In a series of projects designed to improve the church building as both a place of worship and suitable venue for local events, a glimpse into its past is being unearthed. This has also shed greater light on the town’s former residents and the history of local schools.
The church is working with building regulators to modernise facilities to make it more practical and accessible for community events, with improvements to include a kitchen, new toilet facilities and a crèche.
The Friends of the Parish Church donated funds for the current project, as have East Northamptonshire District Council whose £20,000 contribution was given in recognition of St Peter’s as a growing and significant community space.
The Parochial Church Council has implemented plans to modernise the medieval Parvis (Priest’s Room), situated above the church’s main south entrance. Believed to have been constructed in the 1480s, the room which is accessed via a tiny, narrow spiral staircase has deteriorated steadily across the centuries. As an investigation went underway recently, experts were greeted with a time-capsule which first needed immediate forensic investigation.
Specialists from both Leicester and Nottingham Universities were called in to assess the timber in the room. They discovered that death watch beetle had been responsible for much of the decay. Further investigation revealed burn-marks on the fireplace lintel which were inscribed, it is thought, in a pre-reformation practice designed to ward off evil spirits. The lighting of fires may have helped in this regard but the experts believe that one has not burned there for 300 years.
Dendrochronologists analysed the tree rings and discovered that they ranged in age from the sixteenth century to the 1720s. It has even been possible to identify the exact woodland in the nearby village of Apethorpe from which the timber was extracted. The traditional hallmarks of the original joiners have also been uncovered, as well as graffiti, some as recent as the 1960s.
It is hoped to use the space as a meeting room and office for church clergy, but it will be a challenge when it comes to decorating the room, as well as getting furniture up the staircase. Malcom Winder said: ‘I suppose we may well have to lower stuff into the room by crane before the roof is rebuilt.’
It is widely accepted that the porch was originally built by Robert and Joan Wyatt who added the extension to a structure on a site whose history dates back to 709 with the foundation of a monastery on the site by St Wilfrid. This so-called Priest’s Room was also to become one of the town’s very earliest school rooms.
Local boy William Laxton was educated here in the 1500s before he moved to London to become eight times Master of the Worshipful Company of Grocers and Lord Mayor of London. The subsequent Laxton Grammar School and today’s Oundle School are his legacy.