History of St. Peter's Church
The parish of Ash today is quite a lot smaller geographically than it was in earlier times. It was formerly part of the Diocese of Winchester, but later in 1927 the Diocese of Guildford was formed and Ash became one of 163 parishes in this new Diocese.
A church, probably wooden in construction, is recorded in the Domesday Book. The landowner at the time was Azor, an Anglo Saxon. (It is likely that he didn't side with Harold as he was still holding the title to his land post 1066)
Azor gifted his lands, including the church, to the Abbot of Chertsey in return for prayers for his soul.
Over the next 500 years Royal houses changed, Kings and Barons signed the Magna Carta, civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster devasted the country. Throughout this time Chertsey Abbey received taxes from the parish and had the right to appoint the priest in charge.
Durng the reign of Henry VIII, monasteries and abbeys were confiscated for the Crown. So for a short period of time St. Peter's Ash was the property of the Crown.
Later, during the reign of Edward VI's, the crown wished to extend the hunting area to Windsor Castle and as the land they required for this extension belonged to the very powerful landlord, Winchester College, an exchange of land between the Crown and the College was made and Ash became the property of Winchester College. Our Patron remains Winchester College today even though the church is now part of Guildford Diocese. Matters, such as the appointment of a new incumbent, still require consultation with Winchester College!
The Church Building
The building listed in the Doomsday Book as part of the valuation carried by William’s tax gatherers was listed under “Henley by Ashe” and was probably of wooden construction. The Norman construction of flint and stone dates back to 1170 and provided a fine Norman door entrance leading into the nave, the priest accessed the chancel via the small door in the south wall. Nothing of great note was changed to this flint and stone building until the 16th century when a stone tower was added to the west end of the church and a porch was erected over the Norman doorway. The tower contained a ring of 4 bells which were rung from the ground floor area. During the Georgian period a gallery was built to the rear of the nave and housed the original organ. This gallery was demolished by the Victorians when a very major extension to the north side of the church was made, creating a new nave and chancel, an organ chamber and a clergy vestry. This extension saw the demolition of the old north wall and the creation of the columns that now run centrally, east to west through the building. The bells were raised and the ringing chamber was created on an upper level freeing up the ground area to become the choir vestry. The small spire was replaced by the very tall spire now sited above the tower section. The incumbent at the time, The Revd. Gilbert Wall Heathcote very generously gave from his own resources to pay for this major work.
The old chancel was curtained off and used as storage space until the altar was set up in 1913 and is now regularly used as Lady Chapel.
The churchyard is approximately 1 acre in size, bounded on the south by a brick wall and hedging on the other sides. The churchyard is a “closed” churchyard for burials by Act of Parliament dated 22 December 1982. The maintenance of the churchyard has passed to Guildford Borough Council. (The cemetery to the rear of the church is the responsibility of Ash Parish Council)
The Lady Chapel
Walking into the church through the wooden framed porch (16th century) to the south door, you have entered the oldest part of the building. To your right is a 17th century, octagonal, wooden, zinc lined baptismal font with cover. The font is traditionally placed by the entrance door symbolizing the newly baptized entering their new life with God. Immediately above your head is a colourful hatchment , a diamond shaped tablet displaying the coat of arms of William Hammersley who lived at Ash Lodge, a retired gentleman from Stoke on Trent. He was born William Spode (of the pottery family) but for whatever reason changed his name to William Hammersley.
Stained Glass Windows:
To your right and passing down Lady Chapel aisle are two stained glass windows, the first, - Simon and Our Lord’s baptism and the next window, given in memory of Helena Wheldon – St Mary Magdalen. Before passing through the oak rood screen, to your left is the “squint” containing the memorial figure of Christ child and children’s shrine in memory of A M Lichfold. Also the banners of the Mothers’ Union and the Youth Groups of St Peters. We have now arrived in Lady Chapel chancel; stained glass windows on the south side depict The Parable of the Sower in memory of C.S. and The Good Shepherd and Lux Mundi both in memory of Revd.G.W. Heathcote. Facing towards the east, behind Lady Chapel altar are 3 windows depicting the Presentation, again in memory of Revd. G W Heathcote. Along the east side is a single window of a saint at prayer. The altar in Lady Chapel is of wood and is Jacobean. To the right of the altar table is a “piscine” a stone bowl used to clean the holy vessels after Mass.
The south wall: a small brass plate in memory of Thomas Manory- 16th century; a small brass plate in memory of Anne, daughter of Thomas Manory. A small solid shield – manors of Ash. In the east wall: a brass tablet in memory of Revd. G W Heathcote, a black marble memorial to Revd. John Harris, a white marble memorial to Revd. B Lovell and Family and another plaque in memory of Edward Dawe, Rector of the parish. There is a small plate in memory of Anne Mayne on the Column and a plate in memory of Judith Harris, wife of the aforementioned John Harris.
The Peace Bell
Walking back down the aisle, you are facing the door into the choir vestry, on the wall to the right of the door is carved oak Peace Bell. This commemorates the fallen of World War 1 and also an increase in bells in the tower (the Peace Bell) to 6. Above the choir vestry door hangs the Royal Coat of Arms of the House of Hanover, since Henry V111’s declaration that the monarch was “The only supreme head on earth of the Church of England” this hanging displays the loyalty of the congregation to that concept.
In the choir vestry are memorials to William and Anne Newham and mother of the above.
Passing down the transept we enter the newest part of the church, this was build in 1864 to plans by the architect, Henry Woodyer, to provide accommodation for the rapidly expanding population of Ash due primarily to the coming of the army to Aldershot. There were quite a large number of army officers and their families who took up residence in Ash Vale. (At this moment in time, Ash Vale was part of St Peter’s parish, St Mary’s church not yet in being).
The Nave – Main Body of the Church
Look to you left, you will be facing the west door which leads to the cemetery and public footpath, the oak porch internally over the west door was built in 1941.
Stained Glass Windows:
On the north wall are three windows depicting Old Testament scenes – in memory of Henry Chester 1919; the centre window of St Helena, Dorcas and Ruth – in memory of Charlotte Chester 1898 and last of the three- scenes from the Old Testament – Samuel – in memory of Frederick James Chester. Inset in the wall just by the pulpit is a 12th century stained glass window of an angel.
Into the Sanctuary, again on the north side, a window in memory of QMS Brooke Handley (1883). St Peter. On the south side a Saint bearing a Chalice (1887) presented by Frances Massey. The five windows behind the High Altar, typifies the Ascension.
The High Altar is of wood and is circa 1864.
Under the 5 stained glass windows behind the High Altar is a very fine mosaic work with marble shafts inlaid in centre of each section.
A very fine brass in the form of an eagle given in memory of Richard Bateman 1914.
A brass memorial plate to Sarah Rosalie Heathcote is placed in the Sanctuary.
On the north wall of the nave are memorials to Richard Bateman and to George Manfield.
A list of the vicars/rectors of Ash from 1308 is displayed on a wooden tablet situated just before the white stone pulpit.
The organ, a two manual and pedal board - was installed in 1902 and has had several refurbishment works carried out on it. It was refurbished by F H Brown Organ Builder 2008
Before you leave please note on the tower (external) the very fine gilded striking clock
The church building is listed as Grade 2* and as such we are guided by the Diocese for maintenance and alterations.
The building is stone and bricks and mortar, the real church is the people who worship, pray and live their lives following the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are open for morning worship Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 9.00am. Wednesday at 9.30am for Holy Communion. Sundays 8.00am Holy Communion: 10.00 am Parish Communion (1st, 3rd,4th & 5th Sundays) 2nd Sunday 10.00am All Age Worship; 11.15 Holy Communion.
We hope you have enjoyed your visit.