The Diocese of Oxford

The Langtree Team Ministry

Where the Chilterns meet the Thames in the Diocese of Oxford

History of St Peter & St Paul, Checkendon

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Checkendon in Winter


The 12th century Church of St Peter & St Paul, in the small village of Checkendon is a Grade 1 listed building and a fine example of Romanesque architecture.

Early History

St Birinus first brought Christianity to these Chiltern Hills of South Oxfordshire in the 7th century, converting the chieftain, Caeca, of the local settlement, or 'Den' - hence the name Checkendon.  It may be that the very first church was a small wattle and daub structure built on the site of a local pagan shrine.  But in the 12th century, influenced by the monks of Bec, the present nave, chancel and semicircular apse was erected with a wooden tower over the chancel.

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The Victorian

From then on, every century has had its own influence on the building - all for the glory of God and to inspire the local people.

The Apse

The building we see today has windows, font, tower and porch added in the 15th century.  The Victorians, in their turn and with great enthusiasm, unleashed their own restoration work which stripped the rendering from the outside, raised the floor levels of the chancel and apse and completely refurnished the interior with new pews, pulpit and pipe organ.

The Victorians revealed the fine and rare 14th century apse wall paintings of Christ in Glory, Peter, Paul and the apostles which they heavily restored.

They stripped the plaster from the chancel walls, leaving only a small patch untouched in an area which was soon to be hidden behind the then modern pipe organ.

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The 20th Century

The 20th century brought its own influences.  Newer understandings of materials and a different attitude towards history brought an 'unrestoration' of the apse wall paintings to try to get closer to the original.  A new altar and choir stalls were installed using local wood.  Most significantly, the nave roof was completely renewed in the 1950's with the bosses hand-carved by local people under the guidance of Eric Kennington, churchwarden and renowned artist. Three modern windows were installed - one of them a fine etched window by Whistler as a tribute to Kennington.

Over the past few years it has become clear that there are problems with damp in the church.  Unwitting use of the wrong materials has caused a problem with rising damp being unable to evaporate naturally through the flint walls.  It is damage caused by damp which brings us to today and our plans for restoration and redecoration of this fine building.  And it is damage caused by damp which triggered the discovery of chancel wall painting.

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Chancel Wall Painting

The Chancel

Removing the organ in order to repair the wet-rot damaged wooden floor revealed traces of medieval paint on the chancel wall.  Further investigation and skilful conservation work has now uncovered all that remains of high quality paintings dating from 1330.  Their relatively fine condition is due partly to the fact that they have been untouched since brush touched wall and they were plastered over during the reforming zeal of around 1500.  They have aroused national interest and been described as 'extremely rare and significant' whose 'high quality is exceptional', the 'most important find of its type in 20 years' according to experts from the Courtaulds Institute.

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Church Bells

The bell tower has a peal of eight bells.

The original peal of 6 bells was installed in 1765, as indicated by the inscription on some of the heavy back six.  These were re-hung in 1879 when the metal frame with shell bearings was installed.  They were re-hung again in 1967 when the peal was augmented to 8 bells.  At the same time the shell bearings were replaced with sealed lubricant bearings.

Bell Founder and Inscription Weight Scale Note
Mears London 1967
   In endeavour and great matters, it is the beginning
3cwt 2qtrs 27lbs F#
2 Mears London 1967
   But the continuing unto the end which yeildeth the true glory
3cwt 3qtrs 5lbs E#
3 Lester & Pack London fecit 1765 4cwt 3qtrs 17lbs D#
4 Lester & Pack London fecit 1765 5cwt 0qtrs 9lbs C#
5 Lester & Pack 1765
   Musik Medicine to the Mind
5cwt 2qtrs 17lbs B
6 Mears & Stainbank London 1879
   Praise our God ye People
6cwt 1qtrs 18lbs A#
7    In wedlock's bands all ye that join with hands, your hearts unite so shall our tuneful tongues combine to laud the nuptial rite 8cwt 2qtrs 1lbs G#
Mears & Stainbank London 1879
   G T Abby, H Pope and A Tobbit Churchwardens. Glory to God in the Highest
10cwt 1qtrs 21lbs F#

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Checkendon Today

Today's Church Council is working with conservators, architect, experts and advisers from a variety of institutions to undertake essential restoration and redecoration work to repair the ravages of damp and restore this beautiful building. The programme of work now includes the restoration of several of the monuments, and the repair of the Victorian floor, which is subsiding gradually as the (also Victorian) disused heating pipes under the floor slowly rust away and collapse. The pipe organ has been resited and rebuilt in the nave so that the chancel wall painting can remain on view. The church clock was made by Tucker in 1853 and has recently been overhauled.

Our costs are substantial. If you wish to leave a legacy, or make a donation towards these ongoing works, please contact the Rector in confidence.

This is all a very ambitious project for a small village.  But it is one we believe to be important as we try to restore this gem of English heritage so that the church can continue to be a source of inspiration, prayer and ministry for future generations as well as today's.

Links with Checkendon Village

The village of Checkendon has a population of around 450 people and is a popular place for walkers as well as visitors to the fine church.  There are good relations with Checkendon Church of England (Aided) Primary School which was built by the Rector in 1840.  They have an assembly in church at 10.10 am every Wednesday in term time.

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