterbury Cathedral – his bronze tomb (1376) is of a similar design to Henry’s and is well worth a visit.
Salve Regina inscription
If you look at the north face of the tower pier (to the right of Henry’s tomb) you may be able to see an ancient inscription. It says Virgo mater ecclesiæ, eterna porta gloriæ – these are words from the Salve Regina which mean “Virgin Mother of the Church, eternal gate of glory”.
The date is uncertain, but the veneration of the Virgin Mary, and the style of lettering, suggest that this a pre-Reformation inscription and is evidence that the dedication of this chapel as a Lady Chapel has ancient origins.
The Old Chancel at the east end of the church is the original location of the high altar. When the church was re-ordered in 1960 this area was screened off by the reredos which stands behind the present altar. Today the old chancel serves as the vestry for the clergy and choir and it is not open to the public. During Butterfield’s restoration of the church, many ancient grave slabs were removed from this area, but some historic mural monuments have survived:
A 1649 memorial to James and John Murray, the sons of Anne Murray, a prominent Royalist during the Civil War who lived at Berkhamsted Place. Anne was exiled for her Royalist sympathies (she was in a plot to protect the life of the young Duke of York, later King James II, from the Roundheads). The brothers apparently died young, James in 1627 and John in 1634. The inscription describes them as "youths of the most winning disposition who lived and died at Berkhamsted Place".
A tablet to the memory of the mother of poet William Cowper, Ann, who is buried close by (although the grave stone was relocated to the north transept in 1870). The poignant inscribed verse was written in tribute by her friend Lady Walsingham.
Charles Gordon lived in Braco, a village in Trelawny, Jamaica. He bought Pilkington Manor, a house which once stood on the High Street in Berkhamsted, and was buried at St Peter's in 1829.
The small lancet windows contain fragments of the only pre-Reformation glass in St Peter's. These include two royal coats of arms and the arms of Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury 1414-1443. The great East Window is detailed at (22).
Old High Altar
The old high altar is no longer in use for public worship as it is in the area now used as a vestry. Its reredos consists of a tiled crucifixion scene with inlaid ceramic figures set against a background of gilded tiles in an alabaster surround. It is a fine example of an Arts & Crafts style of Biblical illustration, with rich floral and geometric patterns.
Currently no information about the artist is available, but it bears some similarity to Alexander Gibbs’s 1873 tiled decoration in All Saints Margaret Street in London, a renowned Butterfield church.
The east window was installed in 1872 as a memorial to the poet William Cowper (1731–1800). The original glass from this window is now in the Lady Chapel window above the Sayer tomb.
The Cowper window is by the firm of Clayton & Bell, one of the most prolific producers of stained glass in the 19th century. It depicts the Christ the King flanked by the women and disciples going to the empty tomb at the first Easter. The inscription at Christ’s feet is taken from Cowper’s hymn, The Saviour, what a noble flame:
"Salvation to the dying man, And to the rising God"
Cowper himself appears in this window, shown at a prayer desk with his pet hares.
William Cowper was born in 1731 at the Rectory on Rectory Lane, Berkhamsted, the son of the Revd John Cowper, rector of this parish (1722–1756). William was a celebrated writer of poetry and Evangelical hymns and his contribution to English Romantic literature is fondly commemorated in Great Berkhamsted. Cowper’s grave is in St. Nicholas’s Church, East Dereham, in Norfolk.
The old chancel is not open to the public
The crossing is the point where the transepts and nave intersect under the tower. It now serves as the chancel and sanctuary.
The four massive Totternhoe stone piers supporting the tower are actually Norman (Romanesque) in origin - there are similar forms in the Norman work of the cathedrals at Durham and Norwich.
The carved details seen here are in the 13th century architectural style termed Early English, with clustered columns, and bases and capitals typical of that period. We call the style Early English, but it was equally fashionable in Normandy and originated there. Comparable work can be seen in French churches such as the Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen (built around 1166-1200). The bases are carved in a hollow “water-holding” form, which was fashionable in England between about 1155 and 1240. Look up to notice the small carved medieval faces. The large dove in the ceiling, a traditional symbol of the Holy Spirit, also dates from the 1960 re-ordering.
The stonework of the great tower piers bears many masons' marks and the same masons’ marks have been discovered on interior stonework from the same period in St Alban's Abbey. Records at St Albans indicate that the Early English work at the west end was begun by John de Cella, who was Abbot between 1195 and 1214. St Peter’s was probably consecrated in 1222 and it seems likely that the same masons worked on both buildings, and that the crossing was part of the original building.
The decorated reredos behind the present high altar was originally a 15th-century rood screen which stood further forward, separating the nave from the crossing and chancel. The carved figures were added by the Smith-Dorrien family in 1903 as thanksgiving for the safe homecoming of three family members after the Boer War
When the church was re-ordered in 1960, the screen was moved to its present position, screening off the old chancel, which now serves as the vestry. A plaque on the north-west stone pier, commemorating the Smith-Dorrien gift, marks the original location of the screen.
The figures depicted on the screen are (left to right):
List of Rectors
On the southwest tower pier is a long panel listing the Rectors of Berkhamsted from the 13th century to the present day. Note the rapid succession of incumbents during the 14th century – this was when England was ravaged by the Black Death, a form of bubonic plague. The instability of the English Civil War is not, however, revealed in this list - in 1650 the Revd John Napier was apparently ejected to make way for an “intruder” priest, David Bramley, installed by Parliament, but after the Restoration of the Monarchy Napier returned to his post in 1661. He appears however to have remained in Berkhamsted with his wife Ann during Bramley's incumbency and they had seven children baptised in St Peter's between 1648 and 1656.
Notable names among these rectors include:
- John de Waltham (1379-1380), later Bishop of Salisbury, who enjoyed an especially close relationship with King Richard II; he was the only commoner ever to be buried in the Chapel of Edward the Confessor at in Westminster Abbey;
- Revd John Cowper (1722-1756), father of the poet and hymn-writer William Cowper;
- Revd John Wolstenholme Cobb (1871 to 1883), author of The History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted (1855) who also oversaw Butterfield’s restoration of the building. A separate small plaque on this pier also commemorates Cobb’s death.
View of the West Window
Standing in the aisle in front of the sanctuary, look back down the nave and you have a good view of the Great West Window. This is from the workshop of Heaton, Butler and Bayne and it shows a variety of saints and Biblical scenes. It was exhibited at the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris where it won a Bronze Medal (Class XVI – Crystal, Fancy Glass & Stained Glass – British section)
The uppermost light bears an image of St Katherine with the wheel; on the bottom row, note also the furthest light on the right, which portrays the martyrdom of St Andrew. The images draw on medieval illustration to depict the clothes and architecture of the Holy Land, but this window is a departure from Victorian Gothic with its almost garish colours and simple forms which look forward to the Arts & Crafts movement and Art Nouveau.
St Catherine’s Chapel
To the south of the old chancel is St Catherine's Chapel. This small chapel is thought to be of 14th century origin. It was restored between 1890 and 1909 and the stained glass and the alabaster reredos date from this time.
At the altar, the reredos is a nativity scene showing Mary and Joseph standing over the infant Jesus, carved in the late medieval style. It is a copy of the 15th-century high altar screen of Winchester Cathedral.
The east window (above the altar) celebrates Holy Baptism, Holy Orders and Holy Eucharist. It is by another successful Victorian stained glass firm – Heaton, Butler & Bayne – who also designed the great west window in the nave.
The tracery of the St Catherine Chapel window appears to be of a medieval origin, designed with a reticulated (net-like) pattern which was fashionable in the Decorated period (early 14th century), however it is uncertain whether the tracery is medieval or was inserted during Wyatville’s restoration of the church in the 1820s.
Among the St Catherine's Chapel wall monuments are several of 16th century date commemorating members of the Waterhouse family.
High up on the north wall we find a Jacobite connection to Berkhamsted. This is the barely legible tombstone of Rachel Farquharson, who died in Berkhamsted in 1757. Little is known of her life, but her brother, Francis Farquharson, was a colonel in the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 Jacobite Rising. He was captured at the Battle of Culloden and, after years of imprisonment, was exiled to Berkhamsted. When he was pardoned in 1766 he returned to Scotland and built up the village of Ballater in Abdeenshire. He died in 1790 and was buried in Crathie Kirk near Balmoral.
St Catherine’s Chapel
In the St Catherine Chapel there are two notable medieval tomb recesses in the south wall which are typical of the Decorated Period (c.1250-1350). One of the recesses contains an early tomb slab carved with a floriated cross. When this chapel served as a vestry and organ loft in the late 19th century a doorway was cut through the more westerly recess, which has since been blocked up and the stonework restored.
Above these tomb recesses are two fine examples of Victorian stained glass.
The window closest to the altar depicts St Christopher, the Christ-bearer. It is signed by T.F. Curtis, of the Victorian glass firm Curtis, Ward & Hughes.
The next window along, by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, shows St Francis of Assisi, and was donated by the Sunday School teachers and children in 1901.
The south transept area behind the organ contains some handsome 19th century neoclassical wall monuments to members of the Walker family. Most striking, however, is the large 18th century marble monument to Elizabeth Cradock of Ashlyns, a member of the Wethered family of Ashlyns, who died in 1703 (not 1704 as inscribed on her monument – no doubt the mistake of the mason carving the memorial in 1704). The inscription eulogises her charitable nature and her “unshaken fidelity to the crown”, which may refer to the Wethered family’s historic Royalist connections – Her father Francis Wethered was Comptroller of the King's Works to Charles II following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. The presence of a carved skull on this monument looks frightening to modern eyes, but it was a common device in past centuries to remind viewers of their own mortality. The skull is crowed with laurels, a Classical symbol of victory, perhaps representing victory over death.
The roof here was raised by several feet during Butterfield’s 1870 restoration, although the corbels which supported the old roof can still be seen.
The oak porch, installed in 2012, was a gift to this church by the late John Cook, a former mayor of Berkhamsted, and is inscribed with the cross keys emblem of St Peter.
South Transept window
The fine window in the south transept depicts the Resurrection of the Dead described in the Book of Revelation, and was installed as a memorial to Sophia Curtis, who is depicted in the third light from the west.
It is the work of Clayton & Bell, one of Victorian Britain’s most prolific and proficient stained glass workshops, and it dates from 1873 when the firm was approaching its greatest renown. Among Clayton & Bell’s most famous works are the west window in King's College, Cambridge and the mosaics on the Albert Memorial in London.
The south transept window is a huge declaration of faith; the rising of the dead from their graves is presented as the direct outcome of Christ’s passion and death. On heraldic shields held by angels, we see some ancient Christian symbols – the Instruments of the Passion, emotive emblems which were popular in mediæval Christianity, revived here by 19th century Gothic Revival craftsmen:
|The ladder used for the Deposition (removal of Christ's body from the cross), the chalice (Holy Grail) used by Jesus at The Last Supper, and the lantern used by the Roman soldiers when Jesus was betrayed;|
|Whipping post, whip, spear and dice, items used by the Romans during Christ’s torture and execution;|
|The three nails of Christ’s crucifixion set within the Crown of Thorns;|
|The emblem of the Five Wounds of Christ – the hands, feet and heart of Jesus, all said to have been pierced during His crucifixion;|
|IHC – the Sacred Monogram of Christ (a Christogram), abbreviated from the Medieval Greek spelling of Jesus, ΙΗϹΟΥϹ.|
In the 19th century, church restorers were perhaps a little less hesitant about discarding ancient fixtures in churches than we are today, despite the fact that Medieval art was all the rage at the time. When a new floor was being laid in the old chancel in 1870, medieval floor tiles were taken up and disposed of. In a moment of sentimentality, a parishioner rescued this tile, and it was framed and mounted on the southwest pillar supporting the tower. Thought to be 14th century or earlier, this tile is emblazoned with a fleur-de-lys (lily flower), an ancient heraldic symbol associated with the Virgin Mary and French monarchy.
On the east face of this pillar there is an old inscription of uncertain date carved into the stonework:
Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domina
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart…”, the opening words of the Song of Simeon.
St John’s Chantry
The St John's Chantry is occupied by the choir stalls. It was used for many years as a chapel for the boys of Berkhamsted School and until 1870 it was separated from the nave by a screen. The association with the school is reflected in stained glass windows here, two of which commemorate people associated with the school. The tradition of musical education continues today as generations of children develop musical skills by singing in the St Peter’s church choir.
The organ dates from 1986 and is the work of Peter Collins of Redbourne. Its brightly coloured casing is in English oak with decorations in sycamore wood, and is an exemplary piece of late 20th-century casing. It replaces an earlier instrument built by J. W. Walker which used to sit in a loft in the north transept. Some of the Walker pipework was incorporated into the modern instrument. Unusually for a British organ, this instrument now features a Zimbelstern, which was added in 2013 – this is a type of mechanical rotating bell that is more often found on German organs of the Baroque era.
St John’s Chantry windows
The four windows in the St John Chantry are by highly regarded Victorian stained glass firms. From east to west (moving away from the organ) they are:
Faith, Hope and Charity - Heaton & Butler (1869)
- in memory of Caroline Bartrum, wife of Edward Bartrum, Headmaster of the school 1864-1889. Caroline is shown in the top quatrefoil with her young children, representing Charity.
The Sower & the Good Shepherd - Heaton & Butler (1865)
- in memory of John Crawford, Headmaster of the school 1850-1864. Israel's King David is shown in the top quatrefoil.
The last two windows both depict the Annunciation; there is a clear contrast of styles that reflects the 27 years that separate them.
Curtis, Ward & Hughes (1901)
in memory of Adelaide Frances Darroch
Clayton & Bell (1874)
in memory of Mary Cooper, wife of William Cooper (William is commemorated in a window in the north aisle)
John Raven memorial
Look at the stone pillar in the choir stalls; on the side of the pillar there is an engraving of a medieval knight in armour. This is John Raven (died 1385), the squire to Edward the Black Prince (1330-1376), eldest son of King Edward III and father of King Richard II, whose chief residence was at Berkhamsted Castle. This is typical of late medieval memorials, showing the deceased in prayer wearing full battle armour with a lion at his feet. A local road in Bekhamsted, Raven's Lane, is named after John Raven.
The Smith-Dorrien Monument is an outstanding piece of neoclassical monumental sculpture depicting a kneeling female figure in mourning. It commemorates members of the Smith and Smith-Dorrien families, both prominent in Berkhamsted.
The inscriptions reveal the close connections of Bekhamsted with the Isles of Scilly, bearing the names of two Lords Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly Augustus John Smith (1804-1872, also M.P. for Truro) and Thomas Algernon Smith Dorrien (1846-1918).
On the right panel is a touching astronomical tribute toPauline Wilhelmina who died in 1835 aged 15 –
“Bright and brief was her course as a meteor's vanishing into heaven”.
Another notable family member, the World War One army officer General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien, is not mentioned on this monument, but his grave lies across the road from this church in the detached churchyard, which can be approached along Rectory Lane and is often referred to locally as the Rectory Lane Cemetery.
The South Aisle
Two medieval memorials here date from the mid-14th century. We know little of the parishioners commemorated here: Richard Westbroke (died c. 1485) and Margaret Briggs (died c. 1360).
High above these is a highly ornate marble memorial to Henry Johnson (d.1784), a writer who made his fortune with the South Sea Company in South America. The second of his three daughters, Agneta, married Charles Yorke MP. Yorke was appointed Lord Chancellor but died in office after only three days. Sir Joshua Reynolds painted a portrait of Agneta, the Honourable Mrs Charles Yorke, now lost.
Although this memorial dates from the 18th century, it makes reference to the Norman Conquest, proudly asserting Henry Johnson’s noble lineage as a descendant of the Norman Barons De Vesci who came into England with William the Conqueror. It was at Berkhamsted Castle that William accepted the surrender of the English in 1066.
The South Aisle window
The three-light window in the south aisle dates from 1880 and is the work of another of the great Victorian masters of stained glass, Charles Eamer Kempe (1837–1907). A fine example of Gothic Revival design, it shows St Augustine of Canterbury, the Archangel Michael, and St Alban, the patron saint of the diocese. In the head of the window are shields bearing the arms of the Dorrien and Drake families. The Perpendicular-style stone tracery here is probably late 14th/early 15th century.
Kempe was a prolific designer of church fittings, furnishings and windows and his work can be seen in churches and cathedrals all over England including Chester, Gloucester, Hereford, Lichfield, Wells, Winchester, and York. His windows can often be recognised by his trademark of a wheatsheaf.
The window is dedicated to the memory of Robert Algernon Smith Dorrien, a churchwarden and an officer in the Harts (sic) Militia. The Harry Hems pulpit and the Dorrien cross in the churchyard were installed in memory of his wife, Mary Ann (née Drever) who died in 1909.
Richard & Margaret Torrington
Monument to Richard and Margaret Torrington, c.1356
Little is known of the Torringtons but we know that they were an important family in Berkhamsted; Richard may have been responsible for some of the 14th century building work in the church, but there is no direct evidence of this. Above the image of Margaret is the coat of arms of the Incent family, indicating that these families were joined by marriage.
Historians record that the building (particularly the corbels that supported the nave roof) used to be decorated with the Torrington family arms, but they had all vanished by the 19th century. The Torrington and Incent arms were re-instated more recently when the present roof was put in place in 1960.
Medieval monuments almost never depicted human emotion, but occasionally engravings such as this one showed couples holding hands in a touching illustration of love. At his feet is a lion, the symbol of fortitude; at hers two dogs, symbols of faithfulness.
Thomas Baldwin monument
A large wall monument to Thomas Baldwin executed by the distinguished 17th century monumental sculptor Nicholas Stone. Baldwin was Comptroller of the King's Works from 1606 to 1641, overseeing work on buildings such as the Jesus Hospital at Bray, Berkshire and the Bodleian Library, Oxford. After the death of his father, John Baldwin, his mother Agnes married Francis Wethered, whose son, also Francis, became Comptroller of the Kings Works to Charles II after the Restoration in 1660. Agnes is buried in the Wethered vault beneath the south transept.
The Roman numerals used in this Latin inscription follow the peculiar convention adopted by early typesetters of representing 1000 by the Greek letter phi Φ, and the Roman numeral D (for 500) by a letter I and a reversed letter c thus: I Ɔ. The next numerals are C (100), XL (40) and I (1).
Thus the inscription seen here:
cIɔ : Iɔc : xLi
represents the year 1641.
Captain Hardwick-Terry memorial
This small plaque commemorates Captain Leonard Alfred Hardwick-Terry, a soldier and airman in the Royal Engineers and Royal Flying Corps during the First World War, who was killed in 1917. This is an early example of a war memorial to an airborne serviceman, as military aviation had only developed around five years before, in 1912.
Captain Hardwick-Terry's lost his life aged only 21; like so many of his comrades, his loving family marked his loss in Berkhamsted but his remains lie in Aveluy cemetery in France, near the Somme.
Katherine & Robert Incent
Memorial to Katherine Incent (d. March 1521), the wife of Robert Incent, with a full-length portrait of Katherine in her burial shroud. The Incents lived at the house opposite St Peter's Church and were an influential family in the parish during the reign of King Henry VIII. The inscription reads:
Here lyeth buryed und(er) thys stone the bodye of Kateryn sumtyme wife of Robert Incent,Vgent father and mother unto John Incent docto(r) of ye lawe who hath done many benyfyt & ornament given unto thys chapel of Saynt John whyche sayd Kateryn dyed the XII day of Marche ye xii yere of the reygne of kyng Henry the viii.
A little further to the right on this wall is a smaller memorial to Robert Incent (d.1485), a simple inscribed plaque. Robert was the Secretary to Cicely, Duchess of York, the last royal resident at Berkhamsted Castle and the mother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III. He died of the Great Sweating Sickness, a mysterious disease that struck England in the late 15th century. The inscription reads:
Here lyeth buryed and thys stone the body of Robert Incent Gentylman late suant to the nobel pryncess Cecyle duchesse of Yorke & mother unto the worthy kyng Edward and Richard the thyrde whych sayd Robert dyed of the grete swetyng sykeness the first yere of the reygne of kyng Henry the vii upon whose sowlys Jhu have mercy Amen.
The son of Katherine and Robert , John Incent (c. 1480–1545) a lawyer and clergyman who became Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1540 and founded the Berkhamsted School in 1541. John also contributed greatly to the development of the St John Chantry.