Church roof is lifted for restoration

In recent years, St Peter’s Church has been undergoing a six-phase restoration programme. Developments have resulted in the installation of iron gates and automatic glass doors, as well as the conversion of the Lady Chapel and renovation of the interior on the west side where the choir balcony and toilets are situated. The work on the building has so far cost about £200,000, raised from a variety of sources, including The Friends of the Parish Church.

The most recent of these projects was the restoration of the 15th century parvis room or ‘priest’s room’, located above the entrance. Robert and Joan Wyatt formed the Guild of Our Lady of Oundle in 1485 and funded the construction of the parvis, as well as the south porch. It is probable that William Laxton, the founder of Oundle School, was educated by the Guild, possibly even in the parvis itself.

Beams that had been fitted within the room between 1642 and 1721 were scrawled with historic graffiti, but had been gradually become rotten and riddled with holes from wood worm and death watch beetle. Specialists from Nottingham employed dendrochronology to date the wood and determined that the wood originated from the same source as that used to construct parts of Apethorpe Palace.

st peters parvis 1

A much later Samson post that had been installed in the middle of the parvis room was holding up the roof and distributing a dangerous amount of weight onto the ceiling of the church’s porch.

During the repair of the lead roof, the ridge beam of the parvis room had to be lifted in by manpower, and was considered to be the most challenging aspect of the room’s restoration.

Because the staircase up to the room, which has to be ascended with the help of a rope, is too narrow, furnishings had to be lowered into the room whilst the roof was off.

The parvis room will now be used by St Peter’s as an office space for both work and individual meetings with members of the community.

St Peter’s, which has the tallest spire in the county at 210 feet, was founded by St Wilfred of Northumbria in the 7th century. The entire complex was built over the site of a pre-Norman conquest monastery but the only surviving relic of this era is a coffin lid.

Although originally a Norman Church, the building was extended in the 13th century, and the spire rebuilt in 1634. The interior was restored by Sir G Gilbert Scott in 1864.

The church’s most interesting artefact is the 15th century lectern, believed to be from Fotheringhay Church. During the Civil War, the Roundheads threw it into the Nene. In the 19th century it was recovered from the river and returned to St Peter’s.

Malcolm Winder, the project manager, said that the redecoration of the community kitchen and the repair of the Grocers’ stained glass window are next on the programme’s agenda for the church’s restoration and improvement.

Millicent Riordan
May 2020