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Church History - by Eric Miller
The author is a member of the congregation, who also plays an active part in the Leckhampton Local History Society.
The fortunes of St Peter’s church and its incumbents are closely linked to the Court. The lords of the manor were patrons until 1903; later that role was assumed by the Bishop of Gloucester. No religious house is mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but in 1133 Henry I endowed the Canons of Cirencester Abbey with the church at Cheltenham and its attached chapels. One of these must have been at Leckhampton, for in 1162 its priest, Henry by name, was summoned before Archbishop Thomas-à-Beckett in a dispute over payment of dues to the Canons of Cirencester. Henry was found liable and fined two shillings.
Sir John Giffard is considered responsible for the original building of the church: roughly what is now the nave, south aisle and sanctuary and the tall slender ‘broach’ spire, which is still a conspicuous landmark in local stone. It stands on the site of an earlier chapel probably used by Henry, of which a few traces survive, including the font. This little church remained unchanged until 1834, when a gallery was erected over the south aisle and a vestry was added. Thirty years later, Leckhampton’s population had grown to such an extent that the architect John Middleton was invited to draw up plans to enlarge the church. The gallery was taken down, a north aisle was added, the porch was resited and the whole building was extended 23 feet to the west.
Leckhampton Church Lads’ Brigade and Scouts
This photograph of the Leckhampton Church Lads Brigade and Scouts was taken in 1910. All the boys and their leaders are named. The teen-age Alf Bendall is there, and several boys and young men who later fought in the First World War, in which Harold Summers and Gilbert Hunt lost their lives. Among the leaders is Leonard Barnard; he later designed the Parish War Memorial, on which their names are engraved. Captain Louis Sharpe was a great uncle of Mary Paterson. Mary points out that beneath one of the yew trees to the south of the church is a bench, on the back of which the initials 'LS ES' have been engraved - Louis Sharpe and his wife's.
The following extract from the book 'Leckhampton Yesteryear' describes what was printed about these organisations in Parish Magazines at the time:
The Church Lads’ Brigade and Scouting
In 1901 a company of the Church Lads’ Brigade was started under the captaincy of Mr Robert Marshall with assistance from Mr Louis Sharpe, and by 1903 it had 36 members. The company met in the Parish Hall; it was separate from the St Philip and St James’s company, which met in the old school at the bottom of Leckhampton Road. ….
….In September 1909 (the year after Scouting for Boys had been first published) it was announced that the Church Lads’ Brigade would incorporate ‘scouting’, so as not to fall behind in this new development. The local patrol of the ‘ICSP’ (Incorporated Church Scout Patrols, later known simply as the Church Scouts) was seen as forming a sort of cadet corps to the Church Lads’ Brigade. By 1910 some twenty boys aged 11 - 14 had joined, at first under Sergeant Jenkins, while ten Brigade members passed on to the Territorial Army.
On Easter Monday 1910 the Scouts, assisted by seven members of the Church Lads’ Brigade, had a despatch-running competition. Two boys reached the Rectory without being caught, one having started from the Badgeworth turning on the Shurdington Road, and the other from Lansdown Castle. On Whit Monday there was a Grand Review of all the companies of CLB and ICSP in the diocese, held by invitation of Mr Vassar-Smith in Charlton Park, at which the Bishop, the Mayor of Cheltenham and possibly Lord St Aldwyn were expected to be present. On Boxing Day there was a Grand Field Day at Painswick, with bands drawn from Painswick, Gloucester and Nailsworth. The day began with a church service to admit new members, followed by some skirmishing, then tea.
The magazines made no further mention of the Scouts or the Church Lads’ Brigade, except in 1934, when it was evident that the Scouts at least were still flourishing.
Key To Photograph: Leckhampton Church Lads' Brigade and Scouts 1904 - 1910
Back Row left to right.
Alfred Bendall, Bob Anderson, Frank Harley, Frank Richings, Dick Stanbridge, (Sergeant) Arthur Jenkins1,Captain Louis Sharpe1, Mr Leonard W Barnard1, Lewis Anderson, Harold Summers2, Sam Jenkins.
Second row from back
Frank Greening, Harry Harrison, Chris Smith, Charlie Richings, Fred James, Will
Summers, Wilfred Hunt, Harold Bendall, Gilbert Enoch, Will Birt.
Third row from back
Arthur Holmes, Will Townsend, Gilbert Hunt2, Harry Stanton, Tom Starbridge, Tom Boreham, Sydney Merriman, Ted Fordham, Eric Cole, Arthur Fordham, Will Williams, Harry Cox.
Reggie Bull, Charlie Baylis, Wilfred White, Fred Clarke, William Phillips, Harold G -
1 Troop leaders
2 Lost their lives in the First World War
Leckhampton Bellringers 1904
Eminent Cheltonians Commemorated at Leckhampton
The article "Eminent Cheltonians Commemorated at Leckhampton" originally appeared in the Cheltenham Local History Society Journal No 23 (2007) and is reproduced here with permission. Copies of the Journal can be obtained from the author Eric Miller (e-mail address email@example.com, price £3.50).
Guidebook and other publications relating to local history
Visitors to the church will find a short guide and sign boards describing the main points of interest.
A new edition of 'The History of Leckhampton Church', extensively revised, and including new material and many fresh illustrations, is now available, price £2.00.
It is on sale at the church, or copies may be obtained by post from the Parish Office or the author, Eric Miller, (firstname.lastname@example.org), price £3.00, to include UK postage. (Cheques should be made payable to 'St Peter's Leckhampton PCC'.) For overseas orders, please enquire.
History of Leckhampton Church
Review of the book, taken (with permission) from the August 2007 issue of The Local Historian, the journal of the British Association for Local History.
St. Peter’s Church, Leckhampton, has a lovely site on the lower slopes of the steep Cotswold scarp about two miles south of Cheltenham. The parish is large but the church is isolated in a rural setting, overlooked by the former manor house and with no modern encroachments in sight. Not surprisingly, many people from outside the parish choose this as their last resting place. The churchyard has been extended to over three acres, dominated by the slender ‘broach’ spire. This church guide is very different from the usual booklet, for Eric Miller has been a member of the congregation for forty years, and has researched and compiled this book with love and affection touching on every aspect that the parishioner or visitor would want to know. Norman foundations seen below floorboards at the foot of a Norman carved half-column indicate the origins of the church. In the fourteenth century the lord of the manor, Sir John Giffard, added the south aisle, and the tower with spire between the nave and new chancel. He and his lady have a splendid carved tomb at the back of the church. In 1865-1866, when the population of Cheltenham was increasing, the church was enlarged by extending the nave and building the north aisle, giving it the Victorian aspect it has today—yet this is not the elaborate Victorian style, but one which is cool, functional and comfortable, with no embellishments. The pews are kept but the church appears modern. Some dormer windows and a free-standing altar in the nave are the only recent alterations.
It seems child-friendly, and children are depicted in many of the high quality stained glass windows which Miller catalogues. The bells have two pages and an appendix. Monuments and the organ are described in detail. When submitting this book for review the author included his previous edition from 1987, commenting ‘how technology has improved’. It had 65 pages, and though the text is largely unchanged there are now more photos, some of them replacing drawings. The plans and drawings made in 1864 by the architect John Middleton, and now in Gloucestershire Archives, have been consulted. Above all, the author has done the typesetting and layout himself. On New Year’s Eve 2006 the visitor’s book had an entry by a Yorkshire lady stating that her daughter wanted to be married in St. Peter’s. The lady had bought this guide, and it will be a memento for the family to cherish—other visitors will also wish to keep this excellent church history.
For other publications by Eric Miller, see www.llhs.org.uk.
Standing, L to R: W Townsend, W Harrison, Arthur Caudle, Jack Shill, Alfred Pratt (Fred), Noah Newton. Alfred Hunt (always called Richard).
Seated: William Harley, Tom Hunt.
In the 'clock room' below the belfry is an old photograph of St Peter's bellringers, posing with a set of handbells in front of the west door. The photograph, in a frame made from an old bell wheel, was presented by W Harrison, who also owned the handbells and identified the ringers - mostly with good old Leckhampton surnames.
The date is given as 'about 1904', in which year the bells underwent a major restoration, and for a time the ringers would have had only the handbells at their disposal. The absence of carving on either side of the door means that it had to be before mid-1907 which is when it was added. Today the carved foliage and especially the heads of a bishop and king are badly weathered. If when visiting the church you look at the window immediately above the door, you will see two cubes of plain stone still waiting to be worked on - suggestions to Paul Wilkinson!
Several of the parish priests were members of the Norwood or Trye families. Notable among these was Charles Brandon Trye, son of the surgeon of the same name, who held the post for 58 years, from 1830 to 1888. He was responsible for a number of improvements for the public good: not only the moves to enlarge the church in 1834 and 1866, but also the building of the National School in about 1840 (now used as the canteen) and of the present rectory. He was a moving force behind the creation of a daughter church to cater for worshippers in the Park and Naunton areas. The church (originally just ‘St Philip’s’) was dedicated on St Philip and St James’s day in 1840; it became a parish church in its own right in 1869 and the present larger building, designed by Middleton, replaced it in 1882.
C B Trye’s son Reginald, who succeeded him in 1884, was last Trye to be rector of St Peter’s. He shared his family’s financial misfortunes and as a consequence in 1895 he had to give up the living, which until his death in 1929 was in the care of a succession of Curates-in-charge.
His immediate successor was the enthusiastic Clifford Aston, who encouraged the formation of many new organisations in the parish, eg Boys’ and Girls’ recreation classes, cricket and football clubs, a Girls’ Drill Club, and branches of the Church Lads’ Brigade, Girls’ Friendly Society, Church of England Men’s Society and the Mothers’ Union. Above all, he put much energy into having the Village Hall built, in time for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Appropriately, he is commemorated by a brass plaque in the Village Hall.
In the Twentieth Century two priests served as army chaplains. Augustin Hodson (1915 – 1921, later the first Bishop of Tewkesbury) was in France during the last half of 1918. He had 1500 people to look after, in two hospital camps, one occupied chiefly by ‘nerve’ cases and the other by Chinese labourers. He described serving communion from a table spread with a Union Jack presented to him by the St Peter’s choir. However, his experience was mild compared with that of Eric Cordingly (1939 – 1955, later Bishop of Thetford), who was a chaplain from 1940 to 1945, first in France, taking part in the evacuation from Dunkirk), and then in the Far East.
Eric Cordingly arrived in Singapore a few months before the Japanese invasion and became a prisoner of war at the Changi camp together with more than 50,000 British and Australians. He was allowed to convert an abandoned mosque into a church, which throughout Easter Day was attended by nearly 500 worshippers including some whom he had prepared for confirmation. In 1943 he was sent with 7000 fellow prisoners to work on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway, where nearly half the men died and he had to conduct many burial services. In the new camp he created a makeshift church, in which he placed a brass cross made by fellow prisoners when in Changi. After the railway had been completed Eric Cordingly was sent back to Changi, where he and the other starving prisoners struggled to keep faith and hope alive for seventeen more months until the camp was liberated at the end of the war.
During his time as a POW, Eric Cordingly managed to compile, using odd scraps of paper, a collection of diaries. He brought these home but they lay unexamined after he died from cancer in 1976, aged just sixty five. However, after the death of his wife in 2011, their three sons and daughter began to reconstruct that story of his three and a half years as a POW, years which he described as ‘the most meaningful of my life’. His saintly fortitude shines through the modest narrative, fittingly illustrated with original sketches and paintings executed by fellow inmates, which has been published as Down to Bedrock. His daughter Louise, enlisting contributions from surviving prisoners or their descendants, has also compiled a companion volume The Changi Cross, which traces the journey of the cross and its return to the museum in Singapore.
In the churchyard the earliest identified burial dates from 1670, and the oldest person to be interred was Richard Purser, who died in 1868, aged 111. There are also graves of numerous Victorian generals and men who had influential careers in India, in the army, civil service or as planters. Three holders of the Victoria Cross have memorials, as does Dr Edward Wilson, who died on Scott’s Antarctic expedition. Baron de Ferrières, a great benefactor to Cheltenham, is buried there, and two stained-glass windows are dedicated in his memory.
Our churchyard is still in use, but the earliest graves, all close to the west end of the church, date back to the 17th century. Among well-established local names are numerous Ballingers, Barretts, Caudles, Cherringtons, Fletchers, Halls, Hickses, Joyners, Pearmans, Pursers (including the celebrated Richard, who died in 1868 aged 111) and Townsends. From Leckhampton Court there are the Tryes – both lords of the manor and clergy – and John Hargreaves and his wife, née Edith Platt.
Our churchyard is also the resting place for a surprising variety of people of renown from Cheltenham itself and even beyond. By the mid-19th century many Cheltenham churches had little or no available burial space of their own, and even after the creation of the municipal cemetery in 1864 Leckhampton offered a fashionable alternative. Hence the Revd Joseph Fenn, Vicar of Christ Church, who died in 1884, is buried here.
Most readers will already know where to find the graves of Dr Edward Wilson of Antarctic fame, Cheltenham’s mayor and philanthropist Baron de Ferrières and the British Museum’s architect Sir Robert Smirke. Among the many military graves lie a score of generals and three holders of the Victoria Cross – William Fraser McDonnell, Cdr Cecil William Buckley and Major Douglas Reynolds. The approximate locations of these and some others are shown on the plan opposite.
Those who had served the British Empire in India are well represented. Many are military, but there are civilians too. James Cox, of Thirlestaine Hall, and George Nevile Wyatt, buried in adjacent plots, had both made their fortunes as indigo planters. The widow of the latter, Mrs Augusta Wyatt, was patron of both the Leckhampton churches at the beginning of the 20th century.
Other noteworthy names are:
The musician John BARNETT and his son Domenico, of Cotteswold, on Leckhampton Hill. John Is described as the ‘father of English opera’, though his work goes unperformed today. Domenico taught music at The Ladies’ College.
Thomas BILLINGS, the developer of the Park Estate, among other speculative enterprises.
Evangeline Butler, the 5-year old daughter of the social reformer Josephine Butler. Evangeline died at her parents’ feet after falling over the banister rail at their home at The Priory one evening in 1864.
Fanny Duberly, "the officers’ darling" from the Crimean War, who witnessed the Charge of the Light Brigade and rode into Sebastopol after the siege, and who also wrote about her experiences during the Indian Mutiny.
John FLETCHER, a former Parish Clerk, and his successor for 45 years Neighbour PEARMAN, who was also manager of Leckhampton Quarries.
Alexander SHIRER, the founder of Shirer and Lance’s stores.
Nathaniel SMITH, who built the house named Wychbury (now demolished) in Moorend Road.
Barnard George THOMPSON, Headmaster of Leckhampton School. Thompson Drive named after him.
Frank WEBLEY, a photographer who had a shop at the end of Church Road and sold his postcards of the area.
Our churchyard is a rich source of information for local historians but is also of interest to those researching military graves or wanting to know more about their ancestors’ birthplace. With this in mind, I plan in due course to bring out a booklet listing the more significant ones, with short biographies where appropriate.
The earliest surviving parish records date from the late 17th century and are kept in the Gloucester Record Office. They list numerous burials in woollen shrouds. Another unusual feature is a list of ‘compositions’, or special collections for good causes elsewhere, for example in 1666 ‘for late sad fire in the City of London’. The churchwardens’ accounts for 1826 record the purchase of lime trees at a cost of 6 shillings. Six of these venerable trees are still standing in the avenue leading up to the church.
To Henry Norwood’s five bells a further three have been added, and Leckhampton now possesses a well-tuned ring of 20th-century bells. Among the other items of interest in the church - apart from the already mentioned Norwood brass and the Giffard effigies - is the pulpit. This is reputed to have been made out of oak taken from a tree grown in a nearby field. It was designed by L.W.Barnard, the son of the historian R.C.Barnard. L.W.Barnard also designed the war memorial, which was erected on the site of the former village draw well.
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